The YNU Spring Conference 2017 was held in York on Saturday 8 April and was well attended by a range of people, including ‘amateurs’ and ‘professionals’, and whilst the audience was predominantly ‘old’ it was pleasing to see one under 18 year old (accompanied by the obligatory etc.)
Dr Roger Morris (co-author of WildGuides British Hoverflies)* was the key note speaker and raised a number of issues around the proverbial discussion on the future of natural history societies and their relevance in today’s electronic environment.
The meeting recognised that we live in a data hungry world and that nature conservation needs data. Biological recording is a growth industry (no one mentioned the proposed deregulation post Brexit to assist development). Morris did pose the question, had the technical capacity kept pace? This alongside a whole series of considerations in relation to needs, demands and natural history societies involvement and continued relevance.
The electronic age is heavily dependent upon a small number of specialists. Capacity is heavily stretched and cannot absorb that many new demands. Dedicated field naturalists are being turned into computer jockeys. Unless new capacity is created, the modern fixation with growing the volume of biological will come unstuck! Electronic ID is no substitute for the traditional slide mount, vasculum or pin. Specimens grow greater depth of competency and create a more complete data set.
We were asked if traditional societies are an anachronism. The case against offered that there would always be a cohort of people who liked to meet up, read newsletters or journals and contribute to the activities of the NH Society, but that there was not a strong group of young people attending meetings. Morris made the case that these were the old people of the future and are therefore the seedlings that would maintain the forest.
The case for continued relevance was made and particularly compelling was that Morris considered that most web based naturalists do not realise that the resources they use would not be there without NH Societies.
Biological recording has undergone a process of evolution and maturation. In the UK traditional taxonomists have been replaced by data managers. New organisations have emerged or existing ones have morphed into replacements for NH Societies.
Internet, digital photography and cheap colour printing have made it easier to acquire knowledge with joining NH Societies. There had been a massive growth in biological recording but recorders and data users have failed to grasp the connection with traditional societies.
Morris suggested that to recruit the younger generation, societies should start to understand what non-members want and what would get them to join NH Societies.
Derek Whitely, stalwart of the successful Sorby Natural History Society offered vast experience from many years of practical delivery, as did Roger Key whose role when employed by Natural England also included public engagement.
It was an interesting day, as ever with these events good opportunities to network and to catch up with old friends but you left pondering “will we be back in ten years discussing the same topic?” Given the data dilemma and it’s recurrent nature then I suspect the theme will provide much more mileage for the ‘academic’ discussions to continue to run?
*A review of first edition of British Hoverflies can be found here