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Nature Trails: The Production of Instructive Landscapes in Britain, 1960–72

  • DAVID MATLESS (a1), CHARLES WATKINS (a1) and PAUL MERCHANT (a1)

Abstract

This paper examines the introduction of a novel and modern form of natural history education in Britain in the 1960s, the nature trail. The rise in the number of nature reserves owned by county conservation trusts and the Nature Conservancy after the Second World War raised the issue of how they might best be used by members of the public. Reserves were initially seen by many as places from which the public should be excluded. The American concept of Nature Trails was introduced by a powerful group of nature conservationists to raise the profile of nature conservation and educate people. The role of the two National Nature Weeks of 1963 and 1966 is examined. The paper concludes with a detailed case study of the planning and management of the nature trail at East Wretham Heath, Norfolk.

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1. Matless, David, Watkins, Charles and Merchant, Paul, ‘Animal Landscapes: Otters and Wildfowl in England 1945–1970’, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 30 (2005), 191205; Toogood, Mark, ‘Beyond “the toad beneath the harrow”: Geographies of Ecological Science, 1959–1965’, Journal of Historical Geography, 34 (2008), 118–37.

2. J. Allan Patmore, Land and Leisure (Harmondsworth, 1972), p. 162.

3. Ibid., p.1. Michael Dower, The Challenge of Leisure (London, 1965), p.5; Dower's study was first published as ‘Fourth Wave’ in The Architects’ Journal in January 1965, and reprinted as a pamphlet by the Civic Trust.

4. Department of the Environment, How Do You Want to Live? A Report on the Human Habitat (London, 1972), p. x-xi; Philip Larkin, High Windows (London, 1974).

5. Department of the Environment, How Do You Want to Live, p. 166.

6. Christian, Garth, Tomorrow's Countryside: The Road to the Seventies (London, 1966), p. 61.

7. Ibid., p. 177.

8. Ibid., p. 7.

9. Ibid., p. 6.

10. Ibid., p. 177.

11. Ibid, facing p. 180.

12. Cowell, Ben, ‘The Commons Preservation Society and the Campaign for Berkhamsted Common, 1866–70’, Rural History, 13:2 (2002), 145–61.

13. See the key work by Shoard, Marion, This Land is Our Land (London, 1987), and Taylor, Harvey, A Claim on the Countryside (Keele, 1997). The range of approaches to public access to the countryside is shown by the chapters in Watkins, Charles, ed., Rights of Way: Policy, Culture and Management (London, 1996).

14. See Matless, David. Landscape and Englishness (London, 1998); Colyer, R. J. Moore. ‘From Great Wen to Toad Hall: Aspects of the Urban-Rural Divide in Inter-War Britain’, Rural History, 10:1 (1999), 105–24; Brace, Catherine, ‘A Pleasure Ground for the Noisy Herds? Incompatible Encounters with the Cotswolds and England, 1900–1950’, Rural History (2000) 11, 1, 7594.

15. See George Revill and Charles Watkins, ‘Educated Access: Interpreting Forestry Commission Forest Park Guides’, in Watkins, Rights of Way, pp. 100–28; Merriman, Peter‘Respect the life of the countryside’: The Country Code, Government and the Conduct of Visitors to the Countryside in Post-War England and Wales’, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 30: 3 (2005), 336–50; Parker, Gavin, ‘The Country Code and the Ordering of Countryside Citizenship’, Journal of Rural Studies, 22:1 (2006), 116; Sheail, John, Rural Conservation in Inter-War Britain (Oxford, 1981).

16. See Allen, D. Elliston, The Naturalist in Britain: A Social History (London, 1976). Also Naylor, Simon, ‘The Field, the Museum and the Lecture Hall: The Spaces of Natural History in Victorian Cornwall’, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 27:4 (2002), 494513; Withers, Charles W. J. and Finnegan, Diarmid A., ‘Natural History Societies, Fieldwork and Local Knowledge in Nineteenth-Century Scotland: Towards a Historical Geography of Civic Science’, Cultural Geographies, 10:3 (2003), 334–53 (part of special issue on ‘Field Cultures’).

17. Marren, P., The New Naturalists (London, 1995); Watkins, Charles, Matless, David and Merchant, Paul, ‘Cultures of Nature: Botany in Herefordshire 1945–1970’ in Walford, Nigel and Evans, Nick, eds, Innovations in Rural Areas (Clermont-Ferrand, 2003) pp. 1127; Matless, Landscape and Englishness.

