A vital 21st-century lesson from two 17th-century Edinburgh doctors – leader comment

The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is celebrating its 350th anniversary
The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is celebrating its 350th anniversary
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Humans are the primary reason why many plants are facing extinction and we must take action to protect the foundation of all life on Earth.

In 1670, not long after Scotland had been ravaged by civil war and bubonic plague, two doctors did something truly historic. Robert Sibbald and Andrew Balfour leased a plot of land about the size of a tennis court near Edinburgh’s Holyrood Abbey for the “culture and importation of foreign plants” with medicinal properties.

Three-and-a-half centuries later, this enterprise is known as the Royal Botanic Garden and based in Inverleith.

Sibbald and Balfour both knew something that is too easily forgotten by those of us who live in artificial, urban environments – plants are important and precious. Knowledge about them can quite literally save your life.

Today, we face a staggering loss of both flora and fauna largely because of the actions of one species – humans.

Botanics’ regius keeper Simon Milne put the situation in stark terms: “All known life depends on plants, yet one in five species is threatened with extinction.”

It is the height of stupidity to ignore the fact that, unless we do something about it, this disturbing trend will continue and may eventually pose a serious risk to our survival.

READ MORE: Scotland’s wildlife in crisis as half of species declining and one in ten at risk of extinction

READ MORE: How Extinction Rebellion owes a debt to Adam Smith – Bill Jamieson