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Wildlife

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Contents

Introduction

Not much thought yet given to the content of this page, but of necessity it will be mainly UK based.

The idea is to recount interesting anecdotes, disseminate information about problems being identified, created or solved, provide links to other relevant sites and references to other material.

Descriptions of good wildlife locations will be given in cases where I have been able to check it out or know the source is reliable, but only when I am sure that excess publicity will not be harmful.

I have been recording all the birds, butterflies, mammals, amphibeans and wild plants seen in my garden for many years. I am currently (but slowly, as time permits) analysing these records with a view to publishing them here.

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Names of species

The naming of species has always been a source of difficulty in terms of communication, because the same animal or plant is given different names in different places even within one country, more so between countries with a common or similar language (e.g. UK and USA), and obviously much more so between countries speaking completely different languages.

In theory this difficulty is solved by the use of scientific, Latin-based names using the system devised by Linnaeus. The way this system has been developed in recent years unfortunately means it is failing to achieve this objective.

The problem seems to be that it is being used for two quite different and incompatible purposes. The application of the system in actually deciding what name shall be given to a species has been hijacked by taxonomists whose only purpose is to use it to define the relationships between species by allocating them to genera reflected in the name, attempting to keep this up to date with the latest scientific thinking, and in cases of dispute over the correct name for a genus relying purely on "who thought of it first" - the oldest name wins, regardless of how widely a particular name is used.

The serious fault in this, in my opinion, is that the objective of ease of communication of identity of a species is being totally ignored. For this purpose the prime requirement is stability (older books, for example, otherwise become unintelligible). Once a name has been established in general use for a species, it should be retained permanently, regardless of changing views on which species are really related and so belong in the same genus. There is a need, therefore, for two different international systems, one for use by taxonomists, which can be safely ignored by everyone else, and one for use by the rest of the world for purposes of simply identifying which species we are talking about in an unambiguous manner. There is no harm in them both being based on the same system and having names in common, providing everyone simply identifying species in order to discuss their behaviour, habitat requirements, distribution, etc., uses the stable system, and the taxonomists keep their unstable system to themselves. Like legal homosexuality under current British law, the taxonomists' system should be confined to "consenting adults in private"!

The system incidentally fails in an unimportant way to achieve the widely publicised objective of providing a unique name for every species. This is not really suprising when we attempt to cover the whole range of life, from single-celled plants and bacteria to mammals with a two word system and often little communication between the specialists in different areas. An example of duplication of genus name I have noticed, and I am sure there must be many more, is Prunella. To a botanist, this is the genus of plants known to herbalists as self heal (part of the labiate family). To bird watchers it is a genus of small birds, of which by far the most common in west European woods, parks and gardens is variously known as hedge sparrow or dunnock. The magazine "British Birds" always gives both the English and scientific name for every species mentioned in its articles, including plants. I am waiting to see a mention of a hedge sparrow (although they wouldn't call it that - see below) foraging in a bed of self heal.

A few years ago the publishers of "British Birds" magazine, in conjunction with like-thinking people in several other countries, created an "internationally acceptable" list of English names for birds (British Birds Volume 86 Number 1 January 1993), and, having produced a list that satisfies them, are now attempting to impose its use on everyone else. What arrogance! What makes them think they can dictate changes in the English language? The scientific names are there to avoid confusion between the various names given in different languages and dialects. There simply is no need whatever to try to find a set of names acceptable throughout all English speaking countries, which is just as well because any such attempt is doomed to failure. I am quite sure the majority of English people will, for example, continue to call a heron just that, without prefixing the name with "grey". Similarly they will not accept the need to prefix the names of such well-known birds as curlew, kingfisher, cuckoo and swallow with "Eurasian", "common" or "barn", particularly since in England there is only one species of kingfisher, and it is far from common.

They tried earlier to suppress the name hedge sparrow in favour of dunnock, on the grounds that the bird is not a sparrow. (Quite true, but I wonder how often they bang in a nail with a yellow hammer Emberiza citrinella.) Now they have decreed that neither is acceptable - the bird must be called a hedge accentor! I am quite sure that this nonsense will eventually end up where it deserves to be - in the historical dustbin with all similar rubbish.

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Wild herbs in Britain

I am in the process of setting up a page about traditional medicinal herbs which can be found growing wild in modern Britain.

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Organisations

I am a member of:-
Royal Society for the Protection of Birds
Bedfordshire Natural History Society
Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Northamptonshire and Peterborough Wildlife Trust
Hertfordshire and Middlesex Wildlife Trust
The Woodland Trust
National Trust
Bedfordshire Bird Club

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Publications

Two very different magazines for bird watchers are published in UK:

British Birds is for experts, rather academic and concerned mainly with rarities and unusual behaviour of commoner birds, but does include a competition involving identifying species from difficult photos. Unfortunately it is the main culprit in advocating the type of naming nonsense I commented about above. I believe it is available only by subscription.

Bird Watching Magazine covers these same topics, and many others, in a much less academic and easy-to-read manner, clearly aiming at a much wider readership from total beginners upwards. This is available on subscription or from most newsagents.

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Browser compatibility statement

I believe web pages should be accessible to all browsers, rather than surfers being browbeaten into switching to some particular browser to see a page. (How many people would be happy if popular TV programmes could only be watched with the latest model of one particular make of TV set?). I am currently going through this site trying to achieve this as far as possible, but I do not have any means of testing it with all the dozens of browsers out there. When I think I have managed it with a page I'll include this paragraph at the end and a suitable logo at the top. If you have trouble viewing any page on this site, especially a page including this paragraph, please let me know), and tell me what browser (name and version) and what operating system you are using, so I can try to do something about it. Thanks.

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This page last updated 6th November 2005