Alice Springs Desert Park

CASE STUDY: Botanical living collection management

Desert River Habitat at the Alice Springs Desert Park. (Mark Richardson)

The Alice Springs Desert Park in central Australia is one of the first true ‘bioparks’ in the world combining the strengths of a botanic garden, a zoological garden and a museum in one facility.  Located in central Australia it successfully displays the plants and animals in the natural settings of Australia’s deserts and links them strongly with the culture of indigenous people who have long occupied the region.

From 1996 to 2002 I was the Curator of Botany at the Alice Springs Desert Park (ASDP). The position was responsible for the management of the Botany Section, including the development of living collection; the landscapes, the horticultural maintenance of the collection, the development of the nursery and plant records.  It also included the development of both an apprenticeship for young indigenous horticulturists and a post graduate research project looking at mine site rehabilitation in the Tanami Desert.

As the ASDP is a wildlife park as well as a botanic garden, I was also effectively responsible for the landscaping of a zoo.  The displays not only include large aviaries and open areas for large animals, but also the landscaping and landscape maintenance of a large nocturnal house.  An important aspect of all of the outside displays is that, in the same way as aspects such as paths, they all have to fully blend in with the surrounding landscape.

As the Desert Park was a completely new facility, I was responsible for development of all of management plans for the Botany Section and included the development of a strategic plan for the Botany Section, staff duty statements, a plant collection policy and the planting plans for the different habitats.

Much of the experience needed for the Alice Springs work came from the ten years as Curator of Living Collections at the Australian National Botanic Gardens.  Both these positions assisted greatly to fulfill the role of Director of the Botanic Garden Conservation International’s plant conservation program for the Middle East and Asia (2003-2006) and will continue to contribute to the development of management plans for both new and established botanic gardens.