Charles Darwin's life-changing voyage upon the Beagle began and ended in the South West of England.
He spent two months in Plymouth in Devon prior to departure from Devonport Docks and jumped ship at the earliest opportunity at Falmouth, Cornwall on the return leg.
The region has many other links to the world of geology, natural history and the environment, as well as connections to the life and work of Arthur Conan Doyle.
Bristol's City Museum and Art Gallery has one of the most important collections of prehistoric reptiles in the country. It includes what is considered to be the finest dinosaur fossil ever found in Britain, the scelidosaur from Charmouth which was put on permanent display in 2008.
Bristol has its very own dinosaur, thecodontosaurus, which lived around 200 million years ago and was one of the first dinosaurs to be named. The Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Bristol has set up The Bristol Dinosaur Project where you can find out more.
Fossils collectors associated with the city include Alexander Catcott, whose collection was bequeathed to Bristol Library in the 1770s. The library has retained Catcott's manuscripts and books, but the fossils were transferred to the museum in the late nineteenth century. They were destroyed, along with the rest of the museum's geology and marine reptile collections, by enemy bombing during the Bristol Blitz. Another geologist with a local connection was George Cumberland, whose collection was once considered the finest in Britain. Cumberland settled in Bristol in 1793 before transferring to Manchester.
Postcards of Bristol Zoo Gardens in Clifton, c 1900 (private collection/ BZG).
Bristol is the home of BBC Natural History Unit and other leading natural history filmmakers. It is estimated that 25 per cent of natural history films shown worldwide are Bristol-made and much of this work is showcased at the prestigious Wildscreen Festival. Wildscreen is a member of the Bristol Natural History Consortium. Another consortium member is Bristol Zoo Gardens at Clifton, one of the oldest established zoos in Britain.
Bristol also leads the way in green initiatives including Sustrans and has more green spaces than any other British city.
The Eden Project, St Austell (Britain on View).
Cornwall's visitor attractions include the Eden Project, a global garden reflecting the amazing diversity of our planet, and the Lost Gardens of Heligan, an award-winning garden restoration. Staff at Trebah Garden near Falmouth have recently uncovered an extraordinary assortment of exotic plants in an overgrown corner. The plants are thought to have been collected by the Quaker landowner and conservationist who once owned the estate, Charles Fox.
The lost gardens of Heligan (Britain on View).
The highly regarded watercolourist, Conrad Martens, who joined the Beagle survey as the official artist at Montevideo, lived at Elm Cottage, Exmouth in Devon. The present Exmouth library was built on the site of the cottage and has a blue plaque to commemorate this. The library holds a small collection of related books including Martens' Journal of a Voyage from England to Australia 1833-35.
Among the county's many scenic attractions is the Dartmoor National Park, the setting for Arthur Conan Doyle's 'The Hound of the Baskervilles'. Plymouth also has a connection to Conan Doyle who for a short time worked at the medical practice of George Budd in Stonehouse, before moving to Portsmouth. The Stark Munro Letters (1912) features a semi-autobiographical account of his brief – and unhappy – time in the city.
Wallace plaque at Broadstone.
Dorset has been home to many leading naturalists including Darwin's fellow evolutionist Alfred Russel Wallace who spent the last 23 years of his life in Broadstone in Poole where he is buried. Wallace's development of a theory on the origin of species galvanised Darwin into publication. He was a largely self-taught naturalist and collector and wrote many books and articles during his long life. It is Wallace's work with his one-time colleague Henry Bates that prompts Challenger's initial expedition to South America in The Lost World.
John Gould, the naturalist and publisher of lavish natural history folios who advised Darwin on the significance of the Galapagos finches, was born in Lyme Regis in Dorset. This area is rich in fossils finds, particularly for sea creatures from the Triassic period, and was the hunting ground of Mary Anning, one of Britain's earliest palaeontologists. Among her discoveries were the first known plesiosaur and pterodactyl, both of which feature in The Lost World. Tracy Chevalier is currently writing a novel based on Anning's life.
The Jurassic coast, Dorset.
The spectacular 95-mile long Jurassic Coast which runs along much of the Dorset coast and into Devon is a Natural World Heritage Site. The Lyme Regis Museum, the Dinosaur Museum at Dorchester, and the Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre, all use the county's tradition of fossils to help to attract thousands of visitors to the area each year.
South Gloucestershire Council runs and supports many projects encouraging people to enjoy the local wildlife and natural heritage. Among its initiatives is Wild Roots. There is also a project compiling information on all the rare and scarce birds that are spotted in the county.
Naturalists from the Swindon area include (John) Richard Jefferies, a prolific and sensitive writer on natural history, rural life and agriculture in late Victorian England, whose farmhouse home in Coate is now a museum. The entire collection of Jefferies' work is also held at Swindon Library. The area around Jefferies' house, Coate Water Country Park, has been designated an area of outstanding natural beauty and of special scientific interest. The Jefferies Land Conservation Trust was established in September 2005 to help protect this area from proposed development. It is among the Local Nature Reserves covered by Swindon's Nature for All initiative.
Wiltshire's geology is described as 'Chalk and Cheese'; the 'Chalk' includes Marlborough Downs and Salisbury Plain, and the 'Cheese' refers to the clay areas. Wiltshire Wildlife Trust is working to protect the county's biodiversity.
Just outside of Swindon at Wroughton is the Science Museum Library which includes works by Darwin and his father Erasmus in its collection. Swindon also has a Conan Doyle connection as Sherlock Holmes ate his lunch there in 'The Boscombe Valley Mystery'.