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How do you attract a bug expert?

08 November 2006

Can you tell a woodlouse from a beetle or a bee from a wasp?

If you can, you are a dying breed. The number of bug experts in the UK is declining, an issue to be addressed this week at the  Invertebrate Link conference at the Natural History Museum.

Crucial role
Invertebrates, such as this peacock butterfly, make up 95 per cent of British animal life.

A wonderful variety of invertebrates, such as this peacock butterfly, make up 95 per cent of British animal life.

Invertebrates (butterflies, ants, snails, worms, dragonflies and many more) make up 95 per cent of British animal life. They play a critical role in our ecosystems - pollinating plants, breaking down organic waste and maintaining the fertility of soils, as well as providing an essential source of food for birds and many more glamorous creatures. Some are particularly sensitive to changes in the environment and aquatic invertebrates are commonly used to monitor water quality in British rivers.

Importance of amateur knowledge

With more and more extinctions, and threats such as climate change increasing, it's even more important we monitor the plants and animals around us.

'Britain's long tradition of natural history study seems to be under threat, just when we need it most,' says Dr Oliver Cheesman, chairman of Invertebrate Link.

'Dedicated amateurs have always been at the forefront, monitoring changes in our wildlife, including the invertebrates that hold our ecosystems together.'

Inspiring the next generation

The Invertebrate Link conference will look at ways to recruit a new generation of invertebrate specialists.

It will explore ways to inspire and train new bug experts, how new technology can help and the role of local and national organisations. Nick Baker, writer and television presenter, will be talking about promoting the study of bugs, especially the role of the media and books in inspiring young people.

'Many of our greatest naturalists were inspired by contact with nature at an early age,' adds Cheesman, 'but children have fewer and fewer opportunities to explore 'the great outdoors' these days. Organisations and individuals alike all have a role to play in reversing this trend.'

Invertebrate Link is a voluntary forum of more than 30 key organisations, including the Natural History Museum, concerned with conserving and studying invertebrates.