Skip to page content

Re-tracing Darwin's footsteps

07 June 2005

A shield bug (Dolicoris baccarum) on a meadow buttercup (Ranunculus acris)

A shield bug (Dolicoris baccarum) on a meadow buttercup (Ranunculus acris)

Scientists from the Natural History Museum and conservationists from English Heritage are re-tracing Darwin’s footsteps by replicating a wildflower survey carried out 150 years ago.

Darwin carried out the meticulous survey in the meadows surrounding his family home, Down House, in 1855. He recorded 142 different plants which were used to support his theories and his famous book On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection .

Darwin's great, great, great granddaughter Allegra Darwin. © The Natural History Museum

Darwin's great, great, great granddaughter Allegra Darwin

The new survey will compare current plant diversity with that of 150 years ago and over a one-year period flowering plants such as cowslips, red clover, yarrow and yellow vetchling will be collected and recorded.

‘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’.

Down House, Darwin's previous home

Down House, Darwin's previous home

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. 

The survey is part of a wider summer programme of activities such as pond-dipping, wildlife displays and guided walks as well as activities to help develop identification skills of wildlife enthusiasts. These events are aimed at building an understanding of the natural world, Darwin’s work and to celebrate the beauty and diversity of wildlife.

Charles Darwin © The Natural History Museum, London 2005

Charles Darwin

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.

For further details of events please visit