The Natural History Museum set to transform five-acre London gardens into the country’s urban nature ‘epicentre’ as national biodiversity programme is announced

Sir David Attenborough says the Urban Nature Project will allow young people to “fall in love with the nature on their doorsteps.”  

The Natural History Museum was today given the go ahead from the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea to transform its five-acre gardens into an exemplar of urban wildlife research, conservation and awareness – galvanising a far reaching, national drive to reengage people with the natural world and urban biodiversity, which it warns is under threat like never before.

Leading a coalition of museums and wildlife organisations, the Natural History Museum’s Urban Nature Project will not only transform its London gardens into a biodiversity hub, but critically it will create an urban nature movement through a UK-wide learning programme for young people, families and schools. The project will develop and deliver online, onsite and national monitoring programmes and will include an onsite education centre, a range of citizen science programmes and a scientific ‘living lab’ where the Museum’s existing scientific work will continue, and deliver cutting edge research to be shared globally.  

Sir David Attenborough’s powerful and poignant quote, ‘The future of the natural world, on which we all depend, is in your hands,’ will be featured in bronze lettering on the east carriage ramp outside the Museum’s main entrance.

Sir David Attenborough says:

“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.”

The project, which has seen scientists from the Museum come together with experts in the field over several years of planning, is due for completion in 2023. Primarily designed as a response to the urgent need to both monitor and record changes to the UK's urban nature and fill the urgent skills gap required to do so, the Urban Nature Project is a transformational project that will not only galvanise people to reengage with the nature on their doorsteps, but also build on the Museum’s scientific and public work and trigger a movement that will ultimately help to safeguard nature’s future. 

The project will focus on engaging diverse audiences that are least likely or able to access nature, and aims to help people from across the UK form a lifelong connection with the natural world, learn about its value and inform and empower people to understand and protect it.  This includes increasing volunteer opportunities threefold via an outreach programme to neighbouring and diverse boroughs and the creation of a youth panel which has been selected with the help of partners including Voyage Youth, Gendered Intelligence, Musawa BME Community Consortium, Young Women’s Trust and A Focus on Nature.

Clare Matterson, the Natural History 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 ten of us will live in urban areas, meaning nature is quite literally backed into a corner as concrete cities expand.  

“We hope the Urban Nature Project will not only galvanise people to reengage with the nature on their doorsteps, but building on the Museum’s scientific and public work, we want to trigger a movement that will ultimately help reverse these declines.” 

Mathew Frith, Director of Conservation for London Wildlife Trust, agrees: 

“We know that everyone, especially children and young people, need access to natural greenspace for both their wellbeing and for their understanding and appreciation of nature. Without better engagement with nature in our towns and cities now, we risk denying our children, the future advocates for this planet's amazing biological richness, the chance to protect and enhance it. This is why this nationwide Urban Nature Project is so critical - we need to learn more, connect with, and act together to protect the nature of where most of us live, work and play.”

Approved Plans for the Museum’s South Kensington Gardens  

The new gardens will be a fully accessible green space and biodiversity hub in the heart of the capital. Museum scientists and external experts are working together to sensitively develop a project that will both protect and increase the biodiversity currently established. In just one acre of the five on site, examples of woodland, grassland, scrub, heath, fen, aquatic, reedbed, hedgerow and urban UK habitat can all be found – under these new plans these habitats will be increased and extended. Around 3,400 species have been recorded in the existing 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. 

When complete, the Museum gardens will take people on a journey through a changing world. They will provide a fully accessible opportunity for visitors to connect with nature and explore the incredible diversity of life on Earth.  A brand-new cast of Dippy, the Natural History Museum’s iconic diplodocus, will have pride of place. This Dippy will overlook the new east gardens which will tell the story of the Earth’s history. With plants and fossils reflecting each geological era, visitors will appreciate – visually – 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 garden will be the platform for the Museum’s national programme with activities aimed at multiple audiences. 

The South Kensington gardens will also host a living lab where scientists, volunteers and the public can study the changes in urban nature and share this research across a network of national partners. It will create an exemplar for sustainable urban nature and a space where a broad and diverse audience can engage in year-round learning programmes, outside in nature. 

Supporting the Urban Nature Project

The Museum is raising funds for the UK-wide project through donations and sponsorship. Progress to date has been made possible thanks to the support of generous funders with initial support* already secured from The National Lottery Heritage Fund, which is made possible by National Lottery players, as well as a wide variety of trusts, foundations, companies and individuals, including the Cadogan Charity, the Evolution Education Trust, Garfield Weston Foundation, Huo Family Foundation, Johnson Matthey and Workman.  

