Lee Foundation Botany and Biodiversity Scholars at Kew
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Kew’s first Singapore Botanic Gardens Lee Foundation-sponsored MSc students start course in London

Three Lee Botany and Biodiversity Scholars start their year-long Masters course at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew this week. 

Their presence is thanks to a unique partnership between the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and the Singapore Botanic Gardens (SBG) through the National Parks Board of Singapore (NParks). The partnership, which is supported by a grant from the Lee Foundation, will help fulfil the goal of both botanical institutions to cultivate and spread botanical knowledge.

The Kew MSc in Plant and Fungal Taxonomy, Diversity and Conservation is an exciting Masters course teaching vital plant and fungal identification skills in the context of evolutionary biology and conservation theory and practice. It includes a field course in Madagascar and a six-month research project.

The course started last year with 9 students and this year welcomes 20 new students. Thanks to the grant, this year’s new intake now includes Singaporean student Lily Chen, who is Assistant Director of Plant Information & Horticulture Standards at NParks, Joanne Tan, a Research Officer at the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia (FRIM), and Le Min Choo, a recent graduate of Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. They each hope that the course will enable them to bring new skills from top global experts back to their work in a region facing critical conservation challenges.

Director of Science at RBG Kew, Prof. Kathy Willis said:

'We’re delighted with the Lee Foundation’s generous support to enable the training of a new generation of plant and fungal scientists. The specialist knowledge and skills taught on this MSc programme are becoming increasingly rare across the world, and are in danger of disappearing unless they can be passed on. We hope the students will take the expertise they gain from the course and apply it to tackling some of the critical challenges for biodiversity conservation in their home countries.'

Coordinating Director for Research and Conservation & Keeper of the Herbarium of Singapore Botanic Gardens, David Middleton said:

'The botanical heritage of the National Parks Board, particularly through the Singapore Botanic Gardens, is in the study of plants in Southeast Asia. We continue to do this today in collaboration with research and botanical institutions in the region and throughout the world. In this regard, we are pleased to work with Kew to promote the development of expertise in plant and fungal biodiversity in students from Singapore and the wider region.'

Speaking about her excitement on arriving at Kew, Joanne Tan said: 'While Malaysia has a wealth of biodiversity, there is a lack of local expertise to tackle conservation issues that become more urgent as forests and limestone hills are exploited. The course is packed with relevant teaching modules and activities that will definitely enable me on my return to make a greater, more professional contribution to the country.'

Le Min Choo said: 'With training from the course I will be able to identify the plants and fungi better and understand how they influence our landscapes. This has many applications, from understanding plant adaptation to marking out particularly valuable biodiversity hotspots within nature reserves. With its small land area, Singapore depends heavily on landscape management and shrewd biodiversity conservation plans to ensure a safe, functional and pleasant environment to live in.'

Lily Chen said: 'Many of the plant species in our forests are at risk of becoming critically endangered. Thus I hope the training I receive in the identification and description of species will help me learn more about the forests in my region, so that I may know better how to go about conserving them. I also hope to undertake taxonomic and research work in the future and I believe the course will provide me with the essential skills to do so.'

Marta Lejkowski, Associate Director, Principal Gifts, Kew Foundation said: 'The generous support of the Lee Foundation in bringing these talented botanical scientists to Kew is a great endorsement of the quality of this new course and the strong links that have developed between Kew and NParks over many years.'

The course is designed for biology graduates or graduates of other relevant natural science degree courses, and features a combination of lectures, practicals, tutorials and fieldwork, using the extensive collections and expertise at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and Queen Mary University of London. The Masters may be considered a stepping stone for PhD training in any area of taxonomy, molecular systematics, ecology, evolution, or more applied conservation work.

The Lee Foundation is also supporting a two-week Tropical Plant Identification course in Singapore taught by Kew and SBG. Fifteen regional conservation experts from Laos, Vietnam, Sabah, Sarawak, Brunei, Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore, have confirmed their participation with those from overseas receiving bursaries to attend the course from 31 October – 11 November. This Tropical Plant Identification course will be based on Kew’s well-established and industry-leading course.