The Natural History Museum’s Urban Nature Project team have been working hard preparing for the landmark re-development of the Museum’s five-acre gardens into a welcoming, accessible and biologically diverse green space.
Thanks to money from National Lottery players, we’ve made great strides in our plans for this exciting new space. The gardens will close to the public from July 2022 to allow major works to take place, but plenty has been going on behind the scenes to lay the groundwork and ensure sustainability and biodiversity are at the heart of these new gardens. Louise Simmons, Senior Project Manager working on the development of the new gardens tells us about some of the progress made to date…
Plants through time
We’ve put a lot of thought and preparation into which plants we will include in the new gardens, they tell the incredible story of evolution on Earth, as well as celebrate the wonders of urban nature. We’re working closely with a number of specialist nurseries to ensure the plants are sourced as sustainably as possible and given the care they require.
Some of the plants in the new gardens will be incredibly rare and exciting additions to our gardens, while others will be much easier to source and familiar to our visitors.
Peaking below the surface
Our gardens are right on top of an area that’s been identified as having potential for historic remains. That’s why we were excited to be working with the Museum of London Archaeology team (MOLA) who dug two archaeological trenches and drilled five boreholes in February 2022.
The aim of the trenches was to determine the survival of and, if present, to survey the foundations of the 1862 International Exhibition Hall previously on the site prior to the Museum.
The east garden trench revealed four concrete pad foundations and two linear concrete structures which were likely to have formed part of the foundation for the 1862 hall. The borehole core samples are currently being tested for deposits evidencing a specific short warm period which is thought to have occurred during the Devensian Glaciation about 33,000 years ago. The finds will fortunately not delay plans for the gardens redevelopment.
Heathland given new lease of life
Our existing wildlife garden comprises a patchwork of habitats, including woodland, ponds, chalk grassland, meadow and a small area of heathland. As part of our plans to extend our wildlife garden and enable key habitats to reach their full potential, it was decided to move – or translocate – the heathland planting.
It has now been successfully moved to a London Wildlife Trust nature reserve called Bramley Bank, where it will have greater opportunity to flourish alongside complementary habitats. This translocation took place in November 2021 with support from the Urban Nature Project team and Museum volunteers and was carefully planned to ensure that the planting could thrive in its new home. We will monitor its progress over coming years.
Boreholes needn’t be boring
The Museum already receives a good portion of its building borehole water from an onsite borehole – this is more environmentally-friendly (and cheaper) than receiving all our water from the mains as this requires substantial additional energy to treat it and may suffer from leakage during transport. We’ve been able to improve the efficiency of our borehole through engineering improvements so that we can extract more groundwater to be used in the gardens this way.
To find out more about the Urban Nature Project, and how you can get involved visit nhm.ac.uk/about-us/urban-nature-project.