Title page of the Naturalist's first volume
The year 1864 was a busy one for the business of natural history periodical publishing. Not only did it see the inception of the Entomologist's Monthly Magazine and the revival of the Entomologist, both of which were London-based publications, but in the north of England another periodical was brought into being. The Naturalist, not to be confused with another periodical of the same title (published 1851-58), was a product of the thriving industrial town of Huddersfield. The northern counties, and Yorkshire in particular, were a hotbed of natural history in the nineteenth century, and was home to the first 'Union' of natural history societies: the 'West-Riding Consolidated Naturalists' Society', later expanded and renamed simply the Yorkshire Naturalist Union. This organisation, founded in 1861, brought together the various local natural history societies based in towns and cities of the region, aiming to coordinate their efforts in advancing knowledge of the flora and fauna of their native county. Initially, this encompassed six societies over an area of around twenty miles, numbering around 200 members, but this steadily grew to encompass naturalists from across the north of England. The Naturalist, which went through several iterations under different editors and owners during its early years, was closely associated with the Union from the beginning, and continues to serve as their official publication.
Coloured plate showing varieties of Magpie and Garden Tiger moths collected in Huddersfield by the Naturalist's editor
The opening address of the Naturalist cited the demise of the Weekly Entomologist (1861-63), and before that the Entomologist's Weekly Intelligencer (1856-61), as a reason for beginning another periodical that offered a way for naturalists to exchange correspondence and specimens. The focus of the new publication was not limited to entomology, though insect collecting was purportedly among the most common pursuit among the Yorkshire Union's members. The chief aim of the Naturalist, however, was to bring together the various clubs and societies, providing a forum through which they could communicate with one another and give some sense of cohesion to their individual efforts. The 1850s onwards saw a notable increase in such groups, and it was observed in the Naturalist that 'there is scarcely a town in the kingdom, and in the North of England scarcely a village, in which some society, either "Botanical", or "Entomological", or "Naturalist" does not exist, whilst "Field Clubs" are continually exploring every portion of the country'. It was hoped a periodical would serve a dual purpose in binding these disparate groups together, but also to publicise their work to a wider public beyond the north of England.
Although the vast majority of these men and women were drawn from a variety of backgrounds, pursuing natural history in their spare time, the efforts of the Union became increasingly well-organised. Influential members sought to mobilise this large and diverse network of practitioners into a rigorously scientific 'army' of workers. Against the background of growing specialisation and professionalisation in the life sciences during the later nineteenth century, the Union became a key site in which the naturalist tradition continued to be influential, with regular excursions and surveys undertaken by its members. The Union, and the Naturalist, remain highly active today in recording wildlife and thereby providing valuable biodiversity data.
Members of the Yorkshire Naturalists' Union on an excursion in 1903