© PlantNetwork: The Plant Collections Network of Britain and Ireland
Strategy emerges gradually, and may only be fully understood in retrospect. Ten years after its foundation, PlantNet was obliged to change its name (in 2005) to PlantNetwork. This coincided tidily with the need to prepare a new Strategy Plan, and to reflect on how well we have achieved our 2002 plan. The meetings we have had, the challenges we have addressed and the thinking we have had to do, have informed this new Strategy. It does not differ hugely from our previous plan, which says more for the foresight of the board at the time than anything else. Our thanks must go to Bernard Payne and David Rae for their clear vision that has come to pass.
We can now build on our successes, as well as appreciate what we have failed to achieve or address to date. One of the greatest lessons is that our Conferences are still topical, and immensely enjoyable occasions for those in the whole sector to meet and exchange ideas. Regular and diverse meetings are probably the single greatest benefit of membership, allowing networking to take place at an individual, as well as institutional level.
This new Strategy Plan highlights what we have achieved under each policy, but in doing so draws attention to things not done. One of the greatest hindrances to achieving our aims has been time. Even though our Administrator now (officially) works 30 hours a week, there is still not enough time to complete or undertake the tasks we need to do, including this Strategy Plan. Board members have full-time jobs and frantic work schedules elsewhere. The only solution to this impasse is more funding from external sources so that we can contract the work that needs doing.
National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin
The purpose of this new Strategy Plan is to outline the activities that PlantNetwork has been involved in, as well as the policies, plans and future activities we intend to undertake up to 2010. To date we have held 23 conferences, 24 Forum groups and 10 Training Days. Whilst membership has increased, it is clear that we need to improve our outreach still further. In February 2004 the Dulverton Trust gave us a grant of £15,000 to develop PlantNetwork, and in April 2004 we received a further £4,500 from the Forestry Commission. These two grants had a highly invigorating effect upon the organisation; we were able to raise our Administrator’s hours from 20 to 30 hours per week, we now have an operating capital, and we have had the time to initiate a number of major projects.
The first part of the Strategy relates to PlantNetwork’s own administrative entity and reviews ours goals and objectives for membership, capacity, training, publications and advice, and sets new goals. In the second part, the policy statements are now informed by what we have achieved to date and what we need to be mindful of in the future. In addition we have added four Appendices that examine some of the cross-cutting issues, such as the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation and the Convention on Biological Diversity, and how both individual members, as well as PlantNetwork as an organisation, needs to engage with these agendas.
Crucial to the new plan are the same hurdles foreseen in the previous plan, namely, growth in membership, and obtaining external funding to put in place the necessary resources for projects and people to carry them out. The Strategy needs to be monitored by the Board of Directors, and should be reviewed by PlantNetwork members at every AGM in order to ensure that the organisation is fulfilling its objectives.
PlantNetwork: The Plant Collections Network of Britain and Ireland is a private company limited by guarantee, registered in England 3777793; and a registered charity 1081747.
The objectives of the charity are to:
- advance the education of the public in horticulture and related subjects with particular reference to the study and appreciation of plant collections and their management and conservation
- promote, for the public benefit, the general preservation and conservation of plant collections of importance, beauty or historical or scientific interest.
PlantNetwork aims to:
- promote documented botanical collections in Britain and Ireland as a national resource for research, conservation and education
- facilitate networking among holders of plant collections through a programme of conferences, focus groups and training workshops and a regular newsletter.
There are currently (March 2006) 185 members of PlantNetwork, which comprise 92 institutional members and 93 personal members. We had intended in the previous strategy plan to have reached 100 institutional members (from 82 then) by 2005, and 120 personal members.
Whilst most botanic gardens and many public gardens in Britain and Ireland are now members and enthusiastically support PlantNetwork’s objectives, it is important to persuade the remaining few to join. PlantNetwork has never been envisaged as a mass-membership organisation, though anyone espousing its aims and objectives is welcome to join. The market, in terms of institutional membership, is a small one, and it is possible to make a reasonable estimate of its size at about a maximum of 220.
It is also important to increase the number of personal members so that PlantNetwork can be a major advocate for plant collections – representing their concerns and interests in national and international forums. We have been anxious to reach, and include in personal membership, more staff at member gardens (as well as associated students, trustees and Friends’ groups) and to encourage their participation and contribution to PlantNetwork’s objectives. Unfortunately the numbers of individuals today (55) is little more than it was in 1998 (45).
