Dudsbury Guide Camp working with Bournemouth Natural Science Society

In October 2016 Bournemouth Guides received £32,300 from the Heritage Lottery Fund for an exciting project to investigate the 3000 year old hill fort called Dudsbury that their campsite is situated on at West Parley.

Led by the Girlguiding members the project focuses on the historical importance of their ancient Iron Age hill fort and also the changing camping experiences in living memory for the Girlguides over their 85 year history on the site.

A group of local Girlguides began their journey to gain personal badges and awards as they discover archaeological finds and how their fortified campsite links to other better known local sites of historic interest such as Hengistbury Head and Badbury Rings. The girls and young women will learn how to permanently record and communicate their findings for visitors along the Stour VGuide1alley Way at their currently uninterpreted site.

Dudsbury Camp was secured as a Girlguiding campsite in 1931 and to celebrate the occasion a pageant was staged with Girlguides forming tableaus to explain what was known about the history of the site. Bournemouth Guide Camp Association made the decision that re-staging the pageant with updated information and including the history of Girlguiding on the site would make a fitting end celebration to the project which will be in July 2017.

Discovering that some pottery remains were housed at the BNSS led Girlguiding members to contact the society for information and help with the project. Meeting with Bryan Popple at the Society in November 2016 the girls were introduced to the person and work of Heywood Sumner.

Guide2With the kind and considerable research that Bryan put in the girls were able to read correspondence from Heywood Sumner regarding his excavations at their hill fort and the impressive pictures and maps he drew of the site as it appeared in the 1920s. Handling the original pottery pieces that Heywood Sumner discovered was brought to life as the girls were able to see more complete artefacts from the collection at the Society. Of great interest was the beautiful hand drawn map showing Dudsbury’s location on the river Stour between the port at Hengistbury Head and the larger fort at Badbury Rings which was so much clearer than picking out the sites from a modern map.

The girls are currently using this information to design interpretation boards that will be erected on site, information for their new website and ideas for practical iron age workshops. It may be that Mr Heywood Sumner himself makes a posthumous guest appearance at the re-staged pageant… watch this space.

Debbie Thorpe
Division Commissioner Girlguiding Bournemouth South and Trustee Bournemouth Guide Camp Association

Winner of BNSS President’s Award 2016 Announced

Rod Cooper and Richard Hesketh

The Bournemouth Natural Science Society (BNSS) is thrilled to announce the winner of its inaugural President’s Award, which was presented at the Society’s AGM on Saturday 10th December 2016.

This new award has been created to recognise the individual who has contributed the most to the furtherance of science or has inspired to others to do so this year. The many amazing people who were nominated for the Award show that science is thriving in Bournemouth.

The winner for 2016, known to many in and around Bournemouth, is Richard Hesketh. Formerly a Ranger at Hengistbury Head, Richard is now Volunteer Co-ordinator with Bournemouth Parks Department. Described in his nomination as having charm, enthusiasm and as being the ‘genuine public face’ of the Bournemouth Parks Department, Richard is knowledgable ecologist, ardent ornithologist and passionate astronomer.

In 2007 Richard started the Monday Meanderers which quickly attracted a loyal following. These guided walks introduced the uniqueness of Bournemouth’s various parks and open spaces to the public, whose appreciation will help ensure their continued survival.

Rod Cooper, President of the BNSS said, “I’m delighted that the President’s Prize has had such a worthy winner in it’s inaugural year. For over a century the BNSS’s aim has been to inspire people to share our love of science and the natural world and Richard Hesketh is a fine example of that spirit.”

Richard receives one year’s free membership of the BNSS, a £50 book token, a certificate, a signed copy of ‘The Natural History of Bournemouth and the Surrounding Area’ and a private tour of the Museum.

The nominations were so strong that the President chose to introduce two additional commendations. Bob Mizon, for his astronomical work with local schools and as Chair of the Campaign for Dark Skies and Sarah Sumbler, Lead Technician at St. Peter’s Catholic Academy in Southbourne, for her enthusiastic work engaging young people in science. Both receive a commendation certificate and book.

