There has been considerable interest in the attempt by the Singapore Botanic Gardens to attain recognition as a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) World Heritage Site. Since late in 2012 the site has had ‘Tentative’ status – a step toward full recognition – but now wants to go the whole way.
Founded in 1859 while the island was under British colonial rule, the gardens are a ‘lush and serene 74-hectare (182-acre) park on the edge of downtown Singapore’ and ‘boast over 30,000 plant and tree species’. If its bid is accepted it would join existing Heritage Site botanical gardens in Padua (Italy) and the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew (England). Heritage Status is not guaranteed, but with Chris Blandford Associates involved (who helped to get Kew listed as a World Heritage Site in 2003) hopes must be high. And botanic gardens are not just pleasant places for a stroll; these sites have important survival value for all of us. As repositories of living specimens and plant knowledge their role embraces maintenance of ‘documented collections of living plants for the purposes of scientific research, conservation, display, and education’. But they go far beyond that, as pointed out by Arthur Hill in his review of the history and functions of botanic gardens. Indeed, given current – and continued future – concerns about food crops, plants’ ability to cope with climate change, etc, as Peter Crane et al. remind us, ‘at no other point in history has research in botanic gardens and arboreta, been more important’. We should therefore not only be honouring the globe’s more high-profile botanic gardens, but also be actively promoting the important role played by, and research carried out in, all botanic gardens worldwide. This is a goal embraced by BGCI (Botanic Gardens Conservation International), and important to the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC). But that’s not to say that we shouldn’t look after our national gardens and spend nearly £15 million giving Kew’s iconic Temperate House a ‘make-over’.