The Preston Society: The 145-year-old group bringing knowledge to life for Lancashire's nature-lovers
The Preston Society - Birdwatching & Natural History can trace is legacy, if not quite its strict history, back almost 150 years to the founding of the Preston Scientific Society in 1876.
During the age of Queen Victoria, a new scientific awakening gripped the nation, a fervent passion for the unknown bubbling to a boil and culminating in the success of The Great Exhibition of 1851.
Funds poured into now-iconic institutions such as The Science Museum, The Victoria & Albert Museum, the Natural History Museum, and the Imperial Institute as the UK embraced science.
It was against this impassioned backdrop that The Preston Scientific Society flourished, sprouting a number of offshoot groups each with their own specialism. Today, The Preston Society still offers its 115 members and local enthusiasts a place to gather and indulge in a mutual fascination with nature at their meetings at St. Mary’s Church in Penwortham.
“The society brings knowledge to life,” says the group’s vice-chair Ian Tyrer, from Preston. “It’s not just birds, it’s everything and our members have so much experience across such a wide range of topics. There’s a great social side to sharing a passion like that and you never stop learning because there’s such a vast array of knowledge amongst members.
“I’ve always had an interest in the outdoors and my parents used to come down to society meetings - my dad was on the committee,” Ian adds, having been a member for almost 15 years. “When you’re younger, you can take things around you for granted whereas now I can take a bike ride in the Forest of Bowland a step further by learning about the bird and plant life, too.”
Between October and March, the group typically hosts expert talks on flora and fauna while, between April and September, they organise weekly field trips around Lancashire, Cumbria, and Greater Manchester as well as weekly local walks and the odd coach trip further afield to places such as the Somerset Levels, RSPB Conwy, RSPB Saltholme, and Potteric Carr.
Janet Wall is the group’s field-trip organiser and grew up with a strong influence from nature and the natural world.
“I’ve always had a love of nature - my mother taught botany and zoology and my father was always into birds and loved growing unusual plants in an enormous greenhouse he had in the garden - but I rebelled against that when I was younger,” she explains. “Years later, I’ve come back to it with a good grounding in a wide variety of things to do with natural history.
“We have so many intelligent members with different specialities, so the questions we get and the discussions we have really make you think, which is good,” adds Janet, who is from Liverpool and has been a member for six years. “We’re all like-minded people so it’s rewarding to be a part of something that we all enjoy socially as well.”
Owing to the Covid pandemic, the Preston Society has had to move their winter talks online but Ian, who organises the speaker programme, says that things have gone as well as could have been hoped.
“We’ve had some highly-knowledgeable speakers from places like the Wildlife Trust and universities - people who have travelled the world and seen some unbelievable things,” he explains. “Over the past year, the online side of things has been great in keeping us together and, while a lot of people have enjoyed the talks, that personal interaction is still missing.
“Everyone’s keen to get back together as and when we’re allowed to.”
Janet agrees, saying: “With the society’s rich history, it was key to keep it going during lockdown and, while Zoom and going online was a steep learning curve, we’ve embraced it.
“People are looking forward to getting back out into the natural world when restrictions allow.”