Sunday, 16 May 2010

Change the date?

Lat night was National Moth Night, apparently, which seems to me an unwise choice of date. There are not that many moths around in mid-May and the cold spell has further reduced their numbers - as indeed my postings here. The organisers, various bods including - I'm sorry to see - Butterfly Conservation, flagged the event with journalist-tempting data about moth numbers 'tumbling by a third' in the last 40 years. Poor results will perhaps appear to bear that out but (as faithful readers may not be surprised to hear), I am sceptical about this gloom. When I have time, I will try to find out more but in the meanwhile, if my learned and faithful pals like Phil and Ben are reading this, I'd be very interested in your views, and indeed anyone else's. My particular worry is that well-meaning, Guardian-reading etc households will have mobilised their children into moth frenzy, and everyone will have ended up disappointed. Let's have another go, in June or July.

For my own part, I have only used the trap intermittently while it has been so cold, and the arrivals lounge has been almost as empty as a British airport's during the volcanic ash-spew. The other night there were three Brindled Pugs and a Hebrew Character. Last night, one Clouded Drab and this nice Shuttle-shaped Dart (above left) - more details on that particular moth several posts below. Penny meanwhile continues to cover herself with entomological glory. She found this chrysalis in a towel brought back by our younger son from Croatia last year and left folded-up in the garden shed. It is now sitting in our warm kitchen, under constant scrutiny during what I have unilaterally declared to be National Chrysalis Month. The bootlace at the top, in case you are interested, is my temporary dressing-gown cord.


AndyC said...

well said Martin,s NMN should be in June /July .I HAD 30 MEMBERS OF THE GENERAL PUBIC turn up for 1 Common Quaker up here in Halifax,there was a good show on the bat front which saved the evening.(just)

MartinWainwright said...

Thanks Andy - that's very interesting. I appreciate that they change the date each year to try to cover the seasons, but it seems ill-advised to have the big PR push - aimed at novices, families etc - at a time like this. That could be held in June and July and while local groups and enthusiasts keep up the good work all year round.
all v best

Phil said...

Hi Martin, I share your scepticism about some of the so-called statistics that are used by some conservation organisations for publicity purposes. It seems to me that plant and animal populations vary a great deal from place to place and fluctuate drastically over time, so unless these figures are based on well-designed studies at multiple locations over a long enough time period to genuinely pick up long-term trends they need to be taken with a pinch of salt, not extrapolated into worst-case scenarios for the whole of our locally diverse country. So much conservation organisation PR is based on either threats of imminent disaster or scare tactics, of the alien-bugs-are-destroying-our-countryside ilk. But maybe I'm a glass-half-full naturalist. Despite the recent winter I have more bumblebees in my garden than I can ever remember and I have just come back from a walk in Weardale where I saw the most stunning display of primroses in 35 years of walking the dale. Breathtaking.

MartinWainwright said...

Hi Phil

Thanks very much for your view which is reassuring - I'm no scientist but I am dubious about these practices in just the way you suggest. I'm also an optimist - much the better way of approaching the glass! All warmest wishes, Martin

Nyctalus said...

Interesting post and discussion. Good-news-is-no-news syndrome strikes again? My wife - not a naturalist but someone who takes a general interest (not that she has much choice living with me!)- can no longer bear to watch natural history programmes on tv. She complains of the constant 'we're all doomed' woe-is-us tone. So Phil has a point.
I'm not a scientist either Martin -just a rank amateur - but I must say I find it hard to share your and Phil's optimism. Maybe the answer is to stop listening to the messages from the conservation organisations! It's just that I find this hard to do when its from people I assume know more than I do.

MartinWainwright said...

Hi Allan - and Hi to your wife; I very much sympathise with her view. The doom approach can certainly galvanise people but so can an emphasis on the wonder and continuing abundance of the natural world - and the fact that there is so much for us still to discover. Doom also risks the reaction which we all learned about as children with the story of the boy who cried 'Wolf!'
I think that finding out what data is being used is always useful. I know that small samples can accurately reflect large trends, but I do wonder about Butterfly Conservation's suggestion that moth numbers have fallen by a third in 40 years (in the UK).
Anyway, one very good thing bout the net and blogging is the revelation of how many people are making observations and recording them; although I well understand that any scientist may be frustrated by the haphazard methodology of someone like myself, and I will try to improve.
I'm enjoying Stand and Stare as ever.
All v best for now, M