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Ravens (Corvus corax corax L.) in the British landscape: a thousand years of ecological biogeography in place-names

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Abstract Aim

To investigate the information content of place-names regarding the habits, habitat and biogeography of ravens in Britain over the past millennium. Location

England, Scotland and Wales. Methods

Linguistic and ecological analysis of over 400 British place-names that have a putative ‘raven’ derivation. Results

Most of the ‘raven’ place-names are Old English in origin. Some of these (a minority), however, derive from personal names. The derivations of most names reflect landscape rather than man-made features; the majority relating to high, craggy ground or coastal features, a minority to wooded situations or human habitations. In lowland Scotland and the Scottish borders the colloquial name corbie dominates ‘raven’ place-names, perhaps reflecting French influence. In the Highlands and the Western Isles the Gaelic fitheach and its derivatives are predominant. Relatively fewer place-names that have ‘raven’ roots have been educed in other parts of the Celtic West, i.e. Wales and Cornwall (only one traced in the latter). Main conclusions

Comparison of the geographical distribution of ‘raven’-derived place-names with the present-day distribution of the species in Britain reveals the extent of the contraction in the raven's range to the West over historical time, most notably during theprevious two centuries, associated with changed land-management practices in particular.
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Keywords: Britain; Corvus corax corax; Raven; biogeography; distribution; habitat; habits; personal names; place-names

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University Marine Biological Station, Millport, Isle of Cumbrae, UK

Publication date: 2002-08-01

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