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Tuning in to sustainable practices across the pond

The crew of a hugely popular BBC Radio program visits the Bader International Study Centre to learn more about sustainability and biodiversity efforts to preserve the natural environment.

A BBC panel of experts learns about biodiversity at the BISC.
A BBC panel of experts learns about biodiversity at the Bader International Study Centre (BISC). (Supplied)

With its more than 600 acres of land containing medieval parklands, ancient woodlands, meadows, ponds, marshlands, and formal gardens, Queen’s University’s Bader International Study Centre  (BISC) serves as the backdrop to the latest episode of the hugely popular Gardeners Question Time (GQT) on BBC Radio 4.

“The idea to do a special broadcast from the BISC sprang from a climate change gardening workshop in the Autumn this year,” says Director of Corporate Development at the BISC, Duncan Adams. “Peter Gibbs, who chairs the panel of horticulture experts, was intrigued by the idea of the Castle’s efforts to increase biodiversity and sustainability, and thought it would be of interest to many listeners across the UK and beyond.”

As part of the broadcast, a panel of horticulture experts were hosted by the Castle’s Gardens and Grounds Manager, Guy Lucas, with the location being chosen to showcase some of the work undertaken on the estate to increase its biodiversity and sustainability. The panel had access to the entire estate but were guided through some key areas, including the Castle Courtyard, the Elizabethan Garden, Rose Garden, and Shakespeare Garden.

Over the centuries, numerous changes, both inside and outside the castle walls, have resulted in a loss of biodiversity and preservation of the unique grounds. In order to improve and restore the estate’s surrounding environment, Lucas and his team of gardeners and grounds staff are implementing sustainable ecological practices such as rewilding to repair damaged ecosystems and restore the grounds to their original state through natural processes. Sustainability and biodiversity are combined to help nurture and preserve the natural environment, while providing a living lab for students, staff, and members of the public. 

The 42-minute episode also included a wander through the grounds as panelists answered diverse questions from listeners about their own gardens, including how to encourage slugs, the lifespan of potting soil, and, just in time for the holidays, how to thicken a holly hedge.

Adams says the radio experience will help to raise the BISC’s profile.

“We really want listeners to have a better understanding of what we are doing here on the estate, how hard we work on it and how important it is to not only the Estate but the local habitat too. “

The Castle grounds are now closed for the winter, with next year’s season launching in mid February.

The BISC prides itself in it’s academic quality, offering six programs with over 60 courses for students in Arts and Science, Commerce, Engineering, Health Studies, Liberal Arts, Social Science and more. A focus on small class sizes, individual attention and experiential learning opportunities throughout the UK and Europe help to develop skillsets that serve graduates well as they head into the workforce.  

Allowing students to interact with and learn from the estate team’s sustainability and biodiversity agenda is an integral part of the BISC’s mandate. The BISC Skills Award (BSA), which encourages students to participate in university events and programs for personal development, presents an excellent opportunity for student engagement. Recently, this program has incorporated the estate team’s sustainability and biodiversity initiatives into the curriculum by allowing students to partake in projects including invasive species removal, pond maintenance, rare species seed planting, and the designing of a new student services cottage garden.

“The work we do on sustainability and biodiversity is increasingly embedded into our academic programs” says Adams. “The BISC Skills Award (BSA) helps students build graduate attributes to support their academic qualifications. Our Bees and Trees, and other projects, have this year allowed students to get involved in sustainability programs on the estate learning new skills and giving something back to the environment.”

The BISC’s focus on sustainability also contributed to Queen’s success in the Times Higher Education (THE) Impact Rankings revealed that Queen’s University had placed first in Canada and fifth in the world in its global ranking of universities that are advancing the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Queen’s earned its Impact Ranking after successfully implementing programs to improve sustainability within and outside of the local Kingston community.

Gardeners’ Question Time was broadcast Dec. 17 and 19. You can listen or download the recording here. For more information, visit the BISC and Herstmonceux Castle websites.