The Internet has brought with it many things, not all of them welcome. What it does provide, however, is access to a wider community of naturalists and the ability to share information on the countryside and its wildlife with like-minded enthusiasts. For me, one of the most useful things about having access to this wider community is that it enables you to get advice on the likely identity of creatures that you have found but been unable to name. Pretty much all of Norfolk’s wildlife has one or more people that are passionate about it and many of these supporters share their passion and knowledge with a generosity that is to be applauded.
The availability of digital cameras, including those on most mobile phones, means that it is relatively easy to take a photograph of some insect and seek an online identification. Of course, not everything can be identified from a photograph and, in such cases, the specimen may still have to be sent off to the expert for identification. As someone who regularly gets asked to identify things, I know that in with the many common species you get asked to identify there will occasionally be something truly amazing, making the effort of identification well worth the effort.
Being part of this online community does not just revolve around sending records or identifications to our network of county recorders. Many naturalists share their experiences online, working collaboratively through projects like i-spot to develop and share their identification skills and to help with surveys and studies. Such collaborative projects are invariably fascinating and, in addition to making a valuable contribution through your participation, you will find that you learn some really amazing things. OPAL, the people behind i-spot, have run surveys looking at earthworms, water quality and lichens – things that you might not have looked at yourself had someone not asked you to do so.
Being able to share your observations with others is rewarding in its own right; in fact, it is one of the reasons why I enjoy writing this column. Hearing that someone has recorded a species, perhaps in a particular location or in a particular week, can prompt you to go out and look for it yourself. Word soon spread around the local network here in Thetford once it became known that our local Otters had cubs and were frequenting the river in daylight. One of the local bridges became known as ‘the Otter Bridge’ and many local residents were seen there each morning and evening, all hoping for a shared glimpse of these sometimes elusive creatures. I met people on that bridge who I now bump into elsewhere, reinforcing that joy of shared community.