Frequently Asked Questions
What is the main purpose of Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew?
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, holds the world’s largest collection of living plants; the pre-eminent collection of preserved plants; and leading plant science laboratories. It performs a unique role in international conservation and biodiversity, and is among the top five admission-charging visitor attractions in the UK. The garden and woodlands at Wakehurst Place in Sussex is managed by Kew, and is home to the Millennium Seed Bank, one of the world’s most ambitious plant conservation projects.
No other plant organisation in the world comes close to Kew’s international influence or prominence. Kew is a powerhouse for plant science and plant conservation. Almost every conservation project in the world that aims to protect plants and their habitats relies on the information that Kew and our partner organisations have gathered over 250 years of study.
TW9 is the world’s most plant bio-diverse postcode.
What is the difference between plants and fungi?
Fungi differ from plants in many ways, including a complete lack of chlorophyll, the green colouring matter that enables plants to obtain their nutrition through photosynthesis. Fungi, like animals, require the organic matter of other organisms for their nutrition. However, rather than using a stomach to accomplish digestion, fungi live in or on their own food supply and simply spread into new food as the local environment becomes nutrient depleted.
Recent DNA evidence shows that fungi are actually closer to animals than to plants.
Why are fungi important?
Through nutritional partnerships, fungi are vital for plant health and therefore human health. 80% of plants grow through close association with fungi in the soil. Medecines such as penicillin come from fungi.
We know so little about them – only 5% described – so they represent a fund of undiscovered knowledge.
Does Kew have a particular viewpoint on the climate change issue?
Kew aims to increase global awareness of the importance of plants as assimilators of carbon. By protecting rainforests and other vegetation, repairing damaged wild vegetation, and growing plants in urban and rural environments, less carbon will remain in the atmosphere.
We also have a particular interest in areas of the world that climate change predictions show to be most threatened – they are the countries with the richest and often the most under-researched plant life; and they are often the poorest countries, where people are particularly dependent on their plants for food, and least able to take action for conservation.
What action should be taken?
All of us, governments, companies and individuals need to cut carbon emissions in order to limit warming to a 2 degrees increase or less. (Most scenarios suggest that 2°C warming could be coped with, but 5-6°C warming would be disastrous for human life and biodiversity as we know it.)
In addition, and most relevant to Kew’s expertise, we should do everything possible to protect wild plants and grow more in both rural and urban landscapes. A greener world will face far less acute climate change.
What is your position on sustainability?
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew was the first World Heritage Site to be certificated under ISO14001, the international standard on management to achieve sustainability. We regard this as a baseline from which we will continue to improve and develop our techniques for operating in a clean, environmentally conscious way.
Why is the Pagoda closed to the public?
The Pagoda is in need of further restoration, and we need to raise the funds to do so. In order to cut down 'wear and tear' we do not plan to re-open the Pagoda until 2009, which is the 250th anniversary of Kew Gardens.
Why does the cost of admission go up on 1 April?
Each year Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, reviews its admission charge. In 2012, the admission charge for day entry for an adult is £14.50. Children up to and including sixteen years of age will continue to be free of charge - an unusual concession among visitor attractions. See the Visiting Kew Gardens part of the website for full details of current admission charges.
The annual price review is essential because our government funding is falling in real terms, so we need to make sure that we are charging an amount that allows us to continue to maintain the gardens well and support our plant conservation work.
How does this compare with other attractions?
Visitor research and benchmarking against other attractions demonstrates that Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, remains good value for money when compared with other destinations. Our free entry for children under 17 means we are particularly competitive in the families market, with the typical cost of a family day out at Kew now starting at £29 versus over £40 in many attractions.
Does this affect season ticket prices or Friends membership?
Some Friends memberships and season ticket pricing changed in April 2008. Please see the Membership pages for more details.
Why do you need more money?