18. Elliot, Paul, Watkins, Charles and Daniels, Stephen, eds, Historical and Cultural Geographies of the Arboretum, Garden History 35 Supplement 2 (2007).

19. Frank E. Lutz, Nature Trails an Experiment in Out-Door Education. Miscellaneous Publication 21, The American Museum of Natural History (New York, 1926). The term trail had become well established in the American National Park Service. Horace Albright's National Park ‘creed’ of 1916 included the ‘harmonisation’ of trails and other improvements with the landscape. See Albright, Horace M. and Schenck, Marian Albright, Creating the National Park Service: the Missing Years (Oklahoma, 1999), p. 246.

20. Lewis, Ralph H., Museum Curatorship in the National Park Service 1904–1982, National Park Service (Washington, 1993), p. 38.

21. Lutz, p. 3.

22. Lutz, p. 36.

23. J. N. Rogers wrote in 1930 that ‘much interest is being shown in the new nature trails at Yosemite National Park’, Yosemite Nature Notes, 9:3 (March 1930), p. 17. Rogers also claims that the first nature trail in the United States was at Yosemite: at Wawona, Major John Bigelow established an arboretum of around one hundred acres with ‘one main trail and several branch trails’, where trees were labelled with English and Latin names. See also Theodore Catton, Wonderland: An Administrative History of Mount Rainier National Park (1996). http://www.nps.gov/archive/mora/adhi/adhi.htm.

24. The Nature Conservancy was established in 1949. See Sheail, John, Nature in Trust: The History of Nature Conservation in Britain (London, 1976). See also Sheail, JohnNature Conservation in Britain: The Formative Years (London, 1998); Sheail, John, ‘From Aspiration to Implementation – The Establishment of the First National Nature Reserves in Britain’, Landscape Research, 21:1(1996), 3754; Evans, David, A History of Nature Conservation in Britain (London, 1992).

25. For example, the Lincolnshire sub-committee of the Nature Reserves Investigation Committee recommended sixteen local nature reserves which were conveniently placed for schools in Lincolnshire. Sheail, Nature in Trust, p. 168.

26. Smith, Ted, Trustees for Nature (Horncastle, 2007), p. 54.

27. Ted Smith, Trustees for Nature, p. 80.

28. Sheail, Nature in Trust, p. 236. After twenty years the functions of the Council for Nature were taken over in 1979 by the Council for Environmental Conservation.

29. ‘National Nature Week’, May 1961. Council for Nature Archive: 9/3/1. Linnean Society, London.

30. Ibid.

31. Ibid.

32. ‘National Nature Week: An Outline of Proposed Activities’, 10th June, 1961. Council for Nature Archive: 9/3/1.

33. ‘National Nature Week, 1962’ Council for Nature Archive: 9/3/1.

34. Ibid.

35. ‘National Nature Week 1966. Information Sheet No 8. – How to Plan a Nature Trail. 20/9/65.’ Council for Nature Archive: 10/1/1.

36. BBC Home Service – Town and Country 16th May 1963, 6.40pm, audience: 150,000 Council for Nature Archive: 9/14.

37. Richard Fitter, Fitter's Rural Rides (London, 1963), quotation inside front cover. The Intelligence Unit was set up with a grant of £5000 per year from the BBC; Sheail, Nature in Trust, p. 236.

38. ‘National Nature Week. Nature Trails’, Council for Nature Archive: 9/10.

39. Ted Smith, Trustees for Nature, p. 78.

40. Beinn Eighe was the first National Nature Reserve established in 1951. A biography of Dick Balharry is at http://www.highlandnaturalists.com/biography/dick-balharry?page=0%2C2.

41. ‘Urban Nature Trails’, Council for Nature Archive: 9/10.

42. Marren, New Naturalists; see for example Fitter, Richard, London's Natural History (London, 1945), Nicholson, E. M., Birds and Men (London, 1951).

43. ‘Urban Nature Trails’, Council for Nature Archive: 9/10.

44. Council for Nature Archive: 9/11/2.

45. BBC Light Programme – The Archers, 17th May 1963, 6.45p.m., audience: 3½ million. Mr Grenville is a landowner; Tom Forrest is his gamekeeper.

46. ‘All Nature is Your Field’, Eastern Daily Press, 18th May 1963. Council for Nature Archive: 9/13.

