Friday, 11 January 2013

Eric Philp - An appreciation

It was with tremendous sadness that I learned of Eric Philp's passing earlier this week. Eric was one of the most remarkable natural historians of his generation, with taxonomic skills spanning difficult groups from dandelions to weevils. He was also a one-man recording machine who has made an amazing contribution to our knowledge of the plants and animals of Kent.

I first met Eric as a relative novice in the early 1980s when he was the curator of natural history at Maidstone Museum. A few years later when I was running a survey of invertebrates at Dungeness I regularly visited Eric who took on the unenviable task of identifying the weevils from our pitfall and water traps. This cemented a friendship that has lasted ever since.

I was greatly privileged to join Eric on several occasions for his 'at home' gatherings of local entomologists. They brought together many of the most active of Kent's entomologists of the time during high summer and were held in his garden where he also ran mist nets and ringed his feathered visitors. I look back on these with tremendous pleasure and reflect that maybe it is time I did something similar!

I last saw Eric at the AES exhibition last October when he was already undergoing therapy for cancer. Despite the obvious problems of the illness and treatment, Eric remained resilient and positive, although he was clearly a good deal frailer; his passing therefore comes as no massive surprise. Even so, Eric will be greatly missed by all who knew him. One friend commented that she always thought of him as a rather gentle grandfatherly figure and there is no doubt that Eric's kindness and support has enabled a good many of us to gain a lot more from our entomology than perhaps we might have done. When we talked last autumn he reflected that he always saw it as his job in Maidstone Museum to encourage newcomers; he remains an excellent role model. It now falls to those who follow in his footsteps to take on that role.

Some years ago Eric had a multiple heart bypass which gave him a new lease of life, and shortly afterwards he was back square-bashing: I seem to recall not much more than ten days elapsed between the surgeon's knife and Eric's return to biological recording! Once rejuvenated, Eric joined us on several summer field meetings of Dipterists Forum in the last few years, including Cairngorms in 2008, Gower in 2009 and Pembrokeshire in 2010. The following photographs for me capture the essence of Eric Philp and I hope other readers will reflect with happy memories of a lovely man. My thoughts go to his family and the loss they must feel.

Eric water-beetling on the Gower in 2009.

Eric and Stuart Ball at Martin Haven in Pembrokeshire on the day we tried to get over to Skomer but were defeated by the crowds! For me, this shot epitomises the companionship that an interest in natural history can generate - if there are no flies, well lets look at the birds!

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