Saturday, 16 April 2011

N is for Naturalist – that’s what N is for ...

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.

Selborne House, Hampshire: Gilbert White’s
home is now his museum;
but also contains
 Lawrence Oates’  memorabilia – he was the
Antarctic Explorer
known for the manner of his
death, when he walked from a tent into a
blizzard, with the words "I am just going
outside and may be some time"
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

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories



This was wonderful Hilary, I love nature and this was right up my street,

Only yesterday I recieved a letter from the owner of my apartment saying I have to stop feeding the garden birds because it encourages the squirrels.......and I just adore squirrels too.Seems someone who lives above complained.

Enjoy your week-end

Rosaria Williams said...

Such a fascinatingly rich post for N challenge. Cool.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Yvonne .. many thanks - it's long, but all four had to go in .. or none at all.

People just don't seem to understand - we had the same problem here - feeding the pigeons, that upset the tv aerials (it's just they're old and pointing to the wrong transmission mast!). The pigeons are still around, as are the squirrels .. and I gave them some extra help during the winter - as it was so so cold and made sure they had fresh water .. not frozen over.

Wildlife and towns don't mix .. or seem not to .. bird feeders should be alright ...

You too enjoy your weekend .. don't like that they can't discuss it with you first .. thinking of you .. Hilary

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Rosaria .. so pleased you enjoyed it - certainly there is a lot more I could say! A cool "N" is a high five in my books!

Enjoy the rest of the weekend .. Hilary

Susan Scheid (Raining Acorns) said...

Wonderful addition to your excellent series! These four naturalists have given us much, indeed. As an addendum on the subject of Charles Darwin, David Nice, a man of many talents, including working with BBC3, recently wrote a couple of lovely posts about Darwin, which, if I do this correctly, you should be able to find here
and here.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Raining Acorns .. THANK YOU so much for this comment - that adds to the mix .. I'm going to check the posts out now .. there's so much more to these men - but I'm meant to be doing short?! so I kept it briefish!! Delighted you enjoyed it.

Good to see you - enjoy Sunday .. looks like it might be a lovely day .. Hilary

Southpaw said...

Another wonderful post. The blenny is a funky looking thing.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Holly .. hope all is well .. good to see you back and delighted you enjoyed it .. isn't the Blenny great!! Cheers and have a peaceful weekend .. Hilary

Inger said...

What a great blog you have here, I really enjoyed this post and will have to find time to go back and check your earlier ones. I lived in London and Kent for a couple of years in the early 1960s and have loved England ever since.--Inger

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

The caption on the one picture about Lawrence Oates fascinated me. Perhaps you could do a post on him.

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

We saw our first red-headed woodpecker this morning, just outside our door. Yes--took pics.

Lovely pics, Carole. Blenny looks just like one of my relatives.

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed your post, Hilary. I've actually heard of a couple of these naturalists. I always enjoy the pictures you share.

Joanne said...

Interesting how so much is really connected in nature. I plant marigolds around my vegetable garden ... to attract bees to pollinate the tomato and vegetable plants, plus I've heard that the scent of marigolds repels mosquitoes. I don't know if that's true, but I hope so!

Theresa Milstein said...

Nice to know there are naturalists since 1600s. Good word choice for the letter N.

Mason Canyon said...

Another interesting post. Darwin and the earthworm, I never knew. Hope you have a great weekend.

Thoughts in Progress

Mariette said...

Dearest Hilary,

Great idea to work the alphabet in such an educational way!
Have a great Sunday.

Lots of love,


Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Canyon Girl .. thank you - I enjoyed you're walking me round your canyon. Just been back for your tour through Nature in the seasons.

So much has changed here since those days!

@ Susan .. I'm glad I put that note in .. when I read it .. it hit a chord. They had a tv programme on one of the Antarctic expeditions last night .. but I didn't watch - now I should have done!

@ Joylene .. how gorgeous and so glad you were able to take a quick picture. Red-headed woodpecker .. just sounds a superb looking bird!

Thank you - couldn't resist the Blenny shot.

@ Susanne - many thanks .. I think Gilbert White and Darwin will be known to people .. but I hadn't heard of Ray or Montagu. Thanks - glad the photos tie in.

@ Joanne .. companion planting does make sense .. and I too gather that marigolds deter some insects - perhaps mosquitoes as you so desire!

Almost time for you to plant .. and you might be two weeks ahead as we are here .. possibly not - as your snow lingered rather!

@ Theresa - learned men have been recording things since the Greek times and earlier per the Almanacs found in Mesopotamia .. but with the advent of the printing press and books .. more could be noted down and written about.

Glad you enjoyed my 'N' word - thank you.

@ Mason - yes Darwin wrote a book on the earthworm, but eighty years before Gilbert White had realised the value of the earthworm:

"Earthworms, though in appearance a small and despicable link in the chain of nature, yet, if lost, would make a lamentable chasm. [...] worms seem to be the great promoters of vegetation, which would proceed but lamely without them..."

This came from White's page in Wikipedia ..

@ Mariette .. delighted you're enjoying my ABC's of the British Countryside .. you too have a good Sunday ..

Thanks so much everyone - always delighted to see you .. cheers - Hilary

K.C. Woolf said...

Great post and very educational!

It reminded me of a trip a few years ago, when I had the chance to visit Muir Woods, near San Francisco, I learnt about John Muir there, another great naturalist and the 'Father of the National Parks' in the US.


Hold my hand: a social worker's blog said...

Another fascinating post. You made me think of those four men, back in their studying days, I imagine their passion, and patience-- observing, writing, experimenting.

