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Action Plan for Botanic Gardens in the European Union
Edited and compiled by Judith Cheney, Joaquin Navarrete Navarro and Peter Wyse Jackson for the European Botanic Gardens Consortium. (2000).

D. Education, Training and Awareness
Chapter contributed by Julia Willison, in collaboration with European educators

Botanic gardens in the EU have a significant part to play in demonstrating that plants are of fundamental importance to our daily lives and that their sustainable use is critical for the hture of humankind. Most EU botanic gardens have long provided information about their collections to the public in the form of guided tours, lectures and labelling. Indeed, many of the earliest gardens were established specifically for educational purposes to provide material and instruction for students of medicine. During the past 10-15 years, in response to the current environmental situation, many gardens have begun to develop education programmes for schools and the general public. Around a third of EU botanic gardens now employ at least one person specifically to run an education programme.

As well as maintaining and researching extensive plant collections, many gardens are responsible for the upkeep of important historical sites and buildings and of precious cultural artefacts, including libraries and iconographic material. All these resources are unique for educating and informing the public about the past, present and future importance of EU botanic gardens and biodiversity (see also Objectives BI-B7). Botanic gardens also have a crucial role to play in disseminating information about scientific activities and new technology that will affect the lives of European citizens in the twenty-first century.

Many EU botanic gardens are situated in urban areas and, as such, provide a sanctuary where minds and spirits can be rejuvenated. Their plant collections also offer a significant opportunity for people to experience nature first hand. Research shows that this is a strong factor in developing a concern for the environment. The imperative of education is stressed in all major international conservation strategies, including the CBD and Agenda 2 1, both of which have been endorsed at the highest level by over 150 governments. Agenda 2 1 states that ‘Education is critical for promoting sustainable development and improving the capacity of the people to address environment and development issues’. The importance of environmental education has also been acknowledged by the European Commission with the publication of Environmental Education in the EU, a report reflecting the diversity of environmental education orientations and practices in the member states of the EU. There is a clear call for environmental education to train and promote environmentally responsible citizens. Botanic gardens are exceptionally well placed to take up this challenge.

Building public awareness
All member countries of the European Community acknowledge the need to promote and increase public awareness about the environment. Botanic gardens in the EU are visited by approximately 50 million people every year (BGCI figures); 50% of the gardens already run education programmes for the general public. Such programmes include guided tours, trails, botanical activities, publications, exhibitions and labelling. There is a need, however, for botanic gardens to develop their potential for environmental education and to communicate more effectively with their local communities. Many gardens have skills and resources that can be shared with other botanic gardens in Europe to raise public awareness. To some extent this is already happening: for example, through national networks in the UK, Spain, Germany, France and Italy as well as through the BGCI network, which publishes a regular education magazine and environmental education guidelines. However, many European countries do not yet have botanic garden networks and it is important that gardens in these countries gain access to information and resources produced by other gardens and networks so that all gardens can play their part in raising public awareness. See Case Studies 3 & 4, 7 & 8 and 11-14; and Objective E3.

Working with different audiences
People visit botanic gardens for many reasons, and education programmes, correspondingly, cater for a wide spectrum of people - from pre-school age to the third age, from tourists to decision makers - but most botanic gardens, do not have sufficient staff to cater for every potential audience. Gardens therefore need to decide which priority groups they want to work with. This is critical to developing effective education programmes.

Raising the status of education
The number of botanic gardens developing education programmes has risen over the past 15 years. This can be seen as a result partly of growth of the environmental movement, as gardens realise their potential for education, and partly of gardens re-evaluating and justifying their role in society. Most gardens now claim to regard education as important, but the status of education within botanic gardens still appears to be low. While over half EU botanic gardens say that they run education programmes, only a third employ a full-time education officer and only a fifth designate funds specifically for education. If botanic gardens are to realise their potential in this field, staff and resources need to be allocated and support provided for the development of education programmes.

Develop botanic gardens as centres for environmental education

Increasingly, the media are bringing the natural environment and its values to the attention of the general public and, as a consequence, the general public is seeking more information. Botanic gardens are well placed in urban areas to be centres of environmental education and can do so by identifying and prioritising conservation messages, target audiences and the facilities and resources available.

To achieve Objective D1, EU botanic gardens should:

  • employ education staff
  • prepare a written environmental education plan that complements the garden’s mission
  • include their role in education in their mission statement
  • use their education policy to guide the development of the garden’s educational activities
  • share their resources and information with other botanic gardens.
Promote botanic gardens to schools as centres for environmental education

The children of today are the future guardians of our planet. The decisions they make will affect the health of the environment. Clearly, it is important for botanic gardens to be involved in schools education.

Botanic gardens make excellent outdoor classrooms and can be used to teach a wide range of curriculum subjects, such as biology, geography, science, social sciences, mathematics, art, history and languages. They also provide superb settings for non-traditional subjects such as information technology, futures education and education for sustainability. Teaching in a natural environment enables children to gain knowledge and to deepen their understanding of their relationship with nature and the importance of sustainability.

