Ecology is ‘the branch of biology that deals with the relationships between living organisms and their environment.'(OED)  In other words, ecology looks at how all living things – humans, plants and animals – are interrelated and interdependent.  Plants as well as humans and animals live in communities and are adapted to particular environmental conditions.


One of the pioneers of ecology was Sir Arthur George Tansley, now considered the ‘father of British ecology’.  Tansley – a Cambridge botanist who later became Professor of Botany at Oxford – devised the term ‘ecosystem’ in the 1930s.   Tansley said ‘These ecosystems, as we may call them, are of the most various kinds and sizes.  They form one category of the multitudinous physical systems of the universe as a whole down to the atom.’  Tansley wrote many books on the subject both for scientific and general public audiences.  His publications include The British Islands and their Vegetation in 1939, Plant Ecology and the School, 1946 and Britain’s Green Mantle in 1949.  Read more about Sir Arthur George Tansley (1871 – 1955) and the New Phytologist, the botanical journal that Tansley founded in 1902.  The New Phytologist continues to be one of the most important peer-reviewed scientific journals for plant science.

AlpinesTansley helped to found the British Vegetation Committee, which became the British Ecological Society in 1913.  The British Ecological Society defines the term ‘ecology’ as ‘the scientific study of the distribution, abundance and dynamics of organisms, their interactions with other organisms and with their physical environment’.  The society celebrated its centenary in 2013.  It works towards ‘bringing greater understanding of ecology and its importance, to a wider audience.

Rock garden. June

Changing Perspectives  The changing attitude to ecology and conservation is demonstrated by the Garden’s Limestone Rock Garden. As Professor John Parker noted in 2006, ‘One of the glories of the Garden is the Limestone Rock Garden wrapped around the eastern arm of the lake. This superb creation took three years to construct (1954 – 1957) and used about 900 tonnes of the finest limestone pavement blocks from north Lancashire.  Since its construction, our ideas about habitat conservation have changed radically.  Limestone pavement is now top of the UK list for conservation of threatened habitats and [in 2006, the Botanic Garden] received grants from the Limestone Pavement Action Group and RMC Environment Fund to provide information highlighting this urgent conservation need.’

Find out more about these ideas:  Themes, BiodiversityConservationEcological Restoration, Plant Sciences and Sustainability