Who am I?

An individual, of no great importance, who is unable to see the natural world as a place for competition. I catch fish, watch birds, derive immense pleasure from simply looking at butterflies, moths, bumble-bees, etc - without the need for rules! I am Dylan and this is my blog - if my opinions offend? Don't bother logging on again - simple!


Wednesday 13 August 2014

Haven't we learnt anything?

At the risk of completely alienating myself from the rest of humanity I will make this post. It was going to be a "comment" on Steve Gale's blog; ref his post- To collect or not to collect?  http://northdownsandbeyond.blogspot.co.uk/2014/08/to-collect-or-not-to-collect
But, as you will discover, it sort of developed an identity of its' own and went rambling off into the distance.

I have spent a considerable amount of time thinking about this reply; so it's not an off the cuff response. The whole concept of Pan Listing League Tables has caused me problems ever since Mr Telfer proposed the idea in 2011. Any form of competition will, unfortunately, attract those who are, by definition, competitive and, therefore, the concept of winning is more important than taking part. Cheats, fraudsters, corner cutters! It doesn't matter whether it is the Olympic Games or a local Golfing Society - competition will bring out the worst in people. In birding parlance they are called "stringers", I have no idea what the Pan Listing equivalent would be? My question is "Are the wonders of the natural world really so trivial  that they are measurable by numbers?"
One of the leading lights in this field has stated that he just wants to become a better naturalist - so is it killing things, and being able to use an id key, that makes you better? Or is it being higher up the league? Or is one dependant on the other? Technology has advanced an awful long way since the Victorian era, yet the world of the entomologist is stuck in a time warp! Bill Dykes was fortunate to capture the 2nd Euchromius cambridgei (a moth) for the UK. Digital photography was able to confirm the id - the record's a good'n? Oh no - 26th June 2014 and Mr Dykes is adding yet another, pathetic, pinned specimen to a collection. What the fucking hell for? Everyone agrees that the id was correct; it is not a difficult species to confirm. If there was any problems, a simple scale sample (easily obtained using a small paint brush) should allow a DNA analysis to be undertaken, the id confirmed and the moth flies free!
The first and second UK records of Asiatic Nycteoline. Well yes and no!
One was captured and is now a pinned specimen, the other was
in one of my traps, in Gadget's garden. It was photographed, extensively,
before being released. The record rejected due to the a lack of a specimen.
I'm happy with my id and my conscience is clear about our actions.
From where I am sitting, involvement in Pan Listing is simply an excuse to ignore the reality of technological progress. Because this new phenomenon is encouraging participants to explore unfamiliar territory, many specimens are taken which, to a specialist, would be bread and butter. Don't worry about the fact that your phone has a better camera than either David Bailey or  Eric Hosking used to earn their livings;  ignore the fact that we can get a DNA match from museum specimens, let's remain entrenched in the 19th century when collecting was the only option, and stick to our guns! If you really desire to become a better naturalist, then surely you should be attempting to promote the use of every technological advance that has been made in the fields of imagery and DNA analysis, to move our skill base to a higher level so that we have the ability to make confident identifications of living specimens and not remain in an era that has had its' day.
If, as Steve suggests, Pan Listing, for him, is a way of providing an excuse to get outdoors, get involved in the personal challenge of expanding your knowledge of our wildlife - that's wonderful, a splendid concept; individuals pushing themselves beyond the limits of their comfort zone and discovering new families/groups as they delve deeper into what is out there.

How would a 1st UK record of Mallow Skipper stand up within our present system?
Would a series of digital images be sufficient to get an acceptance, or will only the corpse suffice?

Scrap the league tables then people, who don't know Mute Swan from Canada Goose, will only be lying to themselves. Absolutely nothing wrong with like-minded souls going on organised field trips, sharing knowledge and experiences. It's what our natural history is all about - it's there to be enjoyed, not turned into game where statistics are used to demonstrate ability and the "token specimen" is an approved method of involvement. Or, how's this for an idea? What if the league table was only for species which were reliably id'd by non-lethal means?  How quickly would you develop into a better all round naturalist as you strive to push the limits of our current knowledge as you, in turn, increase your own? Pan Listing would then become an arena where studying the subject was as important as the "tick in the box" which might arise from the encounter. Sadly at present, all I read, out there in blogland, is a series of exploits in which boxes are ticked at such an alarming rate that there is absolutely no way that any detailed study of the life form could have been undertaken - except under a microscope! (So they are ex-life forms!)

A "continental" Swallowtail Butterfly
I feel sure that the vast majority of those interested, in our natural world, would object
if it were captured as "a token specimen" because it occurred in a UK garden.
At what point do we draw the line between acceptable and unacceptable?

As with all my posts - the opinions that I have are just that - mine! I don't expect everyone to agree with me but, if you want a war - go to Iraq. If my writing offends - don't bother reading it, a very simple option and much preferable to wasting your emotions over something so unimportant! Might I finish with thanks to Steve Gale for yet another entertaining exchange of views - my blog stats are up there with the "Ramsgate Warbler saga" as a result.


