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Ecologists get back to their roots


Top British ecologists will gather at Kingley Vale Nature Reserve in West Sussex on Tuesday 30 August to celebrate the life and work of Sir Arthur G. Tansley, widely regarded as the father of modern ecology and one of the 20th century’s most important conservationists. The event coincides with the 50th anniversary of Tansley’s death in 1955.

Present at the event, which will include the unveiling and rededication of a memorial stone to Tansley at Kingley Vale, will be vice president of the British Ecological Society Professor Sue Hartley, English Nature’s chief scientist Dr Keith Duff and representatives of the New Phytologist Trust and Tansley’s family.

According to Professor Hartley: “Arthur Tansley was one of the most influential founders of the discipline of ecology. He was the dominant figure in British ecology for the first half of the twentieth century, developed some of ecology’s most fundamental concepts such as the ecosystem, and was influential in ensuring that nature conservation in Britain had a sound scientific basis. In 1913, he created the British Ecological Society, the first such society in the world, and was its first President. His monumental book ’The British Isles and its Vegetation’ remains one of the most comprehensive accounts of any country’s natural historical wealth.”

English Nature’s chief scientist Dr Keith Duff said: “Sir Arthur Tansley had the vision to see that nature conservation, while founded in strong ecological science, had to be supported by policy makers and the public more generally. He was interested in the whole countryside, not just a few special places. With the launch in 2006 of Nature Conservancy’s latest successor, Natural England, we need to ensure that scientific legacy is maintained and used to sustain the landscapes and the wildlife that people treasure in the face of a rapidly changing environment.”

As well as being a well-known beauty spot, Kingley Vale had a particular significance for Tansley because it became an outdoor laboratory for his studies of the dynamics of wild vegetation. Tansley is reputed to have regarded the view from the head of the valley towards Chichester as the finest in England.

Tansley ensured that Kingley Vale was protected when in 1952 it became one of the first National Nature Reserves to be acquired by the Nature Conservancy, a forerunner of English Nature. In 1957 a memorial stone was erected at almost the exact spot where he had so often enjoyed the view. The memorial is a Sarsen stone from the Fyfield Down National Nature Reserve in Wiltshire. A bronze plaque on the stone now reads: “In the midst of this nature reserve which he brought into being this stone calls to memory Sir Arthur George Tansley, F.R.S., who during a long lifetime strove with success to widen the knowledge, to deepen the love, and to safeguard the heritage of nature in the British Isles. 2nd November 1957. Re-dedicated by the British Ecological Society, English Nature and the New Phytologist Trust 2005.”

Becky Allen | alfa
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