The Reading and District Natural History Society has been in existence since 1881, when it was formed by a group of like-minded enthusiast to promote the study of the natural history of the Reading area.
The photograph (above) is one of the first photographs taken of the society’s members meeting on a field trip to Pamber Forest in 1880, shortly before the society’s formation. The gentleman in the bowler hat (fourth from the left) is Joseph Stevens, first honorary curator of Reading Museum and first President of the new society.
In the early years the society met in the gallery rooms of the Reading museum. But when this was closed for refurbishment in the 1990s the society moved first to the town library, and then to the halls of the Baptist Chapel next door. The society then moved from the town centre to escape the congestion and parking problems and relocated to the village hall in Pangbourne for its meetings (click here for a map).
Many thanks to Reading Museum for allowing us to use the photograph, and for their support over the many years of the society’s existence.
Celebrating 130 years
Report by Ricki Bull of a talk given on 15th February 2011 by David Cliffe
As we were – 130 years of the RDNHS
David had been working on the society’s records and photographs, on and off, over the last five years. Not surprisingly for a society with no premises or library of its own, over time, material had found its way into several museums, libraries and archives in the area. Now it had all been listed, and all the photographs had been copied digitally, so that it was now possible to see them in chronological order, and to put them on the website, if the society wished.
There was a brief report on what had ended up where – the minute books, accounts, programmes, publications, scrapbooks, and the herbarium. Then came a brief history of the society, from preliminary meetings in 1880 to the decision for form a society in 1881 and onwards towards the present day.
The main part of the evening was the showing of 150 photographs, taken between 1880 and 2009. Members were particularly struck by what people wore when out in the field in the early days. In 1881 the society was a male preserve, and middle-class gentlemen wore three-piece suits and hats. Ladies were making an appearance by 1900, in full-length skirts and large hats. Cloche hats were very much in vogue in the 1920s.
From the minute books it was obvious that meetings were run along much more formal lines than now, and where photographs had any names written on, people were referred to just by a surname. New members had to be proposed and seconded by existing members, and the final decision was made by the committee.
The field excursions were made to the same kinds of places as now – but members arrived by train and on foot, and later by bus. Tea was arranged, at a public or private house, and the society regularly visited some of the private country estates in the area.
There was much more emphasis on collecting things in the early days, and not much idea of nature conservation. The presence of the man with a gun in one of the earliest pictures probably indicates that if an interesting bird was seen, he would oblige so that those present could see it more closely.
Competitions were held for collections of pressed plants or birds’ eggs, and speakers brought in their collections of stuffed birds or animals, bird skins, butterflies or snail shells for viewing. Dr. F. W. Stansfield, in his presidential address in 1918, sounded a warning note, when he said that he “deprecated the making of large collections, often causing a local insect or plant to be exterminated.”
Many eminent men and women had been members over the years, and David had brought with him a file of short biographies which he had compiled to aid in identifying the people in the photographs and dating them. In many cases there had been nothing written on the original prints or glass plates at all. Now it was possible to identify most of the people on most of the photographs, right from the beginning. Also on display was a large lever-arch file filled with prints of all the photographs arranged in date order, so that long-standing members could write in the names of people who hadn’t yet been identified. It was an unusual and varied evening. Inevitably, older members saw pictures of family and friends who are no longer with us. Besides natural history, there was a great deal of social history, and a great deal about the history of Reading and the surrounding countryside.
L.E. Cobb gave this interesting survey of the history of the society in the first 90 years of the society 1881 to 1972.
My original intention was to span just the thirty years of my own experience, but hardly had I made my choice when the Society’s Minute books came into my hands with their invitation to delve further into the past and to begin by giving you an outline of the foundation of the Society and its earliest years.
