Campaign to preserve Botanic Garden

The Botanic Garden in St Andrews
The Botanic Garden in St Andrews

A FUND-raising campaign has been launched to help save the award-winning Botanic Garden in St Andrews, which is facing uncertainty due to financial constraints.

Behind the initiative is the Friends of the Botanic Garden group, which is involved in preparing a business plan for St Andrews University.

The appeal comes after of a stark warning that the challenge facing the 18.5 acre facility should not be underestimated, and followed top-level discussions involving the Friends, Fife Council and St Andrews University.

Described as ‘a hidden gem in Scotland’, and one of Fife’s leading tourist attractions, the Garden is owned by the university and leased to the local authority for a peppercorn rent of £1 a year. It also boasts a successful education trust, which undertakes outstanding work with both adults and young people.

The lease is to end in the late summer and the Council is contemplating a significant reduction in the budget it allocates for its upkeep.

Friends’ chairman Robin Waterston said: ”The Garden’s future is very uncertain. The lease to the Council ends in September. Meanwhile, a business plan is being prepared to be submitted by June 1 and will be considered by the University Court.

“It is very important that, by that date, we can show evidence there’s strong support within the community for the Garden to continue. “

The Friends are now looking for funds to be used to supplement Fife Council’s contribution to the running costs.

He added:”At present, it is likely the Council’s annual grant will be halved to £150,000 over the next three years. A fund-raising sub-group has been formed and this is its first appeal. A positive response will send a powerful message to those who will be deciding the Garden’s fate.

“It is hoped the university will lease it for another 25 years, at a nominal rent, to a new trust.”

The university has emphasised it is willing to renew the lease, but must receive a convincing business case to demonstrate a sustainable future for the Garden on reduced public funding is possible.

A report by consultants Morrison Fairlie proposed the formation of a new trust to manage the facility, with the possible sale of parts of the site to provide a capital base to generate recurrent income. It also proposed investment to make the Garden a more attractive visitor experience, using possible grants from bodies such as the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Since then, a steering group consisting of members of the Friends and the Garden Education Trust has been considering the options.

While no decisions have been taken, it was hinted last summer that the present car park, off Canongate, could be offered for sale for the development of a small number of houses, which could result in a substantial sum to help set up a multi-party trust. In addition, a site previously utilised by the Council as a depot might be considered for affordable housing to help raise capital for the Garden, while an area used as a house for the head gardener may be considered for commercial development.