What is the Edinburgh Biomes project?
Arguably the most visionary and exciting project of the Garden’s 350-year history, Edinburgh Biomes will avoid the catastrophic loss of up to 6,000 species by restoring the public and research Glasshouses and deliver world-leading facilities that will protect the work of this national institution for the future.
Restoring the Glasshouses
The Garden’s Grade-A listed Victorian Palm Houses and 1960’s 'front-range' Glasshouses, as well as behind-the-scenes research houses require extensive refurbishment. Their restoration will ensure the Glasshouses continue to provide a safe environment for the Garden’s priceless plant collection.
Saving our plant collection
Comprising over 13,500 plant species, RBGE’s collection includes many plants that are endangered or extinct in their native habitats. In the Glasshouses alone, there are 6,000 different species.
Planned to take shape through a progression of stages over seven years, Edinburgh Biomes will also include new facilities including an efficient, cost-effective energy centre, that will significantly reduce the Garden’s carbon emissions and a new plant health hub which will provide a safe bio-secure propagation environment. Read our FAQs for more information.
Watch: An introduction to Edinburgh Biomes
- Read video transcript
Video Transcript Time Description I'm Simon Milne. I'm the 16th Regius Keeper of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, and I'm standing in front of the epicenter of the Edinburgh Biomes program. Edinburgh Biomes will ensure that that collection is protected for the future. It's restoring the magnificent listed glasshouses we have. The 1967 modernist glasshouse known as The Spine, that will be completely renovated, all the glass taken out, all the plants taken out, all the heating taken out, completely restored, and a whole new visitor journey through those glasshouses that will be put in place. It's about creating new facilities, new facilities for the next generation of researchers, the next generation of horticulturists. And it's also about making the visitor experience so much better. And the crowning glory of Edinburgh Biomes is this amazing new building called The Frond. It's designed very much inspired by nature, and this will provide a new opening for our visitors to the Glasshouse experience, and a much better experience, enable people to get much closer to plants. Edinburgh Biomes is the biggest project, and I would say the most important project in the garden's history, and we very much want you to be part of that. Please come aboard.
Frequently Asked Questions
- What is Edinburgh Biomes?
- What is wrong with the current buildings?
Our A-Listed Palm Houses and Front Range Glasshouses as well as our behind-the-scenes research Glasshouses, are in urgent need of repair to their stonework, metalwork and glass.
- What are the Palm Houses?
Built in 1834, the Tropical Palm House is the oldest glasshouse at the Botanics. The iconic Temperate Palm House, built in 1856, is the tallest traditionally built Victorian Palm House in the UK.
- What are the Front Range Glasshouses?
The 128-metre-long modernist Front Range Glasshouses were built in 1967 and were regarded at the time as the greatest innovation in glasshouse design in a century.
There are two levels, six houses and five climatic zones, with a further two houses constructed in 1978.
- What are the Research houses?
These behind-the-scenes Glasshouses provide facilities for the scientific study of plants by scientists, students and visiting associates. Conservation horticulturists propagate plant material to better understand species and the houses also provide quarantine facilities for plants arriving from overseas.
- Why are the buildings important?
The public and research Glasshouses are home to 30% of our internationally important Living Collection of plants, some of which are extinct or threatened in the wild.
The restoration work will avoid the catastrophic loss of to 6,000 plant species in our Living Collection and allow us to continue our pioneering work in Scotland and the world.
Moreover, by restoring these A-Listed Glasshouses to their former splendour, we are saving part of Scotland’s architectural heritage, and safeguarding these iconic buildings for the nation.
- When did the project begin?
Preparatory work began in late 2021 and work on the restoration of the Palm Houses began in September 2022.
- What is happening to the Palm Houses?
Each part of the Palm Houses is being restored – from the 18 stone pillars on the Tropical Palm House to the tip of the dome on the 72-foot-high iconic Victorian Temperate Palm House. Work will include restoring crumbling stonework, cleaning and removing rust from the ironwork and replacing the glass.
- When will the project end?
The full Edinburgh Biomes project is scheduled for completion in 2028.
- Why are the Glasshouses closed to the public?
The area around the Glasshouses is now a secure construction zone with heavy vehicles moving around on site. Within the Glasshouses, the Garden’s horticulture teams are using heavy tools and machinery to lift and remove plants.
To protect staff, visitors and plants, access is no longer possible.
- What will happen to the plants during construction work?
Over 40,000 plants are being carefully lifted and removed in a staged process over the course of the project in line with our global conservation horticulture priorities.
At the end of the project, the plants will be returned to the restored Glasshouses.
- What is the Energy Centre?
The new Energy Centre will be in the Garden’s Nursery site and will replace our current old and inefficient heating and power systems. The Centre will incorporate ground source heat pumps (GSHPs), combined heat and power plant (CHP) and more efficient boilers, helping to reduce RBGE’s carbon footprint.
- Are you working with a construction company on this specialist project?
The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh has engaged Balfour Beatty as its main contractor for one of the key stages of the project, the restoration of the Palm Houses, which began in September 2022. Learn more about how RBGE, Balfour Beatty and partners are working together towards creating a zero carbon construction site.
Contracts for other sections of the project will be awarded in due course.
- How will the project be funded?
RBGE has received significant funding of £58 million from the Scottish Government, of which £50m is from the Low Carbon Fund. In Spring 2022, the project received a grant of £4 million from the National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF) and a further £500,000 was awarded by the Garfield Weston Foundation in Autumn 2022.
A major fundraising campaign is underway to raise the rest of the necessary funds.
- Consultations and planning applications
Prior to the beginning of this project, public consultations were held on 27 November 2018 and 10 and 31 January 2019. Planning applications were approved by the City of Edinburgh Council on 31 July 2019 for works that will take place in the main Garden and Nursery.
- What can I do to help?
The Edinburgh Biomes initiative is a project of enormous significance with the goal of the long-term protection of our National Living Collection.
Please consider donating today and help us preserve our magnificent Palm Houses and the invaluable collection they house, for generations to come.