A historic bequest could put a stumbling block in plans to move Kew Herbarium

A historic bequest could put a stumbling block in plans to move Kew Herbarium

Plans to uproot the dried specimens from the historic Kew Gardens library and move them to a science park in Reading could be blocked after the original will was discovered, with the collection said to remain in place.

Kew Herbarium, which dates back to 1853, was founded from the collection of English botanist Sir William Hooker – the gardens’ first director – and houses more than seven million specimens dating back to the 17th century.

The Royal Botanic Gardens wants to move the botanical library at the Thames Valley Science Park, a decision that botanists say will end their careers, harm science and prompt foreign countries to repossess their collections.

But Isobel Moses, a descendant of Sir William, uncovered documents in the Kew Archives in which the botanist stipulated that the collection should remain within the gardens.

In a letter of 1865, Sir William wrote: “I earnestly entreat that on my death the Chief Commissioner of Works will offer to Her Majesty’s Government… an opportunity of purchasing the herbarium at a fair valuation and depositing it at Kew, as part of the Crown property annexed to the Royal Gardens.”

Separate letters to the government from Sir Joseph Hooker, Sir William’s son, and also a former director of Kew, indicate that his father’s “last wishes” were for the collection to be deposited at Kew “in perpetuity”.

A legal expert contacted by Kew scientists who oppose the transfer said the documents “go a long way towards being a contract between the implementers and the government”.

They added: “I think you can say that the executors offered the herbarium to the government at a certain price, to keep it at Kew, and the government accepted this offer and agreed to pay the asking price.”

Ms Moses, who is campaigning for the group to remain at Kew, said: “This proposed move makes absolutely no sense and will remove a key part of Kew from the rest of its activities, at a time of growing concern about the dire impacts.” of global warming.”

Plant experts say the herbarium needs to exist alongside the living collection for research purposes, and more than 17,000 people have now signed a petition calling for a rethink.

A recent Prospect union poll of a small number of employees showed that 84% opposed the move, while 94% said the ongoing conflict was affecting their mental health.

However, employees were warned that the decision was final and threatened with disciplinary action if they spoke out against the move.

One senior staff member, who did not want to be named for fear of retaliation, told The Telegraph: “Most colleagues are against the move, but staff have been banned from contacting secretaries or journalists, and everyone is really scared, angry and worried.

“The administration claims the collection is at risk, but we are the world’s experts, and if we thought the samples were at risk, we would be the first to say. We need to have the samples close to us.”

The herbarium houses 90 percent of the world’s plant diversity, and acquires about 30,000 new additions each year. Many specimens remain to be classified. Prize specimens in the collection include Galapagos ferns collected by Charles Darwin and plants from the East India Company, which launched the tea trade.

A Royal Botanic Gardens spokesman said: “Our plans to create a modern, purpose-built, state-of-the-art facility for our world-leading collection will not only preserve Britain’s historic place in botanical research and innovation, but will also ensure that the secrets of these specimens can be revealed in the future, leading to potential discoveries.” To repair our fragile planet.

The Ministry of the Environment, which partly funds Kew, said no final decision had been made on the herbarium.

A Defra spokesman said: “Ministers will continue to be kept updated as these discussions progress.”

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