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    Pioneers of conservation; The Selborne Society and the (Royal) SPB

    Clarke, Richard (2004) Pioneers of conservation; The Selborne Society and the (Royal) SPB. Working Paper. The Selborne Society and Birkbeck College CEPAR, London, UK.

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    The Selborne Society, born in 1885, and the pioneer of nature conservation in Britain, had an auspicious birth, a promising childhood, a stormy adolescence, and a dull and fitful middle age. A century ago it was a hugely influential national conservation organisation, the first such in Europe. In the mid 1950s, on reaching its three score and ten, it all but died, but was rescued and reborn to become the unique and flourishing local natural history society that it remains today, managing what is, arguably, Britain’s first ever nature reserve, Perivale Wood. The outlines of the story are well known, at least to the Society’s present members, and were admirably presented in a booklet by Michael Blackmore1 in 1985 on the occasion of the Society’s centenary. Much of the interest however (and not a little of the devil) lies in the detail. 2004 is a good year to revisit the history of the Selborne Society, because 100 years ago it was at a watershed in its fortunes. In 1904 the Society for the Protection of Birds, which the Selborne Society had helped to form (and which had already overtaken it in membership and influence) received its royal charter, and became the RSPB. In that year also, Wilfred Mark Webb of Hanwell became General Secretary of the Selborne Society, which he was to dominate for nearly half a century. The story of Webb and of the Ealing branch of the Society are well documented (and form much of the focus of Blackmore’s history). Less well documented – until now, still dispersed in the archives – are other stories, in particular, the Selborne Society’s relationship with wider events and with other organisations and people. Amongst the latter were Edward Alfred Martin, in 1904 secretary of the Selborne Society’s branch in Croydon, where the ‘Fin, Fur and Feather Folk’, a precursor of the RSPB, had first met. This booklet focuses on the two decades either side of 1904, from the Selborne Society’s formation in 1885 to its transformation into a lecture bureau in the mid 1920s, and in particular, on its relationship with the (R)SPB over this period. It is a celebration of the Selborne Society, and also of the lives of Webb, Martin and indeed all early pioneers of conservation. It is also issued in celebration of the centenary of the Charter of the Selborne Society’s own fledgling (and sometime antagonist) which has grown so strong in its maturity, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. Like the RSPB’s own centenary history2 it is a ‘warts and all’ account. It documents a period when nature conservation and natural history were awkward bedfellows, sometimes complementary but as often in conflict about ends as well as means. It is a period that also has lessons to teach us about conservation today.


    Item Type: Monograph (Working Paper)
    Additional Information: ISBN: 0907904149
    School: Birkbeck Faculties and Schools > Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences > School of Social Sciences
    Depositing User: Richard Clarke
    Date Deposited: 01 Oct 2013 11:48
    Last Modified: 02 Aug 2023 17:07


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