Robert Lloyd Praeger was a naturalist, writer and librarian who oversaw the Clare Island Survey. This was the first major biological survey of a specific area.
Praeger first organised a study of Lambay Island in 1905-06, which investigated the resources of Ireland, followed by the survey of Clare Island in 1909-11. For the Clare Island survey, he assembled a team of 100 scientists to investigate some of the questions at the heart of Charles Darwin’s work, including island life and the problems of dispersal.
This was a multidisciplinary survey, covering zoology, botany, archaeology and geology. It paid special attention to geographical distribution, dispersal and ecology, place names, family names, climatology, agriculture and meteorology. The data was the most comprehensive inventory of nature and habitation collected in the early 20th century, and made the island a unique site for further study.
Almost a century later, another survey was carried out from 1992-2009, the New Survey of Clare Island. Comparing the findings from the two surveys has given unique insights into the turnover of species, climate change and loss of habitat.
Praeger also published many books, including a landmark work, the Irish Topographical Botany. This was a detailed geographical analysis of Ireland’s vascular plants. Praeger took five years to complete the work, walking a total of more than 5,000 miles in order to collect the data. He saw a day’s field work as 12 hours spent covering up to 35 miles on occasions. Sometimes he had to swim through flooded caverns and camp out all night on islands. His book The Way That I Went recounted the journeys he made for the Irish Topographical Botany.
not simply a botanist but also a geologist, zoologist, archaeologist, Irish Naturalist Optimus Omnium
Praeger was twice given the gold medal by the Royal Horticultural Society and later became its president. He worked at the National Library of Ireland in Dublin for 30 years and co-founded and edited the Irish Naturalist. He wrote papers on the flora and other aspects of natural history of Ireland.
In 1948 he became the first president of the National Trust for Ireland. Praeger was also president of the Belfast Naturalists’ Field Club, Royal Irish Academy, British Ecological Society and Royal Zoological Society of Ireland.