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Panel Presentation and Discussion: Inspiring New Naturalists and Taxonomists

There is a critical need to inspire and develop new naturalists and taxonomists. This panel presentation reviews developments and difficulties when working with children, in higher education, and in professional taxonomy

Since the demise of ‘whole organism’ biology in favour of biotechnology and molecular biology at universities and research institutes, taxonomy has become less available as a subject and is fast disappearing out of school curricula across the world. And yet taxonomy is as important today as ever, supporting forensic work, the search for new medicinal compounds, the fight to combat climate change and the development of many new everyday products.

As huge repositories of diverse species, botanic gardens, and similar natural history organisations offer the ideal site for the teaching of taxonomy to a number of audiences - inspiring a passion for plants, developing observation skills and ultimately building capacity for environmental action and conservation work globally. This talk will highlight some of the current activities and programmes that encourage people, in particular children, to recognise, identify and understand plant relationships.

Gail Bromley is Education Development Manager and International Consultant for Biodiversity Education at Kew. She has been there for 33 years, working for the first 12 years as a plant taxonomist, specialising in Brazilian Plants. Gail joined the education team in 1987 and became Head of Department in 1994. She developed and managed the education provision at Kew, including higher education and professional training, adult education, interpretation / informal education provision, schools programmes and Kew’s first volunteer programme. She significantly built the learning team at Kew and introduced a volunteer guide force of over 50 to Kew.

Gail moved on from formal education provision to develop her role as national and international advisor and consultant for Kew on botanic garden and biodiversity education and to explore programmes that support sustainable community outreach. She is responsible for the management of new community education projects and initiatives and for capacity building programmes at home and abroad on education for biodiversity and sustainability. Currently she is additionally supporting a number of individual Kew projects, such as the The Great Plant Hunt programme for schools and the new interpretation programme for the restored Marianne North Gallery at Kew.

Gail remains passionate about both plants and people and expends a great deal of energy working to encourage communities worldwide to recognise the vital importance of plants and their habitats and to support organisations that deliver plant science and support conservation.

Gail was awarded the MBE in Jan.2003 for ‘services to education’. She is a Fellow of the Linnean Society

His lecture will touch on three inter-related aspects of the problem of how to encourage more taxonomists: stimulation, training and opportunity. To many, that there is a problem at all is surprising given the unprecedented number and popularity of high profile natural history programmes such as the Attenborough series and Spring Watch. Indeed, are these part of the problem? At what point is the life-long interest in natural history borne and what is the spark? If the spark is no longer being ignited, how do we light it? Part of the problem is often laid at the door of the universities who, it is claimed, no longer teach formal systematics and taxonomy. Is this criticism fair and if it is, what is the reason for it? How much should be laid at the doors of the research councils who increasingly determine national research priorities? How does the graduate with appropriate skills and interests actually find the job market? Rather than a lack of taxonomists, is not a lack of opportunities also a problem?

David Streeter MBE is reader in Ecology at the University of Sussex where he was formerly Dean of the School of Biological Sciences and a Pro-Vice-Chancellor and where he designed and convenes the MSc in Biodiversity Survey. He is a plant ecologist but with interests in all aspects of natural history. He has been particularly involved with the link between ecology and conservation policy. He is a past member of the Countryside Commission and the Advisory Committee for England of the Nature Conservancy Council. He is currently a member of the Conservation Panel of the National Trust and is president of the Sussex Wildlife Trust.

The impacts of taxonomy go far wider than simply the application of names. This talk will be illustrated with a range of examples to show how taxonomy and the accurate naming of plants are fundamental to scientists working in a range of subjects including phylogenetics, conservation and forensics. Taxonomy is not the dull subject it is painted to be, and with the aid of these examples, he hopes to persuade the audience that this is a vibrant, interesting field of research with a real relevance in the 21st century..

Dr Mike Fay has worked at Kew since 1986, and for the last 15 years he has worked in the Jodrell Laboratory, where he is Head of Genetics. In this position, he is involved in a range of projects using genetic techniques to investigate questions relating to taxonomy, phylogenetics, evolution and conservation. He is Editor in Chief of the Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society and is currently a Vice President of the Linnean Society. He is particularly interested in orchids, and he is Chair of the Orchid Specialist Group of the Species Survival Commission of IUCN.


Gail Bromley | talks
David Streeter | talks
Dr Mike Fay | talks


Date and Time:

20 November 2009 at 6:30 pm


2 hours



Birkbeck, University of London
43 Gordon Square
020 7679 1069
Show map

Organised by:

Ecology and Conservation Studies Society
See other talks organised by Ecology and Conservation Studies Society...




Available from:

E-mail: environmentevents@FLL.bbk.ac.uk for booking and venue details. (tel: 020 7631 6473)

Additional Information:

Booking essential. Doors open at 6.00pm
This is one of six lectures on consecutive Friday evenings from 16 October to 20 November inclusive, on the subject of 'What's in a Name? - Taxonomy and Biodiversity' Saving our Experts from Extinction
Full details of all speakers and their lectures are available at http://www.bbk.ac.uk/environment/news/lectures

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