Read about it in the Bournemouth Echo


A History of the BNSS Building

BNSS Building

It is appropriate that our historic collections of local artefacts, local wildlife and fossils (plus lots more!) should find home in one of Bournemouth’s historic buildings. Not only is “Bassendean” the home of the Bournemouth Natural Science Society, but it is a Grade II Listed Building. These two important institutions came together by chance and necessity in 1919; before then, each had a separate existence.

Bournemouth came into being when Lewis Tregonwell decided to settle here in1810. A few years earlier, as part of Christchurch, this once heathland wilderness was parcelled up and sold off. The road connecting Christchurch and Poole was then just a track. The land to the south was planted out with pines as a cash crop, called Hinton Wood/Eastern Plantation. As the nucleus of Bournemouth expanded, luxurious villas were built in clearings towards Boscombe. One of these houses became the property of John Cassels, a colourful figure who had made a small fortune in India and, with his wife and family, eventually made his home in Bournemouth. Here, he involved himself with the Board of Commissioners (a pre-Council body which developed Bournemouth), with Holy Trinity Church, and moved in circles with the great of Bournemouth. He called his villa “Bassendean”, a possible reference to his Scottish origins, and moved in around 24th July 1880, soon after its completion. For some reason he abandoned the house after three months and moved to Jersey. The house was put up for let, and from the estate agent’s description we learn that the place had four large reception rooms and a full-sized billiard room at ground level, and some 9 bedrooms, two bathrooms and toilets on the upper floor, and a basement for servants and services. It was built in the Italianate style, popularised after Osborne House but not common in Bournemouth. This is typified by rounded-topped windows usually in pairs and the dramatic inclusion of a belfry-like structure, here used for the water-supply.

For the next 40 years the place was occupied by several people, some notable. One of the first was Lt Col Henry Dorrien Streatfeild, of Chiddingstone, here for tragic reasons. Sometime later came the Hon Mrs Isabella Fiennes and her family (today related to Ralph, Ranulph and Joseph).

The Bournemouth Natural Science Society, too, had a mixed but distinguished career. The late 18th century/early 19th century saw a great public interest in the natural world: its place in the universe, its extended history, and the plants and animals that inhabited it. Every large town generated its own natural history and antiquarian society. Their universal aims were to study and attempt to understand the planet on which we live. They did research, they gave lectures, collected items of interest, and books for extended study. In Bournemouth, we chose the academic term of ‘natural science’ to embrace those studies beyond just the living world.

The first stirrings of such a society in Bournemouth came in 1868, when the young town had a population less than 6000. The cliffs were found to yield fossils of tropical plants from 50 million years ago. A call was raised to form a society to care for these and establish a museum to keep them in the locality. One of the advocates was a close friend of Charles Darwin – Admiral Sir Bartholomew Sulivan. He lived just round the corner from where “Bassendean” was later to be built, and was an active promoter of the two societies that preceded the Bournemouth Society for Natural Science that was formed in1903. This latter organisation proved more viable and grew to 112 members in its first year. It was to inherit not only the original objectives, but also many of the various local collections made in the 19th century.

There was a periAlfred Russell Wallaceod when our membership reached over 600, and during our existence we have had as our members Alfred Russel Wallace (who, with Darwin, was the co-proposer of the Theory of Evolution), and many other world-renowned eminent naturalists who lived locally. Ten mayors of Bournemouth have been members, including Merton Russell Cotes and Percy Bright. And our annual Presidents have been a stellar array of scientific research.

We later called ourselves the Bournemouth Natural Science Society (BNSS), but it was to take longer to find a permanent home, starting first in the upper floor of a boot shop (122 Old Christchurch Road), Granville Chambers (Richmond Hill), then a space at the newly-built Municipal College at the Lansdowne. The aftermath of the First World War necessitated a new home and we took over “Bassendean”, just a quarter of a mile up the road. Thanks to the generosity of Sir George Meyrick and members (and with help from rentals), the BNSS moved in formally on 7th February 1920.

It needed some modification of the ground floor, but the present ‘Museum Room’ still gives the impression of the south-facing lounge and dining room from which it was formed. Upstairs, some of the former bedrooms are now occupied by the specialist collections; similarly, the Geology collection is now situated in part of the former servants’ quarters.

