Professor Suzanne Simard awarded Kew International Medal

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew announced yesterday that the recipient of this year’s Kew International Medal is Professor Suzanne Simard, Canadian Professor of Forest Ecology at the University of British Columbia. Professor Simard has received the award in recognition of her work exploring and sharing the complexity and wonder of trees and forests.

Established in 1992, the prestigious Kew International Medal is a biennial award given to an individual whose accomplishments align with globally recognised scientific institution RBG Kew’s mission to understand and protect plants and fungi, for the wellbeing of people and the future of all life on Earth. Nominations are received from across the organisation and a selection panel decides the winner. Previous award winners have included Sir David Attenborough (1996); Sir Partha Dasgupta, world-leading economist and author of The Economics of Biodiversity: The Dasgupta Review (2021) and most recently, Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, Executive Secretary of the CBD (2022).

Simard was selected for this year’s Medal for her longstanding dedication to researching trees, forests and their complex ecosystems and for her substantial contribution to the increased understanding of ecological resilience. In particular, her work on how trees interact through below-ground fungal networks has led to the recognition that forests have hub trees, or Mother Trees: large, highly connected trees that play an important role in the flow of information and resources in a forest. Simard’s current research investigates how these complex relationships contribute to forest resilience, adaptability and recovery and has far-reaching implications for how to manage and heal forests from human impacts, including climate change.

Also recognised is her work as a science communicator: a scientist who conveys complex, technical ideas to a wide array of audiences. Her TED talks on how she believes trees talk to each other have been viewed by more than 10 million people worldwide and her memoir, Finding the Mother Tree (published by Penguin Random House in 2021) has gone on to influence many, including filmmakers. It inspired the Tree of Souls in James Cameron’s Avatar and a new film by Bond Group Entertainment, starring Amy Adams. On announcing the project in 2021, Adams praised the book as ‘a call to action to protect, understand and connect with the natural world.’

In nominating Suzanne for the Kew International medal, Penny Brice, Kew Diploma Student, RBG Kew’s School of Horticulture said: “Through her research Professor Simard revealed that plants, in particular trees, could work together as a community not as individuals in a forest. The discovery of extensive mycorrhizal networks in the soil has highlighted how species interact and how important it is to understand these complex relationships. Professor Simard, against a backdrop of institutional patriarchy and resistance to contemporary science, followed her instincts and pursued her research in order to challenge the detrimental forestry management in British Columbia and to champion the importance of these rich and diverse environments globally.”

On learning of the award Professor Simard said: “I am delighted to receive the Kew International Medal this year. Forests are made of relationships that create community and their connectedness keeps them healthy and resilient. Working to solve mysteries of what made forests tick, and how they are linked made me the scientist I am today. The invaluable global scientific work that RBG Kew does is helping to conserve and protect plants as well as support livelihoods and communities for a sustainable future.”

The Kew International Medal was presented to Professor Simard in a ceremony at London’s Royal Society on 30 March 2023, where she delivered a keynote lecture entitled ‘The importance of keeping community in forests’. In her lecture, she called for protection and restoration of primary forests and landscapes, as well as the need to listen and learn from local communities to protect habitats.

Dame Amelia Fawcett, Chair of the Board of Trustees of RBG, Kew, who presented Professor Simard with the Medal said: “We’re delighted to acknowledge Professor Simard’s invaluable work and devotion to championing biodiversity within forest management. Suzanne’s work complements RBG Kew’s vision; to build a world where plants and fungi are understood, valued and conserved – because our lives depend on them. Through its world-class research and diverse living collections, Kew scientists are discovering long-term solutions to combat biodiversity loss and climate change. It is vital that we cultivate the next generation of scientists – mycologists, botanists and arboriculturists – and give them the tools they need to ensure the future care of our planet. Following COP15, RBG Kew is perfectly placed to continue to shape debate and policy, utilising our global partnerships and unique collections to ensure the biodiversity crisis remains a critical focus on the road to 2030”.

RBG Kew has an active mycorrhizal fungi research group exploring the diversity, distribution and functional traits of mycorrhizal fungi in forests, grasslands and heathlands to help unearth the crucial role of fungi in plant establishment, nutrition and resilience. RBG Kew also has the world’s largest fungarium, with 1.25 million samples of fungi from all seven continents, spanning the entire fungal tree of life and representing well over half of known global diversity.


Picture: Prof Suzanne Simard explores Kew Gardens Temperate House © RBG Kew by Ines Stuart-Davidson

Riot Director Katy MacMillan-Scott on how publishing can play helping museums, galleries and cultural institutions to celebrate milestone anniversaries

This article first appeared in The Bookseller.

