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Sydney's Botanic Gardens Prioritize what to Save

To Jimmy Turner, the living botanical treasures of Sydney's Royal Botanic Gardens and Centennial Parklands are more valuable than the Mona Lisa and black rhinos, and more important to the world's future.

"Wherever there is nature there is hope," tweeted Mr Turner, the director of the garden's horticultural management. Reflecting on the bushfires and destruction, he urged the public to choose to be part of the solution rather than cast blame. "Nature is telling us something. I intend to listen and change accordingly. Will you join me?" he asked, using the hashtag, #PlantsNotPolitics.

At Mt Tomah Botanic Gardens, one-quarter of its main garden's 28 hectares were affected by bushfire. Fires also damaged its 186-hectare conservation area. With infrastructure damaged, it was closed and is scheduled to reopen next week.

Mr Turner said the impact of the drought had been dramatic and obvious on green spaces, and was likely to cause damage for years.

Visitor numbers were down at the Botanic Garden, a top destination for international tourists. The number of bird species had fallen. Ponds had evaporated. Fountains were dry. Water play at the Ian Potter Wild Play Gardens has stopped.

Its trees, some very old, were increasingly susceptible to attack. "When you are starved or sick, you are more likely to attract a pest. If you are a weak zebra in the herd, you become food for someone else," Mr Turner said.

Many areas of the gardens weren't irrigated, relying on rainfall. Other parts hadn't been watered since October.

Mr Turner said the gardens had been working with Sydney Water to measure every drop, and improve efficiency any way it could. He is developing a $20 million plan to install a desalination plant - using the water from the Harbour at its edge - and a modern irrigation system to replace the antiquated system. It will take a few years to develop and fund.

With little rain in sight and more water restrictions likely, Mr Turner is assessing what plants to water and save, and what to sacrifice at the three botanic gardens including Sydney, Mt Annan and Mt Tomah, and at Centennial Park and the Domain.


Friday, January 3, 2020