|Cirl Bunting – named by Montagu|
Human curiosity might have set the ‘old world’ explorers off in search of new things that became known as the Age of Exploration, but as important was the Age of Discovery at home particularly during the 1600s – 1800s when four Naturalists really contributed significantly to knowledge of the environment.
Britain’s rich, diverse plant and animal life has always encouraged the study of natural history. These four Naturalists stand out in the three hundred year period of the 1600s to the end of the 19th century.
The scholar John Ray (1628 – 1705) has been called the father of English natural history, as his influence on naturalists was profound ... despite the fact that he wrote in Latin.
Ray, the son of a blacksmith, went to Cambridge University, from where he published his history of plants; he was working on a system of natural classification – which became the foundation for the Swedish naturalist, Carolus Linnaeus (1707 – 1778), to base his classification system of naming every living thing with two Latin words: the system we use today.
Gilbert White (1720 – 1793) was one of the first to bring a trained and inquiring mind to bear on the simple but profound events of his native countryside – he wanted to know why things happened. He wrote all his observations down in the form of letters, which to this day give pleasure to amateur naturalists and set the pattern for accuracy and attention to detail on which modern science is built.
Combtooth Blenny – named by Linnaeus
commonly known as Montagu’s Blenny
George Montagu (1751 – 1815) was one of the most capable and wide-ranging naturalists of the 18th and 19th centuries. He was famous for his Ornithological Dictionary (1802) and a classic textbook on British molluscs.
Montagu is particularly known for his knowledge of birds, because of his rational approach and keen knowledge of the subject, he exerted a considerable influence on the development of bird study.
Montagu corresponded with White .. but his letters lack the charm of the scholar, White, from Selborne, Hampshire; Montagu’s style was vigorous, an acute observer who recorded in plain descriptive writing.
Last but by no means least, Charles Darwin (1809 – 1882), who despite his international reputation, was a countryman at heart. After his studies, and travels on HMS Beagle, he settled in Kent writing, recording and studying a range of subjects ... including the strange forms developed by orchids; insect eating plants; the role of earthworms; and the humble bumble bee.
Darwin's "sandwalk" at Down House
was his usual "Thinking Path"
Darwin established that each orchid flower was so adapted to ensure cross-fertilisation of a particular type of insect; the fact that the earthworm was essential in the production of vegetable mould; while the male bumble bee had regular flight paths which did not vary greatly from year to year.
These four Naturalists with their observational methods, detailed reports and careful recording of living experiments gave us the environmental knowledge platform that we continue to utilise and learn from today.
These are Naturalists - that is what N is for ..
Part of the ABC - April 2011 - A - Z Challenge - Aspects of the British Countryside
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