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Essex Field Club
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Sun 27th May 2012 15:38 by Graham Smith
Name Changes
Eurasian Robin? Northern Wheatear?  Hedge Accentor? As opposed to the likes of American Robin, Black-eared Wheatear and Alpine Accentor. We have only one Robin, one Wheatear and one Accentor breeding in this country and had never felt the need to elaborate until recently when the BOU decided that we needed a more definitive approach to our use of vernacular names. It is not likely to help foreigners interpret articles in English as different countries have different vernacular names for these species and, anyway, the Latin name - which should always be included in articles of a scientific nature - should make it clear exactly what species is being written about. Order and consistency are what they had in mind presumably but whether such changes were necessary............. As for the newly created Common Cuckoo, Common Kingfisher, Common Bullfinch and Common Linnet - there is a depressing series of misnomers for you! With regards to the Winter Wren, bird taxonomists tend to be either 'lumpers' or 'splitters' but I'm not sure whether current thinking is to 'lump' the American bird with our own or to 'split' it into a separate species. Come back next week and the answer may be different! The 'splitters' seem to have won with the Chiffchaff (sorry, Common Chiffchaff) but I'm not sure exactly how many species there are considered to be at present - it could be up to a dozen!

Personally, I like to keep the old English names going - those that were taught to be during childhood walks with my father and grandfather. Thus, a Robin will always be a Redbreast, a Hedge Accentor a Hedge-e-Bet, a Great Tit a Tom Tit, a Mistle Thrush a Mavis, a Wren a Jenny and a House Sparrow a Spadger or a Sprog. Then there is Plum Pudding for Red Campion, Shirt Buttons for Greater Stitchwort and Paeggles for Cowslip, not to forget the dear old Hodmedod, otherwise known as the Garden Snail!

Modern natural history does sometimes seem obsessed with lists. World Lists, National lists, County lists, Vice County Lists, Reserve Lists, Red Data Book Species lists, Biodiversity Action Plan Lists and so on and so forth, ad nauseum. They are often necessary of course, especially when writing articles on a given area, but there are times when I feel that their chief purpose is to simply advertise the achievement of the person doing the listing. Modern birdwatchers - or Birders as we are now known - are particularly addicted to this form of listing. There is much more to natural history than that and last Friday I was fortunate enough to attend a lecture given by the author Richard Mabey, who emphasizes that in his work. It was held in the Dame Bradbury's School at Saffron Walden and took the form of an interview rather than a lecture. It only lasted an hour, with a further twenty minutes for audience questions, and there were no slides, only anecdotes from the author, but it was a truly marvellous experience. There is a man who appreciates that relaxing beneath the shade of a tree on a warm summer's day, idly watching Swallows skim low across the wheat fields while the mind settles drowsily, deliciously, into peace to the soft crooning accompaniment of Turtle Doves in the wood behind and a duet of church bells and Cuckoos drifting across the meadows from afar is just as much about natural history as listing everything that moves!

Incidentally, I have always looked on Saffron Walden as an upmarket kind of place but I see that it has the same problems as the rest of us. The large green open space near where we parked was littered with groups of youngsters enjoying a beautiful summer's evening when we arrived and littered with their rubbish when we left!!!

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