IN September 1945 a Mr C Thompson Walker suggested in a letter to the Ilkley Gazette that a natural history society should be formed in the District.

As a result, on 2nd October 1945, a meeting was held at Crescent House and the Wharfedale Naturalists Society (WNS) was formed with membership reaching 56 by the end of the first year.

It is touching to think of how turning to nature was perhaps seen at this time as some sort of antidote to the horrors and privations of the Second World War.

Suffice to say that, whatever the reason, the initiative has stood the test of time and become a success story, with WNS continuing as a thriving Society, evidenced by a near highest-ever membership of 460 from throughout Wharfedale and beyond.

The original objectives, namely the study of natural history and nature conservation, are still the basis of all the Society’s activities and active involvement in recording and conservation work has taken place throughout the Society’s history.

At the present time WNS is linked with five Wharfedale Nature Reserves providing, where appropriate, financial assistance and encouraging volunteering to maintain and enhance their biodiversity.

Throughout its 75 years WNS has documented all its activities and recorded wildlife sightings from around the area in its Annual Review (originally called ‘Transactions’).

These Reviews, now mostly available on the WNS website, represent an invaluable record of natural history changes since 1945 revealing fascinating gains but, sadly, rather more losses to our fauna and flora.

For example, we can no longer hear the Corncrake in any part of our area and many migratory summer bird visitors have suffered huge declines.

On a more positive note, Chiffchaff are commonplace whereas none were heard in the Ilkley area in 1945/6.

Arable wildflowers have suffered terribly due to the intensification of agriculture with once-common species, such as Corncockle, all but eliminated.

The Goldfinch however is now far more common in our gardens whilst newly-arrived insects include the Tree Bumblebee, Speckled Wood butterfly and Harlequin Ladybird – the latter sadly proving detrimental to our native species.

The now-notorious Himalayan Balsam wasvirtually non-existent in Wharfedale.

Older Wharfedale residents will readily recall insect-splattered windscreens after a car journey – a phenomenon that has now virtually disappeared.

Whilst WNS has always been keen to highlight and appreciate the boundless wonders of nature, the Society were also forerunners in talking about nature conservation, and concerns about climate change were being expressed several decades ago.

The Society likes to think it has moved with the times and its activities are structured to appeal to as wide an audience as possible, both the beginner and the experienced naturalist.

These activities are concentrated around talks through the winter months at Christchurch, Ilkley and outdoor activities through spring and summer.

The current President, Peter Riley, is determined that the future of WNS will be as positive and successful as its past: “I think the attendees at that first Committee Meeting in 1945 would be thrilled to see the Society is still prospering, probably beyond their wildest dreams, after 75 years.

“I also believe that they would be somewhat dismayed at the well-documented decline in biodiversity both locally and worldwide and would therefore be willing us to do all we can, however little, to increase awareness of this situation at the local level along with striving to improve the position.

“We had a number of events planned to mark this important anniversary and are most disappointed that these cannot go ahead with the restrictions caused by the pandemic.

“Hopefully however we can schedule these events for next year as this is not a milestone we want to let pass without any recognition.

“Alan Titchmarsh is still a member having first joined WNS as a schoolboy and the Society were honoured and delighted to receive a most supportive and inspirational message from him which is reproduced in this feature.

“Our current influence and future impact are dependent on the strength of our membership and I would urge anybody who shares our love, and concern, for natural history to therefore think about supporting Wharfedale Naturalists by becoming members.

“You can do this via our website at

“Annual membership, at £12.50, is great value and you can rest assured that this money will be put to good use in furtherance of a more nature-friendly future in Wharfedale.”

Message to the organisation from celebrity gardener Alan Titchmarsh MBE:

“THE Wharfedale Naturalists have remained close to my heart since I joined them as a member in...well, to be honest, I think it was the late 1950s!

“I am still a member and inordinately proud to be associated with an organisation that has fostered a love of nature in so many, and which has taken the stewardship of the natural history of this glorious part of Yorkshire under its wing.

“The ever growing membership of ‘The Wharfedale Nats’ is testament to the reputation it holds in and around my home town of Ilkley and far beyond and I continue to be impressed by its pro-active stance in both conservation and the observation of plants, animals, birds and the entire gamut of natural history to be found in the rivers, moors, meadows and woodland of this precious Yorkshire Dale.

“The Society is due heart-felt congratulations not only on reaching its 75th anniversary in such robust health, but also for the effective way in which it has promoted an understanding and love of the local countryside.

“My own life, and that of countless others, would be all the poorer without its influence and the generous and learned companionship provided by its members - and those assiduous recorders - over so many years.

“What a brilliant achievement. Here’s to the centenary!”