We receive half of the funds we need from Defra. That percentage has been reducing gradually over the years, while needs and visitor expectations have been increasing. The past couple of decades have seen enormous improvement in the kind of facilities and services that we offer. All of this takes money, and along with other activities, the fees that visitors pay to get into the gardens make a really important contribution to maintenance of the gardens, scientific work, and improvements. In addition, independent research has shown that visitors are currently prepared to pay a bit more, so we have set the price below the tested ceiling.
How do you care for your birds and wildlife?
There are daily early-morning patrols to check the health and status of our own and visiting birds, and keep an eye on wildlife in general. When major work is being done, our own birds are moved to other areas, and we work closely with the Environment Agency to ensure the proper care of wild birds, fish and small mammals. We are following Defra guidelines on watchfulness over avian flu. Active Badger setts have doubled since 1996. We are completely committed to maintaining biodiversity at Kew.
How are you monitoring bird health?
Avian Flu (H5N1 strain) has appeared in the wild bird population elsewhere in the UK. Visitors to Kew Gardens will be aware that we have our own population of ornamental birds and, in addition, migrant birds who enjoy the open spaces along the Thames.
We are actively consulting with other bodies and following Defra guidelines to develop coherent strategies for the potential spread of avian flu. We are participating in the nation-wide surveillance of birds, and perform daily early-morning patrols to check the health and status of our own and visiting birds, and keep an eye on wildlife in general.
Our staff are briefed and prepared in all precautionary measures they should take, and we will keep the public informed of what we are doing to protect them.
What if I get an allergic reaction after visiting the gardens?
A few of our visitors get insect bites or stings when in the gardens. Please take the usual precautions, or contact one of our staff for first-aid. We have a particularly unpleasant visitor during the spring and early summer called the Oak Processionary Moth. The hairs shed by the caterpillars of the moth can cause allergic reactions, including skin itching and rashes, conjunctivitis and sore throats. As with bee stings, a small minority of people can have more severe symptoms, including respiratory distress, similar to asthma. If you have unusual symptoms after visiting the gardens please contact your GP.
What is happening about the proposed phone masts?
The London Borough of Richmond-upon-Thames has granted permission, with our agreement, for a group of mobile phone companies to place some phone masts inside the campanile – the brick tower by the Victoria Gate. This arrangement saves having to have some dozen masts in the streets surrounding Kew, and was supported by the overwhelming majority of local residents.
What building work is going on at Kew?
We are nearing completion on an extension to the Herbarium beside the existing building off Kew Green.
What building work is planned for the future?
We will soon have to build a new working glasshouse as a purpose-built plant quarantine house. A design and location are currently under consideration.
There is a leaflet available that explores other possibilities for the years ahead. It has been used as part of a public consultation over winter and spring of 2007-2008. You can obtain a copy by request from email@example.com.
What is your position on aircraft noise?
We have recently participated in the public consultation about the possible expansion of Heathrow Airport. We repeated our long-held position on this, stating our preference for no increase in flights over the Gardens, and supporting the continued practice of runway alternation, which gives some respite to the area.
What is the position on your entertaining licences?
Under the 2003 Licensing Act, we have been granted the licence that we need to operate. This includes Shakespeare plays, classical and jazz concerts, carol services and private weddings and functions in particular locations.
Do you plan to expand your events activity?
We do not intend to increase the intensity or frequency of our public and private events. The new licensing regime requires us to run events with consideration for our neighbours, and we have a number of measures in place to control noise and limit traffic.
What is Kew Gardens doing about noise control from events?
We make every effort to control noise and pay very close attention to the needs of the local community. We have recently installed a new system that is truly effective. It consists of sound limiting equipment, adding sound proofing measures to certain venues and monitoring the sound at larger events. Sound levels of outdoor concerts are monitored by the local Council and kept within acceptable limits, although we are aware that occasionally there are freak weather conditions that ‘funnel’ the sound in unexpected directions. We will continue to work closely with Richmond Borough Council to ensure that their noise control requirements are strictly met. In addition, we will continue to set up a telephone hotline for local residents during larger events, but it remains our intention to run events in a nuisance-free way
I am a local resident concerned about late night noise from private events!
