Chair and Executive Director’s report
Plants have never been as important to our survival as they are in 2009. Not only do they provide the oxygen we breathe, the food we eat and much of our clothing and shelter, they absorb and store carbon to combat global warming. Plants continue to provide a myriad of essential ‘support services’ such as recycling nutrients and filtering water in our catchments. In our gardens, plants create places of tranquillity and beauty, havens from the busy world. The Botanic Gardens Trust’s three botanic gardens and the Domain are places of inspiration, contemplation and critical scientific research: places that celebrate the importance of plants.
The Trust has an ambitious plan, building its 193 years of experience and expertise to further inspire the appreciation and conservation of plants. A fundraising campaign for this plan, to celebrate the bicentenary of the Botanic Gardens in 2016, will be launched in early 2010 and already there is strong financial support and encouraging community enthusiasm. The first sculptural centrepiece of the three children’s gardens planned for Mount Tomah was funded by a private donor; the Friends of The Gardens supported a four-year plant collecting program for science and horticultural display and provided seeding money to match a State Government grant to prepare a business case for PlantBank (an international plant research centre to be built around an expanded seedbank at Mount Annan), and the State Government has committed to fully funding a new entrance at Mount Annan.
Some other projects have begun. Repair and reinstatement of statuary in the Royal Botanic Gardens was supported by the Royal Botanic Gardens Foundation. HSBC Bank Australia became the Trust’s Principal Conservation Partner, committing to support an Asia-Pacific capacity building program, rejuvenation of the Oriental Garden and conservation programs on all estates. And planning for major children’s gardens at Sydney and Mount Annan, as well as a revitalised Tropical Centre linked by raised walkways to the Domain and nearby treetops, is well advanced. While the year 2016 is clearly in our sights, this year saw continuing excellence in all our science, education, horticulture, conservation and events programs.
Youth Community Greening
The ongoing value of the Trust’s Community Greening program was highlighted this year with the launch of an offspring environmental education program, Youth Community Greening. This new program will help young people from the most disadvantaged schools in the State experience the joys of gardening as they create gardens at schools and within community housing developments. The Trust is grateful to the Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation and individual benefactors for providing four years funding towards this initiative.
Environmental Improvements at Mount Annan Botanic Garden
The Trust this year signed a landmark Memorandum of Understanding with Integral Energy and Landcom to remove some of the intruding power lines from Mount Annan Botanic Garden and move them to less visible locations, including partly on a Landcom easement south of the Garden. This new partnership with Integral Energy will also provide the Trust with funding to remove African Olive weed over the next five years, to be replaced by local woodland species.
The acquisition of ‘The Jungle’ adjacent to Mount Tomah Botanic Garden was a milestone for the Trust, and for the conservation and care of our State’s natural heritage. The generous gift of John and Libby Fairfax, supplemented by a contribution from the Environmental Trust, allowed the Trust to honour one of the State’s early conservation efforts and to add this long sought piece of land to the estate of the Trust. The purchase was celebrated with the opening of the Lady Fairfax Walk through The Jungle, to be joined in coming years by an expansion of Mount Tomah’s education program, a treetop walk and holiday accommodation in the Jungle Cottage.
State and Federal Government funding was confirmed for a World Heritage Exhibition Centre as an extension to the Mount Tomah Visitor Centre, and to complement the Trust’s Jungle and Spur natural areas. The Centre will showcase and interpret this world heritage, and the underpinning natural and cultural values of the Greater Blue Mountains. The exhibition space will provide a virtual experience of the canyons, rare plants, eucalypt diversity, expansive vistas, and unique Blue Mountains landscapes. The Centre is expected to open in 2010.
Seeds in Space
Of great interest over the last twelve months has been the story of the first Australian seeds to travel in space.
With habitats under increasing threat, seedbanking on earth, and perhaps one day in space, will be part of an integrated conservation program for species threatened by extinction due to global warming or environmental changes.
