Campaign update: Since going public late last year, our campaign to stay at Burlington House, with the Geological Society of London, the Society of Antiquaries and the Royal Astronomical Society, has gained waves of support from across the UK and internationally.
Hundreds of letters have been sent to Members of Parliament, and growing interest in the future of the Societies at Burlington House led to a Parliamentary debate in early June. You can listen to the proceedings here (from 16.50) or read the transcript here.
The strong support within scientific and cultural circles, among the public, and across Westminster, compelled the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) - our landlord - to respond to our call for a solution to the rapidly escalating and unaffordable rents.
The response from Government
The MHCLG has proposed a solution with the Courtyard Societies. It supports our aim of finding a lasting solution and recognises the unique value of keeping the Societies together.
Although it proposes a slower rate of increase in rent, the proposal does not take into account that the rent is already unaffordable. We are therefore urging the Government to help us find a new basis for tenure, as slowing down the rate of increase is not enough.
We believe this is the only way of maintaining and increasing the public value we deliver each year, and stop the diversion of large funds from our charitable objectives.
We are determined to find a unique and sustainable solution that will:
Build on our current public engagement and outreach programmes to ensure the whole nation benefits from the activities conducted at Burlington House.
Support and facilitate the expansion of our scientific knowledge that will enable a world where nature is understood, valued and protected, and help ensure that we can meet the biggest challenges facing our planet today.
Maintain the UK’s world-leading position in the scientific understanding of nature, its management and conservation.
We welcome the broadening of current discussions to include the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) as the Department responsible for our national culture and heritage, as well as the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) which can appreciate the value of scientific knowledge within the UK’s economy. These perspectives will see Burlington House as more than an investment property.
We hope that a solution can be found urgently before the Societies are forced out due to rising rents.
We also look forward to a new era of life at Burlington House, where a wide range of people, from all walks of life, all over the country can benefit from not just the collections at Burlington House, but the discovery and innovation enabled through evidence-based policy making.
We need your support more than ever as we enter this critical stage of negotiations.
Support our case to stay at Burlington House
After over 145 years of continuous occupation of Burlington House, the Linnean Society faces being priced out of its London home because of unaffordable and rapidly rising rents.
Finding an affordable solution with our landlord, the Government, is vital to secure the nationally and internationally recognised natural history collections, and our activities to inform, inspire and involve people of all ages and backgrounds about nature and its significance, for the benefit of economy and society, in the UK and beyond.
The Society’s home at Burlington House acts as an international hub for research, discovery and debate. It was purpose-built for the Society’s charitable activities and is a significant educational and historical resource for the nation. The first public presentation of the theory of evolution by natural selection was at a meeting at the Society in Burlington House. The Society continues to facilitate ideas that will help find solutions to the biggest challenges our society and the planet face today.
The Society has faced a rent increase of 3,000% over just six years and cannot, as a not-for-profit organisation, continue to pay rent escalating at this rate in the longer term.
In collaboration with the other Learned Societies at Burlington House, the Linnean Society has worked hard to engage with the landlord, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) over the past 8 years, but it has proved impossible to reach an agreement on terms that would secure our future at Burlington House alongside the other Learned Societies.
As a result, we have launched this public campaign as a final attempt to persuade the Government to take into account the £8.2 million in public value we contribute to the nation each year, and to work with us to find a mutually agreeable route forward.
An affordable and sustainable tenancy for the Linnean Society will help maintain the UK’s world-leading position in the scientific understanding of nature, its management and conservation. It will also help ensure that we can meet the biggest challenges facing our planet today.
Find out how you can support us on our How You Can Help Page.
The case for staying at Burlington House
The Linnean Society was founded in 1788 in honour of Carl Linnaeus, famous for his work in taxonomy, the science of naming, describing and classifying nature.
Much of this work still has fundamental, real and practical implications for today’s world.
The categorisation of nature enables us to identify baselines and track the impact of human activity on the environment around us, including food supplies, as we face the combined challenges of biodiversity loss and climate change.
Burlington House has been refurbished and adapted to hold the Society’s many educational activities, safeguard its world-renowned and Arts Council England (ACE)-Designated heritage collections, and bring together academia and other enthusiasts about the natural world with a diverse public. It has enabled us to contribute evidence for policy-making, especially in relation to environmental impact assessments and the safeguarding of natural history collections, and continues to promote best practice in the sector through training.
The co-location of the Linnean Society of London, the Geological Society, and the Society of Antiquaries has allowed us to make significant contributions to the UK’s economy and society together over the last 145 years. We are asking the Government to help us to find an affordable arrangement that will enable the Linnean Society, and its neighbours to continue, and further enhance, the value delivered to the public each year from Burlington House.
The consequences of a forced move
The Linnean Society faces a significant threat in the absence of a sustainable agreement for Burlington House. We do not have the capital to acquire an alternative space and would struggle to pay the higher rent it anticipated at Burlington House, or cover the costs of an alternative space in London.
The only affordable option may be to house the specimen collections and archives in storage facilities, effectively separating them from staff and users. This would significantly limit the Society's ability to deliver on its charitable objectives and threaten the value it generates for the UK:
- Separate the Society from the international hub of research and discovery at Burlington House and threaten the UK’s position on the world-stage. Dispersal of the co-located learned societies, their collections, libraries and archives would inevitably limit the combined contributions made to research and discovery for both national and global benefit.
- Diminish the Society’s network that supports its valuable work for the UK. The Society will lose its close ties to the other important biological and historical collections and associated research expertise in London (at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, the Natural History Museum, the Wellcome Trust and world-class universities such as Imperial College London and University College London), its political, diplomatic and media influence, and its international status as an awarder of medals and other awards for distinguished achievements in natural history.
The Observer: 'Under threat: the birthplace of Darwin’s historic theory'
28 February, 2021: The Observer writes about the rent rise and pressure on groups including the Geological and Linnean societies. Read the article here.https://www.theguardian.com/science/2021/feb/28/under-threat-the-birthplace-of-darwins-historic-theory?
The Critic: 'Putting a price on scholarship'
March 2021: Charles Saumarez Smith writes in The Critic about the battle to safeguard the future of some of Britain’s oldest and best-known learned societies. Read the article here.https://thecritic.co.uk/issues/march-2021/putting-a-price-on-scholarship/
Research Professional News: 'Learned societies fear being ‘priced out due to rising rents’
1 March, 2021: Sophie Inge writes about the three societies having to cut research funding after government increases their London headquarters’ rent. Read the article here (requires subscription).https://www.researchprofessionalnews.com/rr-news-uk-charities-and-societies-2021-3-learned-societies-fear-being-priced-out-due-to-rising-rents/