It is not possible, however, for every child to visit a botanic garden and those who do so may only be able to visit once during their entire school career. At present, gardens tend to work more with children than with teachers. Gardens should support teachers to bring their classes to the garden independently and to make the most of their trips by developing activities for before and after their visits. Support can be offered in the form of training, advice and materials.

For many children living in urban environments, school grounds provide their first experiences of nature. Botanic gardens have expertise in horticulture and can offer advice and materials to schools to create more conducive environments for learning which, in turn, will have a lasting effect on children’s attitudes towards nature (see Case Study I1).

Many schools are too far from botanic gardens for children to visit. Gardens need to consider whether they have or can obtain sufficient resources to run outreach programmes. To achieve Objective D2, EU botanic gardens should:

  • ensure that their education officers encourage the use of their garden as an outdoor classroom by all schools in their area
  • support teachers to bring their classes to the garden by providing teacher-training programmes
  • ensure that they have child-friendly policies, e.g. staff should be welcoming to children visiting the garden
  • endeavour to make their gardens physically more child friendly, by, for example, ensuring that viewing facilities, access points, storage areas, lunch areas, and activity and play areas are safe and suitable for children
  • establish research programmes and programmes for evaluation before and after visits, to gather base-lineinformation about the effectiveness of education programmes in botanic gardens to aid development of new programmes or reorientation of existing ones.
Promote botanic gardens as resources for higher education and training

Traditionally, EU botanic gardens have been involved in higher education and training. Over the last 20 years, however, the number of graduate and postgraduate courses concentrating on whole-plant science has decreased dramatically throughout Europe. There is concern that the lack of knowledge and development in botany and taxonomy could detrimentally affect decisions relating to, for example, habitat management and restoration and the development of medicines and foods from plant resources.

In response to this concern, Systematics Agenda 2000: Charting the Biosphere (American Society of Plant Taxonomists, Society of Systematic Bologists, Willi Hennig Society & Association of Systematic Collections,1994. Technical Report) was launched in 1994 by the international community of systematic biologists to discover, describe and classify the world’s species. The Agenda argues that basic systematic research on species diversity is urgently needed in order to provide necessary knowledge for policy makers and biological-resource managers to sustain and use species diversity and to monitor changes in climate and ecosystems. Botanic gardens have a significant role to play in implementing this Agenda through education (see also Objective A3).

A recent trend in European universities has been for new multidisciplinary courses. It is therefore important that botanic gardens are seen as resource centres for a wide range of disciplines, such as ecology, environmental science, teacher training and medicinal anthropology, as well as taxonomy. With botanic gardens becoming increasingly involved in conservation education, there is also potential for them to offer training to teachers and students in environmental education and sustainable development. The establishment of research internships would also facilitate the exchange of staff between botanic gardens (see also Objective E4) and develop thinking about the role of botanic gardens in sustainable development (see Case Studies 3 & 4).

To achieve Objective D3, EU botanic gardens should:

  • be considered and used by universities and centres of higher education as resources for teaching a range of disciplines - botany, taxonomy, horticulture, zoology, geography, ethnobotany and social sciences
  • be viewed as centres for educational research and for the training of scientific researchers
  • be viewed as centres for teaching about research and the environment
  • act as resource centres to support traditional activities currently in decline in university curricula, e.g. whole-plant studies and taxonomy
  • act as centres for growing and maintaining plants for research and teaching and provide nursery and experimental facilities; gardens need to identify the need for such facilities
  • depending on their local circumstances, provide opportunities for continuing professional development in careers such as horticulture (see also Objective AS), ethnobotany, social science and education
  • develop training courses for government officials, policy makers, developers, community leaders and other people who can influence local and national environmental policies.
Present information to the public in a variety of ways

There are many methods available for lively and stimulating communication of information to particular audiences. Botanic gardens need to be aware of the potential of new techniques and seek to use them where appropriate, seeking advice from experts in the relevant fields, when necessary. Museums and marketing companies have been exploring new ways of presenting information and exhibiting objects; many of their findings are relevant for botanic gardens.

To achieve Objective D4, EU botanic gardens should:

  • use a range of techniques to present information to the public - guided tours, signage, exhibitions, printed materials, story telling, etc. - adapting techniques to suit particular audiences
  • evaluate the methods they use in order to determine whether they are communicating their messages effectively
  • seek advice fkom and work with other organisations, such as museums, galleries and marketing companies, developing and applying innovative presentation techniques
  • develop new ways of attracting people into their gardens, for example by using new technology and the internet.
Promote botanic gardens to the public as centres for information on plants

Public education caters for a wide range of people - such as general visitors, decision makers, horticultural groups, the media, farmers, church groups, women’s groups, families, artists and t - who come to botanic gardens for reasons other than formal education. Visitors to botanic gardens come 1 types of background and come for all sorts of reasons. At sent, fewer than half EU botanic gardens cater for the general public in an active way, through running public programmes. There is an urgent need for such provision to be increased. Gardens already working with the public also have a greater potential for communicating their messages to wider audiences. See Case Studies 13 & 14.

