Select Committee on Agriculture Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


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.


1.   HRI research and its value to amateur gardeners

  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 include:

    —  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 professional activities

  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 results—thus 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 reasons:

    1.  There will be a reduction in the research outputs which are of benefit to amateur gardeners as well as to professional horticulturists.

    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

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