CALL Inspector Treebus – a light green fingered thief is on the loose.
Security has been stepped up at the Royal Botanic Garden after “rare and valuable” plants were stolen and cuttings taken from some of the most coveted specimens in the glasshouses in recent months.
The offenders are believed to be well-versed in horticulture though it is not known whether those responsible are simply looking to brighten up their garden or have more sinister motives. There have even been fears the plants could be sold on the black market.
Species including alpines, begonias and ferns – many of which can only be obtained overseas with a specialist licence – were among those targeted.
Simon Milne, the regius keeper of the 72-acre Inverleith site, said he feared the rare plants in its collection would have to be restricted from public view if the thefts continued – but stressed that would be a last resort. Although there have been several incidents in the past three years, scientists working on the site have noticed a marked increase lately.
“Over the last six months, we have seen more targeted thefts of specific plants, particularly of a rare or unusual nature,” he said. “It would take somebody with quite a bit of knowledge to identify which plants are unusual or threatened species.
“It’s frustrating and we don’t want to keep all our plants behind bars. We do have our research glasshouses which we keep secure. Occasionally it’s been whole plants or young seedlings, as you can use the material from the plant to root them. But if you take material off a plant, then that can lead to the death of the plant. It is a specialist activity.” He said the gardens had “lost a couple of rare plants” through the thefts but would not reveal their species. He said it was impossible to put a value on the plants.
“I think there’s also a demand on the black market for rare plants,” he said.
“We do have one of the biggest plant collections in the world. A lot of the material is collected under licence, by international agreements.
“It is possible that these plants will end up on Ebay – the internet is being used increasingly for illegally selling plants around the world.”
The incidents have prompted heightened patrols around the gardens and increased CCTV monitoring.
Mr Milne said that the cost of the recent additional security could have a knock-on effect on ongoing research, conservation and education projects.
He added: “We have 700-800,000 visitors a year. If anyone does see something untoward then report it to a member of our staff.”
A police spokesman said today inquiries were con- tinuing.