Back to the drawing board

It's been a funny old year for me regarding my natural history studies. To be quite frank, I've lost the plot. Up until 15 years ago I was an avid reader of all things 'identification', be it for birds, moths or plants. I managed to attain a proficient level of identification ability and could generally hold my own with 90% of all field naturalists in these particular areas - but not any more. This year has seen me take several steps back in ability, with a number of sloppy calls made in the field and a certain loss of knowledge that I once so easily held in my increasingly befuddled brain.

Most of this is down to laziness. I still need to work hard to retain information and I just haven't spent the time with my nose in field guides and online sites. I've stopped trying to identify the micros that I trap (even though I really want to master them), have shied away from getting a firm grip on pugs (a family that I used to have good working knowledge of), grasses and sedges have been ignored and my birding - once an area that I could quite confidently claim to be good at - has become error strewn and sloppy.

I know that compared to what is going on in war zones around the world, Ebola virus outbreaks and third world poverty none of this matters one jot. On a very local level (i.e. my own little world), this is still a subject of irrelevance. However, as needy as we can all be, it is something that has troubled me. For some time I've suspected that there is one culprit (apart from me) behind this dip in ability and that is pan-species listing. Put bluntly, I've been fannying around trying to be able to have at least a working knowledge of too many (and also too difficult) groups. If the experts in the fields of mycology, lichenology and those of various gnats, flies and beetles have to use chemicals, microscopes and obscure German papers just to get the specimen to a family, then what chance a middle-aged bloke whose brain is seeping attained knowledge like a punctured tyre losing air?

My remedy is simple. Stop trying to be 'all things to all creatures' and concentrate on the big three: Birds, Plants and Moths. I don't have to give up looking at other things, just not spend time trying to remember chalk-downland mosses or the names of the commoner beetles. If a big bright thing comes my way then I might - if I feel like it - try to put a name to it.

My pan-species list? I will still maintain it, still add to it, but any thought of trying to climb up the table has been banished. After all, I will be visiting west country rock pools in the next few weeks and it would be a waste not to have a nose around and see what I can find - but I won't be obsessing about it.

So, time to get Skinner, Blamey, Svensson and the like off of the bookshelf, blow off the dust and start to relearn what I once used to know - and then add a bit more information for good measure.


Unknown said…
I wouldn't worry about it too much. In wider taxonomic fields, people make mistakes all the time. I have known recorders to be wrong and come back to me to put it right. The 'self perceived stigma' on people to make mistakes does not seem to carry over from birding into the world of the naturalist.

Narrowing the fields of interests now and then can be liberating. Under the current heavy workload of identifying every Tom, Dick and Harry of the insect world that comes my way has enhanced my long lingering consideration to focus on my favourite diptera one coming year.

In short, don't sweat it. Try not to define yourself, do whatever you fancy at the time and enjoy it.
Steve Gale said…
More wise words Andrew. I should employ you as my life coach!
Alastair said…

Interesting post. I wrote a long response and Firefox crashed and it all disapeared, pah! Good decision I reckon, just do what you enjoy and once it stops being enjoyable stop doing it!

By the way what's with the "failing" word in your byline. Your blog demonstrates entirely the contrary, suggest "dynamic" instead.

All the best.
Steve Gale said…
Thanks Alastair. It feels like failing at times!

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