To complement our important, ongoing commitment to cultivated plant taxonomy and nomenclature, five new environmental programmes have been identified for RHS science:
Encouraging biodiversity in gardens
The programme recognises gardens will continue to increase in importance as havens for wildlife with increasing urbanisation, ever-more intensive farming and changes in climate. The RHS will champion further work, within the Society and in partnership with other organisations and researchers, to understand better how to manage both individual gardens, and the patchwork of public and private green space, to produce an optimal balance between wildlife benefit and horticultural enjoyment.
Projects will include examining the ecological interactions within urban landscapes of public and private green space, in collaboration with other researchers and ‘citizen scientists’. The aim is to draw conclusions that will allow more effective management of the patchwork of all the green space in urban areas, including private gardens. Collecting and analysing information will continue to be important, so recommendations of ‘best practice’ can be made based on evidence. A particularly important area is to look for the reasons for recent declines in pollinating insects, including both social and solitary bee species, and to promote their conservation.
Gardening in a changing climate
The RHS should take the lead in providing early warning to gardeners of the likely effects of climate change, based on the evidence, and thus equip gardeners to be able to plan ahead for them.
Predicting and monitoring the impacts of climate change on garden plants, weeds, pests and diseases, using existing and new data, will help the Society provide gardeners with the tools and forecasts to respond both to future threats and opportunities. Another important aspect is to develop and demonstrate how changes in garden design can help gardeners adapt to – and mitigate the effects of – the changing climate. The Society also intends to study how climate change is likely to impact both on pests and beneficial insects, and interractions between the two, and to continue to raise awareness of the risks posed by invasive, non-native plant species to the wider ennvironment.
Conserving the genetic diversity of cultivated plants
The RHS already collaborates with other organisations involved in plant conservation, such as Plant Heritage (formerly NCCPG), but sees focusing on plants with sustainability benefits an emerging niche it can contribute to. Key to this is to develop further the RHS record of fostering garden plant diversity, acting as an authoritative source of reference, and to share that knowledge with gardeners and other organisations.
Managing resource use in gardens
The Society must develop evidence-based and consistent advice on the sustainable use of resources such as soil, water and energy, and also be seen to practice more sustainable management of its gardens and shows.
Projects within this programme will involve developing and demonstrating robust, evidence based guidance, through expert interpretation of available data, in several areas. In water management, guidance will be provided on water use in domestic gardens subject to more frequent and more intense droughts and floods; in soils, sustainable techniques for gardeners to improve and preserve the health of their soils; and to guide in the sustainable use of energy in the garden.
Advancing plants and gardens for urban sustainability
Increasing areas of the UK are becoming urbanised at the very time climate change is set to make the urban environment more hostile. Plants and gardens have the potential to deliver significant benefits in terms of improving the environment, to the aesthetics of urban areas and to foster improved social cohesion. In championing these benefits the RHS will also broaden its appeal to a wider membership.
Projects in this area will include determining and demonstrating best practice for horticulture in small urban gardens, so that gardeners with such plots can gain maximum benefits from them; to demonstrate and promote the capacity plants and gardens have to mitigate the urban heat island effect; to provide refuges for biodiversity; and to mitigate the effects of flooding and drought. In short, to investigate the role of plants and gardens in human health and well-being in the urban context, from existing data and sourcing and assimilating new evidence where necessary.