Self-generated funds targeted

Increase in visitor numbers at Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh exceeds goal set in business plan.

Milne: maintaining standards
Milne: maintaining standards

Royal Botanic Garden (RBG) Edinburgh is facing up to austerity in the same way as its English counterpart at Kew by increasing its self-generated funds while having to cut in other areas.

RBG Edinburgh cut science and some areas of horticulture by 20 per cent according to its 2014-15 business plan but still managed to increase visitor numbers well above expectations - up 19 per cent to 806,000. Sister sites Benmore, Dawyck and Logan gardens achieved more than 100,000 between them, thus beating aims by more than 100,000 overall.

The 2014-15 business plan had a "core objective to increase visits to 900,000 per annum in the next five years although this may be jeopardised by cuts to the horticultural budget", but the 2014 breakthrough in visitor numbers has superseded this.

RBG Edinburgh regius keeper Simon Milne, who replaced Professor Stephen Blackmore in 2014, said the site is now working to reach one million visitors by "generally maintaining very high standards of horticulture and good marketing and interpretation". RBG Edinburgh is also a member of Discover Scottish Gardens, which aims to increase visitor numbers by 10 per cent and is match-funded with £30,000 of Visit Scotland money.

Kew has cut more than 100 staff. Milne said: "Kew is going through a difficult time and director Richard Deverell is grasping the nettle and putting Kew back together again making sure it remains a world-class institution. Funding is a bit more problematic there. But we will increasingly have to generate more of our own funds and we're working to do that."

The target is to reach £6m in self-generated funds in five years, from £3m-£4m now. Milne said rubber or chocolate companies, for instance, might want to invest with RBG Edinburgh and link with research to find something such as disease-resistant Colombian chocolate.

Grant aid income from the Scottish Government is flat at between £8m and £9m, but Milne said he does not know what it will be next year. He added that the post-election political climate has "no direct impact purely because most stuff is devolved already".

RBG Edinburgh is developing its historic Botanic Cottage, while at Dawyck a hydro plant, installed in 2014 with help from a £30,000 grant from EDF Energy's Green Fund, has helped the garden to go carbon neutral.

Milne explained that conservation, plant collections and natural capital are focal points. "There's a tendency to think horticulture is just about growing plants in gardens and the horticulture industry, but there's more to it than that. It's not just about growing plants for Dobbies."

Regius keeper

RBG Edinburgh regius keeper Simon Milne, who is related to the well-known Scottish horticulturists the Cox family, is only the 16th person to hold the post since it was created in 1699.

He was previously chief executive at the Scottish Wildlife Trust, director of Sir Harold Hillier Gardens and, for 20 years, a Royal Marines officer.

Ness Botanic Gardens director Kevin Reid is to replace David Rae as RBG Edinburgh director of horticulture in August.

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