As many will have observed, there have been some major refurbishment works ongoing at the RBGE’s iconic Temperate Palmhouse over the past few months. These works are to reinforce and repair deteriorating metal window frames on the elevations, and then to reglaze. The glasshouse has not been looking its best with many of the panels boarded up with ply wood in the interim. The works have been protracted due to the Corona pandemic, the resulting lockdown and consequential lack of resources, especially through the early stages of the crisis.

Scaffold system within temperate house
Internal Scaffolding

However we are now nearing the completion of the works on the final elevation and it is hoped that we can soon plan the removal of the internal scaffolding which has required the closure of some of the house.

Internal view of boarded up windows
Temporary Boarding

Alongside this work and unseen to the public gaze, further critical repairs to the research glasshouses within the north east corner of the estate, have been ongoing. The research houses, which contain much of the priceless National Living Collection, are sadly well beyond their designed life expectancy. The works currently ongoing are designed to maintain the integrity of the glasshouses through the winter and until the Biomes project undertakes a more wholescale replacement and upgrade of the facilities at Edinburgh in the near future.

Glasshouses are integral to the delivery of RBGE’s collection strategy. They fulfil a vital role protecting plants with a wide variety of needs, providing warmth, humidity, sunlight and essential shelter from the Scottish elements, but they are very challenging buildings to manage and maintain. They contain unique features such as solar & thermal screens, irrigation systems, automatic vents, a multitude of sensors and of course, acres of glass.

overview of RBGE glasshouses
RBGE Research Houses

Maintenance of the glasshouses and their glazing systems have presented a huge challenge to the team in recent years, with the deterioration of the structures and inability to safely access the roofs to undertake the necessary repairs. We have been working with a number of specialist contractors and suppliers over the past few years to develop bespoke roof access ladders which include safety systems to provide fall prevention and rescue capabilities, but are also modular in their design to allow them to be utilised in a variety of locations and circumstances.

External view of palmhouse roof ladders
Rolling ladder system

Old glass houses like ours are a common feature and still used by most botanic gardens, private and commercial growers alike across the world. However, despite many enquiries and discussions, we have not been able to find suitable safe systems of work in terms of accessing glasshouse roofs, in operation anywhere which would suit our specific needs and provide the essential safety for our operatives. Therefore our only option was to innovate and work with our partners to develop our own designs and safe systems of work.

Designing suitable bespoke safe systems and roof access for RBGE’s glasshouses has not been an easy challenge. A huge amount of time and effort has gone into developing, designing, testing, re-testing to destruction on occasions, re-designing and so on as we solve one problem only to find another pops up! This process has been going on now for over 5 years which only goes to demonstrate the extent of the challenge to be overcome. By utilising the experience, knowledge and ingenuity of both our internal team and external partners, we have now devised the bespoke engineering and safe methodologies to provide a mix of safe roof access solutions which will work on our unique glasshouses.

specialist climbing safety equipment
Fall arrest equipment
Research house roof ladder system
Bespoke ladder system

As we will have operatives working at extreme heights and on very fragile and hazardous structures, the health and safety of these operatives is of paramount importance. We have mitigated the risks of these operations and factored in rescue capabilities should something go wrong, so as the risk of harm is minimised to acceptable levels and our access systems are now deemed fit for purpose. This is a huge success not only for the Estates Department but also for RBGE. This will enable us to maintain our resilience for our glasshouses until they are completely replaced by Biomes.

operative undertaking roof glazing repairs on ladder
Repair work underway

These systems are as critical to the maintenance of the Collection as hosepipes and boilers, it is only through the combination of infrastructure and ongoing dedication of people, that we can achieve our mission.