10. Printmarks
Until some time after the middle ages, the only people capable of commenting on wildlife, and giving us any sort of picture of it in relation to humanity, were the monks and lords, and their educated servants. To them, fairly naturally, birds were obvious and important economic creatures ; those of which they spoke were large and edible, or birds of prey. Practically all the literature, in fact, was about hawking.
On the whole, the natural world was seen to be the realm of demonic powers.  It was the founder of the Franciscan Order, Francis of Assisi who was the first known person within the Christian tradition to exhibit a nature mysticism. Previous ascetics were ambivalent.  For Francis, his union with nature became a mode of God's communication of himself to humanity and humanity's union with God through a perceived presence in the physical world.  Saint Francis represents a watershed in the development of Christian views of nature. Some spiritualities after him flow from him. Others, such as the Rheinland mystics, continue a Neoplatonic tradition.
Such generalised observations as were made, about plants and animals, were copied by monks from Pliny and Aristotle.   England did not appear, in the middle ages, to be interested enough to breed original observers. Small birds were of no note, unless they robbed orchards; for this economic reason, alone, Matthew Paris gives us an account of a crossbill invasion in 1251. Until 1544, when William Turner wrote Avium praecipuarum historia,there was no book, or treatise, on fauna, that was original or scientific.  With respect to this, Turner is also called the first ornithologist in the modern scientific spirit. He was the first critical naturalist. Not content, as were his predecessors and many of his successors, to copy, simply, from Aristotle and Pliny, he set himself the task of determining exactly what the birds named by these men were, and of adding notes on such of them as had come under his own, personal,observation. 
Turner was born in Morpeth, Northumberland, 1508 and died in London in 1568.  His life was spent on the move and it cannot be said  with certainty that any one place of contact with nature stimulated his writings.  If one wishes to contact him materially it is probably Morpeth in Northumberland where they should go.  His history of the principal birds mentioned by Aristotle and Pliny, composed, as he informs the reader in his concluding address, in less than two months, contains, besides the English names of the birds, many interesting notices of their habits, as observed by himself in his own country. His descriptions of birds from his own observation, are most accurate, and much more intelligible than those of many later writers.  In speaking of the attegen he gives a correct description of the black grouse, male and female, though he doubts much whether the attagen of Aristotle and Pliny be found in this country. With the red grouse, as a distinct species, he was evidently unacquainted. He states that he had never seen or heard the corn-crake, which he calls "a daker hen," except in Northumberland. The water ouzel is as common on the banks of the Wansbeck at present, as it probably was in Turner's days, but the local inhabitants no longer call it "a water craw."  His youthful spirit may be encountered in Morpeth Chantry school situated by the bridge that carries the old north road into the town.  It is now a museum and and craft centre.
The story of St Francis and William Turner points to the important influence of place on the development of personal philosophies about nature.
For three hundred years after Turner published, the clergy and certain lay dons more or less took over the observing and recording of nature–only in the last hundred years, since Darwin, has the laity played any great part.
During the eighteenth century, Gilbert White is the dominant figure. In 1766 White began his famous correspondence with Pennant, who was quick to use the information and observations in new parts of his work. Pennant, to give him his due, was an indefatigable worker, compiler and traveller. He knew his geography, and his libraries, well. He was more learned, in the strict sense, than White. And he was a fine naturalist.  But somehow he is always remembered as the man to whome White wrote letters.   As for White, his Natural History of Selborne, first published in December 1788, has had so many editions that they are difficult to count. It is the classic British nature book, full of new discoveries, recounted without any obvious pride or emotion. Perhaps unconsciously, White used the perfect scientific method in his accounts and arguments, there is nothing preconceived.
For Gilbert White and the natural history knowledge that he unlocked on his doorstep, and for the existence and work of a regular school of his successors, we have to thank the British system of bestowment of Church livings. No other, better system could have been devised for placing educated, simple, honourable, truthful and contemplative men in the places where they were needed most–dotted evenly all over the countryside, where they could record nature. Without the clergy our knowledge of nature in Britain at all ages, but most particularly up to the end of the nineteenth century would, quite simply, have been poor instead of rich.
The Hampshire village of Selborne is the place to make contact with the spirit of Gilbert White, just as Morpeth is for Turner and Assisi for St Francis.   In this sense places have become the landmarks for musing on the environmental writings of persons.  The environmental source of the writings of Thoreau, which provides the structure this conceptual tree, was his sojourn atWalden Pond–only a mile from the center of his village of Concord, but a good deal farther removed in spirit–where he went to recover "a true home in nature, a hearth in the fields and woods, whatever tenement be burned."
These men felt passionately that to lose touch with nature's vital current was to invite disease of  the body and disintegration of the soul. To be thus disconnected from the ecological community was to be incomplete, sick, fragmented, dying.   In particular, the nineteenth century Romantics generally, believed that a renewed, harmonious relation to nature was the only remedy for the spiritual as well as the physical ills that marked their times. 
Throughout history all cultures and societies have manifested their attitudes, values and beliefs in the personal imagery of literature and art, the creation of which was often influenced by particular places. In the context of Christianity, Francis of Assisi bonded with nature by distilling personal attitudes towards spiritual devotion from natural phenomena he encountered in the wooded hills of Umbria, and the mountain of La Verna in the heart of the Apennines. Seven centuries later, Charles Kingsley was influenced by boyhood memories of meres and dykes in fenland, and the pools of Devon's rocky shores, when he attempted to reconcile his devotional life with science.
To the likes of Victorian thinkers, such as Charles Kingsley and John Ruskin, who were seeking spiritual readings of nature's signs, bonding with nature meant coming to terms with science in society. Ruskin wrote as a prophet of worse to come when he spoke of Alpine mountain streams, that in his lifetime had become polluted through the impact of railway tourism. Of the two,Kingsley is the better educational model for today. Not only did he take up the new ideas of ecology, which he termed bio-geology, but he also conceived a practical value system for care for the environment, which we cannot improve upon today.
Kingsley's life was suffused with notions about nature, and his classic book, 'The Water Babies', is a parable of notional values for children growing up in an overcrowded world. Within the general message of 'be kind to efts', he expressed the moral of his story as a notional expression of the ecology of aquatic ecosystems threatened by unthinking people.
  • In a similar vein of creating care-systems for nature, the 19th century witnessed a gradual turning away from killing wild birds for pleasure. This is particularly exemplified in the writings of local naturalists at the turn of the century, such as Arthur Patterson of Yarmouth, who became sickened by the senseless slaughter of wildfowl on Breydon Water.
At this time, important scientific notions about the workings of nature were the product of local naturalists. The natural environment of East Anglia was a stimulus for these amateurs, and a high proportion of them, with the requisite wit or leisure, influenced national developments in the biological sciences. The minimum necessary to make a 'start with people' is to discover a local personage, and answer the questions about who the person was, what they did, and why their ideas about nature should remain interesting.
Additional accounts of the following people and places are being compiled.
Gilbert White of Selborne
John Clare of Helpstone
Peter Scott of Slimbridge
William Wordsworth of Grasmere