A range of fundraising initiatives are also in place including an exclusive live streamed performance from the acclaimed The Lost Words: Spell Songs ensemble who will perform at the Museum in February 2021 to raise funds for the Urban Nature Project. This exclusive event will see Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris, authors of The Lost Words and The Lost Spells, join the ensemble for an evening where music, poetry and art come together to raise funds and call for a more environmentally enlightened future.

Other key features of the Urban Nature Project 

Learning and volunteer programmes will:  

·         Provide opportunities for people to learn the skills to engage with and protect urban nature 

·         Tackle the UK skills shortage in understanding and identifying UK wildlife  

·         Expand the Museum’s outdoor learning programmes by 66%, reaching 6,000 students a year 

·         Expand the existing volunteer programme from 30 to 100 volunteers, aimed at people from neighbouring London boroughs

·         In partnership with The Prince’s Trust create training for youth workers and programmes for young people UK wide 

·         Develop a new summer volunteer programme, specifically designed for young people, which will give 35 young people the chance to explore a career in science and nature

·         Deliver one new traineeship and two new apprenticeships at GCSE level (level 2)

 Scientific development and environmental monitoring will:

·         Develop the scientific tools to monitor and protect urban nature to address the urgent need to record changes to the UK's urban nature in order to understand and mitigate pressing environmental challenges such as climate change and biodiversity loss 

·         Work with partners to drive forward evidence-based nature conservation within the UK, delivering a nationwide urban biodiversity programme 

·         Pilot a range of innovative, cost effective technologies in order to revolutionise understanding of biodiversity in urban areas including DNA, eDNA and acoustic monitoring and share these with the wider sector 

·         Research and tackle some of the key challenges, identifying the top species to monitor in UK urban habitats 

Architects

Leading the transformation of the Museum gardens is architectural studio Feilden Fowles, who are working with landscape architects J & L Gibbons on the ambitious project. Architectural drawings the team has developed for the project have this month been accepted by the Royal Academy as part of their Winter Exhibition, famous for showcasing the art of the moment to the nation and sitting alongside exhibits from the likes to Tracey Emin and Ai Weiwei.

Museum experts are working closely with the team to ensure that the conservation of the biodiversity within the gardens will be at the forefront of the ongoing care and maintenance of the project. Plans are available to view online here , which highlight measures taken to protect the existing habitats in the garden, simultaneously transforming the space into a contemporary exemplar of urban nature.  

Director of Feilden Fowles, Edmund Fowles, says: 

“We are honoured to be working with the Natural History Museum to deliver this nationally significant and timely project that will transform the Museum’s five-acre gardens in South Kensington introducing much needed science, education and visitor facilities. Working in close collaboration with Landscape Architects J & L Gibbons, the ambitious Urban Nature Project reflects our practices’ social and environmental values. Along with our multi-disciplinary team including Gitta Gschwendtner, Engineers HRW and Max Fordham, we have enjoyed the challenge of bringing to life a walk through over 500 million years of the earth’s history, from the pre-Cambrian era to the present day, translating vital messages about human’s impact on nature and the role we all have to play in revitalising urban bio-diversity today.”

Ends 

Notes to editors

Natural History Museum Media contact: Tel: +44 (0)20 7942 5654/ (0)779 969 0151 Email: press@nhm.ac.uk.

Images, plans and infographics for the project can be seen here.

About the Natural History Museum 

The Natural History Museum is both a world-leading science research centre and the most visited natural history museum in Europe. With a vision of a future in which both people and the planet thrive, it is uniquely positioned to be a powerful champion for balancing humanity’s needs with those of the natural world.  

It is custodian of one of the world’s most important scientific collections comprising over 80 million specimens. The scale of this collection enables researchers from all over the world to document how species have and continue to respond to environmental changes - which is vital in helping predict what might happen in the future and informing future policies and plans to help the planet.  

The Museum’s 300 scientists continue to represent one of the largest groups in the world studying and enabling research into every aspect of the natural world. Their science is contributing critical data to help the global fight to save the future of the planet from the major threats of climate change and biodiversity loss through to finding solutions such as the sustainable extraction of natural resources. 

The Museum uses its enormous global reach and influence to meet its mission to create advocates for the planet - to inform, inspire and empower everyone to make a difference for nature. We welcome over five million visitors each year, our digital output reaches hundreds of thousands of people in over 200 countries each month and our touring exhibitions have been seen by around 30 million people in the last 10 years.  

