Welcome to our 2016 Advent Calendar series (#AFONAdvent)! This year, our theme is “The Gift of Inspiration”. For each day, one of our members has written a blog post about someone who has inspired them, and how that inspiration has lead to them being where they are today. Each member is a shining example of a young person who is acting Now for Nature. We hope that you enjoy the series and have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
My wildlife heroes are the often unsung specialists, particularly those passionate about groups of invertebrates. These are the people willing to take on the challenges of taxonomy to produce excellent keys and guides – resources allowing anybody to identify to species. Their research and sharing of knowledge give us the skills to know how the invertebrate fauna has changed in recent years – providing the expertise to identify which species are in decline and which are spreading.
The British fauna isn’t a fixed entity. There are constant introductions, re-introductions and even new discoveries. For example, when Ben Rowson created the FSC guide to Slugs of Britain and Ireland, the research done for this increased the known fauna by 20%! This included new species the Ghost Slug (Selenochlamys ysbryda) such a weirdly unique looking species that hadn’t been recognised as one before. It shows just how much there is still to discover, learn and share about the natural world around us.
Ghost Slug, Selenochlamys ysbryda
Mark Telfer inspired me through his amazingly detailed website. It helped me delve into the world of Carabids (ground beetles), giving me a gateway into identifying invertebrates. It’s clearly a massive labour of love, with an essential range on tips from identification, mounting and storing specimens, recent species discovered in Britain and much more. It also made me realise that it’s okay to be interested in invertebrates.
Ground beetle: snail hunter, Cyrchrus caraboides
What amazes me about these people the most is how modest, welcoming and encouraging they are. I happened to meet Paul Waring (one of the authors of the Field Guide to the Moths of Great Britain and Ireland) at a small conference when I was planning an MSc project on the Scarce-hook Tip Moth (Sabra harpagula). We spent the whole of the lunch break chatting about trapping methods and this little known moth species. Chatting to him brought home just how much in-depth knowledge Paul has and how willing he was to share it with someone who was new to the subject.
Scarce Hook-tip Moth, Sabra harpagula
As another part of my studies I was creating a wet preserved collection of slugs. Preserving slugs is a tricky business and I was struggling to get them to “relax”, so I took the plunge of emailing Ben Rowson who works at National Museum Wales. I expected at best a polite email back with some links to useful references, and at worst my email to be overlooked.
Instead Ben invited me to come into the museum, where he gave up much of his time talking about relaxing molluscs, experimented with different methods, and showed me the museums amazing mollusc collection. He mentioned at the time that there would be a mollusc related traineeship hosted by the museum in a few months time and to keep an eye out for the advert. A year later I’m almost at the end of that traineeship and am incredibly proud to have him as my mentor and supervisor. From him, other staff at the museum, and visiting experts I have learnt huge amounts about identification, including how challenging it can be at times. It has shown me just how much work and research goes into every guide, key and identification.
These people inspire me with their openness to share knowledge with others, and their passion for their subject. So to all those specialists out there who have produced excellent identification keys, recognised new species to Britain & Ireland and how to identify them accurately to species, I would like to say thank you. You have given us all a wonderful gift, and continue to inspire me every day.