me always remember the gift of a walk in the woods, a day by
the sea, a moment of solitude. Anonymous.
following is a description of Oxford County's Natural History
as compiled from research in the local library by John Harvey.
Yesterday / Oxford Today
Naturalists have an interest
in all living things, particularly the plants and animals which
inhabit our planet. These creatures live here and quietly pursue
their ways of life without the necessity of management by people.
The Woodstock Field Naturalists concentrate on the natural life
of Oxford County - a county which has seen mighty changes since
the original settlement.
Oxford County As It Was
Before settlement most
of the county was forested although there were areas of marsh,
pond, swamp and probably a few patches of prairie. The forests
varied depending on the underlying soil and the drainage.
Maple and Beech dominated in the rich clay loam. In sandier
soils, White Pines grew to immense stature, while giant Cottonwoods
were found in the river valleys.
The streams were shaded
and cool, the extensive wetlands assured a constant water
flow so trout flourished. There were bear, wolves and a few
deer. Colonies of passenger pigeons and numerous birds nested
in the forests, swamps and marshes.
Our knowledge, particularly
of the plant life at that time, is scanty. The first European
settlers were too busy trying to cut roads through the forest
and clearing land for crops, to record what they were cutting
down. Gradually an interest arose in the natural history of
the area. A leader in this was a man who had immigrated from
England where he had been a keen field naturalist. This man
was Herbert Milnes, who founded the Woodstock Naturalist Society
in 1934. This is what he wrote for the 25th anniversary dinner
of the society in 1959:
on the WOODSTOCK NATURALIST SOCIETY
at their TWENTY-FIFTH ANNIVERSARY DINNER
September 8th, 1959
On the whole a naturalist
is an individualist with a well developed bump of curiosity;
one who enjoys being outdoors alone, feeling no lack of companionship
in a solitude where there is so much to be investigated and
learned; without the distraction of conversation at inconvenient
moments. On the other hand that same naturalist feels a need
of kindred spirits with whom problems and discoveries may
be discussed and shared; with whom field expeditions may be
undertaken; and of someone willing to hear and learn what
the naturalist is willing and anxious to pass along.
This is how and why naturalist
clubs and societies come into being, whether they be formed
of the elite of the world's scientists or a lowly group of
working-man amateurs. The Woodstock Naturalist Society was
In April 1934 with this
in mind, the writer scouted round until he got in touch with
the late Ed. Dutton (whose main interest was birds), with
George Nutt (keen on lepidoptera), and with the late Crawford
Cook (interested in almost anything that moved) and together
we discussed the possibilities of forming a local group. A
few tentative talks took place at the writer's home and a
few "may-be-interesteds" were invited. These talks went over
rather well and on June 11th, 1934 the Woodstock Naturalist
Society officially came to life in a room of the Y.M.C.A.
At this inaugural meeting eight members were present: Messrs.
Cook, Dutton, Ritchie, Greis, Nutt, Bell, Pooley and the writer.
In the list of officers
it will be noted that during the whole life of the society
there have been but three secretary-treasurers: G.L. Nutt
for nine years, Mrs. H. Milnes for twelve years and Bob Chesney
in his fifth year - surely a happy record.
Patches of the original
forest remain, mainly as farm woodlots, surrounded by fields
of corn, soybeans and other crops. Swamps have been drained,
streams confined to ditches and dams were built - many now
gone to be replaced by the large dam at Woodstock creating
the Gordon Pittock Lake. Some areas remain in a fairly natural
state. Some of these are listed in "A Nature Guide to Ontario",
published by the Federation of Ontario Naturalists. They are
- Pittock Conservation Area, VanSittart Woods Provincial Wildlife
Area, Lockhart Pond Provincial Wildlife Area, Black Creek
Swamp, Chesney Conservation Area and Trillium Woods Provincial
Nature Reserve. The last two were protected with the active
participation of the Woodstock Field Naturalists.
With most of the land
now occupied by farms, communities and roads there have been
changes in the natural flora and fauna. Ginseng is now gone
from the forests but it is extensively cultivated. Starlings,
house sparrows, pheasants and house finches have been introduced
from elsewhere. Mourning doves, crows and Canada geese which
feed in corn fields have seen great population increases as
have deer which prefer a more open countryside. The birds
of the forest, field and wetlands are under stress both here
and in their winter homes to the south so many are less numerous.
In spite of this there is still much to make being a naturalist
worthwhile in Oxford County.