Horticultural Skills Gap Threatens UK Landscapes

Sunday 14 April 2013

In National Gardening Week RHS highlights skills loss in Plant Pathology

Ash dieback, Dutch elm disease and sudden oak death demonstrate the critical threat to trees of major importance to the UK landscape, but Britain no longer has the capability to cope with these diseases and future threats due to a severe loss of knowledge in plant pathology.

As the 2013 National Gardening Week (15–21 April) takes place, the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) is highlighting the decline in Plant Pathology in the UK and its impact on horticulture and the wider British landscape. The British Society of Plant Pathologists* says that research in Plant Pathology has almost collapsed and universities are withdrawing Plant Pathology degrees. A major cause is a lack of students wanting to do the degrees, which in turn is fuelled by the disappearance of Plant Pathology-related jobs for them to apply for.

The decline in Plant Pathology expertise must be reversed to give the UK a better opportunity for early detection and control of new and existing diseases, particularly through more rigorous inspection of plant material coming in at UK points of entry.

The growing shortage of plant pathologists is just one of the reasons why on 14 May 2013, before the Centenary RHS Chelsea Flower Show, the horticultural industry will present the report 'Horticulture Matters' to the Coalition Government, highlighting the alarming shortage of skilled horticultural professionals in the UK today.

As part of the report, 200 horticultural businesses were surveyed: more than 70% of them said they struggle to fill skilled vacancies; 90% said horticulture lacked career appeal and 93% demanded government action.

Sue Biggs, Director General of the RHS, spearheading the 'Horticulture Matters' report, says growing concern across the whole industry about the skills crisis has galvanised a unified call for government action. “We’ve brought together Britain’s leading horticultural organisations to create the 'Horticulture Matters' report.

“There must be urgent action to save British horticulture and it must happen now.”

The report will ask the Coalition Government to prioritise horticulture within the Research Councils and other government research funding areas to equip Britain with the high level of skilled professionals that the UK needs to tackle threats posed by climate change and by pests and diseases.

Sue continues: “There is a critical gap in Plant Pathology today. We need to ensure there is sufficient funding to support horticultural learning and skills in development in further education institutions across the UK. We need to encourage and create more opportunities for plant pathologists, for instance more skilled people at borders and ports to monitor plant movement into the UK.

“The international trade in plants and trees accounts for 90% of all plant pests and 58% of new plants pathogens introduced into the UK. We must make sure we have the right people with the right skills so that Britain can cope with new diseases and threats. We must invest in and recognise horticulture.”

Mike Shaw, Professor of Plant Disease Ecology at Reading University says: "We need skilled plant pathologists and we need to pass on those skills so they are there when needed. We keep a fire brigade all the time: we don't try and ask if anyone knows about fire-fighting when a fire breaks out. This isn't a one-off issue: it is about long-term provision."

The horticultural industry is aware that it needs to join forces and take action. An action plan will be implemented to raise awareness of horticultural careers, why they matter and the breadth of opportunities.

The report will be presented to the Coalition Government on 14 May 2014 and will highlight the growing crisis in British horticulture that is threatening our economy, environment and food security.

Horticulture contributes £9 billion to the British economy each year as an industry. It employs 300,000 people from crop growers and gardeners to scientists, tree surgeons and turf specialists.



Notes to editors

For more information, please contact: Hayley Monckton in the RHS Press Office on 020 7821 3045 or 07764787037 or email hayleymonckton@rhs.org.uk

*Plant Pathology has been lost completely or greatly reduced at 11 universities and colleges. The British Society of Plant Pathology research also found that fewer than half the institutions that teach biology, agriculture or foresty offer courses in Plant Pathology. http://www.bspp.org.uk/society/index.php

About the RHS
The Royal Horticultural Society was founded in 1804 by Sir Joseph Banks and John Wedgwood for the encouragement and improvement of the science, art and practice of horticulture. We held our first flower shows in 1820, were granted a Royal Charter in 1861 and acquired RHS Garden Wisley, the first of our gardens, in 1903. From our first meetings in a small room off London’s Piccadilly, we have grown to become the world’s largest gardening charity.

Today the RHS is committed to providing a voice for all gardeners. We are driven by a simple love of plants and a belief that gardeners make the world a better place. 209 years on we continue to safeguard and advance the science, art and practice of horticulture, creating displays that inspire people to garden. In all aspects of our work we help gardeners develop by sharing our knowledge of plants, gardens and the environment.

RHS membership is for anyone with an interest in gardening. Support the RHS and secure a healthy future for gardening. For more information call: 0845 130 4646, or visit www.rhs.org.uk/join  

RHS Registered Charity No. 222879/SC038262


Latest press releases

About the RHS

The RHS believes that gardening improves the quality of life and that everyone should have access to great garden experiences. As a charity we help to bring gardening into people's lives and support gardeners of all levels and abilities; whether they are expert horticulturists or children who are planting seeds for the very first time.

RHS membership is for anyone with an interest in gardening. Support the RHS and secure a healthy future for gardening. For more information call: 0845 130 4646, or visit www.rhs.org.uk

RHS Registered Charity No. 222879/SC038262