Moving to Kew Gardens after 22 years at the Natural History Museum

View of the General Herbarium as it was until 2009: probably the best space in the World for working on plant collections that there has ever been

I feel as if I have shed my youth and if I’m honest, early middle-age too, as I leave the Natural History Museum and move to Kew Gardens. I leave with no ill-feeling or sense of regret as I enjoyed over two decades working with some of the most amazing people in one of the great British and scientific institutions. My experiences in the field and working on the collections have made a deep impression on who I am and the science that I try to do, if fitfully and in a slightly uncoordinated manner. I also leave behind several thousand herbarium specimens that hopefully should still be in use a long time after I am no longer around.

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Our field team on one of our expeditions to the very remote ‘Falso Fabrega’ in Panama. We were the first ever scientists to document the biodiversity of this particular ridge and peak

But things change, as they should do and always will; the Museum is moving away from taxonomy, the science (& art?) of classification, into more derived collections-based sciences. The emphasis is less on generating new collections and more on synthetic analyses of what they have.  It therefore feels like a very natural transition and of course a massive privilege to be moving to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, another great British and scientific institution to continue the eclectic mix of taxonomy, fieldwork and conservation focussed science that have got me this far.

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Trabajando con la fundación innocent para apoyar a viviendas y nutrición

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Niños de la comunidad de San José a unos reuniones comunitarias celebradas en el bosque

Como parte de nuestros esfuerzos para fortalecer el impacto de nuestro proyecto Futuros Forest hemos sido muy afortunados de asociarnos con la Fundación innocent para expandir nuestro componente agroforestal con una mejor incorporación de árboles frutales. Fondos de la Fundación innocent nos están permitiendo incorporar tres comunidades adicionales, construir viveros de árboles frutales y desarrollar la capacidad dentro de cada comunidad para germinar, crecer y gestionarlos. Como es el caso de las otras acciones de nuestro proyecto comenzamos conversaciones con cada comunidad, atravez del ONG Herencia, sobre cómo esta adición podría encajar en sus planes de desarrollo. También tienen que pensar en qué tipo de frutales quieren producir: la cantidad para consumo personal y para vender. Si sienten que encaje dentro de sus objetivos luego de pasar a la fase más sencillo de construir los viveros y la obtención de semilla.

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Rolman Velarde del ONG Herencia en la parte de la parcela agroforestal Motacusal destinado a árboles frutales

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Community development plans to support agroforest fruit orchards

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Members of the Monte Sinai community producing a visual map of their community and its resources. Image: Rolman Velarde

We  believe that the introduction of new approaches to land use needs to be done as part of a broader and integrated plan for a community. It would make little sense for a community to plant an agroforest plot unless they had considered the costs and long-term benefits of doing so. The reason for this is that at several stages in the process there will be challenges and decisions to be taken that will need require the community to remain motivated and able to evaluate the pros and cons of persisting with the system or abandoning it. Given the general lack of success of previous agroforest initiatives elsewhere we feel that this will be the key to our success. As part of our efforts to strengthen the impact of our Forest Futures project and with the support of the innocent Foundation, our main partners  Herencia,  have been working with three Amazonian communities: Remanzo, Jerico, Monte Sinai,  to develop medium to long-term management plans into which agroforest for fruit and annual crops will be integrated.

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Group discussions of the communities needs and priorities follow an evaluation of their resources and entitlements from the Bolivian state. Image: Rolman Velarde

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Our first Inga agroforest plots 14-17 months after planting

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Our Motacusal agroforest plot 17 months after planting. The closed canopy has prevented weeds growing. Notice the large amount of leaf-litter on the ground which will provide valuable organic matter for the soil. Image: Rolman Velarde

We established our first Inga agroforest plot  just over 17 months ago. Since then the seedlings have grown into 5 m tall trees, their crowns  touching and shading out any potential weeds. They have captured the site meaning that it no longer needs any maintenance, allowing farmers to choose when to pollard (prune) at a time that best suits them. In the Bolivian Amazon the best time of year to sow plants is at the beginning of the wet season in October and so we are planning to return to complete this last step in the process.

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The Las Palmas fruit tree agroforest system 14 months after planting. This site was an abandoned cattle pasture and although the trees are growing slowly they look healthy. Image Rolman Velarde.

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Working with innocent to support livelihoods & nutrition

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Children from the San Jose community at a community meetings held in the forest

As part of our efforts to strengthen the impact of our Forest Futures project we have been very lucky to partner with the innocent Foundation to expand our agroforest component and better incorporate fruit trees into them. Funds from the innocent Foundation are enabling us to incorporate three additional communities, build fruit tree nurseries and develop the capacity within each community to germinate, grow and manage them. As is the case for our other Forest Futures actions we start by discussions with each community about how this addition to their community could fit into their development plans. They also need to think about what kind of fruit they want to grow: how much for personal consumption and how much to sell. If they feel that it fits within their long-term goals then we move on to the more straightforward phase of building the nurseries and obtaining seed.

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Rolman Velarde of Herencia in the part of the Motacusal agroforest plot destined for our first fruit-tree seedlings

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