Rothamsted Research

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Good news for biodiversity from the world’s oldest ecological experiment at Rothamsted Research in Harpenden


Public visit to the world famous Park Grass Experiment

Rothamsted Research hosts event to celebrate 160th anniversary of the Park Grass Experiment in Harpenden and highlight recent findings.

In 1856, two Victorian scientists created the Park Grass Experiment in Harpenden to find out how different fertilisers affect hay yields. Running continuously since 1856, Park Grass is the world’s oldest ecological experiment and this year marks its 160th anniversary. To celebrate the anniversary and recent findings from the experiment, Rothamsted Research hosted an event on Tuesday 17th May for the public to discuss the global importance of the Park Grass Experiment and to visit the site. The Mayor of St Albans and former Mayor of Harpenden attended the event. Also marking the anniversary, year 10 science pupils from Sir John Lawes School came to Rothamsted Research to visit the experiment and learn about it from scientists at the Institute.

A unique resource, world-famous in ecology and agricultural science, the Park Grass Experiment is used today to test ideas of global significance, putting Harpenden and Hertfordshire at the centre of these disciplines. Last year, using records from Park Grass, scientists found that the diversity of plant species at the experiment has bounced back after a peak in atmospheric nitrogen pollution during the 1980s had caused the loss of some species. The experiment is run and monitored by scientists at Rothamsted Research, which receives strategic funding from the BBSRC. Further funding for the Long-Term Experiments at Rothamsted Research is provided by the Lawes Agricultural Trust.

John Lawes and Henry Gilbert devised the Park Grass Experiment to measure hay yields obtained when using different fertilisers and manures. The experiment was later modified to include a test of lime to see how soil acidity influences biodiversity. Over the decades, the various combinations of fertiliser and lime have led to dramatic differences in plant communities found within the plots. Scientists continue to monitor the plants growing and to collect plant and soil samples, giving a historical record.

Councillor Salih Gaygusuz, Mayor of St Albans City and District, said of his visit: “It is astonishing that important scientific research has been going on at this historic site for more than a century and a half. I was fascinated to learn about the Park Grass Experiment and meet many of the dedicated and learned staff who are involved in this and other work.”

Councillor Brian Ellis, past Mayor of Harpenden, commented: “I think few people outside the scientific community know about the science carried out at Rothamsted Research and its importance for world food security. It was very interesting to see the Park Grass Experiment and learn about its continued value, especially that the effects of certain harmful events are reversible.”

Dr Andy Macdonald, Principal Investigator of the Long-term Experiments National Capability at Rothamsted Research, said: “The Park Grass Experiment was established in 1856 to answer agricultural questions about the effects of fertilisers and manures on hay production, but it is now considered to be the oldest ecological field experiment in existence. Over the years it has been used to examine questions about ecology and environmental change that its founders could have never imagined. The experiment has been the subject of more than 200 scientific articles and continues to generate new science as relevant today as when it started 160 years ago.”

Park Grass Podcast

Notes to Editors

About the Lawes Agricultural Trust

Created in 1889 by Sir John Bennet Lawes, the Lawes Agricultural Trust (LAT) promotes the advancement of agricultural science through providing support for Rothamsted Research in a number of ways:

  • The land and buildings at Rothamsted Research in Harpenden and at Brooms Barn are owned by the Trust and occupied by Rothamsted Research free of charge.

  • It provides an annual research grant to the Director under a research policy agreed with the Trustees in 1997.

  • It provides accommodation for over 100 people in differing housing facilities and combinations, for the use of staff, students and visiting workers.

  • The Trust also makes capital grants from time to time to help complete and to modernise ancillary facilities at Rothamsted Research often in partnership with BBSRC.

  • It is an active partner in the development of exciting innovation opportunities for large and small companies at the Rothamsted Research site in Harpenden.

The Trust also operates Rothamsted International, a subsidiary charity that exists to provide the opportunity for scientists from developing countries, to share their expertise and gain additional experience within the advanced, multi-disciplinary research environment at Rothamsted.

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Rothamsted Press Office

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About Rothamsted Research

We are the longest running agricultural research station in the world, providing cutting-edge science and innovation for over 170 years. Our mission is to deliver the knowledge and new practices to increase crop productivity and quality and to develop environmentally sustainable solutions for food and energy production.

Our strength lies in the integrated, multidisciplinary approach to research in plant, insect and soil science.
Rothamsted Research is strategically funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)


BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.

Funded by Government, BBSRC invested £473M in world-class bioscience, people and research infrastructure in 2015-16. We support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.

More information about BBSRC, our science and our impact.
More information about BBSRC strategically funded institutes.