The Society was founded on 6th April 1881 at a meeting at the Lodge Hotel at which it was resolved that “this meeting do form itself into a Natural History Society and Field Club for Reading and District”. The Provisional Committee included Mr. J. L. Hawkins, father of Professor H. L. Hawkins who was a member from 1921 until his death in 1969 and whose wife is still an active member, so our links with that little band of enthusiasts who came together to such good purpose ninety years ago are very close indeed. The element of continuity is strong, and it is perhaps not surprising that in what I have to tell you similarities are more striking than contrasts. On the administrative side: The subscription at the inaugural meeting was fixed at 2/6. Although this may arouse envy in some of the members who have queued up to pay their 15/- (I refuse to call it 75 pence) this evening and who now face a further rise in subscription, I doubt whether in fact we have kept up with the general level of inflation. In 1886, the cash book showed a balance of £2/14/7, so that members can feel the satisfaction of knowing that the assets have multiplied by a higher factor than the subscription.
The first indoor meeting was held in St. Mary’s Churchyard, which does not sound very comfortable – I hope it means St. Mary’s Church House – on Thursday (no change here) 27th November. The subject was various forms of scrapers, the manner in which they were made, used and fixed in socketed handles. Themes of subsequent meetings were British beetles, land shells and local flora, with the accent on the exhibition of collections in all cases. It is interesting to note the subjects of these very early meetings and reflect that Dr. Norman Joy, who wrote a standard monograph on British beetles, was a member for many years and that from 1951 to 1953 we had Dr. Hamilton Quick, a distinguished amateur conchologist, as our President and he published a key to the land snails of the Reading area in no. 4 of The Reading Naturalist. Also as early as 1882, the medicinal properties of plants were discussed and in the 1940’s we had as members the Misses Brett who kept a herbalists’ shop and only two or three years ago Miss K. Butler, a member of a well-known local family of Pharmacists, addressed a junior meeting on medicinal plants. The May meeting in 1892 was on birds of Berks and Bucks and the attendance was 12. They were doing quite well, I think. It is difficult to compare this with our attendance of about 40. We have the advantages of a vastly increased population to draw upon and improved transport facilities but must set against this the pressure of competing interests nowadays.
In October 1882, we are told that it was resolved to hold a meeting “for conversation and the exhibition of specimens”, so although the present series of Members’ Evenings goes back no further than 1953, the idea is by no means new to the Society. In this respect as in many others we are building on the excellent foundations laid right at the outset. Indeed, what would then have been called ‘self-help’ and has become ‘do-it-yourself’ in modern phraseology was the keynote of those early days. All the lectures in the first years were given by members, and although it is undoubtedly right and proper in these outward-looking days that we should welcome guest speakers to many of our meetings, yet I am glad that we do not invariably do this and that at three meetings this session we are to have the pleasure and satisfaction of being addressed by fellow members. In March 1883, there was a specimen meeting and microscopes were brought, but the fact that we had such a precedent does not detract from the enterprise of those who reintroduced this form of meeting last winter. The notable change in 1884 was a movement away from lectures on purely local topics to foreign themes – corals, Hyeres, France; snakes of India; Australia, and Italian Switzerland. In the same year, a paper was read by Mr. Crosfield of Redhill on the geographical distribution of wild plants in the British Isles, which puts us in mind right away of the work in which many of us took part in the1950’s gathering data for the Plant Atlas that was published by the Botanical Society of the British Isles in 1962. In 1885, a paper was read on Instinct – a very early departure from interest in collection and identification to the modern outlook and interest in behaviour. In 1890, there was a Conversazione at the Town Hall for the prize-giving of the School of Science and Art, and members exhibited collections of birds’ nests, eggs, skins, shells, stuffed birds and animals, insects and plants.
Now to the field meetings in those very early days: The first field meeting on 14th June 1881 was to Bagshot – not an area that we frequent now. It has probably changed a lot and for the worse, but I do not know whether we should investigate the possibility of visiting Bagshot in June 1981 as part of the centenary year programme. Other excursions that summer were to Mapledurham and Emmer Green, which have a familiar ring, and there was a whole-day excursion to Bucklebury Common. We go a bit further afield on our annual all-day excursion in this more mobile, outward-looking age, but we visited Bucklebury Common as recently as last month and very enjoyable it was.
In June 1883, members took the train to Mortimer, spent the after-noon rambling about the Common and then walked back to Reading via Burghfield. I cannot imagine us doing that to-day, and perhaps one’s first impulse is to feel some shame at our lack of robustness, but reflecting on the difference between the country to be covered as one can imagine it was then and the straggling suburbia of to-day, perhaps we are justified. Other places visited in very early years were Tilehurst, Sulham, Pangbourne Marsh, Streatley and Shiplake.
