It is one of the most iconic, beautifully green, and superbly relaxing, of Edinburgh landmarks. Some 350 years old, and home to around 100,000 plants, 70 acres, 10 Glasshouses it is of course the capital’s famous Royal Botanic Garden (RBGE). And it’s home to more than a handful of pollinators.
I was speaking recently to Alex Davey, Science Policy and Impact Officer, about pollinator-friendly projects.
We had a lot of positive subjects to talk about. Much of the RBGE’s pollinator-related work tends to be around actions to improve pollinator food sources and habitat, two of the key aims in the Pollinator Strategy for Scotland.
Arguably pride of place should go to the eight new meadows (each 10 x 50m) being planted as part of the Edinburgh Living Landscape project. These all incorporate pollinator-friendly plants, and provided new connectivity along what is a heavily developed stretch of Edinburgh’s coastline (one of the successful Biodiversity Challenge Fund bids).
It’s true that butterflies are not our most noted pollinators, but nevertheless they are a key part of our biodiversity, and where they thrive other pollinators often do well too. In a project designed to encourage the rare northern brown argus, the cultivation and translocation of common rock rose is being included in plots called ‘Square Metre for Butterflies’ (which is also an Edinburgh Living Landscape project). This initiative seeks to increase pollinator habitat in the urban environment through creating green roofs and is a fine example of how even in the midst of a thriving, busy, city it is possible to do something positive for pollinators.
On a related theme Alex revealed that there is a survey of green roofs in Edinburgh. These ‘gardens in the sky’ are an approach which acknowledges the role of roof top gardens which are more prevalent, and woven into the fabric of big cities, than we imagine (it’s just that they are not always easy to view). The survey is aiming to compare plant diversity with green roof structure and age, including the occurrence of pollinator food plants, and pollinator visits. This will provide guidance for future design and plantings to have the most impact for pollinator habitat.
There is considerable excitement too around an ongoing volunteer phenology-recording project. This dates back 170 years, documenting annual changes in the development of over 500 plants of 156 species across the RBGE’s own gardens. It helps highlight pollinator-impacting shifts in flowering time as a result of our changing climate. It’s good work and some of that data are incorporated into the International Phenological Gardens of Europe project.
Finally it is impossible to conjure up a visit to the RBGE in 2020 and not acknowledge the sensational ‘Pictorial Meadow’. As well as the annual meadow display bringing a rainbow of hope to visitors, and providing a nectar source for bees, it allows people to think about meadow landscapes. The sheer joy of being immersed in a meadow – surrounded by the fluttering of butterflies, chirping of crickets and the buzz of bees is increasingly rare. You can read a lot more about this fantastic approach on the RBGE website.
For an organisation that began rather humbly with an area roughly the size of modern-day tennis court the RBGE has thrived. Their expertise is unrivalled, and that’s great news for plants, people and pollinators alike.