  1. Hello Dylan. I take it you don't record many spiders, but you probably have killed as many spiders getting to and from a site as I have killing them for ID. [ My records are on the SRS and I've retained most of the key specimens so someone who knows what he is looking at can check I've not been stringing, cutting corners etc.] Some things can never be identified reliably with a macro photograph, and you have some odd ideas about using DNA for ID (I've sent specimens off for DNA, 100% IDA from capture and as big a sample as possible is the usual request). Taxonomical knowledge has been pushed forward by entomologists and arachnologists using lethal techniques, and will continue to be advanced this way.. whilst you follow where they lead and then have the cheek to moan about the method. Show me one case where macro photography has led to the determination of a new species and I'll show you 65,000 British Species which were determined with a specimen under a microscope. Digital reference collections are coming, but they are not here yet. Regards, Matt PSLr/Recorder/Naturalist/Arachnologist

  2. Dear oh dear! Matt - you obviously haven't spent much time reading this blog. Over the years I have regularly commented upon my dis-like (to put it mildly) of killing invertebrates, purely to add another tick to an Excel spreadsheet. In MY opinion (which I air on MY Blog) the wonders of our natural heritage are of so much more value that the disrespectful trivialisation of numbers. If, as you say, lethal examination techniques are the only course of action when a species, new to science, is discovered - well that's something completely different. As for the 65,000 which have already been through this process - shouldn't we in 2014, have developed an understanding of what features can be used by the amateur, with a hand lens,notebook and digital camera, to ascertain an correct id? Your mention of digital reference collections is exactly the use of modern technology that I advocate - working, as I do, at the cutting edge of digital imagary
    You are perfectly correct - yes I, and every other living soul, will kill many invertebrates as we go about our daily existence, but not as a willful act in order to add a number to a league table. Forensic science is able to replicate DNA from the tiniest of samples - cutting edge science again. If the id of any specimen was so vital, then this technology does exist and the museum collections (taken in the time when we had no such luxuries) are our DNA archives. Your rather glib comment about me following where other lead and having the cheek to moan? You obviously don't have the first idea about me - I follow no-one, a true maverick.I make my own decisions, based upon my own experiences whatever the outcome. If you take the time to re-read the final couple of lines of this post, I think you will see that it says everything I need to say?
    Many thanks for taking the time to post a comment - but please don't worry yourself over the thoughts of anyone so unimportant as I - Dylan

  3. Hi Dylan, it seems you've taken a particular disliking to my Euchromius cambridgei saga, so let's discuss! :)

    Regarding the league table element of PSL, I understand your hesitation when it comes to trivialising natural history. However, in reality I'm not sure it's as much of a promoter of competitiveness and alienation as you think. Having met various PSL enthusiasts- including some of the 'big-listers'- I can safely say that they are very much more interested in sharing their eclectic knowledge with others than they are at 'ticking' a new species for their lists. Have you thought about tagging along with a field meeting at some point? You'll be surprised at the lack of cheats, fraudsters, corner cutters. Put aside Excel for a minute, and here you have a collective group of people attempting to broaden their appreciation and knowledge for Britain's flora and fauna. Surely there's nothing wrong with that?

    I wonder whether it is possible to appreciate the natural world whilst also recording what you find? You yourself record the exact weights of fish you catch on your travels and display them on your blog, but at the same time I've no doubt you also take the time to appreciate their marvellous size & beauty. At no point are you driven by the numbers. It's the same with me and others, but by submitting records, I'd like to think that we're helping (if only in minuscule amounts) to demystify tricky insects so that, given time, we can learn more about them and ultimately become more confident with photo identifications.

    You appear to have slightly misinterpreted the Euchromius saga, Dylan. The photo never confirmed the record, and it was simply my decision at the time to publicise the moth as E. cambridgei. I could have killed it immediately and send it off to the county recorder, but instead I read the literature and attempted to identify the moth whilst alive. It IS a difficult species to identify, being externally very similar to other species in the genus, and not surprisingly, for this reason I was told the specimen would need to be examined to eliminate those possibilities.

    As for the alternatives to dissection, DNA analysis is not as simple as you make out. Putting aside the obvious cost and time drawbacks, the molecular DNA structure of many invertebrates is simply not known and will only become known by taking specimens. Photography isn't always the answer either; insects overlap considerably and distinguishing features can't always be seen.

    You also mention the pinning of my moth. I have strong opinions against pinning for personal & private collections on the basis that they hold no wider value to the entomological community. On the contrary, my moth was donated to the reference collection at the Natural History Museum, so that future specimens (dead & alive) and photographs can be identified against it. We would not be at our current level of taxonomical knowledge without the historical national collections at the NHM.

    Just briefly touching on your reply to Matt, what makes lethal examination of a new species to science something so completely different to examination of an already described Nycteoline? In both situations you're coming out with a very interesting record, but surely killing a new species to science before we truly understand its global status is worse?

    It's interesting to read arguments against Pan-species listing, and I hope you don't take my comment as anything other than my simple opinions. I certainly wouldn't want to start another Iraq war!

    Peace and happy blogging,


  4. Bill (if I might adress you as such ?)
    As you were named, in the post, it is only proper that I allow you the right to reply! I was at work when I read your comment, so couldn't offer an immediate response - probably just as well.
    My blogging is done without any intention to insult, or cause anger within, the folk who read this stuff. What I write is exactly what I feel, maybe there should be a warning on the blog header? I don't care how you dress it up - killing invertebrates in order to climb a league table is abhorrent (end of conversation!) Pan Species Listing? I think the clue is in the title? I am sure that the vast majority of participants are great guys, sharing their knowledge without jealousy or favour. My gripe is, and always has been, the triviulisation of our natural world - numbers mean "Jack Shit!"
    Yes, I do keep a personal record of the fish I catch - you won't find out my PB list by searching the Internet - they are mine and mine alone, they are not up for comparison with anyone else. Exactly the same as my garden moth lists, my county, UK, WP and world bird lists, butterflies, etc, etc... It's not a game, it's a life long passion which is unable to be quantified by silly statistics.
    As I am entitled to my own opinions; so you are to yours - But on my blog there is only one that matters - I'll leave you to suss that out?
    All the very best - Dyl