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Shaping Ecology: The Life of Arthur Tansley




Shaping Ecology: The Life of Arthur Tansley

Peter G. Ayres

ISBN: 978-0-470-67156-6 April 2012 Wiley-Blackwell 226 Pages

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Sir Arthur Tansley was the leading figure in ecology for the first half of the 20th century, founding the field, and forming its first professional societies. He was the first President of the British Ecological Society and the first chair of the Field Studies Council. His work as a botanist is considered seminal and he is recognized as one of the giants of ecology throughout the world.

Ecology underpins the principles and practices of modern conservation and the maintenance of biodiversity. It explains the causes of, and offers solutions to, problems of climate change. Yet ecology is a young science, barely 100 years old. Its origins lie in phytogeography, the naming and mapping of plants.

Shaping Ecology is a book about a multi-faceted man whose friends included Bertrand Russell, Marie Stopes, Julian Huxley, GM Trevelyan, and Solly Zuckerman. Historical context is provided by Tansley's family for his parents moved in the Fabian-socialist world of John Ruskin and Octavia Hill, both instrumental in the foundation of the National Trust. While Britain was relatively slow to protect its green spaces and wildlife, it did establish in 1913 the first professional Ecological Society in the world. Tansley was its President. Organising the British Vegetation Committee and initiating a series of International Phytogeographic Excursions, he changed phytogeography into ecology.

List of Figures vi

Foreword viii

Preface and Acknowledgements x

1 Kingley Vale: Worth Fighting For 1

2 The Origins of Ecology 15

3 George Tansley, Christian Socialism, and the Working Men's College 20

4 Highgate School, University College, London, and Trinity College, Cambridge 38

5 Teaching at University College, the Chicks, and Marriage to Edith 48

6 Seashores and Woodlands: Looking for Patterns 60

7 The Managing Director of British Ecology 80

8 Disillusion and Disaffection 101

9 The Oxford Years, 1927-1937 122

10 The Magnum Opus, Grantchester, and Retirement 144

11 The Years of Fulfilment, 1937-1953 155

12 A Detached Liberal Philosopher and Free-thinker 179

References 198

Index 206

“In conclusion, this book is well written and it is easy to locate specific information on Tansley and the broader contexts of his work throughout the book.”  (The British Journal for the History of Science, 1 June 2014)

“Ayres’s book shows how one man was able to create whole climates of opinion as well as a new discipline; it is warmly recommended.”  (Archives of Natural history, 1 August 2013)

“Despite hints of Tansley’s personal complexity, we are left with an appreciation of his remarkable professional legacy that continues to foster scientific alliances and conservation of nature. ”  (Ecology, 1 April 2013)

“To all of us who cherish such wild places in modern Britain, as this book reveals, we owe Tansley a great debt.”  (The Biologist, 1 June 2013)

“A valuable acquisition for institutions with programs in ecology, botany, environmental sciences, or history of science.  Summing Up: Highly recommended.  Academic and general readers, all levels.”  (Choice, 1 March 2013)

“It is directed at ecologists, but it is a straightforward biography and, as such, deserves to be widely read.”  (Journal of Insect Conservervation, 8 July 2012)