We are aware that our responsibilities do not end when the wedding finishes or the bar closes. We are extremely concerned to ensure that guests leaving a function do not disturb the neighbourhood. For the most part, all transport from a private event is pre-arranged, and taxis will pick up from within the gardens. This should prevent people having to walk around the streets or slamming doors as they climb into taxis. We also have a number of staff on hand at the end of events to encourage people to keep the noise down and also to prevent any form of anti-social behaviour.
My sleep was disturbed last night - was it Kew Gardens?
Please do not assume that noise at night comes from events at Kew Gardens. There are three pubs and several restaurants on the Green, some of whom have licences which extend later than ours. Similarly, the Rugby Club holds events that run later than ours.
We receive complaints after every Bonfire Night, and yet we never have a Firework display on or around November 5th. In fact we have recently curtailed the use of fireworks to a handful of events each year.
What measures do you have in place to manage events without disturbance?
We have a traffic management plan in place to handle arrivals and departures in a quiet efficient way. We have an independently assessed and monitored sound limitation system in place for music that cuts off the sound if it goes over a level that has been tested for acceptability. And finally, we have an environmental plan that assessed all aspects of the installation and sets out how it will be managed.
How will Kew Gardens avoid contributing to parking problems in the area?
We are committed to encouraging both visitors and staff to use public transport.
Our traffic plan and related marketing and public information efforts are directed towards persuading visitors to use the buses and trains that serve our area, and we’re always looking for ideas as to how to achieve this. We have recently received help from Transport for London to enhance our staff travel plan, and are able to report that RBG Kew staff are more likely to walk or cycle to work than other West London employees, and that 50% of our visitors arrive by bus tube or train – a higher proportion of public transport use than we can find among comparable attractions.
We have various policies in place in conjunction with the local Council and police to manage traffic heading for the gardens. In addition, we have recently supported a Smarter Travel bid by the Borough.
Our commitment to neither expand nor reduce our public car parking capacity holds good.
I feel that the Gardens are becoming more commercial!
We receive half of our funding from the government, but just like other charitable and heritage bodies we have to raise millions of pounds each year to preserve the World Heritage Site and also support the conservation work that goes on at Kew and in over 100 overseas countries. This is done through ticket sales, shop and catering sales, and grants from trusts, membership subscriptions and donations, and the income from events makes an important contribution. We would disagree that Kew is becoming more commercial, and hope that the variety of cultural events and entertainment at Kew is not only useful in raising revenue to support Kew's work, but is also of leisure value to the community.
What is the application for a temporary marquee?
For six summers we have erected a temporary marquee on the lawn between Kew Palace and the Banks Building. The Council refused permission for us to erect it for the summer months of 2008.
Along with other historic sites, such as National Trust properties and stately homes, we have the right to erect temporary marquees for up to 28 days at a time. We prefer not to do so because it is poor practice in terms of sustainability and the impact on the gardens, but without consent from the council to erect one marquee for several months, we may have no choice.
Does RBG Kew use plastic bags in its shops?
We are phasing out the use of plastic shopping bags at our gift shops and introducing recycled and recycle-able paper bags.
When there are water shortages, how does RBG Kew manage?
RBG Kew is very careful about its use of water. We are not required to stop using hosepipes during any hosepipe bans, however, when there are water shortages we do not carry on watering regardless. We have a system of priority watering that secures water for the most important plants and trees, but cuts back or ceases water supply for less important parts of the garden. Lawns are allowed to go brown, because they will recover. We make maximum use of drip-feeding water, mulching, evening and night-time watering, and we collect water from the glasshouse rooves, and store water in our own holding tank. We do not take water from the Thames for watering the plants because it is saline.
How can I ask a question about Kew or its work?
We appreciate questions in writing so that we can refer them to the appropriate member of staff. You can e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to Public Information Office, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 3AB.
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