CLM Spring issue 2018 - Page 7



Editorial
Keeping watch
Path through Selborne Common. John Morrison/Alamy
T
he study of the etymology
of animal names is endlessly
fascinating. Everything has been
named for a reason, but many of
those reasons have been lost in the
mists of time, and peering through
those mists in an attempt to get at
the truth can become addictive. In
this issue, regular columnist Robert
Burton reveals his own ‘dilettante
interest in etymology’ and his
column is a fascinating read. One
hopes that he will return to the
subject again one day.
Elsewhere in this issue, there is
something of a monitoring theme.
Rob Fuller is the lead author on a
paper that focuses on the increasing
importance of monitoring wildlife
responses to habitat management,
while David Wembridge and
Steve Langton reveal the results
of a study of urban mammals that
demonstrates the role that citizen
science can play in monitoring.
There is an interesting link
between these two themes. To
monitor is to keep an eye on
something over a period of time,
but the etymology, or derivation,
of the word implies potential
danger. Its root lies in the Latin:
‘monere’ means ‘to warn’ or ‘to
alert’. Monitoring is not just about
keeping a continuous count or
measurement, but about doing
so in order to become aware
of any impending threat. (As a
side-note, it is believed that the
monitor lizards of Africa, Asia and
Australasia get their name from a
habit of standing on their hind legs
to give themselves a better view
of oncoming predators such as
crocodiles.)
Monitoring in order to warn
of danger lies at the hub of
conservation, and surely there are
few countries in the world better
placed than ours to do a good
job of it. After all, we have been
keeping an eye on the wildlife
around us for a very, very long time,
and recording our findings. Today,
there are courses and degrees and
funding to encourage those with
an interest to find out more and to
contribute towards conservation,
but that interest in the natural
world was entrenched in the minds
of many long before conservation
was a considered concept. Those
naturalists of the past were more
often than not trained in another
field – medicine, the church, the
law – but they had a fascination
with nature and, between them,
built a sizeable body of knowledge.
That knowledge was based
upon observation, which today lies
at the root of monitoring. ‘More
real knowledge of natural history
will be gained in a single summer
spent in personal examination,
than by years of book study’, wrote
the Reverend J. G. Wood in his
Common Objects of the Country
of 1858. He was echoing that
much earlier writer Gilbert White
of Selborne, who described himself
as an ‘outdoor naturalist, one that
takes his observations from the
subject itself, and not from the
writings of others.’ In fact, you
could say that White, Cook and
countless other clergymen, doctors
and lawyers were early examples of
loosely structured citizen science in
action (you could, but they probably
would have hated the phrase).
Protection of our natural
world requires an ever-greater
understanding of it, and the more
people who can contribute to that
understanding, in all its forms, the
better. Monitoring schemes and
ideas such as those discussed in
this issue not only cast light upon
the plight of wildlife, but also help
to bring more people into even
greater contact with nature. Surely
we were born for that: after all,
etymologically, nature is birth.
Malcolm Tait, Editor
February 2016 British Wildlife 153
BWM27_3 01 editorial.indd 153
29/01/2016 11:37

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