25 March 2015

Tree planting commemorates founding father of ecology

Three hornbeam trees were planted at Wytham Woods on International Forest Day, 21 March, to mark the forthcoming publication of Professor Charles Elton’s diaries and a display in the Oxford Museum of Natural History. The diaries cover his visits to Wytham Woods and the Oxfordshire landscape from the early 1940s when the Woods were bequeathed to the University.

Professor Elton (who died in 1991) is revered as a founding father of field ecology and population dynamics. In the 1930s, he established and directed the Bureau of Animal Populations (Department of Zoological Field Studies) in Oxford and became founding editor of the Journal of Animal Ecology.  From 1942 he studied Wytham Woods and the surrounding farmland. Literally hundreds of theses and papers have developed seminal hypotheses and reported observations and experiments in the wake of Elton’s work, making Wytham one the most intensively studied areas of woodland in the world.

His diaries had been stored in the Natural History Museum but were not widely known about.  However, thanks to the efforts of Professor Caroline Pond, herself once a student of Elton’s, they have been converted into a digital version that will be available via the Oxford Research Archive.

The Conservator of Wytham Woods, Nigel Fisher, commented: ‘The ecological concepts that Professor Elton developed still guide the management undertaken within Wytham Woods as well as the wider landscape. He particularly opened our eyes to the importance of preserving deadwood within woodlands.’

Read more about Professor Elton and his work at Wytham in this Forestry Journal article Forestry Journal - Wytham Woods (5,235kb).