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    Jul 06, 2015

    Botanic Gardens to get even better

    WITH the Botanic Gardens now a newly minted Unesco World Heritage Site, efforts to protect it are ramping up.

    Plans are afoot to improve facilities at the 156-year-old gardens, improve scientific research in horticulture and botany, and cater to an expected increase in footfall from 4.4 million today to six million by 2020.

    A site-management plan was presented to the World Heritage Committee as part of Singapore's bid, and the Government has said it will adopt further measures to address concerns raised by a Unesco-appointed expert panel that assessed the gardens.

    Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong said the listing "will motivate us to do even more to strengthen our conservation efforts" in the gardens.

    National Parks Board (NParks) chief executive Kenneth Er pledged to preserve the key attributes of Singapore's first World Heritage Site, including its contribution to botanical research and its role as a gathering space for Singaporeans.

    He said: "We are also committed to ensuring that we continue to conserve the gardens' heritage buildings, landscape and ecological heritage for Singapore and the world."

    To deal with the expected increase in visitors, NParks will conduct a site evaluation at the end of next year to assess visitor impact on soil erosion, biodiversity and potential damage to historic buildings there.

    The gardens, which runs on an operating and staff annual budget of $15 million, will refurbish the National Orchid Garden by 2018.

    This includes enhancing the Cool House, the Yuen Peng McNeice Bromeliad Collection enclosure and the Tan Hoon Siang Mist House to showcase a greater diversity of orchids and other plants.

    More space will also be provided for the propagation of orchids.

    Other improvements in the pipeline include upgraded irrigation systems for the the Plant Resource Centre by next year, said the gardens' assistant director of arboriculture and the centre, Elango Velautham.

    The gardens will also implement a site-wide biodiversity conservation plan, and conduct more studies to maintain an "up-to-date understanding" of the species and habitats within its grounds.

    The frequency of inspections of the gardens' historic buildings by a professional engineer will go up, from once every five years to once every two years.

    Visitors can also expect an improved experience, with plans to enhance wayfinding and visitor facilities, and provide more information on the gardens' heritage, nature, conservation and scientific work.

    These measures are important to protect the gardens from issues such as commercialisation, commodification, neglect and man-made disasters, said heritage conservation expert Johannes Widodo.

    Describing the site as an "heirloom", he said: "The gardens is something we should keep, nurture and pass on to future generations."