ABSTRACT

Nature conservation in Britain can be said to have begun in the 19th century. It developed out of a widely based and fundamental revolution in the way people thought about nature and what we would now call the environment. This was itself closely related to the increasingly urban nature of society, and its divorce from the countryside. Keith Thomas, in his book Man and the natural world, comments that by the 18th century ‘a combination of literary fashion and social facts had created a genuine tension between the relentless progress of urbanisation and the rural longing to which an increasing number of people were subject’. This process continued in the next century, and as the countryside was transformed by agricultural improvement, and as the urban population of Britain grew, attitudes to nature changed. A taste for the regular, ordered and productive in landscape gave way to informality and naturalness. Change in society and in the face of Britain in the 19th century fostered a confused yet extremely dynamic view of nature. This was increasingly urban in source and character. Views of the countryside and rural life became increasingly idealised in literature and art. Frorti this odd basis the conservation movement developed.