Calls for Edinburgh’s Botanic Gardens to be reopened ‘for exercise’

A resident has launched a campaign against the decision to close Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Gardens during the coronavirus outbreak.
Owen Stevens believes the gardens should be reopened to allow people to undertake their daily exercise.Owen Stevens believes the gardens should be reopened to allow people to undertake their daily exercise.
Owen Stevens believes the gardens should be reopened to allow people to undertake their daily exercise.

Owen Stevens, who lives within walking distance of the gardens in the city’s Stockbridge district, has written to the gardens’ secretariat, calling for the gates of the taxpayer-funded facility to be re-opened to the public to allow people a chance to exercise safely outside.

While parks remain open for people’s one stint of daily exercise, most sports pitches and playgrounds, as well as the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh (RBGE), have closed in a bid to deter people from lingering too long outside their own homes.

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However, Mr Stevens believes that city dwellers would reduce their risk of transmitting the coronavirus if they had more space in which to conduct their exercise and described the decision to close them as “an abrogation of duty” by the gardens’ management.

The gardens, which were established on its current site in 1820, are administered by the Scottish Government under Minister Roseanna Cunningham as an executive non departmental public body and cost the taxpayer £8.5 million a year.

Mr Stevens wrote: “Through societal turbulence, civil war, Cromwell and the bubonic plague, the garden has endured through history and flourished.

“As you are of course aware we are currently experiencing an unprecedented crisis with the Covid-19 pandemic. The level of concern and emergency is frequently compared to that last encountered during WW2. The UK government has strongly advised social distancing between individuals of some two metres to reduce the transmission potential of the virus.”

“The need for healthful daily exercise cannot be undermined. Indeed, NOT exercising may have a population level effect more physically and mentally harmful than the virus itself.”

He added: “The Edinburgh urban environment clearly needs as many open spaces as it can get. The bicycle paths and walking trails that surround the Botanic Gardens are heavily trafficked. People desperate for fresh air and physical movement are forced into narrow pathways attempting to avoid each other. This whilst the gates to the gardens nearby themselves are firmly locked to the public.

“The reliance on public funding and indeed the ongoing justification for further funding based on public wellbeing all fly in the face of the recent decision to close the facility to the public. I am sure there are logistical concerns. I do however urge you to reconsider the closure of the gardens. Let the people in. Stay true to your history and roots. And honour the receipt of taxpayer funding by opening your gates.”

A spokeswoman for RBGE said: “We are sorry to close the Gardens but the health and safety of all our staff and visitors is our overriding concern. This decision is in line with advice from the Scottish Government and supports Scotland’s effort to contain the spread of Coronavirus.

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“In the meantime, we have a skeleton staff undertaking essential care of a plant collection that is widely accepted as a world-leading resource for global plant science and habitat conservation. All available resources are being channelled into ensuring the National Botanical Collection - in particular the thousands of tender species within the Glasshouses – will be maintained in good order.”

She added: “Visitors can rest assured that we will keep the situation under close review. We look forward to welcoming visitors back to enjoy this world leading botanical and horticultural institute as soon as that can be achieved safely and effectively.”