Happy Birthday Darwin!

Today marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin, naturalist and the ‘father’ of modern evolutionary theory. 2009 also sees the 15oth anniversary of the publication of ‘On the Origin of Species’, Darwin’s seminal work, setting out his exploration of evolution by the process of natural selection.

Celebrating Darwin’s achievements, his detailed observations of animals and plants through his voyage on the Beagle and the crystallisation of the theory of evolution on his return to England, should give us pause to consider the situation which the organisms which he so carefully examined, collected and recorded, now find themselves. Conservationists have warned, reported the BBC this morning, that the Galapagos face irreparable damage if tourism to the islands is not curbed. The number of visitors to the Galapagos has quadrupled over the past 20 years, threatening established organisms through the transport of invasive alien species, including the pervasive fire ant, which threatens birds and tortoises, and a species of parasitic fly.

Speaking to the BBC, the director of the Galapagos National Park, Edgar Munoz, acknowledges the challenge but says the Ecuadorian government’s actions will tackle the problem. He is hopeful that the threat can be reduced within the next ’50 years’. Conservationists have expressed concern however that tackling these insects will not be easy.

Along with many others organising festivals and events around the country to mark these important anniversaries, the BES is celebrating Darwin’s life and work by staging two productions of ‘Re:Design’, a play commissioned by the Darwin Correspondence Project, written by the playwright Craig Baxter, and performed by the Menagerie theatre company in Cambridge. You will be able to see ‘Re:Design’ either at our Annual Meeting (9 September) or at the British Science Festival (5 September – tbc).