The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

July 9, 2016

July 9, 1929

Derek Ratcliffe (July 9, 1929 to May 23,2005) in his role as British ecologist furthered the cause of conservation, which included his crucial field work. Some of these reports include that casual poetry with which botany often flowers. I mean details like this in Ratcliffe's Lakeland: the wildlife of Cumbria (2002)

... Sea spurge and Portland spurge are plentiful, along with field gentian, sticky storksbill, common centaury, carline thistle, sand cat's-tail, early forget-me-not and small cudweed.

Ratcliffe was a shy, modest, determined, scholarly, and kindly man, who corresponded by hand with hundreds of friends and associates. In retirement, he remained active in conservation, and developed a keen interest in the wildlife of northern Scandinavia, spending six to eight weeks in a dormobile each spring with his wife, Jeannette, observing wild nature; this culminated in the publication of
Lapland: a Natural History (2005). He died in his sleep, on 23 May 2005, at the Pembroke Caravan Park near Leeming Bar, Northallerton; he had just set out from Cambridge on his fifteenth annual expedition to Fennoscandia. The cause of death was heart failure. He was survived by his wife.

Thus concludes his Oxford Dictionary of National Biography article. We quote further, making only slight changes in order to fulfill a diverse narrative purpose.

... His first step on the literary ladder was a school essay on peregrines and ravens, for which he won a prize at Carlisle grammar school. ....

In 1947 Ratcliffe won a city corporation scholarship to study zoology at Sheffield University. Bored by dull practicals and lectures, he switched to botany and found inspiration in the teaching of Roy Clapham and colleagues. He graduated in 1950 with first-class honours in botany, and won a Nature Conservancy studentship at the University College of North Wales, Bangor. There he studied mountain vegetation under the supervicsion of Paul Richards, completing his PhD in 1953. There followed a year's national service in the Royal Army Education Corps at Catterick. In 1956 he was appointed scientific officer in the Nature Conservancy in Edinburgh, where he worked on the Scottish Highlands Vegetation Survey, and was promoted to senior scientific officer in 1958. .... Many of the areas he visited had not been formally studied before, and some of the fieldwork entailed bicycle and foot journeys of more than thirty miles in successive days. ...

During 1961-2, on behalf of the British Trust for Ornithology, Ratcliffe led the first national survey of peregrine falcons. The Home Office, which wanted facts and figures to address concerns from pigeon fanciers alleging that peregrines were ruining their sport ... The upshot of the survey was a milestone in environmental science: Ratcliffe found that numbers of peregrines were in decline, and in some parts of Britain they had ceased to breed. The cause of the decline was persistent pesticides, notably DDT, which caused eggshell thinning and catastrophic breeding failure. Ratcliffe published a classic paper on eggshell thinning in the journal Nature in 1967....

Ratcliffe had transferred to the Nature Conservancy's Monks Wood experimental station in 1963, where he continued his work on peregrines and other raptors, and in 1966 he was promoted to principal scientific officer. A year later he was appointed scientific assessor to the Nature Conservancy's nature conservation review, which developed into a major inventory of Britain's best sites for wildlife and habitats. At the heart of this work was the exposition of a philosophy for nature conservation founded on the use of such concepts as 'diversity', 'fragility', and 'naturalness', which enabled scientists systematically to compare sites and even regions. This became, and remained, the cornerstone of nature conservation, culminating in the publication of the two-volume book edited by Ratcliffe, A Nature Conservation Review (1977). In 1970 Ratcliffe had been appointed deputy director (scientific) of the Nature Conservancy, based at Belgrave Square, London, and on new year's day 1974 he became chief scientist of the newly established Nature Conservancy Council. During the late 1970s and 1980s, until his retirement in 1989, Ratcliffe effectively led the science base of the statutory nature conservation movement, providing leadership for the designation of hundreds of sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs) and the opposition to the large-scale afforestation of upland areas in the 1980s.

On 22 March 1978 he married (Marie) Jeannette Chan-Mo, a 33-year-old personal secretary ....

During six decades, from his early encounters with wildlife through to difficult and sometimes strained relations with politicians and senior civil servants, Ratcliffe earned himself the status, according to the Sunday Times, of one of the people who had most influenced the twentieth century.

His publications were remarkable for the breadth of subjects in which he had expert knowledge. He published two classic bird monographs, The Peregrine Falcon (1980)... and The Raven (1997)...He enjoyed writing about his travels and experiences, and captured these first in Highland Flora (1977), later in his memoir of early years in the field, In Search of Nature (2000), and finally in Galloway and the Borders (2007), published after his death...... He was an outstanding photographer, with some of his pictures becoming conservation icons, such as the wave of conifers breaking over the uplands of Kirkcudbrightshire, Rannoch Moor with its relict pine stumps exposed, and the great beeches of the New Forest. He received several awards, including ... in 1983 appointment to the order of the Golden Ark, of the Netherlands, for his 'pioneering work on the effects of pesticides on birds of prey, and his major contribution to the science of nature conservation'.

We owe Derek Ratcliffe, and those complaining pigeon fanciers, a whole lot.

No comments: