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. Tansley taught botanists to look at vegetation rather than individual plant species and recognised that vegetation is continually changing and influenced by man’s activities. He also argued that safeguarding wild places from the pressures of agriculture and industry required active active conservation within nature reserves.
Tansley was a multi-faceted man whose friends included Bertrand Russell, Marie Stopes, Julian Huxley, GM Trevelyan, and Solly Zuckerman. 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 first President. He was also first chair of the Field Studies Council.
Peter Ayres who taught and worked with some of Tansley’s closest friends, and was for several years editor of the New Phytologist, a journal founded by Tansley, here provides a biography of the man.