Wildlife heroes: the amateur naturalist

I never met Ron Watts but have a deep affinity with him. He had a love of a place that matters a lot to me – Charlcombe Valley on the eastern side of Bath. It’s a place that I go a lot with the kids and feels like a little kingdom that only we know about: the meadows, the streams and the woody valley floor. You could be deep in the countryside and yet you’re still in the boundaries of the city.

Ron was part of a special breed of people – the amateur naturalist. For fifteen years he carefully catalogued the wildlife that he spotted in Charlcombe, combining a deep almost forensic knowledge with weather observations.

A hand-drawn map by Ron Watts

A hand-drawn map by Ron Watts

I had the chance, thanks to the Bath Natural History Society, to spend time looking at his journals. Ron’s family gifted these important documents – lovingly displayed in binders of rules paper – capturing a snapshot of the natural history of a special place, rich in wildlife. He also took fantastic pictures of the wildlife that he saw and was a dab hand at watercolours.

After running the post office at Claremont Buildings in Bath, Ron spent many happy hours of his retirement walking the contours of Charlcombe (he sadly passed away a few years ago): he was really fond of this meadow-rich landscape. Following in the footsteps of Jane Austen, who loved this place too, his words and attention for detail shine a new light on its wildlife story.

I’ve walked the footpaths of Charlcombe through the seasons and since reading Ron’s wildlife journals I’ve begun to see the place anew. I will often stop, look and listen: it’s amazing what you can see and hear if you take the time.

Lots of detail and thought  went in to how Ron Watts recorded the wildlife of Charlcombe

Lots of detail and thought went in to how Ron Watts recorded the wildlife of Charlcombe

Reading through his handwritten and then carefully typed notebooks you get a sense of his economic use of words. Rarely are extra words used when not necessary and though it might appear purely observational you really do get a sense that he loves Charlcombe deeply. He walks the land countless times and notices everything; scribbling down all the details with photographic precision.

A beautiful watercolour of an Ash tree by Ron Watts

A beautiful watercolour of an Ash tree by Ron Watts

Its people like Ron that help us to come to terms with our natural history. They are interpreters of environmental change and the changes affecting wildlife through the ages. Britain is a natural history superpower thanks to this army of passionate amateur naturalists keeping records of the changing seasons and as a result of the struggles and challenges that the natural world.


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