Regeneration of a lifetime at Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh
Restoration of a much-loved iconic Victorian Temperate Palm House will shine at the heart of the new Edinburgh Biomes initiative to safeguard a global resource. With Scottish Government commitment to major funding - and the announcement that a pre-construction agreement has been entered into with Balfour Beatty to progress the first phase of construction - an operation of military precision is already underway behind-the-scenes at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh’s (RBGE) historic Glasshouses.
Fifty-eight million pounds funding from the Scottish Government, of which £50m is from the Low Carbon Fund, is a major contribution to the costs of the first five years of the seven-year project. The development is in step with the goal for the transformational change required to make Scotland net zero by 2045. As well as the much-needed restoration of the public Glasshouses, it will see the development of state-of-the art research Glasshouses, the construction of an innovative Plant Health Centre and an efficient Energy Centre. Finally, a new public Glasshouse will become the welcome reception of a spectacular visitor experience. Collectively these will greatly enhance RBGE’s contribution to addressing the biodiversity crisis and climate emergency.
With stark data from a structural report revealing the true extent and urgency of remedial works required in the public Glasshouses, the intricate work of decanting and protecting plants is already underway.
Behind doors closed to visitors by Covid-19 restrictions at the end of last year, RBGE’s dedicated horticulturists are employing all the latest techniques in tandem with traditional best practice to carefully lift specimens from their established beds and transfer them to temporary homes. The outcome will guarantee the future of the A-Listed buildings, improve the visitor experience and working conditions.
Regius Keeper Simon Milne MBE, who has led the five-year drive to achieve this most significant project of the Garden’s 351-year history explained: “With initial funding in place, and in light of data from the structural survey, it is right that restorative work on the public Glasshouses and replacement of the Research Houses should be addressed as a matter of urgency.
“There is no quick fix. The Edinburgh Biomes is an initiative of enormous significance and, from now it brings seven years of incredibly hard and exciting work, changes to the way we engage with all our stakeholders and flexibility in how we operate. There is a requirement for an immense programme of public engagement and unapparelled fundraising to reach our ultimate goal.
“The living plant collection, at the core of the work of the Garden, is of global importance in addressing the biodiversity crisis. Here, we hold in care species endangered and even extinct in their natural habitats – many of which are yet to be fully scientifically described and formally named. Intrinsic to this is the growing imperative for greater public engagement, bringing people of all ages and outlooks along on the unavoidable and inspirational journey to protect the planet for future generations.”
Voicing her support, Environment and Climate Change Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said: “Through the Low Carbon Fund, we have been able to fulfil a Programme for Government commitment to support the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh in its transition to net zero and to secure its status as a national and international centre for science, horticulture and learning. By improving the energy efficiency of the Garden’s iconic Glasshouses and the construction of the new facilities, not only will it be an important step towards a low carbon future but will also support good, green jobs and preservation of the National living plant collection.”
Commenting on the significance of the Edinburgh Biomes initiative, Hector MacAulay, Balfour Beatty managing director for Scotland and Ireland, said: “We are delighted to be partnered with the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh to deliver this most significant and historic project. Balfour Beatty is fully committed to playing its part in safeguarding the plant collection for the future and delivering the new world-class facilities which are of international importance in terms of biodiversity conservation.”
As work continues behind the scenes to decant specimens, so allowing the start of refurbishment in the public Glasshouses, visitors will notice ongoing external preparations. Members of the Outdoor Horticulture team are moving living material away from the main construction site, including significantly sized trees. Construction work will get underway later in the year when hoardings will be erected around the Glasshouses for reasons of public safety.
Throughout the restoration of historic buildings and construction of new, visitors can expect a wealth of opportunities to find out what is happening behind the scenes. Job opportunities will be advertised and commitment is being made to creative educational and community outreach. Look out too for special events and regular updates at the Edinburgh site, with the chance to learn more from RBGE staff and project partners as they develop and prepare to unveil exciting new facilities, including a completely rejuvenated Glasshouse Experience.
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