As an industry, we all know the power of the anniversary when it comes to publishing brands and book prizes: the perfect opportunity to do a retrospective with well-known names for existing fans, whilst also engaging new audiences using fresh new voices and content. However, it was our most recent anniversary campaign that highlighted to us the role publishing could play outside of the world of books, helping non-publishing brands (museums, galleries and cultural institutions) to celebrate their milestone birthdays.

Last summer, Riot was hired by the National Railway Museum (part of the Science Museum Group) to deliver a communications campaign for the centenary of one of its star objects, Flying Scotsman. The centenary programme offered an embarrassment of riches – heritage railway tours across the UK and exhibitions at the National Railway Museum – but it was our view that nothing could convey the pure thrill of riding the celebrity engine to the masses as compellingly as two new publications. The first was Flying Scotsman and the Best Birthday, a new children’s book written and illustrated by national treasures and train enthusiasts Michael Morpurgo and Michael Foreman. The result of a licensing deal between the Science Museum Group and Thames & Hudson, this was the first time the Group had co-published a children’s book. The second was a new poem commissioned by the National Railway Museum to mark the anniversary itself on 24th February 2023.

For the centenary programme launch at London King’s Cross in October, we built up the publication of the children’s book, creating a media moment that paired Michael Morpurgo with the National Railway Museum’s Dr Sophie Vohra, a rail anniversary expert, and Grand Central Trainee Train Driver Stacey Fox, who operates out of King’s Cross Station. In an industry where female representation is limited, the combination of female representatives from the rail industry and Morpurgo’s inspiring story of Iris – a little girl who dreams of being a train driver – was fantastic. Ensuing coverage included a BBC One – Breakfast broadcast package filmed live from Platform 8, next to Scotsman, and a photocall for international picture desks featuring Morpurgo giving a special reading to six-year-old pupils from a local Camden primary school, which lead to a spot in the Guardian’s ‘Best photographs of the day’.

For the anniversary itself in February 2023, the release of UK Poet Laureate Simon Armitage’s new poem – The Making of Flying Scotsman – gave us the news hook and spokesperson we needed to land national coverage. In a broadcast exclusive for BBC Radio 4 – Today, Armitage shared that his intention was to celebrate the ‘analogue world’ and a time in history when people had ‘an actual relationship with physical objects’, praising Scotsman as ‘an emblem of when we could have pride about the railways’. A counter to much of the negative news coverage about rail, Armitage’s poem celebrated the sweat, dirt and engine power that went into the locomotive’s construction in a way that made it feel vital and accessible.

This campaign made us question why we hadn’t seen more collaborations like this elsewhere. There was no doubt that it was the endorsement and commentary from some of the UK’s most trusted storytellers that made the media elements of this campaign the success story they were. Not only was the hardback edition of Flying Scotsman and the Best Birthday an instant hit, selling out of its first print run within two months, with reprint due this month, but it also created a reliable hook last autumn when many other elements – such as potential delays to the engine’s overhaul, train strikes and possibility of the Queen’s death – were uncertain. The same applied to the release of Simon Armitage’s poem on the centenary itself.

At a time when many museums and cultural institutions struggle to balance their past with the need to remain culturally relevant, collaborations with publishers, writers and illustrators offer an opportunity to revitalise their brand narrative and to win new fans. The pressure to find new revenue streams is more urgent that ever: a recent report from The Arts Newspaper shows that museums and galleries are struggling to regain pre-Covid visitor figures, particularly in London. Museum partnerships are bread and butter for the likes of Thames & Hudson (V&A, British Museum) and Welbeck (Science Museum, Natural History Museum, Royal Botanical Gardens Kew), but the opportunity is surely there for any enterprising publisher who can spot an opportunity to align their author or illustrator with the right brand. Who wouldn’t want to put their talent in front of new, often highly engaged audiences whilst at the same time tapping into partners’ commercial spaces and networks. It’s the perfect exchange of gifts. After all, you don’t only celebrate your own birthday.


Picture: Author Michael Morpurgo and visiting schoolchildren from Argyle Primary School in Camden cover their ears as Flying Scotsman’s whistle blows © Jody Kingzett / Science Museum Group

New Podcast About ‘The Moomin Phenomenon’ Hosted By Jennifer Saunders And Lily Collins Launches Today

Lily Collins

The five-part series explores how and why the creations of Finnish artist and writer Tove Jansson have been embraced globally, from Scandinavia to Japan.

