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Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Trapnell, Colin Graham (1907-2004)


Reference code(s): GB 0068 CGT

Held at: Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Title: Trapnell, Colin Graham (1907-2004)

Date(s): 1926-1970

Level of description: Collection (fonds)

Extent: 70 files

Name of creator(s): Trapnell | Colin Graham | 1907-2004 | botanist


Administrative/Biographical history:

Colin Graham Trapnell was born in 1907, he was educated at Sedbergh School and later read Classics at Trinity College, Oxford. However, his real interest lay in science as he had been a keen botanist since his school days. While at Oxford, he joined Max Nicholson in founding the Oxford University Exploration Club in 1927 and in organising its first expedition to Greenland in 1928. His Greenland work was published in 1928. Trapnell then applied for a post as Ecologist at the Colonial Office and in 1931 obtained his first posting as Government Ecologist to Rhodesia, now Zambia. His task was to reconnoitre and map soils, vegetation types as well as indigenous agriculture of the whole territory, a task that would take him 10 years. The task was generally carried out on foot, as there were in those days few tracks suitable for motor vehicles. Trapnell and his colleagues would depart for six months at a time, using native bearers carrying essentials such as medical supplies and food.

For many of the native tribes they encountered, this was to be their first sighting of white men. The surveys, the first of their kind to cover a whole African country, were published after the Second World War and have recently been republished (2004) as they are still the basic source of essential natural resource data for the country The Soils, Vegetation and Traditional Agriculture of Zambia is in two volumes with accompanying maps.

In 1948, Trapnell organised experiments across Zambia on behalf of the Colonial Office to assess land for possible groundnut production, and significantly the Overseas Food Corporation decided not to start a ground nut scheme in Northern Rhodesia. The schemes which failed in Tanganyika (now Tanzania) lacked the kind of survey undertaken by Trapnell in Rhodesia. His work in Rhodesia was considered by the Colonial Office to be the foundation for a wide range of projects, especially on African agriculture. In the 1950s, he was asked to train ecologists for work in Africa, ranging from large scale vegetation and soil surveys to investigations into Tsetse and desert locust infestation.

In 1960, with J E Griffiths, he completed a study on the rainfall altitude ratio in relation to the natural vegetation zones of south west Kenya. Meanwhile, the Kenya Department of Agriculture asked him to prepare an overall vegetation map covering 40,000 square miles of southwest Kenya. This major undertaking was not completed until several years after his retirement.

Upon his retirement, Trapnell joined a small group of people engaged in founding the Somerset Trust for Nature Conservation, now the Somerset Wildlife Trust. He organised land use surveys for conservation purposes of the Mendip Hills and the Somerset Peat Moors, and was responsible for the Trustís acquisition of its first nature reserves at Catcott and West Ham. For 13 years he was Chairman of the Leigh Woods committee management for the National Trust and was also responsible for negotiating the lease of the woods to the Nature Conservancy Council to form the Avon Gorge National Nature Reserve. At the same time, from his home in Bristol, he was engaged in the completion of the interpretation of air photographs for the vegetation and climate maps of South West Kenya, the sheets of which were published successively by the Directorate of Overseas Surveys between 1966 and 1986.

In 1994, he started the Trapnell Fund for Environmental Field Research in Africa at Oxford University, to support research into African environment. The fund established a fellowship at the Environment Change Institute, and Trapnell was the first Fellow appointed in Sep 1991. In the last three years of his life, although aged over 90, he collaborated with Paul Smith at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew to produce a three volume ecological survey of Zambia. He was appointed OBE in 1957. He died on 9 Feb 2004, aged 96.


Scope and content/abstract:

Papers of Colin Graham Trapnell, 1926-1970, comprising four series. The first (CGT/1) consists of Trapnellís collecting notebooks in Zambia; the second of one file of correspondence sent and received by Trapnell, mostly relating to his work CGT/2); the third series comprises notes, reports and surveys on a variety of topics, such as soil, grazing and South African vegetation (CGT3). The fourth and final series (CGT/4) contains photographs of Zambia, Kenya and Malawi recording the work carried out by Trapnell, and showing vegetation, agricultural practices and also native people and habitations.


Language/scripts of material: English

System of arrangement:

As outlined in the Scope and Content.

Conditions governing access:

This collection is subject to the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew's standard access and reproduction conditions. Access is unrestricted and by appointment but will be subject to the conditions of the Data Protection Act. Reproduction information is available on request.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Please contact the Archive for further information.

Finding aids:

Detailed catalogue available, contact the archives for more details.


Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

The first deposit of C G Trapnell papers was made by Roger Polhill, a Botanist at Kew in October 1996, under Accession Number PrP- 96-0016. This consisted of two files containing 22 separate folders of photographs recording aspects of agriculture and ecology in Zambia. The second deposit was made by Paul Smith in April 1997 (Accession number PrP- 97-025) and consists of collecting notebooks; the third deposit was also made by Paul Smith (Accession number PrP 97-026) on 19 May 1997 and comprises photographs and negatives of soils and agriculture in Zambia, Malawi and Kenya. A fourth deposit was made by Paul Smith on 10 Dec 1997 consisting of 20 volumes and 8 files, comprising collecting notebooks, correspondence, one file on grazing surveys, one file on vegetation classification and one file on soils in South Africa. The first four accessions were made at the request of C G Trapnell himself. A fifth deposit, Accession number PrP-06-0010, consists of photographs of African expedition(s), and was found in the Archives in 2006; it is not known how these came in Kewís possession. In 2011, the Herbarium found the South African notebook (CGT/3/6) which was added to the collection under Accession Number PrP 11-0010.



Archivist's note: Entry transcribed by Sarah Drewery, March 2011.

Rules or conventions: General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal Place and Corporate Names 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions: March 2011

Field work | Research work
Soils | Soil sciences

Personal names
Trapnell | Colin Graham | 1907-2004 | botanist

Corporate names