The Great Bug Hug

In a weak moment, I’ve made my first bet — and I need your help to win it.

I work in Buglife Scotland, the invertebrates conservation charity. I bet my boss I could find them 100 new members in a year – so I’m hoping you might fork out £2 a month and join them.

Yesterday was fairly typical day in the office:

Craig, the head, is speaking to Radio Scotland, defending the rare Fonseca Seed Fly which inhabits dunes near Dornoch, threatened by a golf course.

“If it were pandas or tigers, we wouldn’t be having this conversation,” he’s saying. “This species is found only in Scotland: we have an international moral responsibility for it — and we have to speak up for it, because it can’t speak up for itself”.

Suzie leading a bug hunt on Arthur's Seat
Suzie leading a bug hunt on Arthur’s Seat

Gabby is out getting people doing a wood ant survey, #NestQuest. Suzie is also out creating green roofs and wildflower meadows on an invertebrate highway across the central belt, the John Muir Pollinator Way.

Scott, who’d probably rather be out on the 9000 year-old peat bog he is restoring, breaks off his day of wrestling spreadsheets to take me and David, the interns, for a lunchtime bug-hunt.

Lunchtime bug hunt with Scott and David
Lunchtime bug hunt with Scott and David

Buglife hosts lots of interns, and we emerge soaked in entomological expertise and enthusiasm. Both of us are tasked with passing that enthusiasm on to others: me to MSP Species Champions, and David to seemingly thousands of children.

Who knew that there are hundreds of species of micro-moth, of a dazzling array of beauty and cuteness? I thought they were just dusty things that ate one’s jumpers. I find different ones whenever I walk through long grass.

Who knew that Mayflies, those dangly things over rivers, come in over 50 British varieties: a fascinating and photogenic dancing creature, older than dinosaurs. Craig writes papers about them in his spare time.

An elegant Mayfly
An elegant Mayfly

But there’s one thing Buglife forget to speak up for: themselves. Almost without exception, when I tell people I work for Buglife, I’m met with blank looks.

This is not just a matter of modesty. Buglife is a member organisation. Having members gives it political clout — and when we are losing the environmental protection of the EU, when US investors are golf-coursing our dunes, when biodiversity is seemingly at the bottom of everyone’s political agendas — then having the weight of membership behind it is crucial.

Some of my micromoths
Some of my micromoths

Anyone who has followed Scottish and British party politics in the last few years knows how important membership is. Wildlife organisations are, in a sense, the political parties of non-human life: by joining them you lend them a great weight of endorsement.

Membership also means financial freedom. Membership funds provide the crucial core funding to pursue the unglamorous work that so often constitutes biodiversity protection. It’s hard enough for peat bogs and glow worms to compete with woodland and wildcat for funding and public awareness, never mind open mosaic habitat or the Manx Shearwater flea.

And so this was the soapbox I got up on one day in the office, when I bet Craig I could find 100 new members for Buglife in Scotland in a year.

A dinner is hanging on it.

More importantly my honour is hanging on it.

And much more importantly, 24,000 species, far more than are covered by any other conservation charity, are hanging on it (other invertebrate charities, covering the glamorous species such as butterflies and bumblebees, only cover around 1000 species). We have to speak up for them, because they can’t speak up for themselves.

So begins: the year of the Great Bug Hug.

So please join Buglife here. It will set you back £2 a month, somewhere between a bus ticket and a cup of coffee. It’s not all altruistic: you do get an excellent membership pack with invertebrate goodies.

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And when you fill in the form, where it says, “Where did you hear about Buglife”, the answer is — Eleanor Harris.

And please tell your friends: on facebook, on twitter, in the pub, #BugHug — you know the stuff.

And thank you!

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Bain Bagging

Being up north last week gave me the opportunity to test out Clifton Bain’s The Ancient Pinewoods of Scotland: A Companion Guide, by visiting one of the most northerly of the pinewoods in Glen Alladale.

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You can read about this estate, which belongs to the enterprising and controversial Paul Lister in this article by Cameron MacNeish. My main aim was to test Clifton’s book, newly published in pocket format, and to enjoy exploring one of my favourite habitats, ancient pinewood.

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I’m increasingly of the view that one should explore Scottish habitats according to the weather:

If it’s a sunny, blustery day, go to see the peat bogs sparkle.

If it’s cool with high cloud, hike up the Munros to see the alpines.

If it’s hot and sultry, go to a white-sand beach for a swim.

And if it’s rainy, go to the forest, which will shelter you and also looks its best in the rain. Just one excellent reason Scotland’s forests should be restored to a much larger extent.

20160704_131554Caledonian pine forests feel biodiverse. They buzz and flutter with things, and there’s always the hope of Red squirrels and Crossbills: I had an unconfirmed glimpse of the latter, a departing flash of crimson.

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The book was all a companion guide should be: properly pocket-sized with a shower-proof cover doubling as a marker, with easily followed directions (designed so you can explore by public transport – but we didn’t), and a clear description. Ideally one would have the delicious coffee-table edition waiting back home, with the full text on the cultural heritage of these pine forests: the pocket version merely hints at a ‘sad tale of the Clearances’.

So begins the challenge of Bain Bagging: visiting all the ancient woods of Scotland. There are 38 pine forest to collect, and then there is the companion volume of the Atlantic Rainforests, which are all over Britain and Ireland.

I’m looking forward to collecting more, if I’m lucky enough to get wet days…