As early as 1888 a combined excursion was made with the Literary and Scientific Society. This brings back interesting memories for me because in my teens, before I had heard of the Natural History Society, I enjoyed many wonderful outings and meetings with the Literary and Scientific, which I had joined initially on the literary side, but in whose scientific activities I took part with enthusiasm. It was a flourishing concern then and I wonder how it came about that our distinguished contemporary did not survive when our own Society, so much more circumscribed in its interests, managed to come through the difficult years.
In the same year, a paper on fungi was read and a Fungus Foray was held. Here indeed is the beginning of a venerable tradition. The interest of the Society in toadstools has always been strong, as indeed it should be, considering the distinguished mycologists whose help and encouragement we have been privileged to enjoy. Dr. Somerville Hastings, who as well as being a surgeon and politician, was the author of books on alpine flora and on British fungi (Toadstools at Home), was a member of the Society for forty years, was its President and finally an Honorary Member. For thirty years to my knowledge and probably much longer he was host at his delightful home ‘Brackenfell’ at Kingwood Common to our annual foray at which he also led us, as long as he was able, and identified our finds. Through him, also, the Forays were often graced by the presence of Dr. Ramsbottom of Kew. The tradition of hospitality is carried on by Dr. Hastings’ son and daughter-in-law, who still put their home at our disposal and give us a gracious welcome on our Foray each year. We now generally enjoy the stimulating leadership of Dr. Hora of Reading University, a distinguished mycologist who has been a good friend of the Society for some thirty years.
The membership appears to have been all male for about the first ten years. Miss Hurry exhibited shells in 1889, but I suspect she was only a visitor and Mr. Dowsett gave an account of the shells. Three ladies were elected members in 1891. Unfortunately there is a long gap in our records after these first ten years and our next information relates to 1913, from which date we have a complete set of minutes. In 1921, a proposal to add ladies to the Committee was held over, but Miss M. E. Edmunds was elected in 1922, and in 1925 she became President. We have had one other woman President, our well-known friend Mrs. A. M. Simmonds, now Sandels, who served from 1948 to 1951. I know there are some present who will be interested to know that Mr. Dolton, whose remarkable collection of micro-lepidoptera is in Reading Museum, and who was a member of the Society until his death as recently as 1968, was already serving on the Committee in 1914. February 27th 1930 was momentous for the Society, as on that day Mr. Fishlock was elected to membership. There are still very many among us who realise the implications of that and who must wonder just what course the life of the Society would have run if it had not had Mr. Fishlock to guide its affairs for twenty-five years. He was elected one of two joint Honorary Secretaries in 1932 and sole Honorary Secretary in 1935. He continued in that office until 1953 when he was elected to the Presidency, handing over the Secretaryship to the capable hands of Mrs. Hasker – later Mrs. Fishlock – now Mrs. Chandy. He held the Presidency until 1957 when he was elected an Honorary Member.
To return to our historical review:- The Society kept going through the difficult years of the 1914-1918 war, with lecturers drawn mostly from the membership and a number of informal meetings, visits to view specimens at a member’s house and so on, and still numerous joint meetings with the Literary and Scientific Society.
The exhibition of wild flowers at the Museum began in 1916 and was apparently largely the work of members. In 1919, the collection of data in our District for a proposed Flora of the Thames Valley was under consideration. The setting down of members’ observations in some permanent form or other has naturally enough been a constantly recurring theme, for this is one of the main functions of a local Society such as ours. We read in the earliest minutes a suggestion “that members should be impressed with the necessity of keeping note books and recording the occurrence of specimens for the general use of the Society”. Here are the fore-runners of our Recorders’ Reports, which are perhaps the Society’s most valuable work, though it was not until comparatively recently that they assumed a permanent form. In 1900, in the middle of the Society’s ‘Dark Ages’ for which our records are lost, the Society had produced a little book entitled ‘The Flowering Plants, Ferns, etc. of the Country round Reading’, of which the Society fortunately has a copy.
