The All Party Parliamentary Gardening and Horticulture Group (APPGHG) held its second evidence session in parliament yesterday. Focussing on the theme of innovation in the industry, there were six expert witnesses who gave evidence of the innovation opportunities for robotics, environmental services and health and wellbeing interventions. APPGHG chair Baroness Fookes said that ‘the collective expertise is amazing’.
Describing the widely available health benefits of gardening, Sheffield University’s Dr Ross Cameron described our gardens as the ‘gym at the front door.’ Dr Rebecca Lovell from Exeter University said that there were many health benefits associated with horticulture, and better understanding was needed about how environmental therapies could combat many common ailments.
Dr Matthew Howard from Kings College, London, described exciting developments in soft robotics and the potential for growers to educate their own robots to carry out plant husbandry tasks. Charles Carr from Hillier Nurseries confirmed that ‘We’re just starting to realise the potential benefits of mechanisation.’ And he cited difficulties in sourcing local seasonal labour as a major incentive for the industry to explore mechanisation.
Professor Alistair Griffiths, RHS Director of Science described a ‘win-win situation’ for government and industry to work together to boost production through innovation. Gerard Clover, the RHS Head of Plant Health added that boosting UK production could also improve biosecurity.
APPGHG member Lord Kirkwood asked whether a fiscal incentive scheme would help the industry to invest in expansion and innovation. The group of expert witnesses agreed that it would, and that a route-map for expansion was the next step to show how investment and industry expansion will help the UK economy, society and the environment. The third APPGHG evidence session will be on skills, labour and careers, and will be held on July 11. The APPGHG will compile a report of all three sessions, to be launched at the annual drinks reception in the autumn.