Huge rent increases threaten the biological society and other cherished scientific organisations based in Burlington House, writes Philip Barber
The Linnean Society of London was founded in 1788 in honour of Carl Linnaeus, the father of modern taxonomy, the system of biological classification still in use today. It is the oldest biological society still in existence, and remains a national and global flagship for natural history research. Since 1857 it has been located at Burlington House, where Charles Darwin first presented his theory of natural selection on 1 July 1858, published in the following year as The Origin of Species. The society contributes more than £8m in public value to the nation annually, but is threatened with eviction by its landlord, the housing ministry, if it fails to pay an extortionate rent which has risen by more than 3,000% in six years. Other important scientific societies at Burlington House are similarly threatened.
It seems that the philistinism and cultural vandalism of a fast-fading administration are jeopardising the existence of the very institutions it should be cherishing and protecting, and we are threatened with the dismantling of a critical mass of scientific and biological expertise that can never be replaced. A new basis for tenure of one of our most valuable and durable assets needs to be urgently identified. Enough national family silver has surely now been sold off, and enough seed corn eaten, by Margaret Thatcher, George Osborne and their current political and spiritual heirs: we need to hold the line at Burlington House.