47. Letter from John Clegg to D. J. B. Copp 26th July 1962. Council for Nature Archive: 9/9.

48. Letter from D. J. B. Copp to J. Clegg 30th July 1962. Council for Nature Archive: 9/9.

49. Council for Nature Archive: 9/9.

50. Letter from Margaret Bradshaw to D. J. B. Copp, 6th June 1963. Council for Nature Archive: 9/9.

51. Letter from D. J. B. Copp to Margaret Bradshaw, 7th June 1963. Council for Nature Archive: 9/9.

52. Nicholson, E. M., ‘Nature Conservation in Perspective’, in Nature Conservancy, The Countryside in 1970 (London, 1964), pp. 203206, quotation p. 204.

53. Smith, A. E., ‘The County Naturalists’ Trusts’, in Nature Conservancy, The Countryside in 1970 (London, 1964), pp. 255260, quotation p. 259.

54. On Lancaster see Knox, James, Cartoons and Coronets. The Genius of Osbert Lancaster (London, 2008).

55. ‘Nature on the Run’, Daily Telegraph 17th May 1963. Council for Nature Archive: 9/13.

56. Richard Fitter, ‘Our Landscape in Peril’, The Observer 2nd September 1962. Council for Nature Archive: 9/3/1.

57. BBC Television – What's New? 14th May 1963, 5.25p.m. Council for Nature Archive: 9/14.

58. ‘Information Sheet No. 2. Living with Nature: The Theme of National Nature Week’, Council for Nature Archive: 10/1/1.

59. ‘Press Release. A Million People for Nature Week?’, 1st April 1966. Council for Nature Archive: 10/6/3.

60. Front page and Monday preview from Radio Times 21st April 1966. Council for Nature Archive: 10/6/3.

61. ‘Press Release’, 28th April 1965. Council for Nature Archive: 10/6/3.

62. ‘Bubo Spreads her Wings in Preview’, The Times 29th April 1965. Council for Nature Archive: 10/5.

63. ‘A Million People for Nature Week?’, 1st April 1966. Council for Nature Archive: 10/6/3.

64. ‘Information Sheet No 8: How to Plan a Nature Trail’, 20th September 1965, p.3. Council for Nature Archive: 10/1/1.

65. ‘Information Sheet No 8: How to Plan a Nature Trail’, 20th September 1965, p.2. Council for Nature Archive: 10/1/1.

66. ‘National Nature Week 23–30 April 1966. Schools’ Information Sheet.’ 31st January 1966. Council for Nature Archive: 10/1/1.

67. The establishment of nature reserves and trails can be seen as a refined type of the ‘third countryside’ of tourism, ‘the landscape of non-agricultural incomers’ described by Martins, Susanna Wade and Williamson, Tom, The Countryside of East Anglia: Changing Landscapes, 1870–1950 (Woodbridge, 2008), p. 180.

68. Norfolk Naturalists’ Trust, East Wretham Heath Nature Reserve and Trail (Norwich, 1972).

69. See Eric Duffey's chapter on Breckland in Norfolk Naturalists’ Trust, Nature in Norfolk: A Heritage in Trust (Norwich, 1976), pp.62–77; Skipper, Kate and Williamson, Tom, Thetford Forest: Making a Landscape, 1922–1997 (Norwich, 1997).

70. The Norfolk Naturalists’ Trust had previously established a nature trail on the royal Sandringham estate in west Norfolk as part of National Nature Week 1966, issuing a leaflet for self-guiding visitors: ‘By following the coloured markers, you will come to numbered stations; these are keyed to the paragraphs in this descriptive leaflet’. The Queen was Patron of the Trust: ‘Please treat Her Majesty's property with respect and leave any litter in the bins provided’; Norfolk Naturalists’ Trust, Nature Trail. Sandringham (Norwich, 1966). In May 1970 the Norfolk Naturalists’ Trust instigated a ‘Water Trail’ at their Hickling Broad Reserve.

71. East Wretham Heath Working Party, report of the meeting, 6th June 1969, Norfolk Wildlife Trust Archive.

72. ‘Breckland “Invaders”’, Eastern Daily Press, 27th May 1966, Norfolk Naturalists’ Trust Press Cuttings Book No. 1, Norfolk Wildlife Trust archive.

73. ‘Breckland “Invaders”’, Eastern Daily Press, 1st June 1966, Norfolk Naturalists’ Trust Press Cuttings Book No. 1, Norfolk Wildlife Trust archive.

