In Pursuit of the Ridiculous

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Pete Eeles
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In Pursuit of the Ridiculous

Postby Pete Eeles » Thu Nov 08, 2012 8:35 am

Matthew Oates has sent me the following summary of some upcoming and interesting broadcasts on radio 4: see

Programme 5 is the one to watch out for :)

In Pursuit of the Ridiculous - Point and Pointlessness in Natural History

Programme 1 Water Beetling… 12th November

Leading entomologist Andy Foster, known ubiquitously as Foz, has a problem with water beetles. For thirty years he’s fruitlessly sought the Brown Water Beetle Agabus brunneus, a scarce species of gravel-bottomed streams which he once found as a boy in Cornwall.

Each year he launches fresh attempts to find this elusive but far from edifying species, which differs from a great many other water beetles only in that it’s dark brown as opposed to black. It is one of a genus of water beetles obtusely named after a minor character in the Acts of the Apostles. We ponder why.

We join Foz in a particularly futile visit to the New Forest, where the streams are in spate and his quarry either hiding deep in the gravel or flushed downstream into The Solent. Field techniques for finding water beetles are demonstrated, perhaps bizarrely. We challenge Foz on to whether Agabus brunneus is merely a figment of a disturbed imagination, and tempt him to give up beetling altogether and retreat to the pub, permanently. In the event, we retire to a nearby tea room to discuss motivation, need, the importance of the Quest, and the remedying nature of tea and cake.

Andy Foster works for the National Trust as leader of its Biological Survey Team. He is Cornish.

Programme 2 Birding… 13th November
A leisurely visit to the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust’s reserve at Slimbridge deteriorates into a critical examination of the practice of ‘Twitching’. Has what Slimbridge’s founder, Sir Peter Scott, knew as the peaceful practice of ornithology deteriorated into something manic? Are modern birders squandering the world’s dwindling fossil fuel resources by dashing about the country to tick off vagrant birds that have only arrived here from foreign parts by accident or crass stupidity? Is modern birding a shockingly bad advertisement for natural history, and does it have any relevance to all-important biodiversity conservation? And why on earth should we get worked up about a Long-billed Dowitcher, which arrived at Slimbridge after making a ridiculously bad sat nav error whilst migrating in North America?

Dr Rob Lambert, an environmental historian from the University of Nottingham, puts up a vigorous defence of bird twitching, explains the origin of the term and argues that twitching has scientific and conservation relevance. We look closely at the psychology of bird twitching, as an example of tribal behaviour, and at the importance of depth of experience and the gathering in of memories.

Dr Lambert has seen 450 species of birds in the British Isles.

Programme 3 Wild Orchids… 14th November
Many of us are fascinated by things that are rare, precious and beautiful. This may go some way towards explaining why orchids are so deeply valued within British culture. But what is an orchid? In this programme we journey down the Thames to a special nature reserve to see one of Britain's rarest and weirdest plants, the Monkey Orchid – only to find that it is hybridising, spectacularly, with another rare orchid, the Lady Orchid, which recently arrived on the site in mysterious circumstances. Is it natural? Does it matter?

Ace botanist from Plantlife, Dr Andy Byfield, eulogises the manikins of the Monkey Orchid, the knickerbockers of the Lady, and the glories of speciation in the Goring Gap. Reserve Manager Chris Raper explains what’s going on and not going on at this ultra-special place, and how the Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust welcomes visitors to see these wonderful orchids.

We delve deep into the nether regions of hybridisation and reach some surprising conclusions.

Programme 4 Slugged-up… 15th November
Rightly or wrongly, 2012 has gone down in British history as the year of the slug. Some elements of the media have reported on Spanish super-killer rabbit-eating stealth slugs that threaten to end civilisation as we know it. Slugs and snails have devastated every garden and allotment in the UK. So, it’s appropriate for In Pursuit of the Ridiculous to meet up with someone who actually likes these slimy creatures, Dr Mary Seddon, a top European expert. She explains herself.

We go snailing in Cheddar Gorge in deepest Somerset, and discuss the wonders of the UK slug and snail fauna, the joys of identifying and recording them – and get engrossed with and perplexed by mollusc taxonomy, which seems to be becoming evermore convoluted and impossible. Indeed, is modern taxonomy a turn-off, we ask?

Mary reveals an awful lot about what we didn’t know (or want to know) about slugs and snails, and puts up a vigorous defence of these not-so-endearing creatures, and indeed of the wonders and importance of modern taxonomy.

It rather begs the question of what’s lurking in your garden…

Programme 5 The Trance of Nature… 16th November
Devotees of Stella Gibbons’s classic work Cold Comfort Farm will be aware of the Sukebind, a flower whose heady aroma sends people into the nether regions of insanity. Fortunately perhaps, that plant doesn’t exist – but the Purple Emperor butterfly does exist, and performs precisely what Miss Gibbons most feared…

Accompanied by habitual partner-in-crime Neil Hulme of Butterfly Conservation in Sussex, presenter Matthew Oates comes out and admits, shares and explains his addiction to this most unusual insect. The Purple Emperor comes out too, and performs spectacular aero-dynamics almost in front of our eyes. Stunning descriptions are offered, but surely this is not how listeners visualise the peaceful pastime of butterflying? Such behaviour may seem normal and natural at football grounds, but is it appropriate in a forest during high summer? What has happened to reality here? Listeners may be left pondering whether this butterfly should be legal.

Not for nothing was Psyche the Greek goddess of the human soul, who often took the form of a butterfly. Not for nothing was psyche, now with a small P, the ancient Greek word for a butterfly. The links between the butterfly and human psychology, not to mention much-needed psychiatry, are explored, as we enter the very real trance of Nature.

The Ridiculous has been successfully pursued. Perhaps as Dylan Thomas, put deftly it: ‘Though they be mad they shall be sane’.


- Pete

Posts: 145
Joined: Thu Jun 02, 2011 12:59 am
Location: Glasgow

Re: In Pursuit of the Ridiculous

Postby ScottD » Fri Nov 16, 2012 4:29 pm

Posts: 3601
Joined: Wed Mar 19, 2008 6:34 pm

Re: In Pursuit of the Ridiculous

Postby Susie » Fri Nov 16, 2012 6:50 pm

Fabulous! I really, really, enjoyed this :D

My only complaint is that it is radio and not telly because when I heard Neil enthusing over the Emperors spiralling I wanted to see them too desperately! The enthusiasm is so infectious and I can't wait to see his Imperial Majesty next year.

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