Woodland Trust

Nature's CalendarNature Detectives

Have you spotted the first flowering of elder yet?

Robert Marsham engravingRobert Marsham phenology's founding father

Phenology is not a new science

The best information comes from Robert Marsham who began recording spring species and events back in 1736 on his family estate near Norwich, Norfolk.

He called them his Indications of Spring.

He continued to note down significant dates for the next 62 years recording some 27 natural events for more than 20 animals and plants. These included tree leafing times and the arrival of migrant birds.

Marsham's main reason for keeping these records was to improve the timber production on his estate. He was one of the first to carry out repeated experiments on root cutting, trenching and bark scrubbing.

Gilbert White and Robert Marsham

The publication of Gilbert White's 'Natural History of Selborne' brought him many new correspondents. One of these was Robert Marsham. The two never met but kept up a lively correspondence with Marsham encouraging White's interest in trees.

Gilbert White was particularly interested in birds, recording the arrival of summer migrants and spring and autumn passage. He records swallows arriving in Selborne on 13 April and swifts by about 27 April.

He noted that the spotted flycatcher was the latest summer bird of passage being seen first on 12 May.


Robert Marsham

Bewick's engraving of a swallow used to illustrate Gilbert White's "A Natural History of Selborne"