• Sun. Dec 3rd, 2023

This Week in History 17 March 2001: The Eden Project officially opened to the public

ByBriony Pickford

Mar 16, 2017

This Friday marks the opening of the Eden Project in 2001: the dream of Tim Smits, who had a vision for showcasing the rainforest and Mediterranean climates and ecosystems.  In his own words he wanted to, “create a place like nothing anyone had seen before – a place that explored human dependence on plants and the natural world: A place that might just make a difference”.  The idea was first born in 1995 and its development over the next six years gave birth to the two giant greenhouses built over disused clay pits in Cornwall.

The two biomes house thousands of different species of plants, and some unusual creatures, being home to more than 135,000 plants of over 4,500 different species. With many sustainability schemes and water conservation plans, the Eden Project is able to boast of reduced energy use alongside its many attractions.

There was such excitement and curiosity for the opening that people actually queued from 4:30am in order to be in the first group to view this incredible idea in reality. A total of 7,000 people attended the opening on March 17 2001 despite the prevalence of foot and mouth disease at the time. 

Approximately 30 local farmers protested for the first time on the day due to the danger of visitors spreading foot and mouth disease even further.  However, they were not supported in their actions by the Cornwall National Farmers’ Union (NFU).  The Ministry of Agriculture (MAFF) had given permission for the opening – but evidently not with full confidence, as there were precautionary disinfectant mats placed at the entrance. According to a spokesman for the Eden Project, they would not have opened if MAFF or the NFU had told them not to, but they did not want to send the message that the entirety of Cornwall was closed off. They opened despite the fact many exhibits had yet to be built and considerable planting still had to be done. 

Fortunately the numbers in attendance were not depleted by the disease threat or the peaceful protest. Since then the numbers have increased greatly to the present  day in which a million people visit the Eden Project annually, surpassing the original aim of 750,000 visitors per year.

Image: Pam Brophy

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