Highlighting the environmental consequences of illicit drug production to rock revellers

As Scotland careers headlong into its annual music festival season – and usual concerns are raised regarding the safety of unwitting revellers – rbgeColombia are aiming to increase awareness of the environmental and social consequences of illicit drug production at venues from Inverness to Wigtown. We are helping put into context the relationship between drugs, crime and conservation.

RBGE is better known as a visitor attraction than an evangelical protagonist and we are new to the festival scene. However, we appreciate the opportunity to engage with a wider public whom would not normally breach our gates.

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“Our intention was to provide a comfortable area where revellers can relax, listen to Colombian music and enjoy some tasty delicacies from that amazing South American country”, explains RBGE Education Projects Officer Suzanne Harris, who joined the throng at the Rockness Festival near Inverness on the weekend of the 7th to the 9th of June.

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“It’s no secret that drugs – both prohibited and ‘legal highs’ – are an issue at festivals. Too often we hear about needless casualties. However, the role of a botanic garden is not to lecture on the pros and cons of drug taking. What we can do is talk about what we witness first-hand: the way in which drugs such as cocaine have a direct link with crime, poverty and environmental devastation in the countries where they are grown”.

RBGE tropical botanist Dr James Richardson, who is currently undertaking fieldwork in Colombia, added: “In the UK we recognize cocaine as an addictive ‘Class A’ drug, the consumption of which may result in serious health consequences to users. What is perhaps not so well known is the environmental devastation caused as a result of illicit coca cultivation.”

“Colombia is believed to be the second most biodiverse country on Earth and home to an estimated 28,000 species of plants. This exceptional biodiversity is under threat because of coca cultivation, logging and mining. These activities also threaten the way of life of indigenous groups who have lived in the region for thousands of years. To these groups the coca plant, the source of cocaine, is sacred and they are horrified by its abuse by western societies. The extent of environmental damage caused by illicit coca cultivation is also shocking. For example, it takes four square metres of area formerly occupied by rain forest to produce just one gram of cocaine. RBGE is working alongside our counterparts in Colombia to help document its biodiversity, determining how it evolved and providing information that will assist in developing conservation strategies. But, that isn’t enough. Working together with the multi-institute Shared Responsibility program we aim to provide all the available information to help individuals understand the full environmental and social consequences of the production of cocaine.”

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An estimated 1500 festival goers visited the Colombian Cafe at Rockness and in the wake of RBGE’s first rock festival outing, plans are well in hand for a presence at the Wickerman Festival on the 26th and 27th of July before presenting its own two-day, Festival Colombiano at the John Hope Gateway Building on the 3rd and 4th of August.

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