Jane is Head of Learning and Interpretation at The National Botanic Garden of Wales and a member of the BGEN committee.
How long have you been working with plants and the natural world?
After completing a degree in zoology, I spent some time doing survey work for what was then the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, as well as for The Wildlife Trusts. I spent a summer as a volunteer, helping to run Swansea’s Green Team events for young people, and became interested in the education side of things – so I went on to complete a PGCE and became a biology teacher. I worked in secondary schools, teaching mainly GCSE and A level students.
In 2003 I changed tack and spent five years running education and engagement projects for an environmental education charity in South Wales. I also completed an MSc in Environmental Conservation and Management on a part time basis around this time. I joined the National Botanic Garden of Wales in 2009 and have been here ever since.
Why is helping to connect people and plants important to you?
Connecting people and plants is vitally important. If we look after the plants in a habitat, the animals will usually look after themselves. Plants also play such a vital role in all aspects of our lives, but we take them for granted. I’m a strong believer that education is the key to the future – if we tell people what to do they may engage with it for a while, but if we show people why something is important they are likely to engage with it for a lot longer. Young people these days are so divorced from their natural environment – after all, the favourite family pastime these days is shopping!
I believe that botanic gardens play a crucial role in engaging young people with plants and their natural environment. Research has shown that if you take young people outside to learn they will begin to understand the environment, but if you also allow them to play outside they will appreciate it and even come to love it. If we are to conserve our natural environment so that it can sustain us, future generations need to appreciate it and want to look after it.
Tell us about a project you’re really proud to have been involved in.
I have been growing the majority of my own vegetables and fruit for the last 16 years. It’s something I really enjoy and feel it’s an important skill to pass on to young people. When I arrived here at The National Botanic Garden of Wales I took a look around and saw that there was a gap in the training provision that we offered. I’ve spent the last couple of years planning and securing a project that will empower community groups and individuals to grow their own fruit and veg. The Growing the Future project launches in autumn 2011 and is backed by £1.2 million of funding from the Welsh government.
Finally, what is your favourite plant?
The beech tree – I grew up in the south east of England and spent most of my childhood in the wonderful Beech woodlands of Hampshire!