Moomin Characters will launch ‘The Moomin Phenomenon,’ a five-part audio documentary series narrated by actress and producer Lily Collins, well known for her role in Emily in Paris, and the multi-hyphenate English actress, singer, comedian, and screenwriter Jennifer Saunders, widely recognized for her role as Edina Monsoon in the TV-series Absolutely Fabulous. The Moomin Phenomenon tells the story of how the Moomins went from being characters in a series of Finnish children’s books to a worldwide phenomenon with fans all over the globe, its own philosophy, hundreds of licensed products, and an annual turnover of over 650 million euros.

The Moomins first appeared in The Moomins and the Great Flood, a story written and illustrated by the Finnish artist Tove Jansson and published in 1945. They were catapulted onto the global stage in 1954, when the London Evening News commissioned Jansson to write a Moomin comic strip which ran for an incredible 20 years and, at its peak, was syndicated in 40 different countries.

‘The Moomin Phenomenon’ explores why fans feel such a deep connection to the characters that Tove Jansson created and the unique philosophy of Moominvalley, where the values of love, equality and courage are ever-present. It asks how and why so many artists – from writers and musicians to designers and jewellers – have been inspired by these stories, and how the brand
balances its licensing programme with the importance of preserving the integrity of Tove Jansson’s body of work. Finally, its looks at the life and legacy of Jansson, an incredible woman who lived
according to her own rules.

Featured in the podcast, amongst others, are:

  • Actor Samuel West, who is a lifelong fan and whose daughter is named after a character in the Moomin stories
  • Designer Rika Kawato, who has made Moomin fabrics for the Japanese market for 10 years
  • Publishers Nat Jansz and Mark Ellingham, who were behind the Moomin x Oxfam collaboration which raised millions of pounds
  • Philosopher Sanna Tirkkonen, literature professor Björn Sundmark, and Tove’s biographer Boel Westin
  • Composer Lauri Porra, who has recently created a new audio identity for Moomin Characters (…and is also bass guitarist in the power metal band, Stratovarius!)
  • Jeweller Harriet Vine, who is the co-founder of Tatty Devine, an east-London based jewellery brand with a Moomin range
  • And a fan named Malin Tjernström, who gets her third Moomin tattoo whilst being interviewed for the podcast!

The podcast is hosted by comedian and actor Jennifer Saunders, who is “evangelical” about the Moomins, having voiced the character of Mymble in the recent TV adaptation, Moominvalley. Saunders discovered the Moomins as an adult when her youngest daughter became “fanatical” about the stories.

Jennifer Saunders, narrator of the podcast, said: “My personal admiration for Tove Jansson is huge, but through this podcast I’ve become aware that I’m not alone – she is truly worshipped all over the world, and rightly so. The uninitiated sometimes see the Moomin stories as being only for children – and they are wonderful children’s books, of course – but having come to them as an adult, I fell in love with the philosophy and the charm. There’s something for everybody and every mood. The stories are dark sometimes, and that’s brilliant. I love how all emotions and the internal workings of our minds are there on the page. And they’re funny too!”

Lily Collins, narrator of the podcast, said: “I am thrilled to share the Moomins with new adults and children who will become inspired by these loveable trolls just as I have been. I first discovered the series and its magical illustrations as a child growing up in the English countryside. There is so much to learn through Tove’s writing about equality, respect for nature, and how to break out of your comfort zone in search of an adventure. I try to bring all of these themes into my daily life as an adult and still today return to the Moomin stories again and again. My husband and I have even started our own Tove Jansson collection of artwork and personal letters that we deeply treasure and
will pass down for generations to come.”

Sophia Jansson, niece of Tove Jansson, said: “Tove was an incredible artist and an exceptional person. She wasn’t afraid of walking her own path and was true to her ideals, and these things fed into her creations – they’re part of what makes the Moomin stories so special. I’m very happy that her work continues to resonate so deeply with people all around the world today.”

Antonio de la Cruz, the producer of ‘The Moomin Phenomenon’, said: “Producing this podcast has been such a joyful experience. Those of us who have always had Moomin in our lives can sometimes take its profound impact for granted, so it’s been really wonderful to have the opportunity to explore that in-depth. From speaking to a paediatric doctor who leads a project to integrate Moomin values ​​into the entire care chain of a children’s hospital, to artists who deeply feel the influence and spirit of Tove in their own work, it has been illuminating, fun and inspiring throughout.”

‘The Moomin Phenomenon’ was produced by Third Ear Creative, a Scandinavian podcast group, on behalf of Moomin Characters. Antonio de la Cruz was the producer and Melody Lovelin was the researcher. Tove Leffler acted as executive producer and the sound engineer was Gustav Sondén.

It is available to download now on all podcast platforms.

Image of Lily Collins ©Moomin Characters 2023