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Darwin’s Landscape Laboratory

Date of Submission: 27/01/2012
Criteria: (iii)(vi)
Category:
Submitted by:
Department for Culture, Media and Sport
State, Province or Region:
London
Coordinates: N51 19 50 E0 03 4
Ref.: 5672
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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party

Description

The nominated World Heritage Site is the area used by Charles Darwin for forty years to develop and demonstrate his theory of evolution through the study of plants and animals in natural settings and under human management. He lived there from 1842, using his home and surroundings as his scientific research station. Darwin was the originator of the theory of evolution by natural selection; his scientific writings are valued around the world and form the basis of the modern understanding of the patterns of natural life, human and animal origins, biodiversity and needs for nature conservation.  The Site includes Darwin's house, his experimental garden and the countryside immediately around his property, the three areas which he used together for almost all of his most important scientific investigations after his early years on the round-the-world voyage of HMS Beagle. 

Darwin settled in London and then in 1842, moved 16 miles south to Down House to cater for his growing family and as his workplace. The surrounding farmed landscape and its varying geology and soil types enabled him to access, via numerous footpaths and lanes, a wide variety of plants and wildlife, the raw materials for his research and scientific work. Finding all that he needed for his science he seldom left the locality until his death in 1882. The farmed landscape, together with Down House and its gardens were thus his workplace for his greatest period as a scientist.  The farmland and woodland management of the two small valleys linked by high ground has been sustained since Darwin’s time. Thus the tangible context for his original scientific insight is clearly apparent. Darwin’s home, gardens and many of the habitats and features in the surrounding farmed valleys which he examined and used, survive to reflect his ideas which we are able to access via extensive and comprehensive collections of Darwin’s scientific writings.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

Darwin’s Landscape Laboratory is of fundamental importance to humanity as it is the use of the landscape as a resource for science that is important rather than a commemoration of the man who developed the theory. The ideas developed at this Site have had a profound influence on life sciences, medicine, agriculture, philosophy and religion, as well as on general views of humankind's relation to other living creatures in the natural world and on the sustainability of the planet’s resources.  Because of the degree of survival and continuing use of the landscape, it is possible to see and experience the features which inspired Darwin and underpinned his theories.

Criteria met :

(iii) The living cultural tradition is the modern scientific approach to the understanding of the natural world by observation, hypothesis, experiment and replication, free and wide exchange of information and ideas, theory-building and communication.  The property is a supreme testimony to that tradition showing in tangible form how Darwin used the compact, varied and farmed landscape around his home together with his own house and grounds as resources for observations and experiments that were landmarks in the history of science.  

(vi) The ideas of Outstanding Universal Value with which the nominated Site is directly associated are Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection, his explanation of global biodiversity as a fundamental principle of the natural world, and his demonstration of the ecological interdependence of all life forms. These three fundamental insights are closely intertwined and together provide the central principles for the present scientific understanding of the history of life on earth.  The nominated Site is directly linked with Darwin's writing and publication of The Origin of Species (1859), one of the most influential books of all time.  This transformed scientific and wider public thinking about natural life and humans' place in the natural world. The change in thinking that the book brought about was a historic stage in the development of the modern understanding of life on earth and human nature. 

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

Integrity: The nominated property includes all the attributes necessary to express the outstanding universal value of the site – almost the entire rural landscape  around Down House in which Darwin observed and collected plants and insects and the specific places that were important for his observations and research. Sufficient attributes lie within the boundary to encapsulate the OUV of the property and thus allow the landscape to be perceived through the eyes of Darwin and show how assets of a fairly commonplace landscape could be used to demonstrate universal scientific theories, which changed perceptions of the way the world evolved. 

Authenticity: Darwin was meticulous in recording his scientific work, so that the relationship between Darwin and the landscape, and between Darwin and Down House, is based on firm evidence. He describes very clearly the landscape assets that were of value to him and the way he used them.  He also describes in detail how he researched the evidence he collected at Down House.

Mapping and other records of his time can also be used to assess the authenticity of the landscape as it survives.  The relationship between Darwin and the landscape, what he was able to observe, and the evidence he chose to use, can be appreciated by visitors to the landscape today, as the key landscape characteristics and habitats created by farming and woodland practices still persist. 

Thus, the OUV of Darwin’s Landscape Laboratory is truthfully and credibly expressed through the attributes that carry OUV, including. the characteristics of the compact 7km2 valley landscape that Darwin witnessed, including the architecture of the two villages of Downe and Cudham, farming and woodland traditions, the many varied habitats that Darwin studied, the lanes and paths  which enabled Darwin to explore the site freely, and Down House and its garden.

Comparison with other similar properties

This property is a prime example for the life sciences and a site which tangibly demonstrates the landscape resource which Darwin used to develop his theories.  The survival is unusual at both a national and international level as many places important for science are changed following completion of the scientific work .For these reasons and some others, the survival of physical features for science heritage is generally poor elsewhere.
From the comparison with sites so far inscribed on the World Heritage Site  list, there is no site that is similar to Darwin’s Landscape Laboratory as a landscape with persistent associations with scientific method and research linked to scientific ideas of global significance. There are few properties that have features associated with science and they are not necessarily evident from their inscription information.  There are even fewer properties  that are concerned with the life sciences. The Outstanding Universal Value of Darwin’s Landscape Laboratory is therefore not already reflected on the WH List.

Comparing Darwin’s Landscape Laboratory with other scientific places not already inscribed, as a landscape that still demonstrates today what was observed and used to develop a scientific theory of world-wide significance, it is seen as exceptionally well documented and complete, and its surviving features are of high value in displaying the values it represents. No other site matches its combined strength in these respects, because it represents a supreme achievement of the scientific approach in the life sciences which provides the basis for the current scientific understanding of human and natural life and the need for urgent action to counter global threats to the environment and sustainable development.