Coffs volunteers fight for future of well-loved garden
BOTANIC gardens are usually peaceful places, but in the last year the North Coast Regional Botanic Garden has seen a big group of seniors butting heads with local government.
Opened in 1988 as a Bicentennial project, the 19ha garden on the banks of Coffs Creek has been a community labour of love since the 1970s.
It protects mangroves and natural bushland areas as well as showcasing sub-tropical species and exotic plants.
As a Crown Land Reserve, it is now part of the Coffs Coast State Park and its Trust, managed by Coffs Harbour City Council.
A former night soil depot, the site was saved from housing development by its unsavoury past and rescued from a future as sport fields by a diverse group of scientists, conservationists, gardeners and photographers.
Members of the Friends of the North Coast Regional Botanic Garden Inc (FNCRBG) have devoted thousands of hours of voluntary work to creating, maintaining and improving the area, which has become a unique regional botanic garden and a major tourist attraction.
The bulk of the 200 member Friends are seniors and they run the information centre, shop, seed bank and tours as well as gardening. They put their profits back into the garden.
They provide many more hours of labour and carry out a broader spectrum of work, than volunteer groups attached to capital city botanic gardens.
Coffs Harbour City Council has supported the Garden and the Friends worked happily for years with the council and its garden curator Ian Corbett, who left in September 2016.
Last year the Friends group went public with their concerns about the council's new Draft North Coast Regional Botanic Garden Strategic Plan 2017-2020, prepared by consultants R&S Muller.
The plan proposes to move garden management and decision making, to within the council staff structure.
The Friends would be one of the groups represented on an advisory committee.
Their concerns include commercialisation of the Botanic Garden and loss of fund-raising opportunities as well as the side-lining of the Friends from decision making.
The council wants formal leases, licences and a formal chain of command to replace ad hoc arrangements, plus different financial arrangements and a budget for capital works.
Last July Coffs Harbour City Councillors voted unanimously to offer the Friends a temporary 12 month licence for their activities in the garden.
The next meeting of the Friends will be held at the Garden on April 5.
The next major event in the Garden will be the 2017 Japanese Festival of Children's Day in the Garden's Japanese section on Sunday, May 7.