Amateur, professional and academic interactions: A day with the British Entomological and Natural History Society

Towards the end of last year I was asked by Claudia Watts, the President of the British Entomological and Natural History Society http://www.benhs.org.uk/site/?q=node/1 if I would like to be nominated to become a member of their Council. I thought about it for a while and then said yes – my resolution to learn to say NO has sadly not been very successful 😉

There was one snag though, I was not a member of the BENHS; that was, however, easily remedied by completing an application form and being duly approved by the membership secretary and then paying my annual subscription of £19. This process made me think, why wasn’t I already a member of the BENHS? The aims of the Society “are the promotion and advancement of research in entomology with an increasing emphasis now being placed on the conservation of the fauna and flora of the United Kingdom and the protection of wildlife throughout the world”, which is something I have been interested and involved with for almost forty years.

Until I graduated from Leeds the only societies I had belonged to were university ones. On starting my PhD I joined the Association of Applied Biologists, the British Ecological Society, the then Institute of Biology (my father was a founder member) and the Royal Entomological Society. All these had one thing in common, they were, for want of a better description, professional graduate societies, although the Royal Entomological Society did, and does have non-academic and non-professional Members and Fellows. So I guess there was a bit of snobbery involved – the British Entomological and Natural History Society despite its distinguished past, founded 1872, and publishing a quarterly journal and a variety of important identification guides, was in my world view at the time, akin to the Amateur Entomological Society, founded in 1935. A reading of the aims of the AES would however, have told me otherwise, “Our objective is to promote the study of entomology, especially amongst amateurs and the younger generation.”

The objectives of the BENHS, originally the South London Entomological and Natural History Society are remarkably similar to those of the Royal Entomological Society (originally of London), the main differences now, being their financial resources and scale of activities. So having entered an academic career and eventually ending up in one of the UK’s top research intensive universities I had no incentive or inclination to join a society or organisation that did not instantly suggest a professional affiliation, and in the case of the Institute of Biology (now Society of Biology) and the Royal Entomological Society giving me additional letters after my name!

That said, a significant proportion of the UK academic entomological community have published and continue to  publish in the less ‘high impact’ end of the journal spectrum (e.g. Southwood & Johnson, 1957; Dixon, 1958) and indeed me too (Leather & Brotherton, 1987; Leather, 1989). This has been more fully documented elsewhere (Hopkins & Freckleton, 2002). The need for such journals is perhaps not fully appreciated. One of my former students, a Hemipterist of some note, who has published extensively in this journal stratum used to leave these off his job applications until he was asked at a post-doc interview if he had published in these journals as they considered it an important requisite of the job in question as it involved a lot of field work and insect identification. Without journals such as these published here and elsewhere, much of the basic knowledge needed for academic entomologists, ecologists, zoologists etc. to conduct their research would be greatly hampered.

So how does it work in practice? I duly turned up for my first BENHS AGM on Saturday 21st March at the very apposite venue, the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, in time

OUMNH

for the pre-meeting mingle with coffee and biscuits and met some of my former MSc students, now doing PhDs, old friends, current MSc students,  undergraduates, one of whom I had interviewed the day before for a place on the MSc in Entomology that I run, and even a scattering of much younger entomologists.  So a real mixture of amateurs, professionals (those making a living from entomology but not employed by a research institute or university) and current and retired academics.

The programme included a mixture of entomologists, ranging from Matt Shardlow, CEO and founder of Buglife, entomological consultant and saproxylic beetle guru, Keith Alexander, PhD student Tom Wood from Sussex University talking about his pollinator research which has just made the news, author and professional entomologist Richard Jones plugging his latest book and school boy Louis Guillot talking about his research into ant colony development; many of which he stores beneath his bed. We also had an entertaining Presidential Address by Claudia Watts about insects and art through the ages.

Having the AGM in the museum was also of course a very positive plus as in the breaks I was able to have a quick look at some of the exhibits – this one particularly caught my eye, although my camera and photographic skills do not do it justice.

Flea dressed

 

My take home message is that a) I was very foolish not to have got involved with the BENH many years ago and b) given the problems we have in getting the media and general public to understand the importance of entomology and insects to the well-being of the world, that many more of us pre-retirement academic entomologists should be willing to get involved with this and other similar societies.

Insects are important

References

Dixon, A.F.G. (1958) The protective function of the siphunculi of the nettle aphid, Microlophium evansi (Theob.). Entomologist’s Monthly Magazine, 94, 8.

Hopkins, G.W. & Freckleton, R.P. (2002) Declines in the numbers of amateur and professional taxonomists: implications for conservation. Animal Conservation, 5, 245-249.

Leather, S.R. (1989) Phytodecta pallida (L.) (Col.,Chrysomelidae) – a new insect record for bird cherry (Prunus padus). Entomologist’s Monthly Magazine, 125, 17-18.

Leather, S.R. & Brotherton, C.M. (1987) Defensive responses of the pine beauty moth, Panolis flammea (D&S) (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae). Entomologist’s Gazette, 38, 19-24.

Southwood, T.R.E. & Johnson, C.G. (1957) Some records of insect flight activity in May, 1954, with particular reference to the massed flights of Coleoptera and Heteroptera from concealed habitats. Entomologist’s Monthly Magazine, 93, 121–126

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