Thursday, 9 February 2017

An inspirational man

Social media was reporting last night that the entomologist, Bernard Skinner, has died. I don't think it is exaggerating to say that he was most probably responsible for inspiring more people to take up an interest in moths than any other person, all thanks to his ground-breaking 'The Colour Identification Guide to Moths of the British Isles' that was first published in 1984. Before this marvellous book came along, most of us were struggling to identify our moths using South's two volumes, which both dated from 1907! With the publication of Bernard's book, we were able to pore over colour plates of set specimens, all photographed to scale, showing upper and underwings. Each species had a succinct write up, informing us of similar species, identification pointers, variations, status, range, flight times and larval food plants. Where considered necessary, line drawings were supplied to aid identification.

I purchased the book soon after its publication, and was used to the point of disintegration, being taken out into the field at every opportunity. In the end I needed to replace it with the second (updated) edition. Today we are spoilt for choice with field guides for moths, but back in 1984 this book was simply revolutionary. It was also at a time when the birding fraternity was looking for other forms of natural history to embrace, especially during the summer months. Many took up the 'moth baton' and most of these were inspired to do so because of Bernard's book.

I didn't know him, but did meet him on several occasions. On the first meeting I was nervous about talking to him, and will admit to being a tiny bit star-struck, but he put me at ease and came across as a down-to-earth and modest man. I never did thank him for helping me to move from the status of 'complete novice' to 'passable lepidopterist', but I do owe him a debt of gratitude. Without his book, I would still be floundering with Mr. South. So, belatedly, thank you Bernard.

4 comments:

  1. Oh that's a real shame, he was indeed inspirational. He told me off for not setting a mystery moth the first time I met him. The second time (on a National Moth Night) he announced, "I have a green Acleris. I don't do micro's, do you want it?" - it remains my sole sighting of A. literana. I still have my original Skinner, heavily annotated and absolutely falling to bits but the best there was for a long long time. Very nostalgic.

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    1. Seth, could I suggest you write a post about we'll-known naturalists who have told you off - it would be a corker!

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  2. Steve, Bernard stayed with us at Plovers several times during his autumn moth-ing trips to Dungeness; infact it got to the stage where if the wind was in the south in October we`d say, "Bernard will be on the phone today"! I found him very down to earth and easy going, and obviously with an unsurpassed knowledge of the subject. He had some great anecdotes of the moth world and when we emptied the `Skinner trap` he`d id all the moths in latin!! A great loss, but what a legacy he left.

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    1. A special guest indeed Paul. As you say, not only the book, but also the trap...

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