To achieve Objective D5, EU botanic gardens should:

  • provide up-to-date information for a wide range of people about plants and their sustainable use
  • conduct surveys to determine their visitor profiles and consider how to attract groups that are not visiting
  • collectively develop a European pack that would provide information on our common plant heritage.
Encourage public debate about issues relating to plants

News on issues involving plant life and the natural world is increasingly reported in the media, but often with very little factual, background information. Botanic gardens have a role to play in providing factual, unbiased information on some of these issues and stimulating informed debate and discussion.

To achieve Objective D6, EU botanic gardens should:

  • provide opportunities for local people to discuss and debate issues concerning plants and sustainability
  • make available for the public unbiased information on current and topical issues on plants and the environment.
Ensure that the garden’s message is clear and consistent

Gardens communicate messages to their public subconsciously, often by example. It is difficult to promote a message of conservation ans sustainability if, for example, a garden relies heavily on chemical pest-control, or if food sold in the cafeteria is presented on throw-away plates, or if the items sold in the shop are heavily packaged and non-biodegradable. Gardens therefore need to ensure that their operational practices do not contradict their overall message. There is great potential for botanic gardens to become models of sustainability and centres of excellence in environmental education.

To achieve Objective D7, EU botanic gardens should:

  • carry out a green audit in the garden and develop and implement a strategy for change if necessary
  • set up a working group within the garden to ensure that the garden’s message is consistent
  • develop sustainable environmental programmes that are linked to the education programme
  • ensure that all staff are trained in the garden’s policy on sustainability and correct green practices.
Raise the status of education

Botanic garden authorities also need to recognise education as one of the greatest assets and potentials for the development of the garden and its resources. See also Objective E3.

To achieve Objective D8, EU botanic gardens should:

  • ensure that education is written into the job description of all staff
  • employ at least one full-time education officer, preferably trained in education
  • allocate a budget to the education programme
  • ensure that education staff run education training workshops for other members of staff
  • include education staff in any necessary redesigning of the garden for educational purposes, in planning and design of new areas of the garden and in formulation of collections' policies
  • publish their educational research in academic journals and relevant magazines
  • promote and publicise their education programmes to all relevant groups using a variety of media.
A natural garden in Paris
Paris-Nature, the natural environment education department of the City of Paris, has contributed to the creation of a ‘Natural Garden’ in the heart of the French capital. Using indigenous plant species, the garden has reconstructed some of the most representative natural areas in the Ile de France region. Plants are grown to attract pollinating insects and encourage the development of indigenous butterflies, many of which are endangered. The education centre at the garden offers Parisian schoolchildren opportunities to discover ecology in an urban environment while raising their awareness about the need to conserve nature.

A rare plants trail at the Conservatoire Botanique National de Brest
Created in 1975, the French Conservatoire Botanique National de Brest was one of the first botanic gardens in the world committed to the conservation of threatened plants. To raise public awareness, the garden has developed a trail focusing on the rescue of endangered plants. The trail, inside the educational glasshouses, consists of interpretative panels that provide general information and a pamphlet on 36 endangered plants. The arrangement of the glasshouses, in particular the footpaths, the layout of the boards and their contents, has been specifically designed to meet the needs of a diverse public (including groups, individuals, children and the physically disabled). The pamphlet is available in French, English and German. Part of the interest of the trail is that it is dedicated to the conservation of endangered plants. Between 1995 and 1997, the garden received 2 1,000 visitors to the glasshouses; a survey conducted in 1997 showed that 93% of visitors were satisfied with their visit.

Public education at the National Botanic Garden of Belgium
The Garden uses a wide array of activities to get its message across to the public. All activities stress the importance of plants and the environmental problems they face. The main activity is guided tours. Trained volunteer guides are on hand to accompany the public through the garden and specialised tours are available on particular themes, such as, plant myths, orchids, and local history. Permanent interpretation is another way in which the garden educates the public. Aimed at individuals, signs carry information on the economic, horticultural or scientific value of certain plants, while temporary exhibitions highlight the work of the Garden and various aspects of its collection. To reach a wider audience, the Garden collaborates with the local and national media on programmes of scientific and general interest.

Educational games for tourists in botanic gardens managed by the Trento Natural Science Museum
A programme of educational games for tourists was started in 1998 at ‘Viotte’ Alpine Botanic Garden (in the Italian Alps) and Arc0 Arboretum (at the northern end of Lake Garda), with the aim of raising awareness of the gardens and their role in conservation and research, by entertaining the public. In Viotte, a treasure hunt was organised: six teams had to go through six stages to find clues to the whereabouts of the treasure, a packet of seeds hidden in the natural area close to the Garden. Each step involved a hands-on activity: painting or drawing a plant; matching seeds and cones; recognising, while blindfolded, the bark of a tree or the smell or taste of a plant; and preparing perfumes, oils and creams. In Arco, old local traditions were revived, in making brooms from palm fronds, and flutes from bamboo stems (palms and bamboos are particularly abundant in the Arboretum). In interactive games, players were asked to match plants with their uses. At Arc0 Arboretum there has been a programme for schools: study tours, practical fieldwork, observation of flowering; and identification of a large number of trees from every continent.