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Kew Gardens gets COP26 Government digitisation funds

09/11/21

Mark Chillingworth

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Royal Botanic Kew Gardens is to digitise its plant and fungi specimens archive to boost research into climate change and biodiversity loss, following a £15 million investment from the UK Government.

Kew Gardens, situated in west London, is a non-departmental public body sponsored by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and received the £15 million investment from the Treasury. The announcement was made as part of the COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow.

Digitising the archives of Kew Gardens will not only ensure that climate and biodiversity scientists across the world have free access to the historic material, but will also protect the archive from degradation as it ages or suffers a catastrophic loss, such as a fire or flood. 

“We are opening up a vast stockpile of data which will seed a forest of vital research projects across the planet,” Simon Clarke MP, chief secretary to the treasury, said in a statement. Kew Gardens hosts the world’s largest collection of plant and fungal specimens, and free worldwide access could benefit research to combat climate change and biodiversity loss. 

“The collections at Kew are a global resource that helps us to understand what is happening to our biodiversity, how climate change is affecting nature and what we are losing,” Dr Aaron Davis, senior research leader in crops and global change at Kew Gardens, said. “It was assembled by partners across the world, so it is therefore only right that we speed up the process of digitising this data for everyone to use in tackling species loss and ensuring we are making good choices that are sustainable for people and the planet.”

The digitisation programme is expected to take four years to complete.  When finished, researchers will be able to digitally access 170 years and over 8 million plant and fungal specimen details, some of it collected by Charles Darwin.

“These collections represent knowledge of plant and fungal diversity that will help scientists around the world conserve nature and find solutions to some of the most critical challenges facing humanity,” said Richard Deverell, director, Kew Gardens. 

Image from iStock, tupungato

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