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How we worked with the Cambridge University Botanic Garden to fast-track global research on plant species – by making its entire living collection available online.

About the client

The Cambridge University Botanic Garden (CUBG) occupies over 40 acres and nurtures some 14,000 living accessions representing over 8,000 species. They include many of the world’s most iconic and endangered trees and plants.

About the project

CUBG wanted a quick and easy way to provide open access to their collection for researchers, educators, conservationists, professional horticulturalists, and the general public. The portal would allow exceptional data access and enable certain users to directly request material for research purposes.

Objectives

The Living Collections Portal needed to support global research to:

  • Allow official representatives of botanic gardens, universities, and scientific institutions to access samples of plant materials.
  • Enable users to search by species name, by a variety of higher taxonomic ranks, by global conservation status, by provenance, and by accession number.
  • Allow passionate gardeners to check if the Garden holds particular plants of interest ahead of a visit, or for their own research.

Strategy

Cambridge University Botanic Garden uses the IRIS database to manage their varied collection of plants. This will be the first time that members of the public will have access to this information.

  • The portal supports the curatorial team to get samples and information into the hands of international researchers as quickly as possible.
  • After searching for a specimen, users can see details of the plant and a photo where available.
  • Certain users can then use the material request form to receive a specimen of the plant for their own research.
  • All search outputs are downloadable as a CSV file which can then be imported into a variety of software programs such as Microsoft Excel.

Technical approach

Studio 24 built a bespoke application, which was integrated into the website as a WordPress plugin. The application was built using PHP and Symfony Console.

The search contains autocomplete based on either the common name or full name of the plant and has a range of filters to choose from. Search results can be downloaded by the user and saved.

A ‘material request form’ allows users to request access to plant specimens via the curation team.

It updates data at regular intervals to ensure the data on the site is always relevant and correct.

Great job by the team at Studio 24! A more complicated job than I had ever imagined, but very happy with your implementation. Studio 24 highly recommended!

Samuel Brockington, Cambridge University Botanic Garden

Results

The site went live on 2nd October, so we will report on the results of how the portal is being used at a later date. As there are over 14,000 searchable entries, we expect lots and lots of searching!