Executive Board 2023 to 2024

We are always interested in hearing from people who would like to join the PlantNetwork Board, act as advisors or help in any way to deliver our objectives. If you would like to get more involved, please contact the PlantNetwork Coordinator for an informal chat. Enquiries from members and non-members welcomed.

Ros Burnley (Co-Chair), Director at Adrow Ltd

Ros Burnley, Adrow

Ros is a consultant whose projects include facilitation of trailblazer apprenticeships across horticulture, forestry and agriculture, content development for training and assessment, research and project management of strategic and partnership projects.  She is a Unit Assessor for the Royal Horticultural Society Master of Horticulture degree level award.   She is also a member of the RHS Education Committee, the Ornamental Horticulture Roundtable Group (OHRG), Education and Employment committee and the Forestry Skills Forum.    

Ros has a degree from Oxford University in Biological Sciences and an MSc in Horticulture from the University of Reading.  She also holds qualifications in arboriculture, teaching and project management.  She started her career in the nursery stock industry and has worked both with collection gardens and with green spaces.  At Lantra she worked on career development, apprenticeships, qualifications, skills registers, and grant funded projects.  

Stephen Herrington (Co-Chair), Head Gardener, The Newt in Somerset

Stephen is Head Gardener at The Newt, having previously been Head Gardener at Leonardslee Lakes and Gardens in West Sussex, Head Gardener at National Trust Nymans and Curator of Glasgow Botanic Gardens. He has worked at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and trained at Tresco Abbey Gardens and RHS Garden Wisley. Stephen holds a BSc (Hons) in Horticulture and Plantsmanship from Glasgow University.

Heather Birkett, Senior Gardener, Acorn Bank, National Trust

Heather is experienced at managing historic gardens and currently leads the Garden team at Acorn Bank as a Senior Gardener for the National Trust. In addition to ensuring routine maintenance, environmental compliance and health and safety for all users of the gardens, Heather is also responsible for recording of the specific plant collections including apples and herbs as well as facilitating research, developing and managing a large volunteer team and apprentice, increasing the staff team and creating diverse, valuable programming.

Looking after a significant collection of 175 apple varieties, Heather has a good understanding of orchard maintenance skills and deliver a broad range of programming and events for visitors, designed to inspire and enable people to grow their own fruit, including tours, drop-in sessions, apple-tasting days, selling the harvest, selling trees grafted from the Acorn Bank collection, community juicing days, grafting and pruning workshops and Apple Identification events. Interpreting gardens is an area of particular interest for Heather.

Mark Brent, Curator and Head of Horticulture, University of Oxford Botanic Garden

Mark Brent, DipHort Kew, MCIH, is the Curator and Head of Horticulture at the University of Oxford Botanic Garden, it is the oldest botanic garden in the UK and it is currently celebrating its 400th anniversary.

Mark began his career with the de Rothschild family at Waddesdon Manor, Buckinghamshire before moving to another Rothschild family property; Ascott House in Bedfordshire. Subsequently he has gained more than 35 years of experience working in horticulture, he undertook the Diploma course at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew before moving on to work as a Head Gardener in Cornwall where he helped develop Lamorran House Garden in St. Mawes, a frost free terraced hillside garden by the sea which incorporated both Japanese and Italianate themes over a period of 20 years. Latterly he held an appointment as Head Gardener at Walmer Castle (English Heritage) which was the former home of HRH The Queen Mother. During his time the garden underwent an extensive NHLF sponsored improvement program.

Mark has an extensive knowledge of Mediterranean flora and gardens, the warm temperate gardens of the Western British Isles and heritage horticulture.

Natalie Chivers, Curator, Treborth Botanic Garden, University of Bangor

Natalie gained a MEnvi in Environmental Science from Bangor University before training with the Royal Horticultural Society and Gothenburg Botanic Garden. She then studied for an MSc Plant Conservation at Bangor before starting as Curator in August 2015.

