by ANTONY CLAY
THERE is a new man at the top of a national organisation dedicated to promoting natural history – and he is from South Yorkshire.
Steve Rutherford, of Thorpe Hesley, is the new national chairman of the British Naturalists’ Association (BNA) which is open to lovers of nature and encourages research.
Now, Steve intends to use his time at the top to encourage more vital natural history research and to encourage more people to discover the wild world around them.
He is passionate about fauna and flora and believes that bringing people together will enable the answers to be found to the big environmental crises of our time.
Steve recently hosted an event in London about protection of UK marine wildlife which featured experts Maya Plass, Professor Sarah Wanless of Aberdeen University and Dr Tom Cameron from the University of Essex.
But on a county level, Steve has helped run wildlife workshops and visited schools to bring nature to children who are keen to learn.
Steve said that he was voted into the role of BNA chairman following the move of the previous incumbent, Roger Tabor, to become the organisation’s national president.
A member of many years standing, Steve said he was delighted to be chosen for the important role.
“It’s wonderful,” he said.
“It was a surprise.
“I have done a lot to try and promote natural history.”
Indeed, Steve is no stranger to working in the world of natural history. Prior to his retirement, he worked for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in the Dearne Valley for ten years as an information officer which included tasks such as leading guided walks and meeting guests and the public.
But he admitted that since his retirement he been able to throw himself into the BNA’s work of helping people fascinated by natural history.
“I have been able to dedicate my energies to people who wanted to develop as natural historians,” he said.
“With the BNA you can go for a grading system where you can apply for a qualification as part of the BNA.
“It is supporting people who want to learn about and study natural history. People who did not want to go to university but who provide data day by day.
“Anyone can get involved whether they are doing it for the fun of it or are experienced people.
“It’s people who have done extraordinary things like that but have done it in a quiet way.”
The BNA was led for a time by TV botanist and academic Professor David Bellamy.
People can join the BNA as a member, with various opportunities available such as becoming a fellow.
Adding BNA Grade Recognition to membership acknowledges members’ natural history skills and achievements.
It also shows that individuals are furthering the study of natural history as well as building up their skills out in the field.
“I have been a naturalist all my life,” admitted Steve.
“My passion has always been natural history.”
He has written 17 articles for BNA publications on subjects ranging from house sparrows to wild flowers.
Steve set up the South Yorkshire branch of the BNA six years ago and it has already seen five members recognised for natural history work which they have carried out, one example being Mark Dudley’ work on hover flies of which there are 85 species across Britain.
Steve said that the local branch allows people to be recognised for their work and to encourage others.
It currently has 37 members, the oldest being in the mid-seventies and the youngest in their twenties.
Members’ interests are far-ranging covering flowers, frogs and newts, bird life and much more.
“We tend to all go out and learn from each other,” said Steve.
“It helps to develop your individual skills and encourages people to talk about their work. It helps people to develop.
“It’s a mixed group.”
The South Yorkshire branch meets at the Wentworth Garden Centre where members hold special events throughout the school summer holidays on Mondays for children, giving them the opportunity to get up close and personal with wildlife through bug hunts and pond dipping.
“I have also become involved in a number of schools in Rotherham where we have placed bug hotels,” said Steve.
“I want to develop on that theme.
“Children these days are becoming so switched on to what’s happening in the environment. Children do understand. With social media they have learnt so much.”
Steve is also a member of the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, which has a number of nature reserves across the region including Potteric Carr in Doncaster, Sprotbrough Flash in the Dearne Valley and Denaby Ings near Mexborough.
He also does work for the Suffolk Wildlife Trust.
But prior to starting work with the RSPB, his professional life was quite different to his natural history interests.
After leaving school, Steve went into nursing for a few years and then switched careers to become a motorcycle instructor in Leeds where he ran a business.
But he has always been a wildlife fan.
Steve believes that now is a good time to be involved in natural history as more and more people become aware of issues such as climate change and habitat destruction via TV documentaries, news reports and the World Wide Web.
Steve said: “I think it’s started to get through to people now. A lot of the public became interested very quickly but we need to get politicians to understand.
“Over the last four to five years we have begun to understand the urgency of the fact that we have to look after the planet.
“David Attenborough has made a difference with his TV programmes.
“We need to act now on climate. We have got to act now, not just talk about it.
“I think the Government does understand but we need to get the urgency across to politicians.
“It’s going to have to change, It’s got to be the whole world involved.
“We can do this and continue to be prosperous.
“It’s a double-edged sword. We talk about climate but we need to talk about biodiversity and how that’s changing. We are having a boom time as more species are being seen around the British coastline. We are having new insects. We are increasing the birds. But the species that were here before are northern species and so they prefer colder and wetter conditions and they are now being pushed further north. Where will they go eventually?
“I think that’s where the BNA is able to help because we are interested on all aspects of natural history and encourage people to record all types of natural history.”
Steve said that everyone can help wildlife by acts such as leaving untidy areas in gardens and elsewhere for natural plants to become established which in turn boost populations of insects and then birds, mammals and so on.
He said that people need to think of the bigger picture with conservation and that it is about helping the whole ecosystem rather than just individual species.
“People tend to think of honey bees but there are 270 bees in Britain which require a range of plants,” said Steve.
“People have concentrated on honey bees but all native bees need support.”
Steve is a man on a mission to encourage a greater awareness of the natural world, to help more people find out about it and to promote conservation.
He has his work cut out but is determined to use his new high-profile role as chairman to get change for the better.