Raining Acorn's links seem quite interesting. I'll check them out.

Have a wonderful weekend, Hilary!


Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ KC .. many thanks .. I remember seeing John Muir's name some while ago .. perhaps not now I've just looked him up!

Interesting to know about Muir Woods near SF .. might remember to visit when I next get back to the USA. These men and women who dedicate themselves to specific projects really deserve all the accolades we can give them and remember them by ..

So pleased you enjoyed the post ..

@ Doris .. you're right the dedication they all put in - recording, writing detailed reports, drawing, painting and preserving the natural parts, which are still available today for research.

Exactly as you say - their passion .. complete and utter dedication to their work.

Yes - Raining Acorn's links are interesting .. so glad you're checking them out.

You too enjoy Sunday .. lovely day here .. Mum and I watched the end of the Shanghai Grand Prix .. and the start of the London Marathon - then she was tired .. I'll go back later.

Thanks KC and Doris .. so good to see you here .. many thanks - Hilary

N. R. Williams said...

Interesting. I was especially touched by the fact that they also asked why? Not just writer's ask that question, all educated folks do to.
N. R. Williams, The Treasures of Carmelidrium.

MorningAJ said...

Selborne is on my wish list. I loved a trip I made to Down House a couple of years ago. Somehow I think Selborne would be even more atmospheric.

I didn't know about Ray. Thanks for this great summary of some great men.

baygirl32 said...

combtooth blenny - he's a sight wow

TALON said...

What a wonderful post, Hilary. Some of the most interesting things are right outside our back doors.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Nancy .. you're right - but particularly back then .. no-one knew why - now sometimes we know or suspect half the truth, or know a great deal .. but still need to ask the 'why' question. We certainly don't know it all ..

Great comment ..

@ Morning AJ - now I've read up about Selborne .. mine too, as is Downe House .. I really must go. Selborne, with Oates' collection in there too, must be an amazing museum to look around.

I to didn't know Ray .. but these chaps were incredible self-educators ..

Delighted you enjoyed reading about these four Naturalists.

@ Baygirl .. Combtooth Blenny - couldn't resist the photo or the name! - so good to know you appreciated its inclusion ..

@ Talon - gosh! well said! .. Nature is at its best right outside our back door .. as you so well know with your beautiful photos ..

Thanks everyone - wonderful to see you .. cheers Hilary

klahanie said...

Hi Hilary,
Apologies for not responding on the letter 'M'. Now where are my 'manors'? :)
Anyhow, I noted the title of your 'N' posting and thought aha, a posting on 'Naturist' :) Seriously, my friend, your ongoing informative submissions are truly fascinating and I greatly appreciate them.
'O', what might be next? :)
Cheers, Gary....

MunirGhiasuddin said...

I am so glad that an other blogger recommended your blog. This is an amazing post. I learned so much. At first I thought that Blenny was an immitation. What an elobrate work of nature Wow.

Trisha said...

Naturalists are cool, I like them! :D And I too love nature. But I do love myself a city too ;)

Ella said...

WE owe a lot to these four; It has changed so much of your view and how we deal with science. Great post n' tribute~

Hold my hand: a social worker's blog said...

Dear Hilary,
I've given you the Kreativ Blogger Award!


Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Gary .. no need to apologise .. just love having your comments and fun takes on life .. they give me a good smile .. your 'M' manors are perfect just as they are .. and as long as you're in Leek I have no problems with 'N' for Naturist!! Oh for oh Okes?! Fun .. enjoy the week ahead ...

@ Munir .. a pleasure to meet you - and I'm so pleased Doris (from Hold my Hand a Social Worker's Blog) recommended you visit ..

Your blog is so interesting .. and I'd recommend others pay you a visit .. lots to learn there. Doris awarding you the Kreativ Bloggers Award is a great tribute.

These men of letters - early scientists in all the disciplines - are the backbone of our learning today. So the WOW is right!

@ Trisha .. it's the appreciation of nature that counts .. being aware that everything impinges on everything else - so great you love all places - cities, towns and country ...

@ Ella - we do owe them a great deal and we are still learning from them .. and our appreciation of nature continues to expand. Thank you.

@ Doris .. how wonderful - I'm stunned .. Kreativ Blogger Award ... I shall be over to collect!! Many thanks ..

Thank you so much everyone - appreciate your comments and love meeting new people - Munir... have good weeks ahead .. cheers Hilary

Ellie Garratt said...

You always put so much effort into your posts and I leave having learnt a great deal. Thank you!

Ellie Garratt

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Ellie .. good to see you - and many thanks .. it's great you appreciate the postings ... it's a pleasure for me doing them ...

Have a good week - looks glorious outside .. cheers Hilary said...

Lovely post. We always thought my older brother would be a naturalist or zoologist, but he became an archaeologist and a librarian instead. :O)

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Madeleine .. I'd have said you're almost right?! Sounds like a great brother to have .. with lots of information to pass on .. & no doubt in sensible useful chunks.

I'd love a brother with those qualifications .. so interesting ..

Cheers - Hilary

J.D. Meier said...

> one of the first to bring a trained and inquiring mind
That is such a powerful skill for life.

Curiosity didn't kill the cat ... it made it smarter over time, with trial and error.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi JD .. this wasn't one of mine .. but I loved the thought expressed - now enhanced by your statement 'Curiosity didn't kill the cat .. it made it smarter over time, with trial and error'! Such an obvious observation .. we forget we learn so much by looking around and trying new things ..

Great comment - many thanks - Hilary