As Curator of the Garden, Natalie has the responsibility for managing the living collections, which comprise over 2000 species. Her key areas of responsibility include planning the future direction of the collections, overseeing the sourcing and documentation of new and diverse species, driving the landscaping and design of the garden and promoting the use of the collections for research and teaching.

Alison Crook, National Curator of Living Collections, National Trust

Alison leads a team which provides plant curation, collections and conservation support to all 200+ gardens and parklands within the National Trust.  The National Trust holds 29 National Plant Collections and many more property collections of historic, cultural and botanic significance.  Alison’s areas of responsibility are:  plant curation and collections management (including identification, verification, research, documentation and standards);  plant propagation and nursery management (including oversight of the Plant Conservation Centre);  and the development and integration of various plant collections and nursery management systems.

Horticulture and plants are a second career, following 18 years in financial services, from legal paperwork and accounting, through to the management of large IT and process change projects, including policy, system and procedure development, budget management, planning, and risk management.

Philip Esseen, Curator of Botany & Horticulture, Chester Zoo

Phil curates the extensive plant collection at Chester Zoo and is responsible for managing and developing the gardens, tropical houses and wider landscape of the zoo. He manages a team of 20 horticulturists. As Chester Zoo’s Mission Statement is ‘Preventing Extinction’, plant conservation is a major focus for the collection, which includes five National Plant Collections of threatened species. Phil and his team are also involved in overseas field work and propagation of native plant species for re-introduction and population reinforcement. The core zoo itself covers 125 acres, and planting is designed to represent key geographical zones from around the world.

Phil has a BSc. (Hons) in Botany and a BLD (Hons) in Landscape Design from Manchester University, and has previously worked as a Landscape Architect, Nature Conservation Officer, and Local Authority Parks Manager.

Piers Horry, Garden & Outdoor Manager – Bath Portfolio, National Trust

Piers is the Garden and Outdoor Manager for the National Trust in Bath, which covers the management of C17th baroque Dyrham Park, the historic Deer Park, Grade 1 listed Prior Park and the World Heritage Bath Skyline. Piers has worked for the National Trust for over 10 years and managed gardens at Hughenden Manor, Hatchlands Park and Clandon Park. Previously Piers was an ecological consultant in the private sector.

Piers has a BSc (Hons) in Ecology and is a professional member of Arboricultural Association and Chartered Institute of Horticulture.

Darach Lupton, Curator – National Botanic Gardens of Ireland

Biography coming soon

Dr Suzanne Moss, Head of Education and Learning, Royal Horticultural Society

Suzanne Moss

Dr Suzanne Moss is Head of Education and Learning at the Royal Horticultural Society. She has worked in horticultural education for over ten years with experience from supporting early years schools programmes, through qualifications, apprenticeships and to degree level programmes. After training in horticulture at RHS Wisley, Sue completed a PhD in the history of gardens as scientific collections and a Postdoctoral Fellowship on the same subject at the University of York. She is Vice Chair of the Ornamental Horticulture Roundtable Group’s Education and Employment group, and has sat on the development groups for many qualifications including Apprenticeships and T’Levels. As well as nerding out on horticultural history, Sue also likes writing, building things, gin and dogs.

Don Murray, Freelance Consultant

Don is a Freelance Consultant presently helping to establish a new not-for-profit foundation for landscape professionals to deliver projects that reach the highest environmental impact, with the lowest carbon footprint. Don’s past roles include Director of Organic Horticulture at Garden Organic, Director of Horticulture at The Newt in Somerset; Head of Landscapes and Horticulture at Mount Stuart and Head of Horticulture at the Eden Project, Cornwall where he played a key part in the transformation that turned Eden into the amazing gardens they are today.  Before joining the award winning Eden Project Don was Curator at Birmingham Botanical Gardens and Glasshouses. He has broad horticultural experience maintaining and developing both modern and historic gardens.

