Chris Smith writes: We had a good turnout for Ben Waddams’s talk on the wildlife of Shropshire and beyond. Ben is a well-known local naturalist, wildlife artist and Humanist; he contributes regularly to local papers.
Throughout the world there are myths and religious associations with the natural world. Ben’s enjoyment is enhanced by his scientific knowledge, not diminished.
The talk was wonderfully illustrated by photographs and films. Starting with how to recognise ash die-back, a reminder of the past glories of elms and the religious significance (to ancient Greeks) of the long-lived oak, we learned about changes to populations of woodpeckers due to ash die-back, gall wasps, how badgers mate through the year but only have cubs in February and how herons keep their bills clean in spite of a diet of slimy fish.
Ben also told us about a Shropshire man whose Koi carp were being stolen. He managed to film an otter visiting his pond and found fish which had been disabled and cached, facing up stream, still alive. If this can be shown to be more than a chance occurrence, it will be the first time in the world that a mammal has been observed caching live prey.
Ben has also been in Namibia, south west Africa. In the Namib desert he saw animals depicted in rock art and visited the Himba peoples whose reliance on witchcraft continues. We watched a film of the San people of the Kalahari who may well be the world’s last hunters in the way it was first done. One of a group of trackers pursued a kudu until it was exhausted and could easily be killed. The hunter respects the animal as part of the same whole and rituals follow the killing. Is this very close connection to the natural world something to envy?
Ben mentioned Richard Dawkins’ The Magic of Reality for further reading, this book was written for young people so may appeal to non-scientists; each chapter takes a feature of the natural world and shows how the science complements the feelings of wonder.