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 4,000 species in the public and research Glasshouses, and deliver world-leading facilities that will protect the work of this national institution for the future.
Details of the project come at a time when the Garden’s existing Glasshouse facilities - including the Grade A listed Victorian Palm Houses, and the 1960’s 'front-range' and research Glasshouses - require extensive refurbishment. It will ensure the Glasshouses continue to provide a safe environment for the Garden’s plant collection.
Comprising over 13,500 plant species, RBGE’s collection includes many plants that are endangered or extinct in their native habitats.
For visitors, the most visible change will be the addition of a stunning new Glasshouse linking to the Front Range houses. It will become the point of welcome to a considerably rejuvenated Glasshouse Experience, taking visitors through the modernist Front Range and Victorian Temperate and Tropical Palm Houses.
Planned to take shape through a progression of stages over seven years, Edinburgh Biomes will include new research facilities dedicated to combating the increasing numbers of plant pathogens damaging the environment, commerce and gardens big and small. Central to improvements will be an efficient, cost effective energy centre, significantly reducing the Garden’s carbon emissions and a new plant health hub which will provide a safe bio-secure propagation environment.
More about the project
Visit our project updates webpage for news on the latest developments both in the public areas and behind-the-scenes.
Support the Edinburgh Biomes
“The need for our pioneering work has never been greater, be it through cutting-edge science, impactful education or inspiring people with the beauty and value of natural capital. Edinburgh Biomes is crucial to achieve this and the project needs the widest possible support if we are to secure our place as a leader in plant science and education, horticulture and ensure the astonishing Living Collection thrives for future generations. Edinburgh Biomes will engage people of all backgrounds and nationalities, inspiring them to be part of the protection of plant life that sustains and delights us.”
Regius Keeper, Simon Milne MBE
Frequently Asked Questions
- What is Edinburgh Biomes?
Edinburgh Biomes is the most exciting and visionary project being undertaken by the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) since its relocation to its fourth site at Inverleith in 1820. The project aims to conserve plant life for generations to come.
Edinburgh Biomes is central to RBGE’s response to the twin challenges of the biodiversity crisis and climate emergency. In a world where 40% of plant species are estimated to be under threat, our mission has never been more urgent.
The project will protect global plant science and conservation through the restoration of the Garden’s A-listed historic Palm Houses, modernist Front Range and research houses. It will also provide new facilities for cutting edge plant science, accelerating RBGE’s research into plant pests and pathogens.
Edinburgh Biomes will create a new destination within the Garden for visitors, staff and academics from around the world - the creation of a new Glasshouse that will enrich our National Botanic Collection, provide a spectacular visitor experience and inspire the scientists, horticulturists and conservationists of the future.
- What is wrong with the existing buildings?
The Garden’s historical Tropical and Temperate Palm Houses, built in 1834 and 1856 respectively, are in urgent need of repair and restoration to their stonework, metalwork and glass. Despite being maintained diligently by staff their condition has declined over decades rendering them extremely fragile and at risk. The Edinburgh Biomes project will ensure the future of these A-listed buildings which are of key architectural significance and part of Scotland’s heritage. We are saving them for the nation.
The Front Range Glasshouses, built in 1967 and also A-listed, are in need of restoration and the Research Glasshouses, crucial to the work we do behind the scenes, are in a critical condition and extremely vulnerable to damage during severe weather and in need of replacement.
- Why now?
A recent structural report has shown that the true extent of remedial work required in the heritage Glasshouses is greater than previously understood. In their current state, they are at risk of increasing deterioration and ultimately closure. To protect these iconic buildings and the National Living Collection they house, restoration of the public Glasshouses is now a priority and will take place earlier in the project timeline than planned.
The Front Range Glasshouses are in need of substantial repair and the research Glasshouses are in a critical condition and extremely vulnerable to damage during severe weather. They will only survive a few more years without essential upgrades.
The Glasshouses are home to 30% of our internationally important Living Collection of plants, some of which are extinct or threatened in the wild. We must act now to repair and restore the Glasshouses in order to protect our Living Collection.
As part of this project, and as guardians of one of the world’s most significant scientific and horticultural resources, we will redevelop our facilities to sustain RBGE as a leader in plant science, horticulture, biodiversity, education and conservation and ensure our collection thrives for generations to come. This includes the building of a new Glasshouse for visitors, new research Glasshouses and two new buildings in the Nursery – the Plant Health Hub and the Energy Centre.
