Taunton follows in Darwin’s footsteps

Caro Wedgwood, Taunton science teacher and distant cousin of Charles Darwin, leads a school trip to the Galapagos Islands

It was at the Galapagos Islands where Darwin made the observations that led to his theory of evolution by natural selection.

Caro, along with six staff members and 25 pupils from Taunton School, will be leading a 6,000-mile expedition to the islands to support the Galapagos Conservation Trust in a species’ documentation project.

Caro is a member of the Darwin-Wedgwood family, which includes naturalist Charles Darwin and the Nobel Prize-winning physiologist and biophysicist Sir Andrew Huxley.

“I suspect Darwin in particular would be very pleased young people are getting involved and interested in the natural world,” said Caro, who teaches biology at Taunton School and is president of its scientific society.

“What is so appealing about his observations is that they simply involved him opening his eyes and studying the natural world, looking for patterns and differences.

“That’s what is so great about science. Simple observations can lead you to some extraordinary conclusions. For our pupils to stand in the same place as Darwin did and make those observations for themselves is a very powerful thing.”

Caro says it is vital for younger generations to look at some of the species they will come across on the Galapagos Islands that are on the edge of extinction.

“I hope they are blown away by the sheer diversity of the natural world and it will inspire them to think about the fragility of nature and how we should be protecting our own wildlife.

“As we become more and more industrialised and reliant on fossil fuels, we are killing our native flora and fauna. We have no right to move in and destroy them, and yet that is what we are doing.

“We could lose vital species to the ecosystems that we didn’t even know existed, and by the time we realise their importance it could be too late.”

Caro remembers learning about the islands from her father when she was a youngster, but never dreamed she would ever go there.

“Despite the more recent human activities, the islands are a truly unique set of ecosystems. To be able to see the flora and fauna I’ve been teaching about for years will, I’m sure, be surreal to see them in the flesh.”

As a child Caro can remember visiting Sir Andrew Huxley – who shared the Nobel prize for unravelling the mechanism of the nerve impulse – many times and says she enjoyed questioning him about his work.

“By that time I knew I wanted to study biology myself. For me, Huxley and Darwin’s influence is that science has wonderful opportunities for discovery and intrigue. It can answer big and small questions, but all equally important.”

The expedition will begin with a trip to the Amazon, where the group will spend three days walking in the rainforest, and searching for some of the endemic fauna, after which they will travel to the Galapagos Islands.

Caro has already spent time as a conservation volunteer in Australia and Namibia, and has been involved with the charity ‘Habitat for Humanity’ leading expeditions to various African countries to build houses for families who live below the poverty line. 

www.tauntonschool.co.uk

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