A picture illustration by Jackie Wong

The first Biodiversity Storytelling Summit at Kew Gardens, London

Calendar 19th October 2023

The first Biodiversity Storytelling Summit at Kew Gardens, London

Calendar 19th October 2023

Published on 11 October 2023

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A picture illustration by Jackie Wong Above: A day summarised in pictures: Illustration by Jackie Wong – Illustrator in residence at the Biodiversity Storytelling Summit.

The first Biodiversity Storytelling Summit was held at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, London on the 19th of October 2023


This interdisciplinary event gathered leading authors, illustrators, publishers, and scientists to identify the barriers faced by low-income families wishing to access and learn about nature through books. Through workshop activities, the Summit investigated what role books and reading can play in addressing these problems, and how books might evolve to improve access to nature whilst fostering a child’s understanding, ownership, and sense of wonder for the biodiversity on their doorstep.

Cambridge Cottage, Image credit Royal Botanic Gardens, KewAbove: Cambridge Cottage. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, London. Image credit: Kew Gardens

Introducing the first Biodiversity Storytelling Summit 2023

Beyond the weathered wooden doors of Cambridge Cottage at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, hanging along the corridors, drawing room and gallery are pictures – botanical illustrations reflecting a “golden century” for plant discovery, collection, and scientific research.

As children, our first connection to books and reading is often through pictures, accompanied by storytelling, guiding us into a world of literature word by word, be it fiction, nonfiction, science, art, or botany. Thanks to a digital revolution, children’s literature has successfully crossed many socio-cultural and political barriers and despite the rapidly expanding digital domain, many early-year families in the UK still cannot access books to benefit from the magical world of reading. The same is true for families wishing to access greenspaces, and as we discovered at the Biodiversity Storytelling Summit, the provision of ‘access’ to books and nature is key to ensuring future generations build a sense of stewardship and care over the natural world around them.

“Reading brings profound and wide-ranging benefits that can have a lifelong positive impact on children’s lives.” BookTrust

A gathering of diverse minds focused on a common cause

BookTrust is a valued RENEW project partner, and the UK’s largest reading charity reaching millions of children every year with books, resources, and support to get every child reading, “regularly and by choice.” The RENEW and BookTrust partnership believes that all children need access to books regardless of their socio-economic background so that they may benefit from the power of storytelling and foster an early connection to the natural world. Additionally, we believe that children should feel informed of important global issues whilst maintaining a vibrant sense of hope and optimism for the future ahead. This will require a diverse set of people, something new and a little out-of-the-ordinary.

The Biodiversity Storytelling Summit was opened by BookTrust’s Director of Design, Development and Strategic Planning, Claire Goodall. Claire explained BookTrust’s vision – to provide every child with access to reading to benefit from its “profound and wide-ranging benefits” that have a “life-long benefit to children’s lives.” Claire provided a motivational introduction to the summit highlighting the importance and collaborative nature of the RENEW x BookTrust vision to engage children in the natural world through books and storytelling.

“It’s heartbreaking that some children aren’t having bedtime stories, there are lots of ways that we can connect with the natural world, but books are a great way to do that.” Sue Hendra – Author, illustrator

A picture of Claire Davies engaging the summit.Above: Claire Goodall sets the scene for the day ahead with the keynote: Unlocking the magic and power of reading from the earliest opportunity

A picture of John Wedgwood Clarke resenting to a group.Above: Sharing the vision, Professor John Wedgwood Clarke – University of Exeter.

Professor John Wedgwood Clarke is a poet, prose nonfiction writer, editor and Associate Professor in Creative Writing at the University of Exeter. John is also a Co-Investigator on the RENEW Project’s Theme 2 Community Action. John codesigned the Biodiversity Storytelling Summit with BookTrust to get artists and scientists together in a room to see what ideas would emerge from scientific fact and speculative storytelling. John’s vision was rewarded by the vibrant attendance of leading creatives from publishing and children’s book illustration to biologists and ecologists from the Environmental Sustainability Institute at the University of Exeter as well as representatives from the Poetry Society, Natural History Museum and LEYF Nurseries.

A powerful keynote by author Nicola Davies

Nicola Davies started her career as a zoologist working with conservation bodies either on land or undersea, navigating both the arts and sciences as an interdisciplinary science communicator and conservationist. Nicola’s work in wildlife conservation caught the attention of the Natural History Unit at the BBC, who recruited her as a presenter working on productions such as the Really Wild Show. Today, Nicola continues her conservation work as an environmental campaigner and author of over 80 books on the natural world, such as A First Book of Nature, Last and The Wonder of Trees.

