Botanics faces £1 million blow after storm damage

Robert Unwin with a felled tree
Robert Unwin with a felled tree
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THE Royal Botanic Garden has been left facing a restoration bill of more than £1 million after gale-force winds wreaked havoc at the popular visitor attraction.

The destruction caused by the 100mph winds which lashed the Inverleith site earlier this month is the most extensive seen by the garden in the last 30 years.

The glasshouse damage

The glasshouse damage

A total of 35 trees were completely uprooted or destroyed by the winds. Some of these trees were well-established and up to 125 years old. Around a further 40 trees were significantly damaged in the storm.

More than 400 panels of glass were also shattered at the historic glasshouses, but they were all replaced within a few days.

One worker at the Edinburgh garden has warned that it could be another 50 years before the Botanics is returned to its former glory.

A public appeal has now been issued for donations to help with the cost of restoration work, which has already raised £4500.

An appeal for donations was also made in a newsletter sent to the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh’s 6000-plus members recently.

Garden supervisor Peter Brownless, 51, said: “In a garden as closely planted as ours, it’s the trees squashed on their way down that has caused major trauma as well.

“In the region of around 100 to 200 shrubs, mostly Rhododendrons, were squashed. The shrubs will be fairly quickly replaced but it could be five to ten years before they look pretty much how they have looked in the past.

“One of the bigger trees that came down was an oak tree pushing on for about 100-plus years old, and one of the most important trees was not actually one of the biggest.

“It’s a plant called Betula Utilis Subspecies Utilis, which was collected by Joseph Rock in a part of China where it probably no longer occurs around the turn of the century.”

Weather permitting, Mr Brownless hopes all the trees will be replaced before the end of the year, with the debris cleared within the next three to six months. “As soon as the clear-up operation has taken place, then new planting will occur,” he said.

“You can replace the trees but you can’t buy back the time it has taken for them to grow. Unfortunately the visual appearance of some bits of the garden have now completely disappeared and it might be 50 years before it looks as it did before Christmas.

“It’s always quite sad to see old friends disappearing; you walk around the corner and the garden doesn’t look how it has looked.”

However, Mr Brownless, who lives in Musselburgh, is trying to stay positive despite the devastation.

“I grow a lot of the new plants so it’s quite exciting for me because there are a lot more places to put new things,” he said.

“Every problem that happens has got opportunities associated with it. It does give opportunities to plant new and interesting things.”

As well as appealing to the public, Mr Brownless said the Botanics also planned to appeal to the Scottish Government for funding towards the restoration work.

He added: “The money raised will help to replace the cost of the glass and fund expeditions to Asia, South America and Europe to replace a lot of material that has been lost.”