Ten years


The ecotimecapsules at Kew (London), Ness on the Wirral, also in South Africa, the Seychelles, Australia and Mexico have now been buried for two decades.
Here's what happened at our Reunion in June 2004....

Events on June 12th and 13th 2004 celebrating the 10th Anniversary

A message to those who were there originally (June 3rd or 5th, 1994) and ALSO to any others who agree with what we then said - and still are saying!

Thank you again for coming (again if there in 1994) for the reunion in 2004, to Kew Gardens on June 12 or to Ness Gardens on June 13. It was 10 years since the Time Capsule ceremony which you first attended, and everything we were worried about in 1994 was still a concern, only more so. We noted that we now had only 40 years left for the dream in the conclusions to our Letters No. 1 and No.2 to be made a reality, that the people of 2044 will dig up the Time-capsule and wonder why we apologised!

We plan another celebratory event in 2014, watch this space.

Here's what happened :

  • At Kew Gardens, London:

On Saturday June 12th proceedings started at 1.30 pm, in the Jodrell Lecture Theatre*.

Professors David Bellamy and John Guillebaud gave illustrated lectures, chaired by Susan Hampshire. (You will remember that we were all 3 involved last time round). David Attenborough, who lives nearby in Richmond, had to send his apologies, since he was abroad filming at that time: he sent us a statement of support which was read out. We interviewed some of the children involved with the project 10 years ago. Two short videos were shown: one being the one made in 1994 (see yourself 10 years younger!).

Then we walked together to the actual site of the burial of the Time Capsule, on the mound behind the Princess of Wales Conservatory, to read again the above-ground plaque and some of the Letters of Apology and children’s poems. We recommitted ourselves collectively as we said originally, to “make our contribution to a saner, safer and sustainable world…working to advance the painful process of changing hearts, minds and policies before it is too late”.


  • At Ness Botanic Gardens**, Neston, The Wirral: [this was the programme]


1.30 p.m. Wirral Schools’ Brass Band assembles at entrance by the Bulley Room café.
1.45 Enters the Gardens as a Marching Band if appropriate.
2.00 Musical performance till 2.15.
2.15 WELCOME by Dr Joanna Sharples, Business Administrator, Ness Botanic Gardens

INTRODUCTION by Professor John Guillebaud - Founder of the Environment Time Capsule Project

    • Andrew Miller M.P Ellesmere Port and Neston
    • Professor David Bellamy, our Special Guest, to speak – followed by the
    • Reading of the LETTER OF APOLOGY, addressed to those who open the Capsule in 2044

2.45 Musical performance – Finale - by The Wirral Schools’ Brass Band

  • Shelagh O’Neill, Principal of Wirral Academy of Performing Arts – to introduce the theatrical performance by the young players.

3.30 approx. John Guillebaud demonstrates the significance of the apple originally suggested by Peter Harrison (aged 14 in 1994) as a good object to be sealed into the Capsule. (Apples to be given out to young people present - say under 18), followed by some concluding remarks by JG and David Bellamy

3.45 George Bowler – for Wirral Environmental Network to thank all concerned today – and to draw attention to the new revised edition of "THE PROMISE”

“The Promise” a new and glossier edition of the previous yellow Compilation booklet of letters and poems buried in the Time Capsules, was on sale for just £2 on the day at Kew and at Ness Gardens on the Wirral - or it can be ordered.


Letter No. 1
Letter No. 2
Letter from Crispin Tickell
Letter from Jonathon Porritt

Time capsules with a difference

A recap of what it’s all about, by John Guillebaud (Emeritus Professor of Family Planning and Reproductive Health University College London; and Trustee of the Margaret Pyke Memorial Trust www.margaretpyke.org and of www.peopleandplanet.net, and co-Chair of www.optimumpopulation.org).

In general, time capsules record a particular time and place for posterity, and are buried without any future date for ‘unburying’ in mind. These that we buried in 1994 were different. The concept came to me through that well-known saying... "we have not inherited the earth from our grandparents, we have borrowed it from our grandchildren". I reflected on how angry they are likely to be if we continue (and there has been no obvious let-up 10 years later) to wreck their loan to us. With 25 years as the usually accepted average duration of a generation, “our grandchildren” meant people living 50 years ahead. So this project was addressed to the people of 2044. It was linked to the United Nations World Environment Day, in what they had designated the Year of the Family, and comprised an Apology, a Pledge, a Competition for school children, a Media event and a Family Party.