- Why does it matter?
It matters because 40 per cent of the world’s plant species are under threat, creating risks to the people and animals that are dependent upon them. Our plant research and conservation work is more important than ever at a time when the world faces the global challenges of a climate emergency and biodiversity loss.
This project is a necessity to avoid the catastrophic loss of up to 4,000 plant species in our collection, some already extinct in their native habitats. It will also enable us to continue our pioneering work for Scotland and the world.
- When will work begin on Edinburgh Biomes?
The Garden has received a £58m cash contribution to the Edinburgh Biomes project from the Scottish Government. This includes £50m from the Government’s Low Carbon Fund over a five-year period. The project has won the backing of City councillors.
Enabling works began in Autumn 2021 and we expect the main project to begin in the first half of 2022. A major fundraising campaign is also underway to raise the rest of the necessary funds.
- Why are the Glasshouses closed to the public?
RBGE has now begun preparatory work on our Edinburgh Biomes initiative and the restoration of our heritage Glasshouses. To protect our staff, the public, our buildings and our plants, hoarding has been erected around the construction site. This runs from the North-East corner of the Garden along the current path to the Glasshouses and to the lawn in front of the 1967 Front Range Glasshouses. Access to those areas, including the Glasshouses, is no longer possible.
To facilitate the project, our horticulture teams have been decanting plants from the Palm Houses, which now stand empty for the first time in almost 200 years. The massive programme of decanting plants will continue throughout the project.
- What is the Plant Health Hub?
The Plant Health Hub facility will enhance and accelerate research into plant pests and pathogens and will help scientists find solutions to difficult environmental challenges. Located in the Nursery, the facility will provide a safe propagation environment for plants are under threat from disease or extinction.
Plant health is a policy priority, with outbreaks such as Xylella and Sudden Oak Death causing destruction around the world. The new Hub will be a single-entry point for living plant material entering the organisation from elsewhere around the country and from out-with the UK.
The work of disease detection and identification carried out in the pathology lab is an integral part of plant quarantine. The new facilities will include sealed containment glasshouses that can be closed for fumigation, and containment laboratories and growth facilities.
- What is the Energy Centre?
The new Energy Centre will be located in the Garden’s Nursery site. Comprised of two floors, it will integrate state-of-the-art, renewable technologies including Ground Source Heat Pumps (GSHP) and Combined Heat & Power plant (CHP), with modern and more efficient boilers than the ones currently in use.
It will significantly reduce RBGE’s carbon footprint and replace the current power systems. RBGE’s Energy Centre will maximise the current potential for using clean energy sources while providing heat and power to both the Nursery site and the North-East Corner (NEC) of the main Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.
The Ground Source Heat Pumps (GSHPs) will provide heating that will be distributed within the Nursery and to the main Garden site via new underground low heat loss pipework and electrical cabling. GSHPs are one of the most sustainable forms of renewable energy available, as the heat extracted from the ground is constant and does not rely on fossil fuels.
The Energy Centre also incorporates a Combined Heat and Power (CHP) plant and gas boilers. The energy efficient CHP plant will be used to generate the constant base electrical load for the NEC and will reduce the amount of electricity RBGE imports from the grid. The CHP will cover a large portion of RBGE’s electrical base load.
Additional boilers are required for the final “top up” to the heating system. The current thermal profiles of the site indicate there will be significant periods in summer when the GSHP and CHP will be able to cover the daytime need. However, in winter, the boilers will carry out the majority of the heat load when the Glasshouses’ requirement is at its highest.
This combination of GSHPs and CHPs will enable RBGE to achieve substantial energy and carbon savings. Once the Edinburgh Biomes project is complete, the new Energy Centre is expected to reduce RBGE’s carbon footprint in the NEC by 27%, equating to a 17% overall reduction in carbon from our 2018/19 figures.
Heat created from the GSHPs alone will account for 34% of all heat generated from the new energy centre. Additionally, 68% of carbon savings in the NEC will be attributed to the use of the GSHPs.
