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Brian's Blog: How did you become interested in wildlife?

Posted: Wednesday 14th November 2012 by BrianEversham

Wildlife Trust BCNWildlife Trust BCN

For most of us, one or two key people made all the difference.

I was lucky to have parents who took me on country walks, a father who could name the trees and birds... I can picture now my first dragonfly, seeming huge and potentially frightening; the excitement of seeing a lizard disappear into the heather; basking Springtime adders on the local Moors. ... it helped that we lived a mile from Thorne Moors, which I now know as Britain’s largest lowland raised mire, but then, it was a huge wilderness where I imagined discovering all manner of wildlife.. maybe even lost dinosaurs... well, 4000 acres is a very large place to a 7-year-old.

At primary school, encouraging if not especially knowledgeable teachers took us pond-dipping, and I learnt my first Latin name - Dytiscus marginalis, the Great Diving Beetle. About this time, my brother bought me my first book in the old Wayside and Woodland series, John Clegg’s inspiring and remarkably detailed Freshwater Life. I must have read it a dozen times before I was 12.

At secondary school, I and a few friends set up our own natural history society,and indulgent teachers bought us a set of Longworth traps... so I got to know my small mammals. Weekend minibus trips to the coast spurred me on further - huge flocks of waders on the Humber mudflats, my first Snow Buntings at Spurn Point...

But the biggest impact came when I was about 13, and met the group of superb natural historians in my local museum in Doncaster. They opened my eyes to flowers, ferns, lichens, insects, molluscs and much more besides, and made it all seem possible to know and understand. I can still remember wildlife walks in the summer holidays, with Colin Howes and a dozen teenagers, seeing my first Common Sandpiper at Sprotbrough Flash, Hemp-agrimony along the River Don, Water-spiders and Bladderwort in the ditches at Potteric Carr, and Harvest-mouse nests on the edge of Thorne Moors. And the revelation of a ‘real’ entomologist - Peter Skidmore, who would carefully and accurately name any insect I could find, tell me about its life history, its distribution locally and throughout Yorkshire.

By my mid teens, I had joined two local natural history societies (of which I was to remain their youngest members for at least a decade), and discovered that grown-ups could spend their spare time, specialising in flowers, birds or insects. I even heard lectures from professional ecologists... I’d be about 15 when John Lawton (now Professor Sir John, chairman of Yorkshire Wildlife Trust among much else!), then just finishing his PhD, gave a talk on the ecology of insects which feed on bracken... another insight into what was possible.

By the time I got to university, reading Zoology at Durham, I imagined every town had its natural history society, its local recorders, and a museum full of naturalists, casually able to name any plant or animal I came across. It gradually dawned on me that this wasn’t so... and I soon learnt that Colin was a national authority on mammals and spiders, Peter was probably the finest field entomologist in the country, and Doncaster Museum had one of the best natural history collections outside London.

A few decades on, I worry that so many children don’t have interested parents. Not enough schools take their kids pond-dipping, and no museums take teenagers on serious field study walks. So, it’s a great privilege to work for an organisation which can fill all these gaps. Your Wildlife Trust teaches children, and their teachers, and provides dozens of events for families to discover wildlife together. Our prize-winning Watch and GreenWatch groups enable children and teenagers to pursue their interests as far as they wish. And for adults, we have the widest-ranging programme of training workshops in the country. Whether you want to learn how to lay a hedge, coppice a wood, sample a pond or identify an ant (or a willow or a lichen!), we have a workshop for you - and it’s free if you volunteer for the Trust! It’s great fun teaching on these - an excuse for me to ‘keep my hand in’, and a chance to pass on something of the joy which wildlife, in all its forms, has given me over the last 40 years.

By supporting the Wildlife Trust, you’re already helping to make all this possible. If you believe in encouraging the next generation to love nature, and giving everyone the opportunity to learn more about it, I hope you’ll also support our ‘Big Give’ campaign this year, which focuses on our education and community work.

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