Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Developing trainers

I attended Eric Philp's funeral at Deerton Natural Cemetery today. It was of course a sombre occasion but was greatly brightened by the many excellent reflections of Eric's contribution to Natural History. For me, the most telling point was just how many people reflected on his unassuming but considerable contribution to encouraging natural historians from all walks of life. He will be greatly missed but his legacy lives on. He produced two fantastic floras of Kent that stand as a testimony to his dedication. Perhaps more importantly he clearly influenced a further generation of naturalists. The world needs more people like Eric who can motivate and enthuse people.

That brings me on to the main point of this analysis. I had a short chat with Richard Jones about training initiatives and how to teach invertebrate identification skills. There are no 'right' and 'wrong' ways. Everybody is different and of course different insects require different skills. However, it did strike me that there is much to be learned from other people's experience and that maybe we need to share our experiences? Stuart Ball and I have often mused over the need to run a 'Training for Trainers' course. We have plenty to offer and we hope that other people have experience that they might want to relay too.

I am therefore using this blog as a way of asking - is there a call for such a meeting? I would like to get people from various disciplines (not just Dipterists) to get together. If there is interest I will happily look into such an idea and try to organise an event next autumn. So, do let me know. I imagine we might look at the Natural History Museum as a possible venue, but alternatively maybe we could get some funding support for a meeting at one of the FSC centres?

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!

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Hoverfly improvers course

I have been promising to organise an improvers course for a fair while. At last we are close to a confirmed date. Subject to confirmation, the dates will be Saturday 13 and Sunday 14 April. There will be 12 places.

We have yet to finalise the costs but I expect them to be in the order of £30-35 per person. Places will be secured by a cheque payable to Dipterists Forum. I have already got a number of preliminary bookings as a result of casual inquiries over the past months but there are still places and there is no certainty that those who have expressed an interest will actually attend.

At this stage I am not taking confirmed bookings but would like to hear from people who would like to attend the course. It is aimed at people who have a reasonable level of previous experience; for example those people who have attended our beginners courses and have then actually done some recording.

Ideally, we would like attendees to bring specimens but we will also have material amongst challenging taxa to enable sessions on Cheilosia, Pipizini and Platycheirus. Stuart and I have been developing ideas of how to run this course so we have a bit of work to do to pull it together in coming months.

If we get too many expressions of interest I will see what we can do about running a second course next winter. My feeling is that this might be somewhere local to us - in the vicinity of Stamford - but we will have to take soundings on this.

So, do let me know - my e-mail address is roger dot morris at dsl dot pipex dot com