In 2004 Bristol Zoo Gardens identified several changes that we wished to make to our plant collection and our land management practices in response to Global Strategy for Plant Conservation. Most of these have since been implemented, including a wish to raise the profile of our plant collection, plants in general and their importance with our zoo guests and the Bristol community. The Bristol Community Plant Collection is the flag ship for these activities and has just celebrated its 5th anniversary.
It began in 2008, when Gardens Curator, Eddie Mole attended a talk by Mercy Morris from NCCPG/Plant Heritage. During this, she mentioned that no one had national collections of annual plants. Annuals seemed to give an opportunity to introduce a new, more dynamic and GSPC relevant plant collection to the zoo so early in 2009 Eddie proposed the establishment of an annual plant collection and used Calendula as a case study. Quotes from this internal document include: “It would involve engaging with the wider community in order to run the collection, which should lessen our workload, encourage visits and enhance the reputation of the gardens” and “We engage with the zoo membership, volunteers and wider community, in a way never before done in the NCCPG. Therefore it has a lot of publicity potential in the horticultural press. If it works we have a model system”.
Unfortunately resources were scarce and we were unable to take the idea further but thanks to BGCI and the initiative, Communities in Nature in 2011, The Bristol Community Plant Collection became a reality
We chose the genus Calendula as many are easy to grow and they are attractive plants for our growers. Some species are more challenging and IUCN red listed, which makes them valuable to our plant collection policy. Growing them as a dispersed collection engages with many more growers and helps to reduce the risks of cross pollination, which is so important with a short lived plant.
In February 2011 we acquired seed of 8 species of Calendula from botanic gardens and looked for groups of people to grow each one. We targeted different areas of Bristol to make sure that we had a good demographic cross section. We also researched propagation methods, pollinations techniques and growing habitats for each species so that we had the necessary expertise to advise as required.
- For each school/ group to return the plants to the zoo in September for an internal display.
- Seed production to help make the project sustainable (Aichi target 19 & GSPC target 14)
- Take a survey to show educational learning of horticultural themes.
- Engage our local community.
- End of year celebration.
Over the last 5 years we have had over 500 participants with age range from 2 years old to 99. Survey results show that participants have gained knowledge, changed perceptions, engaged in communication within the groups. Large amounts of anecdotal evidence showing positive personal impacts from the project. We made over 100 external visits to schools and care homes. We held 12 education sessions with over 300 attending at the zoo to help with pollination and how to make a herbarium specimen. We have a Facebook page so that all groups past and present can ask questions and share advice to each other.
Bristol Zoo gardens has benefited by being part of the local community and engaging with those who have never been to the zoo before. Changing the perception of the work that BZG carries out and allowing staff to learn new skills. Linking with other organisations and also have our work recognised on a local, national and global scale.
During the last 5 years we estimate that we have engaged with over 500 individuals directly, plus their social and peer groups. We have taken our “growers” for an insight of the work done at Kew Gardens and have displayed our plant collection twice in the Plant Heritage tent at Hampton Court Flower Show, winning Silver and Bronze awards in the process. In 2016 we were able to run courses on how to take herbarium specimens in the Bristol Zoological Societies new Conservation and Learning Centre.
Each year has been a new challenge due to fluctuating resources but we now have a pledge of additional funds for the next 3 years for a local firm, Cedar Care Homes so are looking forward to the future with optimism. This is great news for this interesting and innovative project.
Article by : Matthew Bufton, Eddie Mole, Credit to Emma Moore Collection Coordinator