Natural History Heroes

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Episodes

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Alfred Russel Wallace20151008

Alfred Russel Wallace is best known as the co-publisher of the theory of evolution by Natural Selection along with Charles Darwin. Yet this most famous of his achievements should not eclipse his equally important contributions to science. The 'father' of the study of evolutionary biogeography - the Wallace line is the place where the biogeography of Asia becomes distinct from Australia. Well known in his time as an explorer, collector, naturalist, geographer, anthropologist and political commentator Wallace was above all driven by a wonder and enchantment for the natural world that would be considered childlike if it weren't for the hugely important contribution he made to further our understanding of the natural world. Entomologist George Beccaloni explains why Alfred Russel Wallace is his Natural History Hero.

Produced by Ellie Sans.

Alice Eastwood20151002

was a self-taught botanist using her holidays to collect and identify plants in Colorado who went on to become the curator of the California Academy of Science botany collection. Over her career Eastwood discovered many of the plants on California's coastline and during the fire that followed the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco Eastwood rescued 1,497 important specimens from the museum - only made possible because she had taken the fortunate step of segregating it in the first place. The rest of the collection was destroyed and Eastwood devoted the rest of her life to rebuilding it. When she retired the collection contained over 300,000 specimens, over three times as many as were destroyed in 1906. Sandy Knapp explains why Alice Eastwood is her Natural History Hero.

Allan Octavian Hume20151001

donated the largest single collection of birds to the Natural History museum - around 80,000 items all collected during his time working for the East Indian Company and the British Raj in India. He spent 20 years recording and documenting all the birds of India only for the manuscript to be destroyed just before his return to England. So profound was his frustration that Hume gave up ornithology altogether and turned his attention to botany, founding the South London Botanical Institute which encouraged the ordinary working person to make a contribution to science. Curator of birds at the Natural History Museum Robert Prys Jones takes us into the Natural history Museum bird collection to explain why ornithologist and botanist Allan Octavian Hume is his Natural History Hero.

Antoni Van Leeuwenhoek20151009

The development of the microscope unlocked the tiny and enchanting world of microorganisms. Antony van Leeuwenhoek, a draper with an interest in the natural world spent 50 years making his own lenses and developing unique techniques to light and view his subjects. Leeuwenhoek's descriptions of the movements and appearance of the organisms he observed, some of which he scraped from his teeth, are remarkably accurate given that the single lens he viewed them through was tiny itself - only 1mm in diameter. He was the first person to see a red blood corpuscle, bacteria and sperm. His observations led to the conclusion that fertilisation occurred at the point that an individual sperm cell penetrates the egg. With lenses that were almost microscopic in size themselves Leeuwenhoek opened up a miniature world captivating and disturbing the public in equal measure. Scientist Andrew Parker explains why the father of microbiology is his Natural History Hero.

Produced by Ellie Sans.

Dorothea Bate20150930

When Dorothea Bate turned up at the Natural History Museum in late 1890's London and demanded a job she would have been unaware of the tremendous legacy her work would leave. Her boldness led Dorothea to the Mediterranean looking for the bones of extinct mammals, finding many species of tiny elephants and hippos. She would later become the first female scientist to be employed by the museum. We delve into the palaeontology department at the Natural History Museum to reveal the bones Dorothea unearthed - some which turned out to not be elephants after all and Tori explains why Dorothea Bate is one of her Natural History Heroes.

Evelyn Cheesman20151006

was an entomologist and the first female curator hired by London Zoo. An intrepid traveller and collector who defied expectations at a time when science, exploration and natural history were still heavily dominated by men. A formidable character her 8 solo research trips to the Islands of the Pacific South Seas left Cheesman laid low by fever, septic sores, malaria and lack of food, found herself trapped in spiders webs and came close to falling to her death - but she always learned from her experiences and had an indomitable spirit. Beulah Garner takes us into the beetle collections at the Natural history museum to explain why Evelyn Cheesman is her Natural History Hero.

Produced by Ellie Sans.

Franz Nopsca20151005

Franz Baron Nopcsa von Felso-Szilvás was among the first people to think about what fossils can tell us about how extinct animals lived - rather than just giving them a name Nopcsa is therefore considered the father of palaeo-biology. Nopcsa described the first fossil evidence that the Sauropods had gone through a process of island dwarfism - shrinking body size over generations to adapt to living on islands. Nopcsa was a flamboyant character and was unafraid to make his more wacky and outlandish theories public and was also one of very few openly gay men in the early part of the 20th century. Paul Barrett, dinosaur research at the Natural History Museum, explains why Nopsca is his Natural History Hero.

Produced by Ellie Sans.

George Verrall20151007

was an entomologist who loved lists. In a time when his peers were busy chasing butterflies and beetles Verrall made himself extremely busy attempting to list all the species of 'true' fly of the British Isles. His initial list of around 2000 flies from the late 1800's has been updated over the years and at the last revision included over 7000 species. Verrall's love of wildlife and his concern for the British countryside inspired him along with the better known naturalist Walter Rothschild to start buying up the fenland around Cambridge. On his death this land was gifted to the National Trust increasing the size of their very first nature reserve - Wicken Fen. Fellow fly expert Erica McAllister explains why Verrall is her Natural History Hero.

Produced by Ellie Sans.

Sir Hans Sloane20150928

The vast number of natural and cultural artefacts Sir Hans Sloane collected formed the nucleus of two of the most iconic museums in the world The British and Natural History Museums in London. A philanthropist with strong sense of civic duty Sloane wanted his collection to be kept available for the contemplation of the British public and so upon his death it was offered to the King and Parliament for the very reasonable price of £20,000. The British museum (from which the Natural History Museum was founded) was the first national public museum in the world and was open to all 'studious and curious persons'. Botanist Mark Spencer guides us through the Sloane Herbarium to explain why Sloane is his Natural History Hero.