Nieuws - 22 april 2010

New group to save Belmonte Botanic Garden

Wageningen UR should hand over the botanic gardens to a new organization financed partly by third parties. This would be the best way to manage the botanic gardens in a sustainable scientific way.

This call is made by Koen Verhoeff, chairman of the new Wageningen Botanic Gardens Association (SWA), which aspires to protect and retain the ecological and landscape value of both the botanic gardens.  Currently, attention is given mainly to the Belmonte Botanic Garden, explains ex-DLO director Verhoeff. 'Management of this garden has been granted to Het Depot in an agreement. We want to find out if we can protect and retain not only the Belmonte, but also the Westberg and the entire tree collection in the Schip van Blauw.'
Money is key
In such, the emphasis will be to manage the collections scientifically, says Verhoef. He claims that this isn't the case at present. 'Wageningen UR carries out normal maintenance, which doesn't do justice to the wealth of variety in the collections.  And this diversity is the very strength of the botanic garden, without which the garden is just a normal park.'
To achieve this, money is the key. Co-financing by third parties should be able to keep the botanic gardens intact for the future. 'We believe that we can obtain funds easier by being co-owners of Belmonte. Financiers want to be sure that the Belmonte Botanic Garden will still exist as it is and won't be sold after a few years, or it would be a waste of the money invested.
Verhoeff is talking about participatory funding of a few million Euros, which can earn interest to pay for maintenance work. 'The WUR, companies, institutions, the government and individuals can buy participatory rights. More or less like what Utrecht University is doing with the Von Gimborn Botanic Garden.'
The association will manage the funds. Verhoeff: 'But it's possible that having two organizations is more practical juridically: one for running the botanic garden and the other for the property rights. In any case, the gist lies in transferring the ownership of Belmonte from the WUR to a new organization. The WUR can have a controlling interest, if desired.' It's not known if Wageningen UR is keen on this. Verhoeff has submitted his plans in the meantime.
Financiers could advertize with their participation and be given a nice place in which to receive employees, business contacts or family members in return for their money, says Verhoeff. 'With annual excursions and receptions at Hotel de Wageningse Berg being thrown in. The hotel has shown interest in this as well. The area between the garden and the hotel would have to be spruced up if that's the case.'
The plans of the SWA also allow involvement from other organizations which directly or indirectly contribute to the botanic gardens. Verhoeff visualizes for these a sounding board which gets regular updates about how the botanic gardens are managed. In addition, there has to be a scientific advice committee to oversee these management practices.