Scottish Government funding of £50m will sustain the place of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) at the vanguard of global action to combat the climate emergency and address the biodiversity crisis. The Low Carbon Fund backing covers five years’ work on the visionary Edinburgh Biomes initiative, creating world-class facilities producing climate, economic, wellbeing and environmental benefits, as part of Scotland’s a green recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.
By supporting the Edinburgh Biomes project in the institute’s 350th anniversary year, it will safeguard the Garden’s public Heritage Glasshouses while enhancing research facilities and addressing weaknesses in its aging infrastructure. It also creates important new green jobs, apprenticeships, training and investment in the construction sector post COVID-19.
Redevelopment of the public and research Glasshouses, at the Garden’s headquarter Edinburgh site, will safeguard the globally important collection of plants housed within them. A state-of-the-art plant health suite will allow further advancement in this burgeoning area of research. Installation of a modern heating system will cut carbon losses from the Glasshouses by 12 per cent, and energy use by up to 50 per cent, supporting the goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 75 per cent by 2030 and end Scotland’s contribution to climate change completely by 2045.
Announcing the investment, Environment and Climate Change Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said: “The coronavirus pandemic has been an unprecedented global crisis which has fundamentally changed every aspect of our lives. But this year’s Programme for Government makes it clear that our commitment to tackling the twin challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss is unwavering. Indeed, it is central to our recovery.
“We will ensure our economic recovery will be a green recovery, one that creates green jobs and ensures a fair and just transition to net zero, leaving no-one behind.
“The Scottish Government funding being provided for the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh’s Biomes supports this commitment. This significant infrastructure project promises to create 100+ new, green jobs each year, contribute to our emissions reduction, enhance the Botanics’ role as an important contributor to the local economy and preserve its global reputation. Its work to protect our biodiversity is critical and I look forward to the Biomes project ensuring this work remains world-leading.”
Simon Milne MBE, Regius Keeper of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, commented that this was a landmark moment for the research organisation and visitor attraction: “Edinburgh Biomes is the most significant project in the Garden’s 350-year history to date. As one of the world’s leading botanic gardens, it will enable us to forge ahead with pioneering work for Scotland and the world, working towards a green recovery and reinforcing the Scottish Government’s reputation for strong leadership in tackling climate change and biodiversity loss.
“Amidst the many personal, social, and economic tragedies and challenges of the last few months, there is heightened awareness of interdependencies: the interdependence of human and environmental health and the interdependence of social justice and sustainable development. Collectively there is a compelling impetus for positive change for the benefit of humanity and the planet.
“This will be a global resource within an international framework to address biodiversity loss and associated issues of climate change. The work undertaken here reflects collaboration across international governments and organisations and can address the need for transformative change in how people co-exist with nature. With more than 20 per cent of the world’s plant species at risk from extinction our work is more important than ever. All known life depends on plants, and plants can provide the solutions to so many of the world’s challenges.”
Behind the scenes at RBGE are species threatened in their native habitats. Many are extinct or under threat of extinction in the wild and others await scientific description. On average, more than one new plant species for every week of the year – from mighty trees to tiny tropical flowers and miniscule mosses – is described as new to science at RBGE. In a concentrated effort to catalogue life on Earth, specimens from China to Peru and Vietnam to Scotland are being scientifically recorded and named. Advances in DNA sequencing of plant material are causing major rethinks and propelling the ability to make real inroads towards the ultimate goal of sequencing all life – providing essential, transformative insights into biology for the benefit of humankind
The most visible changes for the public will be the extensive restoration of the celebrated Grade A Listed public Glasshouses, from the iconic Victorian Palm Houses to the modernist 1960s Front Range. A striking new public glasshouse, initially built to decant specimens from houses under refurbishment, will eventually become the welcome area for the revamped and outstanding visitor experience. It will enhance tourism and recreation activity and the Scottish economy and, over the six-year project, 700 person years of employment will be directly supported.
“Restored, our heritage Glasshouses can engage visitors with the critical work we do in Scotland and around the world. Edinburgh Biomes will bring new potential to attract, excite and engage people of all nationalities and walks of life,” added Simon Milne.
Dominic Fry, Chair of the Board of Trustees for the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, concluded: “We believe that a green recovery is imperative and are delighted that the Scottish Government recognises and supports this. We are also serious about wanting a future that’s greener, kinder and more equal: an investment of this scale and ambition goes a very long way to ensuring that future for us all.
“This is an unique and pivotal inflection point: to put people, planet and plants first for future generations. The Government’s foresighted backing of Edinburgh Biomes will result in a physical embodiment of that green recovery, bringing with it jobs, infrastructure, education and science. In our 350th anniversary year we are venturing into new, exciting, and very positive territory.”
After initial funding from Scottish Government, the project gained full planning permission in 2019. Since then, relocation of plants has been taking place with sensitivity to prepare for initial works, due to start in April 2021