19th Century


The Bristol Naturalists’ Society (BNS) was formed in 1862 by a group of scientists in Bristol. The first secretary was Adolph Leipner who was teaching German and Natural Science at Clifton College.

He and six other like-minded citizens of Bristol formed a committee to investigate the support for a Society that would be devoted to ‘every branch of science that finds culture amongst us’. When University College, Bristol was founded in 1876, Adolph Leipner lectured there and became Professor of Botany in 1886. He created their first botanic garden in 1882.

William Sanders, the first President of the Society, had a passion for geology. He produced detailed maps of the ‘Bristol Coalfields and Country Adjacent’ which BNS has recently digitised. He was elected as a Fellow of the Geological Society in 1839 and a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1864 and continued as BNS President until his death in 1875.

20th Century


Ida Roper became the first lady president of the BNS in 1913. She was an accomplished botanist and her contribution to local natural history and botany was significant.

Her beautiful and extensive herbarium is now in Leeds Museum and Art Gallery. The Bristol Museum and Art Gallery houses the collections of many other members past and present. The Victorians were great collectors and cataloguers and the annual Proceedings of the BNS recorded their activities. It is freely accessible at the Biodiversity Heritage Library site.

Harry Savory, President of the Society in the 1950s with a Goshawk

University College received its Royal Charter in 1909 and became the University of Bristol. BNS retains its close links with them to this day. The Society’s Centenary History was published in 1962 and copies are available to current members on request.

It was the BNS that recognised the need for a local urban Wildlife Trust and in 1980 the Avon Wildlife Trust came into being. Special Issues of our Proceedings were issued in the late 20th Century on the Avon Gorge, Bristol’s Urban Ecology, The Coast of Avon, and The Mendip Hills.

Long Ashton Meadow showing the effect of reduced mowing

21st Century


In the 21st Century the BNS is as active as ever, contributing to education and training and spreading the word about the importance of the natural world. Widespread concerns about climate change and loss of biodiversity have led to a growing demand for accurate plant and animal recording and members of the BNS continue to make a very important contribution in the local area. Our members take part in local Bioblitz and Rewilding events and are often asked to undertake local surveys.