Skip to page content

Press release

Re-tracing Darwin’s footsteps

A wildflower survey to repeat Darwin’s studies of 150 years ago

One hundred and fifty years since Charles Darwin first collected and surveyed the wildflowers and meadows of his family home, Down House, scientists from the Natural History Museum and conservationists from English Heritage will retrace Darwin’s footsteps by replicating his meticulous observations.

In 1855 Darwin recorded 142 different plants and used these findings to support his theories and famous book On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. The new survey will compare current plant diversity with that of 150 years ago and provide a unique insight into plant life. The survey is part of a wider programme of activities to help develop identification skills of naturalists and wildlife enthusiasts and to provide visitors and schools with an appreciation of Darwin’s important historical and scientific legacy.

All flowering plants, including cowslips, red clover, yarrow and yellow vetchling, will be collected over a one-year period and will provide a snapshot of the changes wrought over 150 years.

‘These meadows are incredibly valuable to our understanding of the natural world,’ commented Johannes Vogel, Keeper of Botany at the Natural History Museum. ‘The survey provides a rare insight into changes over the course of 150 years and will help us conserve these historically important meadows’.

The survey will use the methods employed by Darwin alongside modern botanical survey techniques. Wildflower and conservation enthusiasts will be encouraged to help the survey and their findings will be collated and added to the Natural History Museum’s collections. This will enable us to conduct further study and to share our findings. 

In addition to the survey a programme of events and activities, such as pond-dipping, wildlife displays and guided walks will take place throughout the summer to build an understanding of the natural world, Darwin’s work and to celebrate the beauty and diversity of wildlife.

Darwin’s home, gardens, meadows and surrounding landscape, owned by English Heritage, are a proposed World Heritage Site. It hopes to join 26 other UK World Heritage Sites, including the City of Bath, Tower of London, Kew Gardens and Stone Henge.

Rebecca Kane, Visitor Operations Director for London at English Heritage said, ‘English Heritage is delighted to be working with the Natural History Museum to recreate Darwin’s first survey at Down House 150 years ago. It is particularly poignant that we will be re-tracing Darwin’s work in the year the bid to make Down House a World Heritage Site is being developed’.

For further details of events please visit www.darwinatdowne.co.uk

- Ends -
Notes for editors

If you would like an interview, request images or further information, please contact:
Liz Woznicki or Chloe Kembery
The Natural History Museum Science Communication PR Office
Tel: 020 7942 5278/5880 Mobile: 07799 690 151 Email: l.woznicki@nhm.ac.uk
(not for publication)

Partners:
The wildflower survey is part of the Exploring in Darwin’s Footsteps initiative supported by English Heritage, English Nature, the Natural History Museum, Kent and London Wildlife Trusts and Bromley Council.

Down House:
Charles Darwin lived at Down House from 1842 to 1882. The house lies 15 miles to the south east of London on a ridge of chalk escarpment flanked by two valleys. It was his main scientific workplace for the 40 years of major research after his voyage on HMS Beagle.

Great Puckland’s Meadow is a 13-acre hay meadow. In 1855 Darwin made the first focused survey of the plants and animals of an area by counting every plant species in the field.

Proposed World Heritage Site:
Darwin’s home, gardens, meadows and surrounding landscape, owned by English Heritage, are a proposed World Heritage Site. It hopes to join 26 other UK World Heritage Sites, including the City of Bath, Tower of London, Kew Gardens and Stone Henge.

Darwin Centre Phase Two
The specimens collected by the survey will be added to the botany collection soon to be housed in Phase Two of the Darwin Centre. Darwin Centre Phase Two will provide new storage facilities to safeguard millions of specimens from the Museum’s insect and plant collections, preserving them for generations to come. It will also provide new state-of-the-art laboratories for our scientists and give visitor access to these important collections and the fascinating research they support.

Down House
The home of Charles Darwin – Down House  is open for the public:

24 Mar–30 Sep 10am-6pm   Wed, Thu, Fri, Sat & Sun
1-31 Oct  10am-5pm  Wed, Thu, Fri, Sat & Sun
1 Nov-31 Mar 10am-4pm  Wed, Thu, Fri, Sat & Sun
Bank Holidays 10am-6pm
19 Dec-21 Jan Closed

Last admission 30 mins before closing.
Off the A21 on the Luxted Road.