June meeting report: Ben Waddams

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.


One Response to “June meeting report: Ben Waddams”

  1. Rachelle U. Spence Says:

    Few of us would prefer an environment of concrete buildings and asphalt paving to gorgeous coastlines, majestic mountains or peaceful forests. Our pleasure in life would be diminished if only one bird sang or merely a handful of fish lived in the sea. But our aesthetic appreciation of the wildlife that fills our earth is only one reason to preserve the variety and abundance of species. All living things contribute to the ecology and are vital to its health and continuation. Despite our advances in technology we as human beings still rely on our environment to provide many of the things necessary to our survival. The Earth’s biodiversity supports all life including that of humans. Our food, medicines, energy sources, textiles and building materials are all derived directly or indirectly from living organisms. Our way of life is inextricably linked to the natural world.


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