The history of the transition of natural history from being at the centre of western science to the periphery is outlined. The development of a divide between amateurs and professionals is discussed as is the decline in nature study in school education. It is argued that understanding, monitoring and management of biodiversity need to be based on natural history studies, and that professionals and amateurs can, and should, work together to these ends. Examples of successful collaborations overseas and in Australia are discussed. These foundations should be built upon, but a number of constraints may limit future availability of a pool of natural historians.