By 1920, a lecture by Mr. Frank Comyns of Newbury on British mosses with fifty varieties exhibited and subsequently put on show in the Museum attracted an attendance of 50, although the membership at that time was only 53. This post-war period seems to have been, understandably, a time of rapid expansion and three years later membership was nearly 80. The annual expenditure per member at this time was 3/8 and the balance had risen to over £10. I was surprised, however, to read that at the A.G.M. in 1920 the Secretaries reported that walks were arranged and held in May and June but that in the latter part of July and in August the weather was too unfavourable, and in 1927 “only four rambles were held due to unsettled weather”. I do not know whether it is a tribute to the improvement in our climate or to the hardiness of the members, but I am quite unable to imagine two whole months passing in the summer with no field excursions taking place on account of weather conditions and it has certainly never happened during the period of my membership.
This was also a time of serious study, with lectures on such specialised subjects as mosses, fungi, etc. Recording groups were set up in 1922 to collect and verify records with a view to eventual publication. Recorders were substituted for the recording groups in 1923. By 1927, affairs looked much less rosy. Modern stresses set in at this time. Membership had fallen to 59 and it was stated in the annual report that the records of activities showed “variety but not encouragement” and that “owing to the busy life of mankind to-day, meetings and rambles must be reduced in number”. Monthly meetings and rambles were decided upon. In 1933, the Society seems to have been in low water numerically and financially, but there was nevertheless great activity. An exhibition was held in September to arouse interest and the South Eastern Union of Scientific Societies, which we had joined in 1916 and which was a vital and stimulating body in those days, held its Congress in Reading at the Society’s invitation in 1934. A Field Sub-committee was set up to consider forms of field work that might be undertaken; the formation of a discussion group was proposed in 1935, and it was in being in 1936; a panel of specialists was suggested; and in March 1933, Mr. Sylvester Bradley, M.R.C.S., L.R.C.P., proposed an “annual publication containing records of the Society’s work and transactions” cyclostyled at a cost of 2/6 per copy of about 100 pages. This excellent suggestion was warmly received, and had the matter been proceeded with in the proposed form, we might well now be preparing no. 40 of ‘The Reading Naturalist’ instead of no. 24. However, it was suggested that the South Eastern Union would expect a report on the Natural History of Reading and District for their Congress in the following year, grandiose plans were put forward, and in spite of wise warning notes from many Committee members of the crippling effects of publications on small societies, Mr. Bradley whipped up guarantors for a printed publication. He chose the name ‘Quaestiones Naturales’ because he thought it was impressive. The Commitee had misgivings alternatives including “The Reading Naturalist” were discussed, but ‘Quaestiones Naturales’ it was. The first number was put on sale in November 1933 at 5/- to members and 5/6 to non-members. It was a handsome printed publication, but it was never to have a successor in that form. It had cost nearly £55, and members did not respond as the rather optimistic sponsor had anticipated they would.
We now reach the point where this address was originally supposed to begin – the time about the beginning of the Second World War when I joined the Society and about which I can speak from my own, albeit rather hazy, memory. I suppose the impression of the meetings I attended in those early years could best be summed up by the word ‘cosiness’. The meeting place was, as it had been for many years, the Friends’ Institute in Church Street, whither we made our way on moon-lit nights – meetings were once a month and the dates chosen to give members the benefit of the full moon – and after groping our way through blacked-out passages, found ourselves in a room with welcoming, padded chairs and well warmed by a cheerful coal fire. I have nostalgic memories of that fire, even though its flickering light made it difficult to see the slides very clearly. The atmosphere was very friendly. I think this has always been a characteristic of our Society. In those days, it was attributable in great measure to Mr. Fishlock, who, as I remember one member saying, was a father to us all, but I like to think that the tradition continues, and I am always pleased when people say to me, as they do not infrequently, that they enjoy our meetings particularly because everyone is so friendly. Attendances kept up well during those war years in spite of lack of buses, blackout, home-guard and civil defence duties and the rest. Meetings were held once a month in winter, sometimes in the afternoon. Excursions were held every ten days alternately on Wednesday and Saturday. It is an ill wind that blows no good, and the Treasurer at least must have been pleased. Balances, which had remained alarmingly low for many years, benefited from the reduction in the number of meetings and rose spectacularly.