74. ‘Breckland “Invaders”’, Eastern Daily Press, 1st June 1966, Norfolk Naturalists’ Trust Press Cuttings Book No. 1, Norfolk Wildlife Trust archive. Bull reflects on his life and work as farmworker and naturalist in The Lowing Herd (Watton, 1999), with a chapter on his period as head cowman at Church Farm, Cranworth, including his acting as local recorder from 1962 for the Common Bird Census, and a further chapter on life in Breckland in the early 1950s, including the bird and plant life at East Wretham, the subsequent effects of myxomatosis and leisure, and the role of the Norfolk Naturalists’ Trust, pp.86–90. In this retrospective account Bull expresses scepticism over the forms of restriction and regulation introduced by the Norfolk Naturalists’ Trust and their ‘ex-Naval officer’ warden (p.90), and in interview, 24th March 2002, suggested a difference in ethos at that time between the Norfolk Naturalists’ Trust and the Norfolk and Norwich Naturalists’ Society, setting himself within the latter's knowledgeable culture of nature, with the Norfolk Naturalists’ Trust as a landowning body, administered by a non-naturalist, ex-military, secretary G. R. Montgomery, and not always so well informed.

75. East Wretham Heath Working Party, report of the meeting, 6th June 1969, Norfolk Wildlife Trust Archive.

76. East Wretham Heath Nature Reserve Management Committee, minutes 9th April 1970, Norfolk Wildlife Trust Archive.

77. The date of 23rd May 1971 is recorded on a commemorative plaque on the house, which also acknowledges the ‘generous contribution’ made by the World Wildlife Fund towards costs. However the minutes of the East Wretham Heath Nature Reserve Management Committee, 1st December 1970, indicate that the opening ceremony had been planned for 21st March, and there is no subsequent minute noting any change of date. On Ellis see David Matless ‘Versions of Animal-Human: Broadland, c.1945–1970’, in Chris Philo and Chris Wilbert, eds, Animal Spaces, Beastly Places (London, 2000), pp. 115–140.

78. Letter, W. G. Collins to P. A. Wright, 17th April 1970, file: East Wretham Reserve misc., Norfolk Wildlife Trust Archive.

79. Letter, G. R. Montgomery to P. A. Wright, 15th May 1970, file: East Wretham Reserve misc., Norfolk Wildlife Trust Archive.

80. E. A. Ellis, ‘Precious Oasis’, Eastern Daily Press, 22nd May 1970, Norfolk Naturalists’ Trust Press Cuttings Book No. 2, Norfolk Wildlife Trust Archive.

81. ‘Report on the Public Use of East Wretham Heath Nature Reserve by the Warden’, July 1970, East Wretham Heath Nature Reserve Management Committee file, Norfolk Wildlife Trust Archive.

82. East Wretham Heath Nature Reserve Management Committee, minutes 12th August 1971, Norfolk Wildlife Trust Archive.

83. East Wretham Heath Nature Reserve Management Committee, minutes 1st December 1970, Norfolk Wildlife Trust Archive.

84. East Wretham Heath Nature Reserve Management Committee, minutes 16th March 1971, Norfolk Wildlife Trust Archive.

85. East Wretham Heath Nature Reserve Management Committee, minutes 12th August 1971, Norfolk Wildlife Trust Archive. The Forestry Commission had established two Forest Walks with guide leaflets in Breckland, at King's Forest and Santon Downham; see Herbert Edlin, East Anglian Forests (London, 1972).

86. Clarke, W. G., In Breckland Wilds (London, 1925), second edition with revisions by Rainbird Clarke, Cambridge, 1937. On the two editions, and the cultural landscapes of Breckland prehistory, see Matless, David, ‘Properties of Ancient Landscape: The Present Prehistoric in Twentieth-Century Breckland’, Journal of Historical Geography, 34:1(2008), 6893.

87. East Wretham Heath Nature Reserve Management Committee, minutes 1st November 1971, Norfolk Wildlife Trust Archive. There are two versions of minutes for this meeting, one seemingly simply an expanded version of the other; the information here on Peake, and on the detail of the trail route, is from the longer version.

88. East Wretham Heath Nature Reserve Management Committee, minutes 8th May 1972, Norfolk Wildlife Trust Archive.

89. Norfolk Naturalists’ Trust, East Wretham Heath Nature Reserve and Trail (Norwich, 1972).

90. East Wretham Heath Nature Reserve Management Committee, minutes 26th October 1972, Norfolk Wildlife Trust Archive.

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Nature Trails: The Production of Instructive Landscapes in Britain, 1960–72

  • DAVID MATLESS (a1), CHARLES WATKINS (a1) and PAUL MERCHANT (a1)

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