Tuesday, 30 April 2013

The humble amateur

I must have had this book since I was 11 or 12, the title being one of the “Wayside and Woodland” series, a veritable “...library of books on the countryside....”. The text aches with a charm and pensiveness long since swept away except in retro advertisements or television comedy spoofs . The photograph plates have a dense, fuzzy colour or the densest black and whites. The appetite of the Hydra is “insatiable”, the prey of Dytiscus beetles are “unfortunate victims”, the chirruping of Lesser Waterboatmen “is believed to be of significance in mating”. However page 42 has hung heavy over my pond dipping. “It [the study of ponds] is moreover a field particularly suited to the activities of the amateur, whose humble pond hunting, if carried out systematically and carefully, may well result in valuable contributions to science”. What was probably meant as gentle encouragement ends up crystallising the thought that ponds may not be worthy of sharper minded ecologists. The last twenty years has witnessed a renaissance of pond science, led in the UK by Pond Conservation, (check out http://www.pondconservation.org.uk/ ) who could claim to be a fine example of Mrs Thatcher’s contribution to conservation, the Man Power Services Scheme, which metamorphosed unemployment benefits into more positive activities whilst keeping the recipients off the unemployment statistics. It was Pond Conservation who began to compare ponds directly to lake and river wildlife, revealing the importance of ponds for the sheer numbers of plants and animals they supported compared to larger lakes and longer rivers. Now that must count as a valuable contribution.

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