When the Society moved into “Bassendean”, the members realised they could display another dimension: the inside could hold the ‘dead museum’ of stuffed birds and butterflies, but in the acre of garden a ‘live museum’ of exotic plants could be created. Shrubs and trees like camellias, wych-hazel, and Gingko were planted and still give a riot of colour and interest. In recent decades – with less croquet – it has become a haven for wildlife with foxes, frogs, autumn ladies tresses, and numerous bird species. This has been encouraged with the digging of ponds, placing of bird boxes and bug-houses, and hedgehog-hibernation boxes. Our lawn may now look a mess – but you should see the woodpeckers, jays and squirrels working it for food! More further could be done such as bat-boxes, perhaps a butterfly farm, wild flower meadow…. Add to this a weather station, and we become a scientific oasis amongst a sea of flats and concrete. Join us in the exercise!

There is no doubt, that the Victorian naturalists caused great decimations with their collecting practices: we have an example of this displayed in the form of a Great Auk, rendered to extinction in 1844 because every collector and museum wanted one. (Actually, our bird is composite replica, but it does not stop us highlighting it as a cause célèbre: “Extinction is forever”)

Today, thanks to legislation, it is illegal to kill a wide range of animals, or collect eggs or pick plants. Present members of the Society also regard such practices as morally wrong and do not engage in taking specimens from the wild. The wide availability of cameras makes it unnecessary, anyway. However, we recognise the value of having specimens: as a teaching and study resource, an inspiration for art – and the sheer “Wow!” factor. Unlike many museums today, we would wish to display our specimens, share their beauty with the public. How often do you get to be that close to a Golden Eagle? We find we are now becoming a repository for earlier collections (often sadly because the collector has just deceased). Instead of valuable, unique specimens being confined to the scrapyard, we may be able to find a space amongst our crowded shelves (repeat, ‘may’).

History has shown that Bournemouth has lost the opportunity to retain objects because there was then no local repository. We have mentioned the Eocene plant fossils, but another case has been the loss of Bronze Age urns from Pokesdown. On the other hand, we received our lovely Egyptian mummy because in 1922 we had space to receive her. Similar local rescues, have included a collection of Barton Bed fossils (the second best in the world), and nationally, the archives of the Gilbert White Foundation. “Bassendean” is now a unique home to thousands of treasures from microscopic fossil nummulites to a blossoming Indian Bean Tree. It is all there to be shared with the residents and visitors of Bournemouth. A unique double-whammy of a museum.

Bassendean” was the former home of the Dorset Wildlife Trust during its early years. Since then the Society’s activities have brought together many local conservation groups, sharing events or their hiring our hall for special occasions. Being central to transport connections, the place has the potential to be a dynamic hub for existing groups, or the nurturing of new groups.

For much of our earlier existence, our collections were almost private, with just occasional airings to the public. Now, because of our charitable status, we are obliged to allow more accessibility. We are happy to do this and have recently received accreditation which gives us greater abilities. To provide this function of an historic collection within an historic building will nLantern Roofeed much work and we seek more volunteers to help and more funding to make the building properly functional.

Bassendean” is now 136 years old! Many Victorian buildings had conservancy-style roofs over their stairwell. At “Bassendean” this lantern roof differs by being central, allowing light to pass through a surrounding balcony at upper floor level, creating a light well to the entrance hall. The original effect on guests entering the building must have been stunning. It is a rare architectural feature that is worthy of restoring to its original function.

However, the Lantern has a wooden frame and despite carrying out repairs, exposure to weather has rotted the frame. It now leaks, putting our collections at risk of damage, and requires major repair. To help stop further damage from the weather, scaffolding has temporarily been placed over the top of the lantern.

The BNSS would like to restore the Lantern Roof to its original glory. To do this we have to raise £100,000 to fix the roof to its Grade II Listed standard, working with specialised architects and builders. We are looking into various funding streams and grants to do this, but to get the ball rolling we have started the #LanternRescue project. We are asking visitors and the local community to donate to this project and we are hoping to raise funds to support the project.

There will be a range of activities and events supporting #LanternRescue over the coming year, so keep your eyes open! You can also donate on our website. 

Thank you for your support.

Bournemouth’s “New” Museum!

The Bournemouth Natural Science Society receives Museum Accreditation.