Sara Redstone, Plant Health & Quarantine Officer, Royal Botanic Gardens Kew

Sara Redstone, RBG Kew

Sara’s role at Kew includes leading a small team responsible for managing the Quarantine Unit and science glasshouses, dealing with incoming and outgoing plant material. The Unit is one of a number of single points of entry used at Kew to ensure incoming material complies with relevant legislation, including plant health, CITES and the CBD. She provides technical support and assistance to staff, helping them maintain and improve the health of the Living Collections at Kew and Wakehurst. Sara works with curatorial staff to develop appropriate policy and procedures and to manage biosecurity risks associated with Kew’s activities. A key aspect of her role involves developing and delivering teaching and training to  staff, students and external groups about invasive alien species, biosecurity, plant health, quarantine, the CBD and CITES. Sara’s horticultural qualifications include BSc (Hons) Plant Science; MSc Plant Biotechnology, Kew Diploma(Hons).

Ann Steele, Head of Gardens & Designed Landscapes, National Trust for Scotland

Ann has botanic garden and nursery experience but has spent the majority of her career with the National Trust for Scotland (NTS), beginning as a volunteer at Inverewe Garden, returning later to work her way up to her current lead role as part of the Trust’s Conservation and Policy team. She has worked directly with most of the Trust’s gardens at different times, though with a focus in the west; this led to her becoming the Trust’s plant health and biosecurity lead, following outbreaks of Phytophthora there, and also to becoming a member of the  UK Government’s Plant Health Advisory Forum. In 2016 Ann was invited to review the Trust’s gardens and identify priorities for action and investment. This has resulted in a number of significant initiatives for the organisation, the most public one being its pilot Garden Apprenticeship Scheme.

Nicola Thomas, A La Consulting Ltd

Biography coming soon

Rupert Wilson, Principal Data Manager, Horticultural Information & Advice at Royal Horticultural Society

Rupert Wilson, RHS

Rupert joined the RHS in 2001 after working for several years in the School of Plant Sciences at the University of Reading where he managed the herbarium database. He leads a team of six staff whose diverse roles include the upkeep of the plant records at Wisley, compilation of the RHS Plant Finder, providing training and first line support of the RHS Horticultural Database and ensuring consistency in the data held and publications from across Science.

Mercy Morris (Non-Exec), PlantNetwork Manager

A picture of Mercy Morris with a background of spider plants

Mercy keeps the hidden machinery of PlantNetwork running. She has the RHS MHort. and an MSc in Ethnobotany. Previous roles have included Conservation Manager at Plant Heritage, Research Assistant at the University of Kent and Team Leader at RBG Kew, Wakehurst Place. Mercy has a National Plant Collection of Chlorophytum comosum cvs. and has opened under the National Gardens Scheme for houseplants. When she is not doing planty things she may be running, cycling, sea-swimming or cat-wrangling.

Emma Mulcahy (Non-Exec), PlantNetwork Administrator

Emma is the PlantNetwork Administrator and has the role of ensuring that the behind-the-scenes systems and processes are kept ticking over so that our members and board are supported. Having worked in administration for a range of industries, over a 10-year span, she has also developed her own membership and community and brings the skills gained through that to her role at PlantNetwork. When she is not at her desk, Emma can be found outdoors often with a camera in hand, hiking through the Peak District and capturing images of nature in all its beauty!

Matthew Jebb (Honorary President), Director of National Botanic Gardens of Ireland Glasnevin

Matthew  is an Irish botanist and taxonomist specialising in the  plant genera Squamellaria, Myrmecodia, Hydnophytum, Myrmephytum and Anthorrhiza, as well as the carnivorous plant genus Nepenthes.

Matthew was Chair of PlantNetwork from 2004 – 2015.

The Articles of Association require one third of Board members to retire at each AGM, these are the longest serving members; they may stand for re-election if they wish to do so. Nominations to join the Board are invited in advance of the AGM. Nominees should be  nominated by two PlantNetwork members. Contact office@plantnetwork.org for more information.

We’d like to thank all our previous trustees who have supported and guided PlantNetwork since its formation in the 1990s. In recognition of these amazing individuals who have given so much of their time, we have created a ‘Previous Executive Board’ page which records the biographies of our past board members.