- Future Modifications
In the longer term RBGE will seek to introduce next generation technologies. To reduce and potentially eliminate the need for fossil fuels, while maintaining the higher temperatures required to maintain the Living Collection in the Glasshouses, a switch to hydrogen fuel could potentially provide an alternative solution when the boiler system nears the end of its operational lifespan. Hydrogen fuel may become more readily available in the future as the Scottish Government looks to decarbonise the gas grid. These solutions would assist the RBGE in the future to achieve the Scottish Government target of net zero emissions by 2045.
- Why will the Plant Health Hub and Energy Centre be built on the Nursery site?
There is not enough space in the Garden to house these new facilities. Locating the new plant health hub in the Nursery allows us to create enough space for a world-class state-of-the-art facility.
The Energy Centre will be located on the Nursery site because the existing boiler house cannot be decommissioned and demolished until there is a new heat source / energy centre that is fully operational and able to provide the required heat and power to the buildings in the north-east corner of the main Garden. Also, the flue height required to meet the most recent Clean Air Act, will be more easily accommodated on the Nursery site as it will sit only 3m higher than the energy centre roof.
Both buildings will be aesthetically designed and will be sympathetic to the environment, giving due consideration to households nearby. For example, all the services required to operate the energy centre will be included in the envelope of the building to hide unsightly ducts, pipes and cables from view. In addition, whilst the buildings will be two storeys high, they will be built into the landscape and will be lower than the surrounding trees so as not to impede views of the city skyline.
- How long will the Edinburgh Biomes project take?
We aim to be able to allow some access to the Glasshouses from 2027, with the new Glasshouse and full Edinburgh Biomes project completed by early 2028.
- What will happen to the plants?
During the Edinburgh Biomes project, over 40,000 plants, including trees, are being decanted from our public and research Glasshouses, as well as the surrounding areas, as a necessary step prior to the beginning of restoration work as part of our Edinburgh Biomes initiative.
Our Horticulture division has a very detailed decantation and storage plan and considerable time and care has been taken in making informed decisions concerning which plants will be removed, moved and retained. We are working hard to save as many plants as possible and plant loss will be kept to a minimum in line with our conservation priorities. On those rare occasions when we can’t save the original specimen, we have propagated the parent plant and it will live on through its progeny. On completion of the building works, more trees will be replanted than will have been removed and, the trees we plant will have significantly greater conservation status.
- Why are you removing trees?
The Inverleith Garden is 32 hectares (79 acres) where 3,268 trees are growing, comprising 56 Families, 145 Genera, 728 Species and 989 Taxa.
Approximately 1,907 of the 3,268 trees are of known wild origin and the collection is being constantly added to with new plantings. The trees reflect the history of RBGE and the future interests of the organisation: they constitute a research collection, an educational resource and a valuable high-quality urban green space.
On occasion, trees have had to be removed. The removal of trees within the Living Collection will be mitigated through the representation of the species by other accessions currently within our Living Collection and future replanting. On completion of the building works, more trees will be replanted than will have been removed. Plus, the new trees we plant will have significantly greater conservation status.
- Will I still be able to visit the Queen Mother’s Memorial Garden?
The Queen Mother’s Memorial Garden is accessible to visitors at the weekends.
- Will I still be able to visit the Alpine Houses?
A new public pathway leads from the Queen Mother's Memorial Garden to the Alpine Houses. They are open to visitors at the weekends.
- 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, restoration of our A-listed Glasshouses, improved working conditions for our teams and an enhanced visitor experience.
We depend on, and are deeply appreciative of, the support given to us by our Friends and Patrons and ask that you continue to support us during this exciting project.
We hope that visitors will support our vision for Edinburgh Biomes and we welcome your comments and feedback. You can contact us at email@example.com or you can make a donation to support Edinburgh Biomes.
- Press releases
- Heritage Fund awards £4 million to restore historic glasshouses (12 April 2022)
- Transforming of a unique global treasure (2 March 2022)
- Local schools to benefit from Botanics’ construction works (22 February 2022)
- Uk's largest plant fossil is on the move (17 June 2021)
- Regeneration of a lifetime at Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (19 March 2021)
- Scottish Government Investment Announced (September 2020)
- Revealing a vision for the best practice of botanic gardens (4 March 2019)
- Go ahead for Edinburgh Biomes (1 July 2019)
- Planning applications
- Approved on 31 July 2019 for Nursery and Garden
- Public consultations
- Held on 27 November 2018, 10 and 31 January 2019
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