In my first years with the Society, tea on field excursions was generally not carried in a haversack or dufflebag, but ordered in advance at a pub. This was time-honoured practice dating from the earliest years. In 1889, tea was taken at the Bull Hotel at Goring. In 1915, it was taken at the Round Oak at Padworth after a walk from Theale Station, and in the early 1940’s we still frequently followed this programme. As the rigours of rationing increased, it became impossible to obtain tea and perforce we had to adopt the invariable practice of carrying it with us. This was bitterly disapproved of by many of the older members, who regretted the convenience and sociability of the former procedure, but was of inestimable benefit to the cause of serious natural history as there was nothing more frustrating than to toil up a long lane from the station and arrive in sight of a richly productive area only to be torn away by the threat of bringing disgrace on the party by arriving very late for tea.
Travel in the earliest years seems to have been by train, and so it was largely when I first went out, with the Society in 1940. By about ten years later we had abandoned the train for the bus, and I as it were lived right through the exclusively ‘bus’ age into the era dominated by the private car. Cars are a mixed blessing, but although they produce much confusion of organisation and are in some ways unsociable, they save a long trudge before a place of interest is reached and they carry our tea, macks, gumboots and equipment and open many places to us that were formerly inaccessible except by coach. One must not overdo the nostalgia.
An interesting activity of those war years was the collection of Atropa belladonna, Hyocyamus niger and Digitalis for drugs. There was a drying station for Atropa on Streatley Hill, and whole days were spent enjoyably and usefully collecting the leaves. I spent particularly enjoyable evenings and afternoons with the Discussion Group. Transport was always by bicycle and picnic meals were carried so that the maximum time could be spent on useful observations. We enjoyed the leadership of such distinguished authorities as Professor Hawkins, Professor Tom Harris, Dr. Watson and Dr. Hora. I realise now that the discussion group was the object of much controversy and was frowned on by many, probably rightly, as invidious because membership was by invitation. At the time I was too inexperienced in administrative matters to be conscious of such things, but I was deeply conscious of the privilege that it was to attend such meetings and of the benefit as well as pleasure that I derived from them. I only wish that it was possible for the Society now to give as much stimulating help to keen young – and not-so-young people as we received then. We do our best, but there are difficulties in the way. The group gradually faded out. There have since been requests from time to time for a study group or continuous study of an area but no comparable organised activity has ever emerged. A request in 1950 for some of our winter, meetings to be devoted to basic instruction in a definite topic was met for a time though not, I suspect, unanimously approved, and we try to include informative lectures and field meetings on specialised branches, such as mosses, lichens, etc. from time to time.
The most note-worthy achievement of the Society during my membership has undoubtedly been the establishment of its annual publication The Reading Naturalist, the less ambitious but more viable successor of the ill-fated Quaestiones Naturales. This was due largely to the vision of Mrs. Simmonds (now Mrs. Sandels) who was President at the time and of two keen young student members, L. H. Williams and Paul Betts. It had long been rightly felt that the Recorders’ Reports should be preserved in permanent form. They had hitherto been delivered orally, but had no permanence apart from the very abbreviated notes incorporated in the Minutes. In March 1949, a Sub-committee was appointed to enquire into the possibility of printing or duplicating the Reports, the go-ahead was given the following month and later in the year The Reading Naturalist no. 1 appeared. It is a modest but elegant booklet of 20 pages including, in addition to extracts from the Reports, a series of articles on Pamber Forest and a note on the Oxford ragwort. It was printed privately at the University through the good offices of Paul Betts, who was the son of the Professor of Fine Art and himself a student in the Department. Even so, it strained the Society’s slender resources, but the Members were proud of the achievement, showed faith in the future and raised the subscription from 5/- to 7/6 to finance future issues.
