Tomorrow's Invertebrate Recorder: Aaron Bhambra



Aaron Bhambra has attended several FSC Natural History courses and has well and truly been bitten by the entomology "bug". In this blog he explains how the FSC and the FSC Biolinks Project has helped him to develop his identification and teaching skills, boosting his career and encouraging him to set up a local invertebrate recording group. Go Aaron! 


Where my interest in invertebrates started

Ironically, invertebrates are the backbone of life on earth, without them the very foundations for which this staggering complexity is built upon would crumble. Despite making up 97% of all animals on this planet, creepy crawlies are often overlooked as creatures worth celebrating and cherishing. This is slowly changing, thanks to the efforts of organisations like the Field Studies Council, who shine a light on the small and seemingly insignificant wildlife hiding in plain sight. My love is with Aculeates, a collective term ascribed to any flying insects which possess a stinger, mainly Bees and Wasps. I wasn’t always interested in insects, I like many others associated them with bites, infections and ruined picnics, but this all changed once I started to spend more time observing their behaviour. They would act not too dissimilarly to humans, with their territoriality, persistent fighting and urges to reproduce. It became clear to me that despite their size, we weren’t so different after all. But the question which perplexed me most, was quite simple ‘what are you?’.

How the FSC has helped me

The sheer abundance of insects alone in this country is enough to keep you confused for a lifetime and for a beginner, knowing the difference between a Fly and a Bee or a Beetle and a Bug is a formidable challenge. This is where the FSC come in, as a charity focussed on environmental education they know how to break down difficult subjects for people to understand. They equip you with skills that you would struggle to find elsewhere, such as how to follow dichotomous keys and operate microscopes. But most importantly, they teach you how to identify invertebrates with a sense of confidence.

During my first FSC course, I attended a workshop identifying Wasps (everyone’s favourite insects…) and became enthralled by their complexity and unique beauty, which can only truly be appreciated looking down a microscope. I was amazed to learn about how some solitary Wasps help to break down wood by digging inside dead trees. Their nesting holes create entry routes for water and fungi to get inside, helping to accelerate the rate of decomposition and return the carbon locked inside back into the earth. After being well and truly bitten by the entomology bug, I attended some more courses and not long after I felt confident enough to carry out my own surveys. I bought myself a microscope and began surveying urban green spaces throughout Birmingham. After showing an interest in the FSC aculeate workshops, I was kindly asked by Charlie (the Project Officer for the West Midlands) to assist an aculeate expert with some natural history courses. Helping to teach these courses was a valuable experience and one which would later help me land a job with the Wildlife Trusts.

Tomorrow's Invertebrate Recorders

My training with the FSC and FSC BioLinks Project continued throughout the year and during August of 2019 I won a place on one of their week long residential courses for young people interested in the natural world. The ‘Tomorrows Invertebrate Recorders Competition’ gave 14 young people an intensive run through of the biological recording process, including survey techniques, data submission and an overview of the recording network. As part of this residential course you are given the opportunity to learn how to identify either Earthworms or Spiders, as a way of encouraging people to record more of these undervalued inverts. For me, it was a no brainer, Earthworms are some of the most mysterious and interesting animals on the planet and yet I feel that most people would struggle to name a single species. After an in depth discussion about their ecology, anatomy and ecological importance, we were given some worm specimens to investigate down our microscopes. I ought to point out here the importance of using specimens, as it might seem cruel to kill an animal in order to learn about it. But this is essential and in the long run does no harm to the species overall.

Ultimately, the more you know about the biology and anatomy of an animal, the more you can do to help conserve and protect it. During our worm course, we were sent out to catch some specimens from the grounds of Preston Montford, a site of immense beauty nestled in Shropshire. As natures recyclers, worms are vital for restoring nutrients into our ecosystem. They lay eggs, breathe through their skin, have both male and female reproductive organs and every autumn they drag fallen leaves underground, allowing the nutrients locked inside to be returned to the soil. what’s not to love! I had my 25th Birthday during the Tomorrows Invert Recorders course and it was one I will never forget. This experience nurtures your curiosity and your ability to think critically, whilst providing you with the skills to make a difference. I would recommend this course (and many other FSC courses) to young people with a passion for conservation and an interest in the natural world.

Think B.I.G! 

The experience the FSC have given me with teaching natural history courses has inspired me to form the ‘Birmingham Invertebrate Group’ or B.I.G. This research group will give anyone interested in invertebrates the opportunity to learn how to identify different species. The aim is to strengthen the biological recording network of the West Midlands and to develop the skills of young people interested in invertebrate conservation and ecology. Now more than ever, we need a new generation of researchers, entomologists and insect enthusiasts.

The global rate of extinction for insects is 8 times faster than those of Mammals, Birds, Reptiles and Amphibians. It is easy to feel helpless in the face of such an extraordinary catastrophe, but you can be part of the solution if you want to be. By attending courses with the FSC and following their learning pathway, you can develop from an amateur into an expert and contribute to reversing insect decline, one of the most pertinent and overlooked issues of our time. And remember, if you live in the West Midlands and have a love of the little things, think B.I.G!

- Blog by Aaron Bhambra