Botanic Gardens gears up for likely surge in visitors

This Tembusu heritage tree at the Gardens was fenced up recently to protect it from the high number of visitors treading around it.
This Tembusu heritage tree at the Gardens was fenced up recently to protect it from the high number of visitors treading around it.ST PHOTO: ASHLEIGH SIM

It is considering measures to better protect plants, buildings

Singapore's potential first Unesco World Heritage Site is mulling over a slew of measures to gear up for an expected surge in visitors.

To better protect the 154- year-old Singapore Botanic Gardens' plants and buildings, director Nigel Taylor and his team may beef up the security team, post officers at the gates to guide visitors, and create more dog-free zones.

Other ideas such as a new visitor reception area at the gate near the Botanic Gardens MRT station and a mini rubber plantation could also spread visitors more evenly across the 74ha site, he said.

Dr Taylor told The Straits Times that he expects the attraction to get as many as six million visits a year in 2021, up from 4.4 million now.

"If the site becomes too crowded, people will be discouraged from visiting," he said. "If we can spread the visits more evenly during the week and across the Gardens, an increase of 1.5 million visits will not be a problem."

The projected surge is based on experience. Dr Taylor said the opening of the Botanic Gardens MRT station in 2011 added about half a million visits per year.

Between now and 2021, the Botanic Gardens MRT station will be connected to the upcoming Downtown Line, while another station will open near the Gardens on the future Thomson Line. The Gardens will also learn the results of its Unesco bid in 2015.

The attraction is working on balancing the needs of different users. For example, some exercise groups may play their music too loudly or monopolise the shelters, or visitors may have picnics on the paths and obstruct others.

Anticipating such challenges, the Gardens has asked more than 70 of the exercise groups to register with it. It has requested contact details of their leaders and other information such as group size, which parts of the Gardens they use and when.

Dr Taylor said this will allow staff to easily caution the few groups that disturb other visitors. "We can also alert and help to relocate them if official programmes or redevelopment plans may disrupt their sessions," he said.

The attraction is also considering more dog-free zones for people who may not be comfortable around the animals. Visitors are not allowed to take dogs into the Healing Garden and Rainforest to protect the plants.

It started talks with the Guide Dogs Association of the Blind in October to look at allowing such dogs in the Gardens' food and beverage outlets. Currently, only one allows them.

Most of the 125-strong Gardens staff keep an eye out for unwanted behaviour such as smoking, but the security team may be beefed up from six to 15 full-time staff. Officers may also be stationed at the gates on weekends.

He added that people may not realise the Gardens is not like other green spaces here. Activities common elsewhere - like football, cycling and skateboarding - are prohibited in the Gardens.

"We will also need to look into things like visitors trampling around heritage trees or special collections," said Dr Taylor, adding that in some cases, the turf around them may be replaced with softer material to dissuade people from walking on it.

"It is primarily a botanical gardens, not a recreation space," he said. "There are plants in our collection that are among a handful of individuals left on the planet, so we have to protect them."

zengkun@sph.com.sg