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Symposium: The State of Botany Teaching in the UK

A highlight of the Reading Botany 2019 celebrations will be our symposium, “The Big Botany Challenge! How to promote the power of plants in our schools?” which brings together scientists, teachers, education and industry specialists and associated organisations throughout the UK to present and debate the most effective ways to encourage and nurture the next generation of botanists with a special focus on secondary education.

Our symposium rationale stems from the observation that plants are regularly undervalued across society and often poorly represented in our school and university teaching resulting in the low perception of plants by many university students. This all has knock-on implications for a critical botanical skills shortage in ecology, conservation, taxonomy, botanic gardens and other related industries. This theme is often referred to as “Plant Blindness“.

In addition, the current trend of viewing plants as merely natural capital or easy laboratory organisms or as just pretty wallpaper also misses the real value of plant diversity and botany, rather we should be viewing plants as a fascinating tapestry with amazing stories to tell: “Plants are different and amazingly diverse….We should not be embarrassed to study them independently of their many uses…they are magnificent and captivating products of evolution…embrace plant science as a portal to a world of fascination.” (Nature Plants 2019).

Our symposium committee feel this almost intangible “fascination” which plants engender is crucial and is what is so often missing from plant education at all levels.  We hope our symposium will start to redress this in a way which welcomes in the younger generation to the power of plants as future scientists and national and global botanical movers and shakers!

Our symposium will be a one-day event and will include a keynote scene-setter plus posters, oral sessions and round-table discussions, majoring on interactive sessions, and practical outputs and making a difference to UK botany teaching are key symposium goals.

Our symposium is in four inter-related parts with one or more presenters tackling a key question:

(1) The power of plants and plant diversity to illustrate and tackle key global environmental issues in the curriculum;

Key question: “What is the role of botany in solving the most pressing global environmental issues e.g. climate change, deforestation and species extinction?”

(2) The diversity of career opportunities available for botanists and plant-savvy students;

Key question: “What career opportunities are there for young people interested in plants, passionate about environmental issues and wanting to make a difference?”

(3) A critique of curricula, exams and resources for schools and a showcase of best practice examples;

Key question: “Is what is now available sufficient and what can be developed in the future to support teachers in demonstrating the power, fascination and importance of plants in the curriculum?”

(4)  Round-table discussion of the best ways to enhance plant teaching in our schools for the future.

Key question: “How can we best promote the fascination of plants in our education system to nurture the next generation of botanists?


More details and programme and speakers following soon.

Symposium Committee

Jonathan Mitchley (UoR, Chair), Sue Townsend (Field Studies Council), Tim Utteridge (RBG Kew), Angela Hall (STEM Education Consultant), John Warren (BSBI), Julie Hawkins (UoR), Alastair Culham (UoR), Susan Medcalf (RSK Group Ltd), Simon Mortimer (UoR), Frank Mayle (UoR), Helen Bilton (UoR).

Email us: info@readingbotany.net
@readingbotany | @RNGherb | #plants2019


Dr Jonathan Mitchley, Reading Botany Team, Room 110, Harborne Building, Whiteknights, RG6 6AS


November 8
10:00 am - 6:30 pm


Dr J Mitchley
Dr A Culham
Ms Susan Medcalf


Meadow Suite