First 100 years of a project that lasts for ever

KEEN naturalist Brian Sawford has always been interested in landscapes and wildlife and was the curator of the natural history collections in Letchworth Museum for many years. He said: A colleague and I ran the natural history department. I looked after

KEEN naturalist Brian Sawford has always been interested in landscapes and wildlife and was the curator of the natural history collections in Letchworth Museum for many years.

He said: "A colleague and I ran the natural history department. I looked after the museum's natural history collections as well as conservation management of particular sites such as Norton Common in Letchworth and Weston Hills in Baldock.

"We were involved in the day-to-day and long term care of the collections, particularly with the organic exhibitions like the stuffed animals. You have to be careful they don't get attacked by pests, such as museum beetles. We had to keep the exhibits in the right environment, in terms of light and humidity.

"The role of the museum is to ensure exhibitions for the future - they should be kept forever."


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Mr Sawford retired three years ago, giving him more time to indulge in his hobby of landscape and wildlife photography.

He has also been a member of Letchworth Natural History Society - which celebrates its centenary this year - for about 38 years and is currently its chairman, president and scientific secretary.

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He said: "It was known as the Letchworth Naturalists' Society. I got involved when I started working at the museum because the society established the museum in 1914.

"They did the first stage of the building on Broadway and in the 1920s they raised some of the money to extend it into the building it's in now.

"The Letchworth Urban District Council took over the running of the building, but not the collections, in the mid 1920s, and then in 1939 it took over the running of the whole museum and cared for everything."

Speaking about the society he said: "There are about 60 members. There are those who have been members for 15 or 20 years and those who come and go. There is a good social aspect because people like the same thing.

"One of the things that's come to the fore is wildlife conservation. In the mid 1970s we set up a conservation group and that was quite popular. We don't do so much conservation work now because we are all getting older but we work with the Hertfordshire Countryside Management Service.

"We are looking for more members to join the society to keep it going. It's quite important that there are people enjoying our local countryside and wildlife and taking measures to help ensure a large amount of it is maintained in a good state of health.

"Lots of things are changing. Populations are changing with butterflies and birds such as song thrushes which have disappeared. Landscapes and wildlife are being lost at an alarming rate, even locally."

Mr Sawford has written two books - The Butterflies of Hertfordshire and Wild Flower Habitats of Hertfordshire.

Speaking of the society's activities, Mr Sawford said: "Throughout the winter, from September through to April, we have monthly meetings held at The Settlement with visiting speakers and members talking about various aspects of natural history in the area and worldwide.

"Throughout the year there are Sunday rambles to places of natural history interest. Most of them are fairly local but, from time to time, there are excursions further afield. On top of that, from May through to the middle of August, we have Friday evening rambles which are popular."

To celebrate its centenary, the society is holding several events. In May there will be a month-long exhibition at Letchworth Museum as well as a year-long display. There are also plans to create a small display in the library.

At the society's meeting on February 12, local naturalist Trevor James will be giving a talk entitled Natural History in Hertfordshire since the Early Days, starting at 7.30pm at The Settlement on Nevells Road.

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