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Fears grow for historic Scottish fernery

Botanists fear that a historic plant collection in Scotland, created under a Victorian era craze for ferns, could be lost because the owners cannot manage it any more.

The renowned fernery at Ascog Hall on the Isle of Bute was restored in the 1990s by ­enthusiasts, Wallace and Katherine Fyfe, supported by the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) and Historic Scotland.

The couple’s daughter, ­Susannah Alcorn, took over their work a few years ago after her parents died. But she and her husband, Graham, are being forced to sell up because they cannot maintain the property while also working full-time and bringing up a family.

Plant and heritage experts yesterday voiced fears for the future of the fernery, which they said highlighted a growing threat to Scotland’s horticultural heritage.

David Mitchell, curator of projects at the RBGE, who helped the Fyfes replant the fernery in 1995, said: “It is a key example of Victorian pteridomania, the craze for ferns, which was like a disease at that time. It took over the country.

“I have visited many ferneries across Britain and I’ve never seen anything like this one. It is unique. It is partially underground, like a fusion of a fernery and a grotto, and because it is on an island it has a mild climate so it is unheated [unlike many ferneries], making it very natural.”

The fernery, which is open to the public, is home to an internationally important example of the Australian fern Todea barbara, believed to be more than 1,000 years old.

There are concerns that the fernery will fall back into disrepair unless a sympathetic buyer can be found. Ms Alcorn reluctantly put the house, garden and fernery on the market just over a year ago and hopes to sell it to someone who is equally passionate about plants. However, she says that plans to erect three wind turbines less than a kilometre from the hall are deterring potential buyers.

She said: “I have a prospective purchaser sitting in the wings waiting to see what happens to the planning application. If it is rejected I’m confident they will make an offer and the future of the fernery would be secure.”