“We need books in an enormous variety, so that every child, every family can have a book that speaks to them and helps them make that connection to the natural world.” Nicola Davies

A picture of Nicola Davies presenting a brilliant keynote speech.Above: Nicola Davies provides a captivating keynote speech.

Nicola expressed the profound guiding influence of her parents, the passing down of ecological wisdom and her early experience with nature and gardens, a ‘Personalised EcologyGaston et al. that important first connection to nature that has the potential to shape the rest of our lives.

“Storyspace is the mind’s greatest invention and we should use it to make the future.” Nicola Davies

Working with nature has helped Nicola connect with conservationists from all over the world through shared beliefs and behaviours, actions speaking far louder than words. Children’s books have the power to do the same thing by enabling a child to travel whilst sitting still – placing control in the hands of the child – strengthening imagination to inspire and empower children to discover new worlds and follow their dreams.

This hugely popular keynote framed a recurrent problem in terms of ‘access’, the problem of giving nature access to our increasingly human world, the problem of giving children access to books, and the problem of giving future generations access to nature and green space.

A picture of Nicola Davies giving her keynote speech.Above: How a career working in the natural world can connect people through shared beliefs and goals – actions speaking louder than words.

A picture of Bethan Stagg and Nazneen Ahmed Pathak presenting to the summitAbove: Street ecologist and Postdoctoral Researcher Bethan Stagg delivers storytelling ideas with Nazneen Ahmed Pathak Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Exeter.

“Just by walking 300m to our local co-op, there were over 41 wild plant species growing on pavements and walls.” Bethan Stagg

A picture of David Bavin presenting his work.Above: Zoologist and Postdoctoral Researcher David Bavin extending community to all living things.

“We need to create worlds, not just for us, but also the other living members of our community.” David Bavin

A picture of Emanuelle Briolat and Maisy Instow presenting at a conferenceAbove: Not just ‘some scientists’ – Emmanuelle Briolat and Maisy Inston

A picture of Anne Marie Anang delivering a presentation to an audience.Above: The multitalented Annemarie Anang delivers creativity with impact.

A picture of Caleb Parkin engaging a workshopAbove: Poet Caleb Parkin effortlessly tells it like it is.

A picture of Smitri Halls engaging a group of people.Above: The prolific Smitri Halls addresses the elephant in the room, or rather The elephant in my kitchen.

A picture of Nicola Davies and Hibar Noor Khan enjoying a selfyAbove: Authors Nicola Davies and Hiba Noor Khan make time for a selfy.

A picture of Jackie Wong's illustration from the day.Above: A day summarised in pictures: Illustration by Jackie Wong – Illustrator in residence at the Biodiversity Storytelling Summit.

Biodiversity Storytelling Summit Resources

Access interviews with Claire Goodall, John Wedgwood Clarke, Nicola Davies, Marva Carty, Thomas Docherty, Sue Hendra, Cordelia Spalding and Maisy Inston.






The Biodiversity Storytelling Summit photojournal

Biodiversity Storytelling Summit – Illustrator in residence, Jackie Wong

Jackie Wong is a BA Illustration graduate from Falmouth University, currently based in London.Jackie attended the summit and visually captured discussions and ideas through illustrations. Check out more of Jackie’s work at

A picture illustration by Jackie Wong

A picture of Jackie Wong's illustration from the day.

The RENEW x BookTrust Vision

RENEW and the BookTrust would like to thank everyone who attended the Biodiversity Storytelling Summit at Kew Gardens. The buzz stemming from the event continues with new collaborations forged as a result of the summit and a set of new objectives:

  • Create a new collection of great biodiversity-rich books and stories that reach frontline settings across the Early Years sector so that children and families can engage in reading together through a new understanding of the importance of biodiversity renewal
  • Forge and foster long-lasting creative collaborations that bring scientists, artists and storytellers together to bring new story ideas to life
  • Enrich and expand the aesthetic of biodiversity content, embracing the ugly, invisible and misunderstood and, sparking new reading journeys and adventures to inspire children and families to get reading together.


“This remarkable collaboration between RENEW and BookTrust involves several approaches, including the curation of biodiversity-inspired content into an accessible library, and engaging authors and illustrators to create new biodiversity-inspired content. The Biodiversity Storytelling Summit 2023 signifies a crucial step towards developing a deeper connection between children’s literature and the natural world, with the ultimate goal of creating
a more biodiverse and accessible literary landscape for all young readers.” BookTrust

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