Don's Diary

May 11, 2001

Cars flow over the brow of the hill like Indians heading for General Custer. Visitor numbers for the Eden Project are more than double planned for - as one of the last millennium projects we were given very conservative business estimates. Now everyone is working flat out behind the scenes to add more shelters, more cafes, more car parks, but there is still a party atmosphere. Did foot-and-mouth mean more visitors or fewer? Nobody knows. This the latest in a long line of crises that should have made it impossible to carry on.

Exciting meeting between scient-ific and creative teams about display interpretation. We agree to drop multimedia touch screens. They draw kids like a magnet but the kids do not seem to take in any information. We need to illustrate scientific hot potatoes such as biotechnology and ethics in science. A honking noise and flashing light would be much cheaper until we have time to tackle these media properly. The project has put a lot of effort into working with people who are skilled in engaging attention and communicating excitement such as artists and even marketing specialists. The test - if you can sell a car in six words, can you put across a difficult idea in 60? It is inspiring seeing such talent working for science communication.

Another 100 or so emails. It would be a full-time job just meeting every student who wants to do a project based at Eden. Eden is a small team, currently exhausted after opening the project. One staff member from Plymouth offers much-needed help.

Over the winter of 1999-2000 we made 80,000 tonnes of soil from mine waste and recycled composts, suitable for growing a huge range of plants including some with very fussy temperaments, and with no time for trials. All achieved by working with some brilliant postgraduate students at Reading, but we now need to do a lot of fine tuning. Another challenge for horticulture staff at Eden, to go with flying a greenhouse of a size never seen before, working on impossible slopes.

Take senior research scientist on visit, who talks about the tropical ecosystem research we can do here. Have to diplomatically point out that it is basically a greenhouse - it windows onto the world, but is not the world. We are cursed by confusion with the Biosphere II project that attempted to make a closed ecosystem for research.

Partnerships developing quickly with groups of international standing - people who once had never heard of Saint Austell arrive every week. The challenges of building a new type of organisation are as great as building the biomes. We call Eden a Tinkerbell project - it shows the power of belief. Who among the partners is prepared to believe and to be determined enough to make things happen?

Tony Kendle runs research and partnerships, Eden Project, Cornwall, on secondment from the University of Reading.

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