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Natural History and the VCH

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Every so often we get an enquiry about a natural history entry in a VCH red book. Largely completed before the First World War, the general volumes in each county series include natural history and provide a fascinating snap shot of the local ecology a century ago. The first natural history editor, Aubyn B.R. Trevor-Battye, recruited some of the most eminent naturalists of the day to write entries outside of his specialities. Notably the Revd T.R.R. Stebbing wrote the entries on crustaceans for all 40 counties.

Entries are often idiosyncratic and sometimes slightly bad tempered! Colbran J. Wainwright, in the introduction to the Lepidoptera section of Warwickshire Volume 1 (1904), bemoans the fact he has to rely on the Rugby School Natural History Society for a particular area as these are “..merely schoolboys’ records and naturally very untrustworthy”. Despite “many absurd errors which made one distrustful of the whole list” he admits that “no schoolboy is likely to be wrong about a species like Zeuzera pyrina, L.” and includes the reports “excluding the most improbable ones”.

Zeuzera pyrina. Photograph taken by Olaf Leillinger.

Zeuzera pyrina. Photograph taken by Olaf Leillinger.

Whilst the charm of the writing alone often makes the chapters worth reading, there is still much valuable ecological knowledge to be gained. One of our more surprising requests came from the Kazkhstan Entomological Society looking for information on a particular spider (Sardinidion blackwalli). The researcher had found a reference to the entry in The Victoria History of the County of Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely: Volume 1 (1938) but could not find a copy in any library in Kazakhstan, Russia or Finland. In these cases we are happy to assist individual researchers when we can. For more on red book publications see our website www.victoriacountyhistory.ac.uk.

This post was kindly written by Rebecca Read, VCH Administrator.

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