Dr. Hora then suggested that a key to toadstools of the Reading District that he was preparing should be incorporated in no. 2 and he would help with the cost. During the year, the proposed key grew to undreamed-of proportions, and no. 2 ran to 74 printed pages, and caused considerable financial anxiety at the time, but brought the Society to the favourable notice of a wide readership. The edition finally sold out and paid for itself, and second-hand copies are still in great demand. With the preparation of no. 3, it was decided that printing was too costly and the present duplicated form, with the familiar printed covers, was adopted and has been maintained ever since. Optimists have periodically raised the question of printing but it has always been clearly out of the question. Financing even the duplicated publication was not, and indeed is not, always easy, but welcome help was received on several occasions in the form of grants from the Cultural Committee of the Borough Council out of the profits from the Town Hall Science lectures. Later, we were able to purchase an old duplicator very cheaply through the good offices of Mr. Smallcombe and when that wore out to have the use of an electric duplicator belonging to the Corporation, and do all the running off and assembling ourselves and so effect a considerable saving. The Publication has now reached 23 numbers with the 24th in preparation, a high standard has been set, largely by Mr. D. Leatherdale and. Miss E. M. Nelmes, who between them have held the Editorship for close on twenty years, and I think it is held in what I believe to be deservedly high esteem. The reading of Recorders’ Reports at a meeting was dropped in 1959. A Preliminary List of Berkshire Micro-fungi by Dr. Harold Owen was published as a supplement to The Reading Naturalist in 1960.
Over the years, members of the Society have been involved in data gathering for a number of other publications or projected publications. I have mentioned The Flowering Plants, Ferns, etc. of the Country round Reading published in 1900. It was for many years a cherished project of Miss Kathleen Butler, the Recorder for Botany, to revise this publication. That particular plan never came to fulfilment in the anticipated form, but the knowledge gained in preparation for it stood us in good stead when many of us subsequently co-operated in square-bashing, as it came to be known, or the assembly of data on a grid basis, first of all for the Atlas of the British Flora published by the Botanical Society of the British Isles in 1962, then for Dr. Humphrey Bowen’s Flora of Berkshire published in 1968, and currently for the projected Flora of Oxfordshire. A few members also put in a lot of very hard work on projects for the Chiltern Research Committee which was set up in 1959 to survey various aspects of the natural history of that rich and rewarding area, and the tangible results produced included A Survey of Chiltern Orchids by Mrs. Vera Paul issued as a separate publication, and Mr. Cyril Leeke’s paper on muntjac in no. 22 of The Reading Naturalist.
I have seen considerable fluctuations in the Society’s fortunes and although the decade 1946-56 saw the birth of the publication; a successful Exhibition lasting nearly a month in September 1946; stands at two short Exhibitions arranged by other bodies and a further highly successful exhibition in July 1956 to mark our 75th birthday, never-the-less membership and attendances at times fell so low that we feared for our very existence. However, the birthday exhibition marked the turning point, membership passed the 100 mark a couple of years later and two events that occurred in 1958 set us still more surely on the upward path. One was a highly successful Congress of the South Eastern Union of Scientific Societies held in Reading that year and voted one of the best ever. The second was a change in our place of meeting. When the Friends’ Institute could no longer accommodate us, we had met for a short while at the Abbey Gateway and then for many years, through the good offices of Professor Hawkins, at the University. In 1958, the University could no longer find space for us and we were generously offered accommodation in the China Room of Reading Museum. Though many regretted the severing of the close link we had had for so long with the University, there was soon no doubt of the beneficial effect of the more central position on attendances. London Road, though very convenient for a few, was, inaccessible to many. After one season here, we had outgrown the China Room and were granted use of the Art Gallery to accommodate our greatly increased audiences.
