Dear Rev.White, sorry to report that in my century the term Naturalist is not very fashionable, despite Britain’s most loved and respected broadcaster Sir David Attenborough being a naturalist to his bones. Perhaps it’s because many idiots confuse people who like running around in the buff with your disciples. Whatever the reason, it is time to nail my colours firmly back on the mast of the good ship natural History. Why? I am old enough to remember the pre- Biodiversity days when wildlife was plain old Nature! I find that membership of a Society of Natural Historians and Entomologists fills me with far more pride than any new fangled Ecological outfit. The ‘happy few’ of societies like BENHS and BSBI chip away at the enormous and unending task of recording and understanding our flora and fauna without resorting to self publicity, and cringe inducing photo-ops of yet another of the seemingly endless round of awarding each other hideous bookends and paperweights in the name of ‘raising standards’. Instead they just get on with it because they are motivated by little more than being just plain interested in the life around them. What they achieve lines bookshelves with fact-packed Journals, monographs, and atlases which will be pored over for decades if not centuries to come!!
There was a time when colleagues and I insisted that we would never even consider anyone for a job in conservation without them having a field in Natural History as number one in their hobbies and interests. Today thanks to slick marketing and ‘training’ the way into the ecology and environmental career is open to many who haven’t the faintest interest or passion for wildlife beyond not being able to think of anything much else to do. This is a tragedy, and I believe has much to do with the utter collapse of moral and good-will for ‘ecology’ and the return to the bad old days for the government wildlife agencies.
At a time when TV shows like Countryfile have gone mainstream, primetime, ecologists are in danger of becoming the new estate agents. Maybe increased exposure is showing Joe Public just how much fiddling whilst Rome burns is done in it’s name. Ok, for most of our clients we are a necessary evil, another legislation driven ‘pseudo-tax’, and in these recession hit times, patience is getting pretty thin when the same old band of so-called ‘rare protected species’ keep popping up again and again, leading to monumental own goals like the dreaded Dormouse bridges.
Alas this is one of the better ones! It’s partner basks under street lights with 20m of open mown verge to cross before the long climb, ensuring TOTAL WIPEOUT for any Dormouse bent on hari-kiri. (Note the street light AKA Owl perch!). Many of the locals thought they were installation Art!
Great Crested Newts wouldn’t even be considered Nationally scarce by the criteria employed for invertebrates, and 20 years on from the start of the great GCN gravy train we still dont seem to have learn’t the very basic lesson that developers have big things called diggers, which can make ponds!! Lots and lots of them, in no time at all! A few years ago I penned an article called ‘Why do GCN only matter when they are in the way?’ in which I advocated the creation of a slush fund by charging a fee for licence applications which could then be spent on amphibian conservation across the wider countryside, where the beasties won’t be wiped out by the local new housing estates surplus goldfish within a couple of years!
After 20 plus years the perception that much of species protection does little more than ease middle class guilt, and line the pockets of a new wing of the service industry is hard to shake.
So forgive me for feeling uneasy about being labelled an ecologist, in my defense I was and will always be a Natural Historian, first and foremost, and to prove it , I am publishing my first National Atlas today! Small they may be, but Camphor beetles are cute, they can water-ski! and they matter!