The Bournemouth Natural Science Society is thrilled to announce its successful application to the Museum Accreditation Scheme. Our Museum Committee has been working hard for a long time to get our documents in order and up to scratch and it is a credit to them that we are now an Accredited Museum.

BNSS Building

The origins of the BNSS actually started 150 years ago, with the 19th century passion for collecting natural objects. These early collections are now housed in the Society’s Victorian villa at 39 Christchurch Road which is open to the public on Tuesday mornings, between 10am and 12.30pm. From archaeology to zoology, the BNSS has something to inspire and amaze!

Accreditation is granted by the Arts Council England (ACE) to museums that meet the stringent requirements imposed by their Accreditation Standard. The BNSS joins the 1,800 other museums participating in the scheme, working to manage their collections effectively for the enjoyment an
d benefit of users.

The Museums Association’s 1998 definition of a museum is that ‘Museums enable people to explore collections for inspiration, learning and enjoyment. They are institutions that collect, safeguard and make accessible artefacts and specimens, which they hold in trust for society’ and the BNSS is working to ensure we meet this definition.Museum Members with Accreditation Certificate

And the work doesn’t stop here! We are continuing to catalogue and photograph our collections and make them more accessible to the community. As well as our regular Tuesday morning sessions, we also run two open days during the year. The next one is coming up on Saturday 16th April, in collaboration with the Dorset Wildlife Trust. Our Young Explorers group meets once a month and we welcome educational visits from organisations and groups of all ages! Our Accreditation status is renewed every three years to ensure we are keeping up to standard.

Of course, none of this would be possible without our wonderful and dedicated volunteers and members, who give their time and enthusiasm to make the BNSS what it is. A huge thank you goes out to them for making this success happen.

If you would like to learn any more about the BNSS, visiting times, membership or volunteer opportunities, please contact Katherine West, Communications Officer at publicity@bnss.org.uk.

Chris Packham joins the BNSS as new Patron!

The Bournemouth Natural Science Society is thrilled to welcome Chris Packham as its new Patron.


Chris Packham, the famous English naturalist, nature photographer, television presenter and author is joining forces with the Society to help promote and support our wonderful work within the community. Not a stranger to the BNSS, Chris has previously lent his support by writing the foreword to the Society’s published book The Natural History of Bournemouth and the Surrounding Area and attending some of our events.

The BNSS has a remarkable collection; a treasury of the world’s life and its history.  It is a place where you could lose yourself for days and still return for more fascination. But the greatest riches of the Society lie not in this repository, but in the extraordinary knowledge, the unconfined enthusiasm and the continued passion of its members and affiliates. Nowhere else on earth could an assemblage of naturalists, geologists, palaeontologists, historians, astronomers and archaeologists work together in one small building. You do not have to be an expert or knowledgeable, just love the natural world. The BNSS may be unique, and whatever your age, you will find it a haven of wonder. To be able to join them as Patron is thus a genuine honour.”  Chris Packham

We are delighted to have Chris support the Society as a Patron. His knowledge, enthusiasm and tireless work for the natural world will be a great asset for the Society and we are looking forward to working with Chris on a range of projects in the future. The BNSS is continually growing and looking to improve our services to the community; having Chris on board as a Patron will help us achieve even more.” Rod Cooper, President of the BNSS

I have known Chris Packham for many years as a conservationist, writer, naturalist and friend. Chris is, of course, well known as a presenter of Springwatch, where he imparts knowledge in an entertaining manner. He has the rare skill of being able to communicate a subject to a nine year old and an academic at the same time! More than his knowledge, more than his wit, he is a genuine nice bloke.”  Ian Julian, BNSS Member

The BNSS was formed in 1903 and aims to promote the study and enjoyment of the natural sciences and history. We run an extensive programme of events throughout the year, including weekly talks with expert speakers, summer field trips to local wildlife hotspots and a bi-annual Open Event for the local community to explore our collections.

We are a registered charity and rely on membership subscriptions and donations to be able to continue and improve our work. If you would like to learn more about the Society and our events, join as a member or make a donation, you can visit our website www.bnss.org.uk or check out our Facebook page and Twitter @bnss1

For more information, please contact Katherine West, Communications Officer on 07786080025 or publicity@bnss.org.uk