In May 2008, NASA astronaut Dr Gregory Chamitoff took the seeds of four Australian species with him on the Discovery Mission STS-124. The seeds spent six months circling the Earth before returning in late November. Back at the NSW Seedbank, germination tests confirmed that more than 2800 orbits of the Earth did not adversely affect the viability of the Golden Wattle, Flannel Flower or Waratah seeds. Germination tests are still underway on the seeds from the Wollemi Pine.
Over the last two decades the flyingfox camp in the Palm Grove of the Royal Botanic Gardens has grown to a summer peak of 22,000 individuals, resulting in extensive damage to a landscape of great historical, scientific and cultural value. More than a dozen trees, and many more understorey species, have been lost already, and at least another 40 trees are at risk.
Approval to disturb flying-foxes for the purpose of relocation requires a licence under the NSW Threatened Species Conservation Act and the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. The Trust was granted approval from the NSW Government but is awaiting a final decision from the Australian Government and is preparing a Public Environment Report in response to its decision to declare the relocation a ‘controlled action’. Although further tree losses are expected, the Trust is hopeful it can restore much of the historic Palm Grove landscape if the relocation is approved for 2010.
Maintaining Cultural Heritage
A bronze statue of Scottish poet Robert Burns in the Domain was fully restored in August as part of a program of conservation works made possible through the Royal Botanic Gardens Foundation. Other statues being conserved are Huntsman and Dogs, Mare and Foal, Levy Fountain and Governor Phillip Fountain and Statue. La Ballarina was ready to reinstate at the end of the financial year.
The historic Woolloomooloo Sea Wall and associated paths and drains were restored, a $850,000 project funded by the State Government. The Trust was also allocated funds in the 2009-10 budget to reconstruct the road and pathway network within the Domain over the next three years.
To achieve the outstanding results and services outlined in this report, our staff, volunteers, associates and Friends have, as always, made an exceptional contribution. This year we saw another side to some of them. The annual staff show featured 45 ‘Hidden Collections’, including Royal Botanic Gardens memorabilia, pop-up books, nautiluses and ammonites, shaving mugs and razors, waratahs and more. The exhibition was later showcased on the ABC TV Collectors program after show host, Andy Muirhead, opened the exhibition.
Staff interest in collecting isn’t surprising given that they are surrounded by collections each day. We have nearly 200,000 plants in our three botanic gardens and the Domain, representing 20,000 different kinds of plants from all other the world. The Herbarium has over 1.2 million preserved collections, there are over five million seeds in our Seedbank at Mount Annan Botanic Garden and our library preserves a rich assortment of books, archives and artworks. These collections are the basis for much of the scientific effort of the Trust - this year including innovative research in DNA sequencing and barcoding - as well as enriching the experience of all visitors.
The built and natural infrastructure, these historical collections, and our expert and experienced staff and volunteers will be the foundation of our bicentennial program leading up to 2016. Plants, and gardens, will continue to support life in Australia. The Botanic Gardens Trust will cultivate the plants and knowledge needed to survive in this beautiful but fragile country in the twenty-first century.
Chair, Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust
Dr Tim Entwisle
Many species of Syzygium are cultivated as ornamental trees; their flowers with masses of coloured stamens and often brightly coloured fruits and reddish new growth adding to their appeal. Coolamon (Syzygium moorei) grows in lowland subtropical rainforest and is now rare. The striking pink ramiflorous flowers (arising directly from the branches) may be seen from November to March.
The acquisition of ‘The Jungle’ at Mount Tomah Botanic Garden allows the Trust to honour one of the State’s early conservation efforts.
NASA astronaut Dr Gregory Chamitoff, Executive Director Dr Tim Entwisle and Seed Technology Officer Leahwyn Seed inspect seedlings from the Seeds in Space germination tests.
Some of the 1.2 million preserved collections housed in the Herbarium at the Royal Botanic Gardens.
Heritage statuary restoration and conservation is a flagship fundraising project for the Royal Botanic Gardens Foundation. Photo: Pauline Markwell