Botanic gardens create nature escape

As well as being brilliant for research and protecting species, botanic gardens let people connect with nature
17 June 2022

Interview with 

Hayley McCulloch, Cambridge University Botanic Garden, & Roz Wade, Museum of Zoology Cambridge


Getting out on your own doorstep and appreciating the nature all around us is an easy way of connecting with our surroundings. Julia Ravey paid a visit to Cambridge University Botanic Garden to see some of the incredible plants they grow and the animals that live there. Plus, she heard all about why these spaces are so important from Hayley McCulloch, head of learning at the botanic Garden, and Roz Wade, learning and engagement co-ordinator from Museum of Zoology...

Roz - I'm Roz Wade. And I work at the Museum of Zoology in Cambridge

Hayley - And I'm Hayley McCulloch. And I'm the head of learning at Cambridge University Botanic garden. Loads of Fox gloves and things in this bed, loads of Fox gloves. So these are the bee boarders. So everything here has been planted specifically to attract bees.

Julia - Wow. So essentially this is like a bees paradise.

Hayley - Yes. So you'll see lots of things that are kind of in the sort of purplely blue end of the spectrum, because that's where bees can see. And so these are the types of flowers that bees are most attracted to.

Julia - And is that any particular type of bee or just all bees in general?

Hayley - The vast majority of bees. Yeah.

Julia - They're not picky.

Hayley - And if you come to the garden, we've got some boards and some ID kits, you can kind of have a go at seeing which different types of bees you can spot in amongst the flowers.

Julia - Is this one of your favourite parts of the garden?

Hayley - It's really hard to answer that question because it changes sort of day to day. But at this time of the year, I think the bee boarders are sort of one of the more beautiful bits of the garden. Yeah.

Julia - And what about you Roz?

Roz - It's just buzzing at the moment. I find it amazing. And just seeing the amount of wildlife that it supports is fantastic. I've already counted at least four different types of bees and I'm not a bee expert at all. So even if I can see that the amount of diversity's fantastic.

Hayley - Planting these kind purplely blue flowers in your garden, leaving areas of your garden to kind of go wild. You'll find you get a lot more native solitary bees and that they're the ones we really want to be protecting.

Roz - Yeah, it's really, that's so much wildlife. I think you don't notice it straight away because it's kind of hidden on purpose, but as soon as you start looking more closely, the more that you see, I just think it's a really special experience and a space like this is just the perfect place to do it.

Julia - Have you found any good mini beasts on your hunts recently?

Roz - Well, this morning we were doing some mini beast hunts with school kids and we did find lots of sort of little crickets and bugs and some beautiful line green spiders. The kids were calling them watermelon spiders because the abdomen had this little fantastic striped pattern on it.

Julia - And of all these plants. I mean there's so many around us now are any of these particularly important? Are any of them like protected species?

Hayley - So because obviously the purpose of the Botanic Garden is research,, conservation education. The first thing I want to say is all of the plants we have in our collection are important, but we do have several examples of things that are endangered. So we're about to go past very shortly on our left the wannabe pine that was actually believed to have been extinct. And so the small collection of them were found in the blue mountains in Australia. The tree didn't know it was supposed to be extinct. So it was growing there quite happily, but it is endangered in the wild. If you come to the garden to try and see it, it's quite a small pine tree, needle shaped leaves, very typical of a pine tree. It's not as impressive as some of our others like the giant redwoods or the black pines that we've got, but it's still worth coming to have a little look at.

Julia - What's that the plant hut?

Hayley - Very soon the shop will open that up and they'll be selling plants from there as well as from our main shop at the main entrance, you know, growing your own little bit of garden.

Julia - Yeah. A little bit of wild. I don't have a garden. I have a balcony at home, but I need to get some plants on there.

Roz - I have a balcony as well, rather than a garden. And as a zoologist, I'm gonna suggest that you put out some bird feeders and a little bit of water. Particularly at the moment it's so hot and sunny, which is unusual for a British summer, but it does mean that the birds and things like that will need some water to drink and you'd be amazed. I get so many species coming to my balcony just by having some sunflower seeds, meal worms, which is not up to everybody's <laugh> but they're fine. The starlings love them. And then some water on my balcony and it's great for the wildlife.

Julia - So we're in a bit of a shady spot. Now take a little bit of refuge from the really hot sun today. Why is it so important that we have these areas marked out for nature?

Hayley - For the local community they're really important. And this is definitely something that has become forefront of everybody's mind with everything that's happened in the last couple of years, having a little bit of green space or in our case, quite a big bit of green space where you can kind of come, it's peaceful, plenty to learn here as well. Actually more than you might imagine more than you might imagine when you first come through the gates, so much to see that you can see from sort of all over the world. So I think from a wellbeing and education point of view, really important we've we've noticed our school groups coming back in force this year and the excitement for them being out in such a big green open space is wonderful to see as well.

Julia - What about in terms of biodiversity and all the different species that live here?

Roz - The Botanic Garden's fantastic, because you do such a great job of leaving areas a bit wild as well as the more manicured places. And there's thousands of species of insect and loads of birds and things like that in this space and having the big areas of water as well. If you have a garden do put in a pond, no matter how small it is, it will support so much wildlife, both in terms of what lives in the water and what needs the water to drink. And there's fantastic areas like that in the garden as well.


Add a comment