Within large institutions our newsletters do not reach the audience they need to, and staff miss out on the opportunity to attend conferences and keep up with news. We had hoped to achieve better communication by reducing the cost of subscription to half that of the usual individual membership. and since the introduction of reduced rates for those in member institutions (2002), the numbers then and now (38) remain unchanged. Our intention is not so much to boost subscription income but to promote the benefits of broader networking between member gardens. We have already produced an A4 sheet which extols the benefits of PlantNetwork membership.
To achieve this aim, PlantNetwork will seek to increase its membership by:
- producing a high-quality, colour flyer that will publicise the activities and achievements of the organisation.
- targeting those institutions that are not yet members to raise the number to 100 by the AGM of 2008
- further developing the newly introduced category of membership for staff, trustees, students and Friends’ groups within institutions that are already members – the aim will be to raise the numbers to 120 such personal members by the AGM of 2008.
In our last strategy plan there was an ambitious target to increase PlantNetwork’s capacity, including having a full-time Administrator by 2004, a part-time Clerical Assistant by 2006 and a Director post by 2010. Whilst our Administrator is now working 30 hours a week, it is clear, at least in the short term, that our ambitions for a full or part-time Director are no longer a priority in our future plans.
However, it is also clear that we still lack important capacity, and that additional part-time staff, or contract staff are vital to our ongoing activities. Even before the Administrator’s hours were increased, she was already undertaking upwards of 900 hours extra per year. Thus the increased hours merely formalised an already existing situation. Contract staff or secretarial help is needed to develop more fully membership services, publications, data and survey information, networking, and support to the Board of Directors. Work would include:-
- developing and extending services to members
- organising workshops and conferences
- developing and promoting proceedings or other tangible products from meetings
- developing internal and external networking opportunities, in particular by promoting the Heritage and Botanic Garden Training Bursaries Scheme
- assistance to the fund raising sub-committee in developing applications
- secretarial assistance to the Target 8 project
Funding and resources
The last four years of accounts reveal a steady underlying picture to our finances. PlantNetwork costs approximately £30,000 per year to run, and income is in the order of £ 20,000. Thus there is a funding shortfall of approximately £10,000 each year.
Subscriptions cannot be expected to cover the actual running costs of PlantNetwork. We strive to keep the costs of our conferences as low as possible, and it is their popularity that continues to generate a modest profit. To carry out project work there continues to be a regular need to seek grant funding from external trusts and other bodies. Considerable success has been achieved in the past 2 years and the fact that we have charitable status makes us eligible to apply to trusts that restrict themselves to funding charities only. A fund-raising sub-committee exists, but this requires assistance to produce materials suitable for the task in hand.
Conferences and training
Since 1994 we have held 23 conferences – a spring and autumn conference each year. These have been the mainstay of our meetings programme and have covered every policy area that we address in this guide. Their success is largely a result of the dedicated efforts of our Administrator who has ensured the smooth organisation of meetings by developing and bringing together the speakers, often entirely on her own.
PlantNetwork’s special-interest groups (Plant Records Group, Tree Forum, and Glasshouse Forum) have continued to hold regular meetings. Our most recent group is the Propagator’s Forum, which has joined forces with PlantNetwork, and has already held two meetings under our auspices. These Forums were established to provide practical hands-on experience and direct discussion, and still achieve this.
Each group meets about once a year and their existence makes a direct and valued contribution to PlantNetwork’s training and networking remit. The Plant Records Group used to have a regular programme of two meetings per year, but this has declined of late. This underlines the importance of one or two individuals inspiring and driving on a program. It is important that we promote and assist such individuals in steering a group forwards.
In 2002 PlantNetwork managed to secure a small grant to establish a series of Technical Training Days. These days proved immensely popular and all agree that they are an excellent tool for training. Two problems have dogged their continuation, firstly a lack of funds, but also the board has not been more forceful in driving forwards their resurrection. Alasdair Hood (Dundee), Mark Sparrow (Chester) and Chris Bailes (Rosemoor) are to be congratulated for doing their bit to revive the programme.
PlantNetwork continues to believe that great benefit can be acquired from staff exchanges and welcomes the establishment of the Heritage and Botanic Garden Training Bursaries Scheme. We will promote the scheme as a way to implement staff-exchange and development between member institutions, as well as by allocating places at our meetings for student attendance sponsored by the scheme.
