Botanic Gardens Trust, Sydney, Australia

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New Director creates ambitious plans for Botanic Gardens

Media release: 21 April 2012

New benchmarks have been set to achieve world-class horticultural displays at the three Botanic Gardens managed by the Royal Botanic Gardens & Domain Trust, strengthen its global position in plant science and conservation and make fundraising more dynamic.

The three Botanic Gardens managed by the Trust are the Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney; the Blue Mountains Botanic Garden, Mount Tomah and the Australian Botanic Garden, Mount Annan.

In a first for botanic gardens in Australia, an International Peer Review team, which included four experts from major botanic gardens around the world and two local specialists, visited all three Gardens in December 2011, met staff and reviewed documents to assist new Executive Director of the Trust, Professor David Mabberley, achieve his dream of the Botanic Gardens being heralded as among the world’s very best.

Professor Mabberley said he expects the public will embrace the Peer Review’s key recommendations, most of which were approved in principle by the Board of Trustees and The Hon. Robyn Parker MP, NSW Minister for the Environment.

“The Peer Review members noted that many Australians don’t yet realise that Sydney’s glorious harbour-side city oasis, the Royal Botanic Garden is already recognised overseas as one of the great botanic gardens of the world - but they acknowledged further strategic planning is needed to maintain its iconic status,” Professor Mabberley said.

“To raise the bar, we’ll engage professional landscape designers and architects to lead and develop garden design and visitor amenities. In addition, we’ll establish comprehensive continuing education programs for horticultural staff, with a focus on international benchmarking for horticultural excellence.

“There’s an opportunity at the Australian Botanic Garden to create a unique botanic garden focussing on the beauty and conservation of Australian plants. With 416 hectares, it’s Australia’s largest Botanic Garden and already on its way to growing all 25,000 Australian native plants. We’d like to create an exciting and engaging living collection that is complemented by PlantBank, the country’s largest seed bank.

Professor Mabberley said the research focus of Trust scientists will also be reviewed to ensure they continue to excel nationally and internationally.

“The Peer Review stated that the Trust science team’s activities in discovering and describing new plant species (taxonomy), mapping the vegetation of NSW, and researching fungal diseases of native plants and crop species, are amongst the most important scientific endeavours in Australasia.  And notably they said the scientific collections, especially the herbarium and increasingly the seed bank, rank among the most important in Australasia, and with respect to plant diversity in Australasia are of high global relevance,” he said.

“The Peer Review recommended we develop and integrate a science strategy that includes perspectives for taxonomy and supports the development of thematic research areas where the Trust can shine.

“An important part of our science strategy also includes more collaboration with Asia,” Professor Mabberley said. 

The Asia-Pacific Region, by comparison with say, Northern Europe, is an area of outstanding biodiversity of global significance.  For example, Australia is one of the only 12 so-called ‘megabiodiverse’ countries in the world and China is another. Australia has 25,000 plant species native to the country - about eight per cent of the world’s total, and China has 31,000 native plant speices - about 11 per cent of the world figure.  In between lies the so-called Malesian region from southern Thailand through Malaysia and Indonesia to Papua New Guinea with 42,000 species in all.  If you compare that with the United Kingdom with just 1500 native plant species, you can see where our priorities should increasingly lie and why a bond with Asian countries in getting to grips with an understanding of the world’s plant riches is not only logical but, with increasing pressures from deforestation and climate change, critical.

“Another important recommendation was for the Trust’s seed conservation work to be complemented by molecular work to address within-species diversity. As with humans, inbred plants are not as resilient. Using molecular research we can try to maintain as much diversity as possible, thereby increasing the chance of survival of a species,” he said.

Professor Mabberley explained that a top priority of the Review Team, in light of the ongoing beetle infestation at the Herbarium of New South Wales, is for improvements to be made to ensure a temperature and humidity controlled environment.

To channel donor support into one fundraising arm and ensure 100 per cent of donations go towards the Trust the Royal Botanic Gardens Foundation Sydney and the Friends of the Botanic Gardens - are proposed to merge (subject to required legal approvals).

“As we move closer to the Botanic Gardens Bicentenary in 2016, major improvements and upgrades are underway that need funding. This merge will make fundraising more dynamic,” Professor Mabberley said.

Leading the new direction for the Trust, a Strategic Planning Committee has been formed.  Using the International Peer Review recommendations as a starting point, the Committee will develop a vision for the Trust, define the organisation’s role and functions, and propose a three-year corporate plan and actions to address imperatives for the immediate 12 months.

To view the Peer Review recommendations in full visit: http://www.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/welcome_to_bgt/feature_stories/IPR

Media contact

Karla Davies, phone: +61 2 9231 8004 or mobile: 0427 482 477