THE closure of a botanic garden would see a university losing the “green jewel” in its crown, warns a leading North East ecologist.
Yesterday The Journal revealed that Newcastle University’s four-acre Moorbank botanic garden off Claremont Road in the city faces closure.
The university, which leases the land from the city’s Freemen, will not renew the agreement because, it says, of the running costs and investment needed at Moorbank.
The garden’s grounds and its desert house and tropical glasshouses hold important plant collections amassed over almost a century.
In February, the Friends of Moorbank won a £12,200 development grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to prepare a bid which would have seen the garden open to the public on a regular basis. John Hartshorne, who lives in Otterburn in Northumberland, has been a head of department biology teacher and ecologist in Tynedale schools for the last 30 years, starting his career at Kew Gardens in London.
He left teaching earlier this year to focus on his business, Albion Outdoors, which provides residential and one-day ecological fieldwork for school and university groups.
He said: “Newcastle University has made a decision not to renew the lease on Moorbank botanic gardens, effectively closing it.
“There has been no warning, no opportunity to discuss the best way forward or to seek ways to keep this lovely garden open and accessible to the public and to school groups.
“However, Moorbank is rather more than just a university asset to be weighed against the costs on a balance sheet.
“I appeal to the university to review the decision to close Moorbank. It is a special place which bears the sweat and tears of many very committed and often unpaid enthusiasts with a passion for plants.
“So many children of all ages have benefited from their visits. To lose this wonderful garden would be to diminish the university ... it is the green jewel in its crown.”
For 20 years John has regularly taken students to Moorbank.
He said: “As a result of these visits I have had many students tell me that they never fully understood the importance of plants before, and several have pursued careers in plant biology.”
He also secured a secondment to Moorbank to develop materials targeting A-level curriculum areas and utilising the materials available in the gardens.
The result was a book of teachers’ notes and information labels all based on the Moorbank gardens.
John said: “The gardens became a venue for a variety of activities which drew many into the debate about sustainability.
“Upgrading the glasshouses and the classroom drew in more interest, especially at the regular public events and open days. Teachers from all phases regularly met up there and shared ideas.”