PlantNetwork continues to publish three newsletters for members each year. The first hard-copy version of the PlantNet Directory of Botanical Collections in Britain and Ireland was published in 1999; and a web version was launched in 2005.
Special publications on particular topics have also been produced – one from the Rosemoor meeting, on Design and Display of Plant Collections, the other Guidelines on Legislation, Import Practices and Plant Quarantine for Botanic Gardens and Kindred Institutions by Katie Treseder (Eden Project), Fiona Inches (RBG Edinburgh), and Helen Long (RBG Kew). This latter document will be available as a non-copyright word version so that institutions can utilise it for developing their own in house programmes where needed.
It is envisaged that the website will provide similar open-access documents, such as the Cataloguing and record keeping for plant collections booklet, and the Garden Policies Statementfrom the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, that can provide blueprints for in-house policy development by member gardens.
In 2002 Joe Rowntree helped us in establishing our first web presence as www.plantnet.org. This initial site gave a brief overview of the organisation, but was not seen as a diary or information source for meetings. We now have a new website www.plantnetwork.org (although we still own the former domain name), which acts as a source of detailed information, including an up to date diary, downloadable application forms for meetings, an online version of the directory, the previous strategy plan, PowerPoint presentations from previous meetings as well as up to date information on projects such as the Target 8 Project.
A direct consequence of the Writtle PlantNetwork conference in Sept 2002 (Training in Heritage and Botanical Horticulture) was the establishment of a process that resulted in a national survey of horticultural training, and a synthesis of the careers, occupations and skills required for the management and maintenance of botanic and historic gardens. This document was published in December 2005, and provided a snapshot of the industry (it is available on our website amongst many others).
The main finding of this report is that the historic and botanic garden and public park sectors believe they are facing a major recruitment, retention and succession crisis. This could lead to a decline of the sector in fifteen to twenty years. In order to address this problem, English Heritage with 14 other partners including PlantNetwork, developed a bid to the Heritage Lottery Scheme for a Heritage and Botanic Garden Bursary Scheme. The scheme aims to tackle a full range of skills shortages and staffing throughput issues with support for long-term work placements (3-12 months); for those entering the industry as part of an advanced apprenticeship scheme (17-22 year olds); and structured work placements as part of a graduate apprenticeship scheme for older learners having completed college courses seeking guided practical experience. The scheme will foster training of young horticultural staff by promoting national and international staff exchanges.
Data and membership surveys
In order to promote plant collections in Britain and Ireland as a collective, national resource, in different contexts we need to gather more information on collections.
Members of PlantNetwork hold data on many aspects of the management of plant collections. Data on plant collections have already been surveyed and used to compile a database: the PlantNet Directory of Botanical Collections in Britain and Ireland. It will also be helpful to gather information on, for instance, the numbers and types of staff employed in the management of plant collections, the number of visitors to plant collections each year, seasonal patterns of visiting, the range of events organised and types of publication produced and scientific, research and conservation activities. Such information and data from members will be collated and used as the basis for planning publicity, training and collaborative ventures, sometimes in association with other organisations.
Research on the history and significance of individual plants or species that is conducted at so many gardens, for example, could be streamlined by reducing overlap and improving synergy. As well as collective collections we need to promote collaboration with respect to horticultural knowledge and skills, as well as the idea of collective interpretation and research. Many gardens have already developed extensive archives of interpretative materials that could benefit from the compilation and sharing of this information.
The online cultivation and propagation database will serve as an excellent model to enable this sharing of data.
To support PlantNetwork’s principal aims and objectives, policy statements have been developed in consultation with members. They will require further development and amendment from time to time, and the Board of Directors will monitor them continuously and subject them, and the whole of the Strategy Plan, to the scrutiny of members at every AGM.
There are thirteen policies that cover:
- A. Horticulture
- B. Science
- C. Education
- D. Training
- E. Standards of Record-keeping
- F. Conservation
- G. Environmental issues
- H. Heritage Value of Plant Collections
- I. Advocacy and Public Policy
- J. Health, Safety and Ethical Issues
- K. Volunteers
- L. Networking
- M: International Commitments
- Lantra (Land-based industries training organisation)
- Plant collections and the Convention on Biological Diversity
- PlantNetwork and the Global strategy for Plant Conservation