Wednesday, 9 December 2009

The enthusiasm of naturalists

Nothing beats being out in the countryside with other naturalists, with people who are full of knowledge and able to deliver their enthusiasm for the natural world. There is so much going on in the natural world, so many different species that you always have a great deal to learn from others who have chosen to specialise on different groups to you.

Take botanists, for example; the other day I spent an afternoon at the Royal Horticultural Society garden at Wisley in Surrey. With me were Brett Westwood (a writer and BBC producer) and Paul Evans (a BBC presenter). Brett is an excellent all-round naturalist, but I suspect that plants are his true passion. Both men were positively bouncing around the garden, full of delight and comment at the range of ferns and plants that were now surviving out of doors, released from the glasshouse by a changing climate. Not only did they know the name of each of these objects of desire but they had a myriad of tales to tell about them. It was truly infectious and I kicked myself for never having got into plants; I have always preferred things that crawl, slide, hop or fly!

Brett gets out and about on a regular basis, turning up new records or rarely observed behaviours with a group of wildlife enthusiasts in the Wye Valley, and I have made similar outings around Norfolk from time to time. Bringing a group of naturalists to a site can reveal the presence of previously unrecorded creatures and the naturalists seem to feed off each other, sharing their collective knowledge in a truly practical way. This is an approach that has been put into practice by the Norfolk and Norwich Naturalists’ Society (NNNS) on a regular basis, with field meetings arranged to increase our knowledge of sites across the county.

One thing that is often missing from such gatherings is the presence of a younger generation, the naturalists of tomorrow who will pick up our magnifying glasses and maintain the knowledge needed to underpin future conservation efforts. Both NNNS and Norfolk Wildlife Trust have been working to develop this new generation by holding events at which youngsters can engage with nature. My own interest, although initially developed alone, gained momentum by being taken to such events by my father; he still refers to the fungus study day where we spent hours wandering a heath in the pouring rain. I have never been so cold or so wet as that day, and I suspect that neither has he!

Being a naturalist is all about retaining that childhood enthusiasm, the desire to find, identify and be fascinated by wildlife; perhaps that is why we bounce about so enthusiastically.

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