Natural History Museum’s Urban Nature Project receives a £3,231,900 grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund

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Credit: Feilden Fowles and J & L Gibbons

The Natural History Museum has today announced it has secured a National Lottery Heritage Fund grant of £3,231,900 for its Urban Nature Project (UNP).

The project will reach over 1.5m people via the creation of a collaborative, nationwide biodiversity movement with partners across the UK to urgently address, better understand and ultimately reverse the rapid decline of urban biodiversity and habitat loss we are witnessing today. The project will also transform the Museum’s five-acre gardens into a globally relevant urban nature ‘epicentre’, helping to safeguard nature’s future.

We’re delighted that the National Lottery Heritage Fund has given us this tremendous opportunity to support and protect urban nature and reengage people with the incredible biodiversity on their doorsteps.” said Dr Doug Gurr, Director of the Natural History Museum.

He continued, “Now more than ever, we need to work together to address the critical threats facing our planet, stop the free fall in species diversity and get children re-engaged with the natural world. This grant will allow us to address these urgent concerns and, working with a fantastic host of partners to deliver cutting edge science, learning, volunteer and apprenticeship programmes across the UK, launch a movement to revitalise and protect our natural urban spaces for generations to come”. 

The Urban Nature Project was designed as a response to the urgent need to both monitor and record changes to the UK’s urban nature and fill the skills gap required to do so. Working with a coalition of museums and wildlife organisations across the UK, the Natural History Museum will lead a learning programme for young people, families and schools. This will include an onsite education centre and curriculum-linked programmes reaching over 900,000 people across the country over the next three years. The project will develop online, onsite and national monitoring and citizen science programmes.  A ‘living lab’ will be created to conduct scientific research which can be shared both with UK partners and to global audiences.

With confirmation of the lottery grant, partner sites including the National Museums of Cardiff and Northern Ireland, the Great North Museum: Hancock, the Glasgow Museums and RSPB Glasgow, have the green light to develop onsite learning and science programmes. 

Kate Holden, the Learning Officer from the Great North Museum: Hancock in Newcastle said, “It really is exciting to be part of a national programme, with national profile, addressing some of the key issues of our time. This project has a huge amount of expertise behind it and has been developed with care, ambition and a clear vision.

“Working with a brilliant network of national partners, scientists and schools in such a collaborative way enhances our work and allows us to have huge impact with our own audiences.”

Thanks to money raised by National Lottery players, the Museum say they will be able to continue their work engaging audiences with a low connection to nature. The UNP aims to help people from across the UK form a lifelong connection with the natural world and empower them to understand and protect it. This is especially true for younger audiences. The project has developed several youth engagement programmes including a summer volunteer scheme for young people to explore the potential for a career in science and nature. A Youth Advisory Panel has also been created which has spent the last six months working with the Museum to highlight the challenges young, diverse audiences face accessing the natural world. A further two youth panels will run over the next two years, designed to address a range of challenges young people face when engaging with nature.

Discussing the project’s impact on young people, Sir David Attenborough said in October last year, “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.”

A wide variety of trusts, foundations, companies and individuals are also supporting the project including the Evolution Education Trust, the Cadogan Charity, Garfield Weston Foundation, the Wolfson Foundation, Huo Family Foundation, Johnson Matthey and Workman.

Stuart McLeod, Director England – London & South at The National Lottery Heritage Fund, said, “We are delighted to support The Natural History Museum’s Urban Nature Project and help it to achieve the co-shared ambition to better understand and ultimately reverse the rapid decline of habitat loss witnessed in our cities.

“While we face unprecedented challenges brought by the pandemic, investing in nature-themed heritage projects remains a top priority for us as it improves people’s lives and makes communities better places to live.

“We ask the projects we fund to do their upmost to think sustainably, support nature’s recovery and consider the future of our cultural and natural heritage.

“Thanks to National Lottery players, this iconic London institution will do exactly that while engaging a wider range of people with the incredible biodiversity on their doorsteps.”

Key features of the UNP 

Learning and volunteer programmes will:  

  • Tackle the UK skills shortage in understanding and identifying UK wildlife  
  • In partnership with The Prince’s Trust, create training for youth workers and programmes for young people UK wide 
  • Deliver national learning programmes and mass Citizen Science on environmental change and urban habitats ​
  • Expand the Museum’s outdoor, onsite learning programmes by 66%, reaching 6,000 students and 20,000 families a year 
  • Create digital programmes to inspire and connect diverse audiences to urban nature
  • Develop a new summer volunteer programme which will give young people the chance to explore a career in science and nature
  • Expand the existing Museum volunteer programme from 30 to 100 volunteers, aimed at people from neighboring London boroughs
  • Deliver 1 new traineeship and 2 new apprenticeships as GCSE level (level 2)

Scientific development and environmental monitoring will

  • Develop the scientific tools to monitor and protect urban nature
  • Address the urgent need to record changes to the UK’s urban biodiversity to understand and mitigate 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, e-DNA 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 

Approved Plans for the Museum’s South Kensington Gardens  

The new gardens will transform the visitor experience for the millions that come through the Museum doors each year, offering  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 net zero carbon project that will both protect and increase the biodiversity currently established. 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 weatherproof cast of the Natural History Museum’s iconic 105ft diplodocus will have pride of place. This replica of the Museum’s much loved “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. 

Architects

Leading the transformation of the Museum gardens is architectural studio Feilden Fowles, who are working with landscape architects J & L Gibbons and with Gitta Gschwendtner, Engineers HRW and Max Fordham, all contributing to innovative material and management solutions to achieve this. 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.  

Eleanor Hedley, Associate, Feilden Fowles says, “Feilden Fowles is delighted to mark this important milestone in the development of the Urban Nature Project.

“The project is very important to the practice and, through its focus on sustainability, we have gained significant knowledge which we are applying across our studio to further our social and environmental values. More broadly we hope that this project will raise awareness of the importance of building sustainably, demonstrating that the goal of zero-carbon is an achievable one and allowing the Urban Nature Project to become a benchmark for its application in cultural and historically significant locations.”

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