There followed what must certainly be considered our boom years, with the Society more flourishing than ever before. Membership, bank balances and attendances at winter and summer events were all on the increase. The Young Naturalists’ Evening organised in conjunction with the Museum at the Town Hall as a part of the S.E.U.S.S. Congress in 1958 was repeated as a highly successful annual event until 1970. The winter walks, a pleasant and still well appreciated addition to our programme, were started in 1959. The Junior meetings for children aged up to about twelve were begun in 1961 and still continue. For this reawakening of interest we must certainly in part thank the influence of nature programmes on Radio and Television, even if we did suffer from the late arrival at meetings of members who had been listening to The Archers. The general arousing of consciousness of the threats to the countryside and wild life also played a large part and continue to do so. We cannot expect always to ride the crest of a wave and as you have heard our membership graph has bent downwards, but attendances continue to be satisfactory and discussions lively, lectures are of a very high quality and records flow in. I think it is justified to consider that this excursion into the past ends on a note of cheerfulness and reasonable optimism. I hope it has been of some interest in its own right, bringing, back happy memories to a few and filling in an empty background for many, but what can we learn from it for the future? The main outline of our activities over nearly a century has remained surprisingly constant, though with a satisfying growth. We still meet regularly in the winter months to hear lectures, by members or visitors on natural-history topics of local or broad interest or to study exhibits and, engage in discussion, but the frequency of our meetings has increased, the oxy-hydrogen lantern gave way to the epidiascope, and that now has yielded place to the film projector. We still go out into the field to enjoy and to learn, but aided by modern transport or forced by creeping urbanisation we venture further; and we go out more often and in winter as, well as summer. No major change is called for in these directions, I feel. We have established a journal of high standard to perpetuate the Recorders’ reports and the results of members’ research and observations and must strive to maintain and even improve it.
The main difference is in the type of activity. In the early years, the Victorian period, the emphasis was all on collections, whether of pressed plants, birds’ eggs, shells, stuffed skins of birds or mammals or carefully set insects. Without the reference collections painstakingly built up in those days, the precise identification that is the basis of all biological work could not have been done. You cannot make any useful observations about an organism’s behaviour or associations without first knowing what it is. But this amassing of specimens must not be needlessly repeated, and much harm was done before this was realised. As early as 1918, Dr. Stansfield in his Presidential Address on “Objects of Nature Study” deprecated the making of large collections as this “often causes a local insect or plant to be exterminated”.
The serious student of little-worked groups obviously must still collect. Others should turn their attention to the study of living plants and animals in their environment, for only by helping to build up a clearer understanding of the conditions that they need to thrive can we help the cause of conservation, which must be the aim of every true nature-lover in these threatening days. The recording to which I have referred is a contribution in this direction, but the need for information is boundless and the time at our disposal short. I will quote to you a few lines from H. N. Southern’s Presidential Address to the British Ecological Society in January 1969. “Knowledge about ecological processes comes only gradually and pain-fully. The naturalist’s flair and enthusiasm are essential in helping to make realistic models of ecological systems and to adjust and refine them. We must always value the naturalist’s capacity for extensive, often co-operative, investigation: demonstrated for example in the Nest Records Scheme of the B.T.O., which gives valuable comparative information about the breeding arrangements of a species on a countrywide basis over many years. Perhaps even more fundamental is the ability of a network of observers to collect and organise information about the distribution and history of species. This is a task quite beyond the more specialised research worker but may provide him with essential background knowledge. Moreover, this particular kind of cataloguing of knowledge must underlie management plans for nature reserves and for land use generally.”
Here, then, I am sure, is our task. How can we best set ourselves to it? I leave you to meditate upon this problem and discuss it in its many branches. There are certainly great opportunities. We are at this moment being asked for the benefit big our local knowledge and experience in planning conservation in the proposed Loddon Recreational Park. We must anticipate that this type of call upon us will recur. There are also great difficulties. Two of the latter force themselves upon our attention -or perhaps they could be better regarded as two aspects of the same difficulty. They are the exigencies of modern life and the1ack of leisure it brings in its train. People with the time to devote to regular observation in the field are scarce, but much scarcer are people with the necessary training to lead and guide them. The situation is complicated by the relation between B.B.O.N.T and ourselves. Our roles are different and complementary. The function of the Trust is to draw on the goodwill, resources and skills of the committed – ours to cast the net wider, draw in the curious and the eager, and help, encourage and stimulate them so that they join the ranks of the committed. For this we need an ample supply of skilled leaders, and for the dwindling time and energies of such people we find ourselves heavily in competition with the Trust, which it must be our aim to help and support to the limit of our power. Help us then to recruit new members – but help us especially, those of you who have the opportunity, to recruit leaders and one and all give us all you can spare of your time, energies and skills and a little of what you cannot spare.