Memorandum submitted by the Royal Horticultural
Society (D 39)
The Royal Horticultural Society is a membership
organisation with over a quarter of a million members, and a registered
charity. Its purpose is the encouragement and improvement of the
science, art and practice of horticulture in all its branches.
It is particularly concerned with the encouragement and improvement
of horticulture amongst amateur gardeners.
The society runs an advisory service from its
Wisley laboratory and the scientists employed there carry out
some research projects as part of their work. The Society has
limited resources for research and projects are prioritised using
several criteria: in particular a problem must be indicated as
important on the basis of relevance to our members (as assessed
by frequency of enquiry or other criteria), and it must not be
worked on elsewhere. As a consequence we tend to concentrate on
topics not covered by larger research organisations. We benefit
from a close association with HRI and several senior members of
HRI's research staff sit on the Science and Horticultural Advice
Committee which overseas the Society's scientific activities.
HRI AND THEIR
1. HRI research and its value to amateur
The Society regards HRI as the major single
provider of horticultural research in the UK, although this is
not to ignore the large amount of horticulturally-related work
done at various universities. HRI receives major government and
industry funding and it is inevitable and right that its research
is therefore targeted to the industry. As a result, much of its
work is directed to improving cultivars and management systems
and solving problems for the commercial sector.
However, there is no clear distinction between
the benefits to professional and amateur horticulturalists, because
the latter are an important market for the former. Gardeners often
benefit from research somewhat later than the industry, but this
only reflects the extra time needed to adapt research successes
to the amateur market. Better-quality plants and reduced pest
and disease problems benefit both types of user. Examples of past
HRI research successes which have had great benefit for gardeners
the "Ballerina" apples
bred at East Malling;
the wide range of rootstocks bred
at East Malling for top fruit;
vegetables varieties from Wellesbourne,
eg "Flyaway" carrots with carrot fly resistance and
lettuce varieties with resistance to root aphid;
the pioneering work done at the Glasshouse
Crops Research Institute on biological control of greenhouse pests;
the submission of data for Specific
Off Label Approvals (SOLAs) for minor uses of pesticides, enabling
effective pest control by the industry on a range of minor crops,
including ornamentals sold to gardeners. This ensures gardeners
obtain healthy plants, even though they cannot use the pesticides
themselves (eg aldicarb for stem nematode control and etridiazole
for Phytophthora and Pythium root rot, both in hardy nursery stock).
The loss of 20 per cent of the staff and closure
of one major site (The Grower, 14 October 2000) will lower
morale and reduce research output. HRI's research has a very high
international reputation and these losses will also diminish the
UK's high international standing as a contributor to the advancement
of horticulture. The Society deplores this adverse impact on research
because it will affect the whole of horticulture.
2. The balance between "blue sky"
and "near market" research
There is also discussion about shifting the
balance of HRI research away from "blue sky" towards
"near market" activities. In terms of the effect on
gardeners, the main difference is that the benefits of the former
take longer to filter down. The latter should generate benefits
more quickly, but only at the expense of a downturn in output
later when the lack of long-term investment becomes apparent.
This "spend now, save later" approach makes no sense.
3. The lack of scientists' time for voluntary
Cuts in research resources will have a negative
impact on the voluntary activities carried out by all scientists
in the service of their profession, such as liaising with amateur
groups, providing expert inputs to charitable organisations, and
providing expert evaluations of things ranging from draft manuscripts
to grant proposals and submissions to local and national governments
that have horticultural or biological implications. Less staff
will mean less time for these essential but uncosted activities.
There will also inevitably be further pressure for "accountability"
even though the time taken to generate acceptable evidence of
accountability reduces even further the time available to achieve
resultsthus vindicating the critics who claim research
is insufficiently productive.
In summary, the Royal Horticultural Society
deplores cuts in HRI's research activities for four principal
1. There will be a reduction in the research
outputs which are of benefit to amateur gardeners as well as to
2. There will be a loss of research momentum
if long-term projects are sacrificed for quick returns.
3. The availability of scientists to carry
out voluntary, uncosted activities in support of their profession
will be further eroded.
4. The UK's strong international reputation
for horticultural research will be diminished.
30 November 2000