The climate is changing - what can you do?

A new report shows that issues surrounding climate change are more pressing than ever, and gardeners have an important role to play

“Climate change is no longer some far-off problem; it is happening here, it is happening now”

Barack Obama

In February 2016, I joined the RHS Science team as the charity's first ever Climate Scientist. Immediately there was lots to think about, for example: how are gardeners being affected by climate change? If so, how are they adapting? What advice do gardeners need to help with adaptation?

The decision was made to face these questions head-on, and delve into the science to see what can be done.

5.2MB pdf opens in a new windowWe also had a social scientist on board, who conducted a survey of amateur and professional gardeners in relation to their experiences and perceptions of climate change. The results were remarkable, and this led to reading one scientific paper, and then another until eventually, the RHS Gardening in a Changing Climate report was born.

The creation of this report has been an incredible experience. As my first job after my PhD in Environmental Science, I was lucky enough to work with some fantastic scientists at the RHS, the University of Reading and the University of Sheffield. There has been a wealth of opportunities along the way – including being interviewed by Monty Don at the Hampton Court Flower Show for BBC Gardeners’ World (needless to say my parents were very pleased about this!).

The good, the bad and the carbon

While there have been many exciting opportunities, there have also been some very sobering moments. Principally, when it became apparent just how important gardeners are in minimising the impacts of climate change.

For example, did you know that almost 50% of UK adults are engaged in gardening1? Or that domestic gardens account for nearly 25% of urban space2? Or that garden soils store almost 25% more carbon per unit area than arable soils3? I certainly didn’t when I embarked on this report. Collectively, these facts point towards the significant contribution gardeners could make to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

More research is needed to refine what this means for garden design and management… which is where the report is leading me next! However, our 'Garden for a Changing Climate' at the RHS Chatsworth Flower Show brings to life some ideas that we have so far, but I know that there is plenty more for us to discover…

2 Gaston, K.J., Warren, P.H., Thompson, K. and Smith, R.M., 2005. Urban domestic gardens (IV): the extent of the resource and its associated features. Biodiversity and Conservation14(14), pp.3327-3349.
3 Edmondson, J.L., Davies, Z.G., McHugh, N., Gaston, K.J. and Leake, J.R., 2012. Organic carbon hidden in urban ecosystems. Scientific reports2, p.963.

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The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.