I first heard about the theft of a species of water lily from Kew Gardens through twitter when @JackieLeonard01 posted the item and asked what sort of person would do such a thing. I jestingly responded a ‘floral chancer’ and later ‘a tea leaf’ before seeing the criminological, indeed the green criminological, potential of such a story. Hence this brief blog.
This Guardian article sets out the bare facts: that on 9 January 2014 sometime during the day, one of Kew’s 50 samples of Nymphaea thermarum, the smallest water lily in the world, had been stolen. Some of the coverage - and it received global coverage - might stem from the plant’s cuteness, rarity and therefore value. Some incredulity might be involved in its newsworthiness. Who or why would anyone steal such a small, precious thing? Put like that it starts to become more obvious even to the non-criminologist why. Small, so easily done. Precious, nuff said? And where was the ever present (in UK society) CCTV? Also as a criminologist I’m rarely surprised by any crime.
Also as an occasional gardener and listener to BBC’s Gardeners’ Question Time and visitor to stately homes and gardens I was aware of the issue of people acquiring/taking/stealing cuttings from gardens and nurseries. The Guardian Gardening Blog posed this question in 2010 ‘Green collar crime - do you take plant cuttings without permission?’
The comments on the blog contain many justifications and admissions of crime (including possible border or transnational crime!) and occasional twinges of guilt. Was the floral chancer just one such person? Is that water lily now in someone’s green house? Or the collection of some baddie Greenfinger? Do they aim to propagate from it? Possibly even to repopulate the hot spring in Rwanda from where it originates but is now extinct?
Any green crime to be studied by green criminology is not the theft in Kew but the un-explained, unexplored ‘over-exploitation’ that lead to its demise. Well some green criminologists might think that but for me green criminology is an attitude, a perspective. The root of the crime and the extent of the victimisation lies in that over-exploitation. Or, perhaps, they were just a plant rights activist freeing the lily?