Perhaps because a general election in the United Kingdom is days away, the debate over the future of HRI Wellesbourne, which we noted here almost six months ago, is beginning to be heard above the din. 1 HRI (Horticulture Research International) is one of the last surviving bits of UK horticultural research. It also houses the Genetic Resources Unit, the UK’s primary vegetable genebank. Warwick University, which owns and operates HRI, has plans to merge it with a Life Sciences division, possibly using the land more profitably to build a housing estate.
Much of the discussion is about the loss of jobs, the loss of expertise, the loss of competitiveness and so on. These are hugely important topics, on which I don’t feel qualified to comment. Then there is the apparent duplicity and callousness of management at Warwick University, which does have a reputation for its strength in “business”. On balance, though, it does seem to be just a bit short-sighted for governments to promote food security, exhort people to eat more nutritious food, and then stand by while one of the few places still able to deliver both is closed.
Personally, I’m not optimistic. Warwick prices everything, values nothing, and acts accordingly. But more idealistic people than me are beginning to stir.
Charlie Clutterbuck, who among his many other talents runs a successful website on sustainable food, has devoted several pages there to information about Wellesbourne, including links to a Petition and a Google Group, that is a huge repository of information.
It would be premature to judge either the election or what the winners will do about HRI. Horticulture Week, a trade paper, asked the key political contenders whether they would intervene to prevent the loss, and if so how. None of the replies is particularly edifying, but that’s hardly surprising.2 Governments of all stripes talk about the need for research to enhance food security, and some of HRI’s science may yet find a new home. However it currently looks as if the foundations of breeding, the genebank and the agricultural biodiversity it contains, are being allowed to decay. Maybe Luigi’s right.
Let it close, I say. Just transfer the contents to some place where its long term conservation and availability is guaranteed, then let it close.
All the politicos would have to do then would be to support long-term conservation somewhere else and take advantage of shared access to enjoy the benefits of someone else’s efforts.