The time capsules contained environmentally-relevant items and were buried with explanations and letters of apology at significant sites around the world. In the UK these were Kew Gardens in London and the University of Liverpool’s Ness Gardens in South Wirral. Over the same weekend in June 1994 similar time capsules were sealed and buried in Mexico (Fundidora Park, Monterrey and at two other sites) and in the botanical gardens of Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, the Seychelles and Mount Annan near Sydney, Australia.

Children were - and still are - central to this project, since they are the prime stakeholders for a decent, sustainable future. In 1994 they were invited to enter two competitions, one for the best brief letter or poem addressed to the finder in 2044; the other for the most striking and original ideas for appropriate artifacts to go in the capsules. There is a complete list on page 43 of the items that were buried at Ness. At Kew the selected objects included: sealed capsules of the cleanest available 1994 air, water and garden loam (each as a reference for comparison in 2044); an apple, with the significance explained by Peter Harrison on page 9; and a petrol cap, labelled as representing one of our most environmentally damaging items. My own choices for sustainability symbols were a bicycle pump and a packet of contraceptive pills: since as emphasised by the two Apology letters printed on pages 3 and 4, contraceptives are really the ultimate in eco-friendly devices. They have the potential to allow millions of people worldwide to choose, at will, to have no more children than they can properly provide for or than can in the long term arrive without imperilling all the other species with which we share the planet…. Overpopulation by just one species (humans) is not the sole cause of loss of the planet’s biodiversity and numerous other environmental threats, but it is unequivocally the great multiplier of most of them.

We felt it was essential to apologise. But more important and empowering for all concerned at that time and since was the PLEDGE: to do all we could to save the planet by individual and united action ‘according to our talents and opportunities’, influencing those in power and changing as necessary our own lifestyles - with the goal that the finders of each time capsule in the year 2044 will wonder why we apologised!

Since 1994 there have been regular gatherings at the time capsules on or about World Environment Day, annually at Ness gardens. Over the years we have had the enthusiastic support of many distinguished people including Sir Crispin Tickell (former UK Ambassador to the UN), Susan Hampshire, David Bellamy and the Conservation Foundation.

The project is ongoing (www.ecotimecapsule.com). Other countries and other groups or concerned individuals are cordially invited to join in any year, to organise a similar time-capsule ceremony, still to be addressed to the people of 2044 and containing the same to ‘main’ Letters of Apology, translated as necessary.

Reader, join us! At least come one day if you can to Kew or to Ness and read the above-ground inscriptions (pages 39-40), or visit one of the other sites worldwide, mentioned above. Together, today, we still need to face up to our over-consumption of limited natural resources; over-production of greenhouse gases and mismanagement of other waste and pollution; global poverty and injustice; and gross under-funding of sexual and reproductive health as a human right for all. As we campaign together on these interconnected issues, why should not apologies to all our grandchildren become truly superfluous?

Some thoughts based on an apple

Firstly, Peter Harrison (aged 14) in 1994 asked that an apple should be placed in the Time capsule. He wrote:

The object that I have chosen is an apple. It can be kept in a plastic bag so it does not contaminate the time capsule. After 50 years when it is dug up the apple will have decayed showing the environmental deterioration of the world. All that will be left will be the core and seeds symbolising that if we all work together for Nature’s benefit then the seeds of recovery are just waiting to be found. However, unlike the apple, we cannot grow another world to live on, so we must all work together.

Secondly, let the apple represent planet earth:

Slice the apple into quarters.
Throw away three of them.
These represent the oceans of the world.

Q: What fraction do you have left? (1/4).

Slice this in two, and discard one half.
This represents land that is inhospitable to people: deserts, swamps, high mountains, covered by ice…

Q: What fraction do you now have left? (1/8)

Slice the 1/8 into four final segments, and dispose of three.
These 3 x 1/32 segments are areas that are too rocky, too cold, too steep, still covered by (fast-disappearing) rain forest, or with soil too poor to actually produce food. They also include cities, suburban sprawl, roads, shopping centres, schools, factories, car parks....

Q: What fraction now? (1/32)

Carefully peel the last 1/32 slice.
This tiny bit of apple peel represents the skin of the Earth's crust, which is the topsoil on which all humankind and much of the biosphere depends. It averages only a few feet deep. Due to human activities (erosion, over-farming, pollution)… we lose an average 25 billion tons of it per year. With more and more people sharing the land, each person’s share gets ever smaller.

[Adapted from the Activity Guide supplied with World Population Dots, a superb DVD available from www.popconnect.org]

This is the only bit we can use!