Saint Sustainability: the St Andrews Botanic Garden

Samantha Hambleton, with art by Holly Brown

Like many residents of St Andrews, you may have heard of, or even visited, the St Andrews Botanic Garden; a welcome escape for many from rigorous revision and readings, the original Botanic Garden dates back to 1889. While familiar with its existence, and of course the freshly baked sourdough available at the Lochaber Shed, few are aware of the extent of the Garden’s work, particularly in regards to conservation and sustainability efforts in Fife. From research to establishing meadows, the St Andrews Botanic Garden exemplifies what it means to think globally and act locally. 


I first became aware of the research conducted at the Botanic Garden when I was involved in drafting a Carbon Management and Sustainable Curriculum Design proposal; my group was put in touch with Harry Watkins, the Director at the Garden. According to Watkins, the Garden’s research is broad, ranging from biosecurity to optimising plant selection for green infrastructure. Green infrastructure Strategy, an EU policy proposed in 2019, networks natural and semi-natural areas to deliver a wide range of services such as water purification, air quality, and recreation space. This research can improve environmental conditions and, therefore, quality of life for those living in the network communities. Research at the Botanic Gardens aims to develop Green Infrastructure Strategies, offering a better or complementary alternative to the often damaging grey infrastructure options. The findings made at the Botanic Garden are helping to conceptualise a bigger picture, as these discoveries in St Andrews are then translated to areas with similar temperate environments.  


At the core of the Botanic Garden and its work is the idea of urban ecology. This driving force is perhaps best encapsulated by the project “Meadows in the Making.” A partnership between the St Andrews Botanic Gardens, University of St Andrews, Fife Coast & Countryside Trust and Crail Community Partnership, and the Fife Council, Meadows in the Making is truly a community effort. In St Andrews and the surrounding areas, eight hectares of grassland is being turned into a productive species-rich meadow. It will allow native plants and animals to thrive while establishing a green corridor—a strip of vegetation that connects habitats otherwise separated by urban development—between St Andrews and Guardbridge. The establishment of meadows through reduced cutting will aid the University in achieving their Biodiversity Action Plan as well as the Botanic Garden to meet the goals as set out by their twelve-year Biodiversity Plan.  

Looking to the future, there are plans for another new project: the Tangled Bank. An ambitious initiative, the Garden is setting out to develop native sand dune, grassland, and meadow habitats. In the second phase of the project, the glasshouses will be decommissioned, in time reducing the carbon emissions of the Garden. Decommissioning the glasshouses would alleviate a sizable financial burden; expensive repairs, pest management, and heating costs, all of which  substantially drive up both the running costs as well as the carbon footprint of the Garden. Once the glasshouses are decommissioned, the Potting Sheds will be given a new purpose as a community learning space in addition to labs for research. 

The work completed at the St Andrews Botanic Garden, whether through research or one of their many projects, not only helps to contribute to conservation and sustainability around St Andrews but around the world as well. It is expected that information gathered from the Tangled Bank project by Botanic Garden staff and volunteers will be used to collaborate with researchers internationally to work on issues of conservation, and on a larger scale, the climate crisis. However, as is the case for many, the COVID pandemic has challenged the everyday functioning of the Garden. But, with the generous assistance provided by donors, visitors, and volunteers, the St Andrews Botanic Garden will be able to continue its vital work in research and education as well as providing a place for people to reconnect with nature.

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