Fred Stubbs, Egrets, Brewes and climatic change

Published on 01 July 2003 in Main articles

Stubbs was one of the more original and sceptical ornithologists of the early twentieth century. One of his more interesting discoveries was that misinterpretation of British medieval literature had resulted in references to Little Egrets Egretta garzetta being attributed to Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus. His examination of early literature showed that, contrary to popular belief, Little Egrets must have bred in Britain in the past.The occurrence in Britain of Night Herons Nycticorax nycticorax during medieval times has also been overlooked.The disappearance of these species as breeding birds from Britain may have been due to overexploitation and drainage, but seems more likely to have been a consequence of the onset of the Little Ice Age.ne of the least-studied aspects of British ornithology is the twilit zone between the end of the archaeological record in the Middle Ages and the beginning of modern history in the sixteenth century (Harrison 1988). Much of our present understanding of this period is confused, largely because those who recorded information, and many who havesubsequently tried to interpret it (see, for example, fig. 1), appear to have had little understanding of the likely species involved. Furthermore, the original common names of many species are now lost in the mists of history and speculation about them has replaced knowledge. The resulting confusion has tended to bring the subject into disrepute.Examples of the information available about some fifteenth-century feasts include a description of King Henry VI’s coronation on 6th November 1429, when the menu listed `Swanne, Capyn, Hayryn,

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