Scope and Content

The records in this collection date from Alan Mitchell's teenage years when he meticulously kept lists, diaries and drawings of his observations of birds. His diaries have the added interest of references to local incidents during World War II (see -/2/1-5). Mitchell's detailed notes and data from his bird watching were compiled into graphs, censuses of bird varieties, maps and lists. This attention to detail is later seen in the statistics and data Mitchell accumulated and interpreted on the growth and measurement of trees.

Mitchell continued to make daily lists of birds seen when he was working at Alice Holt Forest for the Forestry Commission in 1946-1947, before leaving to study at Trinity College, Dublin (see -/2/6). When he qualified and returned to Alice Holt Forest, Mitchell made a daily list of birds seen on his bicycle on his journey from Tilford to the Forestry Commission (see -/2/8-9). Eventually Mitchell amalgamated all his ornithological statistics from 1939 and kept them updated until 1990 (see -/2/10).

Alan Mitchell's dendrology papers in this collection cover many of his interests including the development of the Leyland cypress (see -/3/1); the effects of acid rain on trees and the environment (see -/3/7); and his statistics recording the phenology of broad leaved trees and conifers (see -/3/2). On Mitchell's many visits to North America between 1971 and 1992, he made extensive notes on birds and trees he observed and these are also included in these papers (see -/3/12-22).

A selection of Alan Mitchell's academic papers, guide books, lecture notes and published works in journals and newspapers between 1953 and 1994 also survives reflecting his wide spectrum of knowledge and interest in his different fields of study.

Administrative / Biographical History

Alan Fyson Mitchell (1922-1995) was born in Ilford, Essex. His studies at Liverpool University were interrupted by war service in 1942 when he joined the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm as a petty officer radio mechanic in the Far Eastern Fleet.

After the war Mitchell worked for the Forestry Commission before studying for a degree in forestry at Trinity College, Dublin, and Albert Agricultural College, Glasnevin, Dublin, between 1947 and 1951. His first position was in the Botanic Gardens in Dublin in 1952 before he joined the Forestry Commission Research Branch at Alice Holt Research Station, Wrecclesham, as assistant geneticist. Mitchell's early work at the Forestry Commission included selecting trees for breeding programmes. His particular speciality was larches and his research took him around Britain expanding his knowledge and developing his interest in the variations in tree species.

It was Mitchell's Forestry Commission handbook Conifers in the British Isles that led to his successful publishing career for Collins' natural history series. Publications included Field Guide to Trees of Britain and Northern Europe (Collins, 1974, latest reprint 2001); A Hand Guide to the Trees of Britain (Collins, 1978); The Gardener's Book of Trees (JM Dent, 1981); The Trees of Britain and Northern Europe (Collins, 1982); The Trees of North America (Dragon's World, 1987) amongst many others.

Mitchell also wrote a regular column in the Farnham Herald, Haslemere Herald and Alton Herald newspapers on trees and wildlife, and occasional articles on trees for The Guardian (see -/5/61). He also lectured extensively in the UK, Ireland and North America on tree courses and advised estates on planting or improving landscape or tree collections in the UK and Ireland.

Alan Mitchell was honoured with many awards for his contribution to arboriculture and dendrology, including the Royal Horticultural Society's Veitch Memorial Medal in 1966 'for his work in connection with the collection and recording of data on conifers'; the RHS Victoria Medal of Honour in 1970; the Royal Forestry Society Gold Medal, 1978; and the Arboricultural Association's Gold Medal in 1984 (see -/1/3).

Following Mitchell's retirement from the Forestry Commission in 1986, he founded the Tree Register of the British Isles to continue on a formal basis the data on tree growth and measurement that he had been compiling for decades. Before his death in 1995 there were over 100,000 trees in his card index. This information has now been put on a computer database and The Tree Register is based at Wootton, Bedfordshire (see -/1/4 &


Alan Mitchell's papers have been arranged into five main sections covering details of his life, his interest in ornithology, and career in dendrology, and his papers and published material on these topics.

Access Information

There are no access restrictions.

Acquisition Information

Deposited by Mrs P Mitchell of Rowledge, widow of Alan Mitchell, in March 2001 and June 2002.

Other Finding Aids

An item level description of the archive is available on the Surrey History Centre online catalogue


Alan Mitchell's published works include:

Field Guide to Trees of Britain and Northern Europe (Collins, 1974);
A Hand Guide to the Trees of Britain (Collins, 1978);
The Gardener's Book of Trees (JM Dent, 1981);
The Trees of Britain and Northern Europe (Collins, 1982);
Guide to Trees of Canada and North America (Dragon's World, 1987)