Shropshire Star

Shrewsbury relief road: Protesters prepare for world record 'most Charles Darwins in one place' bid

Campaigners against a major road project are aiming to set a world record for the most people dressed as Charles Darwin at once.


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Better Shrewsbury Transport, a group of protestors against the North West Relief Road, and The Woodland Trust is gathering people together to dress as Shrewsbury's most famous son.

The aim is to draw attention to the 550-year-old "Darwin Oak" tree, which is scheduled to be chopped down to make way for the controversial road despite a petition signed by 100,000 calling for it to be saved.

It is said that the evolutionary theorist, who was born in the town in 1809, wrote in notebooks which show he carried out geological surveys beside the now famous tree in his twenties before he began his epochal work on evolution.

The protest will take place on Saturday, March 23 from 2pm to 4pm.

Mike Streetly from Better Shrewsbury Transport said: "Make a beard, put on a cloak, waistcoat, or hat, and join us at the foot of the majestic Darwin Oak for what promises to be a unique event! Everyone’s invited to take part or just spectate as we try to create the first ever world record for the most people dressed as Charles Darwin in one place.

"We’re working with the Woodland Trust to raise awareness about this iconic tree as part of the trust’s Living Legends campaign, because the internationally-famous Darwin Oak is a vital part of Shrewsbury’s natural heritage and a living link to the town’s most famous son. We can’t wait to see the costumes people come up with, and we’ll have some Darwin masks available for anyone who needs a helping hand channelling their inner naturalist."

The event will include talks from special guest speakers including Rob ‘The Treehunter’ McBride, who launched the petition to save the Darwin Oak, attracting the attention of celebrities Chris Packham and Bianca Jagger.

Mr McBride said: "Darwin’s notebooks mention his extensive wanderings around Shelton Rough, close to his family home in Shrewsbury. It’s hard to see how he couldn’t have known this landmark oak tree, which was already 350 years old by then. Almost certainly, he would have sat under or the spreading boughs of this irreplaceable, majestic ancient oak, resting and perhaps contemplating his seminal studies, including his theory of evolution. I think he would be saddened to see that some of our species did not 'evolve' as we now need them to during the unprecedented climate emergency we find ourselves in.

"The Darwin Oak is one of the UK and Europe’s most significant ancient trees and is recorded onto the Woodland Trusts’s Ancient tree inventory - which makes it irreplaceable. The Darwin Oak has proudly stood here since before Columbus sailed to the Americas. It’s seen Henry VIII get divorced. Charles I get beheaded. The Great Fire of London. The invention of radio. Two World Wars. The birth of the NHS. The first man on the moon. Darwin would be appalled to think we’re about to chop it down for a new road. That isn’t evolution. It’s vandalism. So come along on the 23rd and help us make #Histree!"

The North West Relief Road has proved highly controversial in Shropshire, attracting over 5,000 objections on the online planning portal (to 230 in favour). Among the objectors were Shrewsbury Town Council, which said the road is ‘an outdated, financially risky response to the transport problems faced by the town’.

Speaking on behalf of The Woodland Trust, Jack Taylor said: "The Darwin Oak, just like the rest of the UK’s ancient trees, has no automatic right to protection despite their environmental and cultural significance. Our Living Legends campaign fights to protect these significant trees and we hope that getting as many Charles Darwins as possible to gather under its branches will convince those in charge that this tree has to be saved from the chop.

"How many Darwins does it take to save the Darwin Oak? We’ll find out on the 23rd!"