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Simon Ratsey 1965-1968

Reading Geography at Durham gave me the opportunity to focus on two of my special areas of interest from my youth, namely weather and climate, and the natural environment. Regarding the latter, I was one of the very small (and select?) group of undergraduates who joined Dr (as he then was) Ian Simmons’ pioneering “Ecology and Conservation” course, in my final year. Among other things, this gave me a crucial understanding of Systems Theory that has been of value ever since. It also proved to be of practical value, as I have over the years been involved in an assortment of nature conservation projects, mostly community-based. It’s also interesting to reflect that, at the time, climate scientists were pointing to an observed global cooling as the first sign of an anticipated downward trend in temperatures leading to the next glacial period...

After graduating, I spent four years with the Field Studies Council at Nettlecombe Court, Somerset, not far from where I grew up. As well as running field courses for students and adults, I was actively involved in research, especially in local weather and climate. The Field Centre established a climate station in 1968, reporting monthly to the Met Office. Having started my own daily observations of temperature and rainfall in 1960 (continued by my father after I had left home), I was soon carrying out data analysis on local variations of weather and climate in West Somerset. In the early 1970s I was given the task of producing short papers on local weather and climate for publication in the Field Studies journal, first for Nettlecombe Court, and subsequently for the Field Studies Council centre at Slapton Ley, in South Devon.

Fast-forward almost half a century, during which I taught in the Secondary sector and then “changed horses” to run my own gardening business until retirement, maintaining daily observations of temperature and rainfall throughout. Through certain mutual connections, I made contact with Prof. Tim Burt, who was then in the process of moving to Sampford Peverell, just down the road from me. In his roles as President of the Field Studies Council, and editor of Field Studies, he persuaded me produce a paper on local weather and climate. His reasoning was that, with my own data-base beginning in 1960, and my personal experience of observing weather and climate at Nettlecombe Court, there was no one better qualified to do the job. After about four years of very detailed, and at times exhausting, analysis of climate data from a number of sources, that paper was published in 2019.

At Tim Burt’s insistence, I have just completed a shorter updated paper, focussing on long-term trends in air temperature at Nettlecombe Court, in a regional context. The headline conclusion is that since my time at Durham, the mean annual temperature in my area has risen by 1C, and a fairly conservative projection would suggest a further 1C increase in the next half-century.  So much for the impending glaciation!

I may never have reached the pinnacles of academia, but I’m quietly satisfied that my research has contributed to the growing body of scientific knowledge about the reality of climate change. Also, having contributed a Monthly Weather Report to my local newspaper for more than twenty years, I have provided the archivists of the future with a blow-by-blow account of how our climate has behaved through a period of unprecedented extremes, some of them seemingly beyond the bounds of statistical probability.