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A plan to revamp the Museum gardens has been given the green light by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.
The five-acre space will be turned into an exemplar of urban wildlife research, conservation and awareness. It forms part of the Urban Nature Project, a national drive to re-engage people with urban wildlife and the wider natural world.
Sir David Attenborough has given his backing to the plan, adding, 'The natural world is under threat as never before. Species that were a common sight in gardens across the country when I was young, such as hedgehogs, are rarely seen by children today. These declines have devastating consequences for wildlife.
'Unless children have access to nature and experience, understand and nurture wildlife, we know they might never feel connected to nature and could grow up with no interest in protecting the natural world around them.
'The Urban Nature Project opens the door for young people to fall in love with the nature on their doorsteps and develop a lifelong concern for the world's wild places. Nature isn't just nice to have - it's the linchpin of our very existence, and ventures like the Urban Nature Project help the next generation develop the strong connection with nature that is needed to protect it.'
As well as redesigning the Museum's gardens in South Kensington, the Urban Nature Project hopes to begin a UK-wide movement to help everyone protect nature in towns and cities.
The gardens will become a fully accessible green space and biodiversity hub in the heart of London. The work is due to be completed by summer 2023 and will feature examples of woodland, grassland, scrub, heath, fen, aquatic, reedbed, hedgerow and urban UK habitats.
A new weatherproof cast of Dippy, the Museum's iconic Diplodocus, will have pride of place.
Cllr Johnny Thalassites, Lead Member for Planning at RBKC, says, 'This development and re-landscaping at the Natural History Museum - approved by our Planning Committee - will enhance the already world-famous cultural attraction in South Kensington.
'The plans to boost biodiversity in the grounds are a welcome investment in green space, a great benefit for our local environment and a draw for future visitors. Meanwhile the proposals to improve the pedestrian access to the Museum from the Exhibition Road tunnel will make attractions more accessible to everyone.'
The gardens surrounding the Museum have always been a green and tranquil space for visitors to get up close to nature. The dedicated Wildlife Garden has been on the site for 25 years, home to a huge range of animal and plant life.
About 3,300 species have been recorded in the Wildlife Garden over the years, some of them for the first time, and each autumn it is also home to three Greyface Dartmoor sheep who play an integral role in sustainably managing the garden.
The redesign will increase and extend the precious existing habitats, while helping visitors to learn more about why green spaces need help to thrive.
In the east gardens, the Dippy cast will overlook a space that tells the story of life on Earth. With plants and fossils reflecting each geological era, visitors will see how old our planet is and learn about the profound impact humans have caused in a short space of time.
The west gardens will be a model for urban nature, with different habitats showcasing the biodiversity that can be found in the UK's urban spaces. Featuring an outdoor learning centre, the west gardens will be the platform for the Museum's national programme with activities aimed at multiple audiences.
Clare Matterson, the Museum's Executive Director of Engagement says, 'At a time when people have spent most of the year social distancing at home, the nature on our doorsteps takes on ever greater appreciation and importance.
'But it is under threat like never before. We have suffered decades of decline in the abundance and distribution of many UK species, and in urban areas especially, we urgently need to learn more about how to mitigate pressing environmental challenges such as climate change and biodiversity loss. By 2030, nine of out 10 of us will live in urban areas, meaning nature is quite literally backed into a corner as concrete cities expand.'
A new 'living lab' will host some of the Museum's scientific work at South Kensington, alongside a learning and volunteer programme that will create opportunities to learn how to protect urban nature.
Outdoor learning opportunities will aim to reach 6,000 students per year, and dozens of volunteers will be recruited from neighbouring London boroughs. One new traineeship and two new apprenticeships at GCSE level are also being created.
National monitoring programmes will be established too, addressing the urgent need to record changes to the UK's urban nature. Innovative technologies will be piloted to revolutionise our understanding of biodiversity in urban areas including DNA, eDNA and acoustic monitoring, and they'll be shared with the wider sector. Research will also be done to identify the most important species to monitor our towns and cities.