Letter from the Chair, November 2013

Dear Members

GNS is – as we repeatedly affirm – a body which records natural history in Gloucestershire, and publishes its findings. No less important however (as we never tire of saying either) is passing on our knowledge and expertise to younger generations; not so much training future naturalists, rather giving them a sense of the interest, beauty and sophistication of the natural world around us. If I may quote my own experience, I joined GNS as a schoolboy, when biology lessons didn’t really hold my attention; but the regular outdoor meetings of GNS, with a host of older naturalists, who really knew their subjects – be it botany, birds, butterflies, dragonflies – and were keen to pass on this knowledge and at the same time to reveal corners of the county that I didn’t know: that was what caught my attention for good, and made me a lifelong naturalist.

I was incidentally reminded directly of those times by an enquiry about a record in the “Journal” for November 1956: in those days the predecessor of GNS NEWS was a roneotyped monthly document, lovingly printed on a duplicator, and distributed by hand to members, to save postage. Someone had found a reference to “Cheltenham and District Naturalists’ Society (the former name of GNS), Volume VII, 11.3” to a record of Epipactus purpurata near Wickwar. Could the document be unearthed? It was probably at Lower Woods, the area studied by my correspondent. After some searching (the relevant issue of the Journal was not in the Society library at Hartpury College, which raises a whole separate matter of concern), we found the reference: “Owing to the energy and initiative of Mrs Holland, a small party went on August 29th to the woods above Wickwar to see the Violet Helleborine, which is in fair quantity in parts of the woods. In addition to the type we were able, through the kindness of Mr E. P. Bury of Wootton-under-Edge (sic) who led the party, to see the very lovely pink variety of this plant. Some excellent photographs were taken, of both forms, by Mr C. Swaine, who intends, I think, to make lantern slides from them, which we hope to see at some future date. C.E de V.”

“Energy and initiative”, those were the quality which Miss de Vesian, Mrs Holland and Mr C. Swaine had in very full measure. Most GNS members will know the names of Sonia Holland from their publications on the county’s flora, dragonflies and birds. I well remember Miss de Vesian: a Cheltenham Ladies’ College teacher with ramrod straight back, always carrying her vasculum to collect plant specimens (that would be prohibited nowadays!), and an authoritative voice on all matters botanical. I wonder what happened to those lantern slides?

How do we maintain and pass on this enthusiasm and deep-seated knowledge, regard and respect for the natural environment around us? This is a question often discussed within the GNS Executive Committee. Of course, wonderful work is still being done by volunteer naturalists – witness the new “Birds of Gloucestershire” a worthy successor (with breath-taking artwork) to the 1982 volume by the same Christopher Swaine who was at Wickwar in 1956; or the regular reports from County Recorders in “The Gloucestershire Naturalist” to which David Scott-Langley devotes so much time and effort. But in our era when there is so much natural phenomena shown on television from far-flung corners of the earth, and when there are many more jobs for people with formal qualifications in environmental sciences than there were 50 years ago, how to keep people, especially young people, interested and informed about the fauna and flora on their very doorsteps?

We have come up with one answer: in 2014, we plan to run a trial series of joint workshops with the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust on a series of natural history topics. They will last for half a day, and be an introduction to recording a wide range of natural history subjects: birds, botany, invertebrates, dragonflies, lichens. We hope these initial courses will attract new recorders, and lead them to develop and deepen their interest, and in turn to take over the reins from the current team of recorders, many of whom are greying and getting far too long in the tooth. Further details in future issues of GNS NEWS and on the website.

A word on conservation issues in the Forest of Dean. Andrew Bluett has provided regular updates in GNS NEWS on the situation at Cinderford Northern Quarter, where the Master Plan for a large regeneration project, which should provide much-needed jobs, has been approved, in a brownfield site very rich in wildlife, notably bats, butterflies, reptiles and amphibians. GNS has been invited to take part in the Cinderford Environmental Regeneration Forum, which is to advise the developers on mitigation measures for wildlife. Your Committee has discussed this issue at great length and decided that, although some GNS members are opposed to the whole concept of the project, it is better to engage with the Forum, and at the same time to record exactly what happens on the ground. A statement of GNS’s position will be posted on the website and this statement will appear in the next issue of GNS NEWS. Another Forest issue: an application was made by a consortium of bodies, including GNS, to the Heritage Lottery Fund for several million pounds for an ambitious project to conserve nature and heritage in the Dean: sadly, the first application was turned down, but all is not lost as there is a chance to revise the application and re-apply in the New Year.

Speaking of New Year, may I offer all of you my best wishes for 2014: I hope you will all derive great pleasure and stimulus from Gloucestershire’s natural history in the coming year, and that you will be as assiduous as ever in recording what goes on out there, and in submitting records to the appropriate recorders. May I suggest a New Year’s Resolution? Your Executive Committee currently numbers eleven members (quorum of six!); we would welcome volunteers to join the Committee; please contact Committee members or put your name forward at our AGM in March.

Best wishes

Mike Smart
Hon Chairman

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