UCL and countless students owe a great debt to Professor Francis Oliver (Quain Professor of Botany, 1888-1929) for his foresight and vision in establishing a field station at Blakeney Point. It is an ideal location for the study of important coastal habitats, notably shingle ridge, salt marsh and sand dune. Oliver remarked that the Point was "long famous for its rare bird life and known to botanists as a locality for rare and interesting shore plants." Above: The Department's Property in Norfolk
Oliver was a keen field ecologist and eminent among the founding fathers of the subject. In particular he was an expert on dune systems and shingle ridges and so the Old Lifeboat House at Blakeney Point was purchased in 1910 and became "the theatre of systematic studies at the hands of organised parties" from UCL (Oliver, 1913)*.
In 1912 Oliver was instrumental in starting a subscription to buy the point for the National Trust; it was the first national acquisition of such an important coastal site. By 1913 a purpose-built laboratory was established on The Point and the systematic studies continued apace.
As a result, over 20 publications on the ecology of Blakeney Point had been published by Oliver, colleagues and students by 1920. These included work on nesting terns, the local rabbit population; the structure and formation of shingle ridges; and the plants of shingle and salt marsh.
Above: A modern study at Blakeney Point
Below: Oliver with students at Blakeney, 1910's
Today, the legacy of Professor Oliver is continued and the lifeboat house and laboratory are still used for field trips by undergraduate and postgraduate students from the Department of Biology. Blakeney Point provides a fine demonstration of the dynamics of formation and topographical evolution of such coastal habitats; there can be few areas where three such sites occur in close proximity. It provides excellent examples of plant establishment, succession, survival and adaptation to the environment.
Right: Oliver outside the old laboratory at Blakeney, probably 1920's
The presence of the National Trust, and a permanent warden, have seen the world-renowned nesting area on The Point thrive, with 4 species of tern regularly nesting here. Bird watchers abound as The Point is also notable for the abundance of rare and passage migrants.
There are also seal (grey and common) colonies which bask on the sand banks opposite the point and are another local attraction. It is, therefore, no surprise that Blakeney Point is an ideal haven from the hubbub of London and that Oliver was to remark "the immediate problem, therefore, which confronts the ecologist attached to a seat of learning is how to make good his escape from his urban laboratory for the six summer months". Happy days! *F.W. Oliver. The National Trust, Blakeney Point in 1913. The laboratory report
Page last modified on 17 jun 13 09:54