Natural world, natural history

Why natural history?

Understanding the role of the environment in our lives and the healthy life of our planet helps us know how to protect woodland, and for woodland in turn to protect us and help fight climate change.

Wild Wood display, Eton NHM

Worldwide, scientists examine our natural world and discover more and more about how it works, how our ecosystems are connected, how many species there are. They also find out about species of animals and plants that are at risk of extinction and how they became endangered in the first place. 

Woodland moths and butterflies on display in the Eton Natural History Museum.

One of the ways in which we can learn about our natural world is through the study of natural history collections. Paying attention to and understanding the natural world creates an awareness and knowledge that benefits our own lives, our human societies, as well as the health of the planet. Natural History collections offer us a chance to see examples of plants and animals from across time and across the world, even those that are now extinct. These can be used to understand and appreciate certain aspects of the natural world, and why protecting ecosystems such as woodland is important.  

Natural history books

The Birds of Berkshire and Buckinghamshire, 1868

Woodland creatures have been a topic for natural history books for centuries. From scientific texts to illustrated guides, there is a book for every level of reader interested in natural history. Some focus on species of one type of animal in certain areas, such as The Birds of Berkshire and Buckinghamshire. Others run a series covering all sorts of creatures; the New Naturalist Library is a collection which covers the natural history of the British Isles. It is a famous series of books, and you may be familiar with its beautifully illustrated volumes.


Over time, all species become more and more suited to their environment.  We call the features of animals and plants that help them survive in their environment, adaptations.  Examples of adaptations include: the sharp claws of a sparrowhawk that help it catch its prey, the mole’s powerful front claws that allow it to dig burrows underground and escape from predators and to look for its favourite food, earthworms.

Red Fox


Scientific Name:  Vulpes vulpes

Average Life Span:  5 years

Diet: earthworms, rabbits, rodents, birds, insects, fruit, carrion (dead animals); coastal foxes eat gulls’ eggs.  Urban foxes scavenge for leftovers.

Habitat: almost all habitats – woods, farmland, coasts, mountains, towns and cities!

Certain animals, such as red foxes, are very adaptable. This is mainly because they are not fussy eaters and have learned to live near humans. Red foxes can be found living in woodland, field/farmland and even urban habitats.

In comparison to the Red Fox, a different type of fox in a different environment will have different needs and characteristics. The Arctic Fox (Vulpes lagopus), NHM.60-2016, below, is well adapted to living in cold habitats. Its thick fur and its compact body shape, short muzzle and legs, small ears and furry foot pads help minimise heat loss.  It lives in extreme cold and does not start to shiver until the temperature drops to −70 °C!    

Beautifully camouflaged, in the winter its coat is white, but it turns brown in summer.  

Lemming, NHM.62-2016

The Arctic Fox lives in burrows and feeds on whatever is available, sometimes following polar bears to feed on the remains of their kills. During the summer it preys more on rodents such as lemmings and eats a wide variety of creatures such as birds. The arctic fox itself falls prey to larger carnivores, such as polar bears, wolves, wolverines, and hunting by humans.   

Not all plants and animals can adapt to new environments. Some can only survive in a woodland habitat, such as the dormouse.  

One reply on “Why natural history?”

[…] Every living thing has features and characteristics that make them better suited to living in certain conditions and environments. These are called adaptations. Some animals have very specific needs for their habitat, others can continue to adapt and change to new habitats. For example, see how two species of fox have adapted to their different habitats.  […]


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