Emma Turner (photographer)

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Emma Turner
Born 1867[1]
Langton Green, Tunbridge Wells, Kent, England[2]
Died 13 August 1940 (age 73)[3][4][5]
Cambridge, Cambridgeshire
Known for Bird photography

Emma Louisa Turner FLS (1867 – 13 August 1940) was an ornithologist and pioneering bird photographer whose 1911 picture of a nestling bittern in Norfolk was the first evidence of their return to the United Kingdom as a breeding bird after local extinction since the late 1800s.[6]

Eurasian bittern (Botaurus stellaris) by Turner, 1911

Turner was born in 1867 in Langton Green, Tunbridge Wells, Kent.[7] She was described as being "...small in stature but very wiry, quite capable with a punt or rowing boat".[8] She took up photography after meeting Richard Kearton in 1900.[6][9]

For 20 years, she lived and worked for part of each year[5] (including some winters[9]) at Hickling Broad in Norfolk,[6] chiefly on a houseboat of her own design, which she named Water Rail after the first photograph she took in the Broads, of a water rail.[6] She also had a hut on a small island in the south-east of Hickling Broad,[8] which became known as Turner's Island[6][8] (52°44′07″N 1°35′10″E / 52.735206°N 1.586171°E / 52.735206; 1.586171).

She became the first "watcher" (warden) on the National Trust's Scolt Head.[5][10]

Her bittern picture resulted in her being awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Photographic Society.[6] She was one of the first ten women fellows of the Linnaean Society[6] and the first female honorary member of the British Ornithologists' Union.[6] Though not a graduate,[11] she was also an honorary member of the British Federation of University Women.[10]

Her book, Broadland Birds, was published in 1924[12] and formed the basis of a radio programme about her life, Emma Turner; a life in the reeds, broadcast by the BBC in 2012,[6] produced by Sarah Blunt and with sound recordings by Chris Watson.[6]

She was also a keen gardener,[11] at her homes in Girton, Cambridgeshire[11] and Cambridge,[11] and kept Terriers, which she trained to flush birds so that she could count them.[10] She lost her sight two years before her death.[5]


  • —— (1907). The Home Life of Some Marsh Birds. H.F. & G. Witherby, Ltd. 
  • —— (1924). Broadland Birds. Country Life. 
  • —— (1928). Birdwatching on Scolt Head. Country Life. 
  • —— (1935). Every Garden a Bird Sanctuary. H.F. & G. Witherby, Ltd. 


  1. ^ Name: Emma Louisa Turner; Registration Year: 1867; Registration Quarter: Apr-May-Jun; Registration district: Tonbridge in England & Wales, Civil Registration Birth Index, 1837-1915
  2. ^ Who was who among English and European authors, 1931-1949. p. 1867. Retrieved 13 July 2017. TURNER, Emma Louisa, F.L.S. b: Tunbridge Wells 1867 
  3. ^ "Miss E. L. Turner". The Times. London, England. 19 August 1940. p. 7. 
  4. ^ England & Wales, National Probate Calendar, 1940. TURNER Emma Louisa of 13 Storeys Way Cambridge spinster died 13 August 1940 Probate Llandudno 18 November to Enid Mary Fowler (wife of John Britton Fowler) and Geoffrey Cater Turner paymaster-lieutenant R.N. Effects £3031 0s. 10d."
  5. ^ a b c d B.B.R. (April 1940). "Miss E. L. Turner". British Birds. 34 (4): 85. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Emma Turner; a life in the reeds". Nature. Series 5. 24 January 2012. BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 24 January 2012. 
  7. ^ Emma Louisa Turner, Lecturer In Ornithology, guest at Wick House, Downton, Salisbury, in 1911 England Census
  8. ^ a b c "Emma Turner of Hickling Broad Norfolk". Norfolk History and Past Times. Archived from the original on 29 January 2012. Retrieved 29 January 2012. 
  9. ^ a b "A double century for Bitterns". British Birds. Retrieved 29 January 2012. 
  10. ^ a b c Women in Science – a Biographical Dictionary to 1950. ISBN 1-57607-090-5. 
  11. ^ a b c d H-W, A. (January 1941). "Miss Emma Louise Turner". Ibis. 83 (1): 188–189. doi:10.1111/j.1474-919X.1941.tb00609.x. 
  12. ^ Turner, Emma (1924). Broadland Birds. Country Life.