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Birmingham Botanical Gardens announces new CEO

Birmingham Botanical Gardens has appointed a new chief executive as the charity seeks its next steps in preserving and enhancing the city heritage site.

Sara Blair-Manning joins the grade II* listed Gardens in Edgbaston with 27 years’ experience in the cultural and charitable sectors.

She has significant experience of leading the development of beautiful gardens, heritage sites and environmental projects at two National Trust properties, Tattershall Castle and Gunby Estate, Hall and Gardens.

While CEO with The John Clare Trust, she worked with Gardeners’ World presenter Adam Frost and sponsors Lands’ End to create The Rural Muse garden, which won gold at RHS Chelsea in 2012. Inspired by the 18th century romantic poet John Clare, the garden was relocated to the John Clare birthplace museum in the village of Helpston, Peterborough.

Sara, a keen gardener, said she was looking forward to guiding the Gardens, an independent charity that relies solely on revenue from visitors, members and charitable donations, as it looks to put in place ambitious plans to build on the nearly 200 years of heritage.

“I can’t wait to start working with the trustees, staff and volunteers of this important charity,” she said.

“Whether it’s cultivating a window box to grow herbs, re-wilding areas on a landscape scale for improved biodiversity or working with nature and ecosystems to help reduce the impacts of climate change, we are all able to make and feel a positive difference through nature.

“I look forward to meeting sector colleagues and sharing future developments for Birmingham Botanical Gardens with our visitors, members and supporters.”

Her appointment comes months after the Gardens appointed Rebecca Steen as operations director, while last year also saw former BBC Midlands Today news presenter and experienced board member Sue Beardsmore being appointed chair of the trustees. Eight new trustees also joined the charity.

Welcoming Sara to the Gardens, Sue said: “We have many exciting plans to preserve and enhance the heritage of Birmingham Botanical Gardens for future generations and Sara is just the person to help us achieve our ambitious goals.”

As a charity, the Gardens, which is home to four Victorian glasshouses, receives no regular public funding. Instead, it relies on the generosity of public donations, grants and income it can generate through conferences, weddings and other events.

Set within a Conservation Area, it is a 15-acre oasis just one mile from the city centre and has more than 7,000 formally documented plants, with the largest and most diverse botanic collection in central England.

It also provides a unique educational resource and welcomes visits from nurseries up to colleges, as well as uniformed groups and adult learners.

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(left) Sue Beardsmore, chair of trustees at Birmingham Botanical Gardens, with Sara Blair-Manning, the newly appointed CEO

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The 15-acre Birmingham Botanical Gardens and Glasshouses is a plant lover’s oasis, less than two miles from the city centre, in Westbourne Road, Edgbaston. The Gardens were designed in 1829 by leading garden planner J. C. Loudon, who was also a horticultural journalist and publisher, and they opened to the public on 11 June 1832. The Gardens contains more than 7000 plants and includes the British National Bonsai Collection and The National Cyclamen Collection. It is the only place in the UK to feature the fern Dicksonia ×lathamii, which was raised by W. B. Latham, an ex-curator, more than 100 years ago. The four historic glasshouses contain a wealth of species for tropical, subtropical, Mediterranean and arid environments. There is also a butterfly house, aviary, landscaped lawns, tea room and children’s playground. For details, visit:

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