Historic Surrey gardens under threat from road-widening scheme | UK news

One of the country’s most important horticultural gardens is under threat from a road-widening scheme, the Royal Horticultural Society has said.

Wisley, a grade II*-listed RHS garden in Surrey, could lose 10,000 sq metres (2.5 acres) of woodland and 500 trees – including endangered species and giant redwoods – if proposals are approved.

Improvements to junction 10 of the M25 include proposals to widen the A3 in Surrey. Two options are being considered by Highways England to widen the road, one on the east side, and one on the west alongside the 120-year-old gardens.

An aerial view of the Glasshouse, the centrepiece of the gardens. Photograph: Loop/UIG/Getty

The western option would involve removing a bank of trees that separates the road from the garden. The RHS says this would worsen noise and air pollution at the gardens and destroy the habitats of a wide range of wildlife, including birds, moths, badgers, beetles and moles.

The charity claims that trees more than 100 years old, five trees identified as “threatened and endangered in cultivation”, a tree planted by the Queen Mother, and giant redwoods are among those that would be lost if the “short-sighted road improvement scheme” went ahead.

Flowers bloom in the Bowes-Lyon rose garden. Wisley is home to several endangered tree species.

Flowers bloom in the Bowes-Lyon rose garden. Wisley is home to several endangered tree species. Photograph: Alamy

Calling on the government to opt for the alternative proposals for the A3’s expansion, on the road’s east side, Sue Biggs, the RHS’s director general, said it would be criminal to cut down historic trees when another viable option was available.

TV presenter and RHS ambassador Alan Titchmarsh said the potential “garden grabbing plan” would be another example of the government’s poor perception of horticulture and “lack of appreciation of the vital role that plants play for the environment, for the nation’s health and wellbeing and for the UK economy”.

“Wisley is the UK’s centre of excellence for horticulture and horticultural science and helps millions of people to garden and grow plants,” he said.

“I’m calling on the UK’s army of 27 million gardeners to make it known that a disregard for these important trees and lack of appreciation of the national importance of this garden would not be acceptable if the shortsighted and environmentally damaging option was chosen. We must stand together and protect our gardens.”

The gardens at Wisley in Surrey is one of four run by the RHS, the others being Harlow Carr, Hyde Hall and Rosemoor. It is the second most visited paid entry garden in the UK, after the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, receiving 1.2 million visitors a year.

Garden Wisley was first created by a businessman and scientist, George Fergusson Wilson. He bought the site in 1878 and established the Oakwood experimental garden, with the idea of making difficult plants grow successfully.

After his death in 1902, the garden was bought by Sir Thomas Hanbury, a wealthy Quaker who had founded the renowned garden of La Mortola, on the Italian Riviera. In 1903, Hanbury gave the estate to the RHS.

“We’re investing more than £70m into RHS Garden Wisley in horticulture, new laboratories, learning buildings and visitor facilities, making the garden an even more important centre for science, and a better place to visit,” Biggs said.

Children look at a butterfly at Wisley

Children look at a butterfly at Wisley. Noise and air pollution pose a threat to the gardens, the RHS says. Photograph: Getty

“The role these trees play in mitigating pollution, giving a home to wildlife and providing a visual and noise barrier to preserve the peace and productivity of the garden cannot, and must not, be underestimated.

“We are seriously concerned how the noise of the A3 without the trees would impact on our visitors and, therefore, on the future of the garden.”

Hugh Coakley, a project manager at Highways England, said: “Highways England cares about the environment, and protecting the special habitats around Wisley is a priority for us as we develop our proposals for major improvements at the junction of the M25 and A3 in Surrey. It is one of the busiest motorway junctions in the country, and upgrading it will improve people’s journeys and make both roads safer.

“Both the options we consulted on in the winter include better, safer access to Wisley gardens and we will continue to work closely with RHS Wisley as we take the project forward. We look forward to announcing the results of the consultation soon.”

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