Feilden Fowles 

Feilden Fowles is an award-winning architecture studio, founded in 2009 by Fergus Feilden and Edmund Fowles. The team believe in a landscape-led approach, and have delivered a range of buildings across the UK , including the 2019 Stirling Prize finalist The Weston visitor centre and gallery at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Wakefield; Waterloo City Farm, where the practice’s studio is located; and The Fratry, Carlisle Cathedral. www.feildenfowles.co.uk

J & L Gibbons

J & L Gibbons is an award-winning landscape architecture studio, founded in 1986. Their projects engage with themes of green infrastructure, healthy living, heritage significance and urban regeneration including, the 2018 Stirling prize finalist Bushey Cemetery; the New Museum of London in West Smithfield; and a collaboration with Tracey Emin, for the design of the Museum Island, at the Munch Museum, Oslo. 

Supporters and sponsors 

The National Lottery Heritage Fund

*National Lottery Heritage Fund grant applications over £250,000 are assessed in two rounds. The Urban Nature Project has initially been granted round one development funding of £210,900 by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, allowing it to progress with its plans. Detailed proposals are then considered by The National Lottery Heritage Fund at second round, where a final decision is made on the full funding award of £3,231,900.

Using money raised by the National Lottery, we Inspire, lead and resource the UK’s heritage to create positive and lasting change for people and  communities, now and in the future. www.heritagefund.org.uk.   Follow @HeritageFundUK on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and use #NationalLotteryHeritageFund.

The Cadogan Charity 

The Cadogan Charity supports communities, contributes to a sustainable environment and protects heritage. It has supported charities involved in animal welfare, education, conservation and the environment, military, medical research and social welfare.

The Evolution Education Trust

The Evolution Education Trust helps raise awareness of the importance of the Theory of Evolution by funding impactful projects in the areas of therapeutics, education, nature conservation and fundamental research.

Garfield Weston Foundation

Established over 60 years ago in 1958, the Garfield Weston Foundation is a family-founded, grant-making charity which supports causes across the UK and gave over £88million last year. It has donated well over £1billion to charities since it was established.
 
One of the most respected charitable institutions in the UK, the Weston Family Trustees are descendants of the founder and they take a highly active and hands-on approach. The Foundation’s funding comes from an endowment of shares in the family business which includes Twinings, Primark, Kingsmill (all part of Associated British Foods Plc) and Fortnum & Mason, amongst others – a successful model that still endures today; as the businesses have grown, so too have the charitable donations.
 
From small community organisations to large national institutions, the Foundation supports a broad range of charities and activities that make a positive impact in the communities in which they work. Around 2,000 charities across the UK benefit each year from the Foundation’s grants.

The Huo Family Foundation

The Huo Family Foundation is a grant-giving foundation. Its mission is to support education, communities and the pursuit of knowledge.  The Foundation previously supported the Natural History Museum’s ‘ID Trainers for the Future’ project which was a response to the critical and growing shortage of wildlife identification and recording skills in the UK.

Johnson Matthey 

Johnson Matthey is a global leader in science that enables a cleaner and healthier world. With over 200 years of sustained commitment to innovation and technological breakthroughs, we improve the performance, function and safety of our customers’ products and in 2020 we received the London Stock Exchange’s Green Economy Mark, given to companies that derive more than 50% of revenues from environmental solutions. Our science has a global impact in areas such as low emission transport, pharmaceuticals, chemical processing and making the most efficient use of the planet’s natural resources. Today more than 15,000 Johnson Matthey professionals collaborate with our network of customers and partners to make a real difference to the world around us.

Workman LLP

Workman LLP is the UK’s largest independently owned commercial property management and building consultancy firm employing more than 700 staff across 12 UK offices, with a growing presence in Europe. Specialist Property Management and Building Consultancy teams work with a client base which includes leading institutional funds, overseas investors and property companies.

With approximately 40% of UK carbon emissions currently associated with real estate, Workman is conscious of its role in significantly reducing this and working with its clients to meet Net Zero targets, particularly through the development of their Net Zero Asset Plans. Biodiversity plays a proven role in both significantly reducing carbon and improving the environment, both within and surrounding commercial properties.

The Lost Words: Spell Songs

The Lost Words: Spell Songs is a musical companion piece to “The Lost Words: A Spell Book”, the acclaimed work by authors Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris, responding to the removal of everyday nature words from a widely used children’s dictionary which grew to become a much broader protest at the loss of the natural world around us. Folk by the Oak Festival commissioned these 7 exceptional folk artists to create a musical response to the iconic The Lost Words nature book, resulting in a sell-out tour and the release of an album hailed as “a delightful homage to nature” by The Times. In January 2021, The Spell Songs ensemble will create new music as a response to the recently released The Lost Spells book.

The Spell Songs ensemble features seven remarkable musicians: Karine Polwart, Julie Fowlis, Seckou Keita, Kris Drever, Rachel Newton, Beth Porter and Jim Molyneux. They will gather again in January 2021 to create new music inspired by Robert and Jackie’s new work The Lost Spells.