BNSS - FIRST IMPRESSIONS
This is based on an edited version submitted to the BNSS for its newsletter in August 2012
At some stage in the future, I will update - The Bournemouth Natural Science Society

I moved to Bournemouth in November 2011. In January this year, I put my car in for a service and after talking to Laura, a young girl from the Tourist Information Office, I decided to kill a few hours, take her advice and visit the BNSS - The Bournemouth Natural Science Society. This was my first piece of luck, as by chance it was a Tuesday, it was morning, and little did I know that this was the only day and time it was guaranteed to be open every week. My second piece of luck was the BNSS itself. I was shown around and introduced to members by John Cresswell– signed there and then and as I said at the time - I was awestruck. I have remained so ever since.

I love the study of reptiles, insects, history, archaeology, mammals, astronomy, geography, geology, biographies, flora, trees and my favourite subject for the last few years has been quantum physics (I am fascinated by it all, though understand little - but then no one understands it). I love everything to do with the natural world, from single-cell creatures to the great whales, the beauty of maths, the big bang, Darwinism, fossils, geology, flora and fauna, the Universe and the weirdness of quantum.

So, you are thinking to yourselves, we have a new genius in our midst, a polymorph, makes Stephen Fry look average, a future lecturer and guide leader on - everything. Well - - - - - no. I love everything to do with the natural world, its personalities, its history and heroes: Einstein, Bohr, Darwin, Lord Alfred Wallace, Attenborough, Packham, William Smith, Cooke, Joseph Banks, the plant hunters, science and nature but - unfortunately am an expert in nothing, a ‘master of none’, a 'Jack of no Trades'. I have watched and enjoyed wildlife since the age of 9, entranced by its beauty, horrified by its Darwinian cruelty, but have mastered no subject. I am a writer and professional photographer (I remain a photographer and still edit magazines) so, am happy to tender these small contributions when required by the society, but alas, that is the limit to what I can offer.

Now I have just discovered that Lord Alfred Wallace, one of our great naturalists, my fourth all-time hero (after Brunel, Darwin and Shackleton) is buried in nearby Broadstone Cemetery, his headstone is a fossillised tree, and he was one of the original members of the BNSS!

Here at the BNSS we have experts seemingly in every field of endeavour: astronomers, ornithologists, archaeologists, historians, geologists - everything. I am still amazed that there is even a room, a very small room, which houses an Egyptian mummy, Tahemaa, together with about 140 genuine Egyptian artifacts! The fervour becomes infectious, as Stephanie explains the life stories of Tahemaa, showing you 3D scans of the bodies, with their rotten teeth and ailments. I learned more here in 15 minutes than walking though a whole line of mummies in the British museum, where there are so many, you tend to just ‘walk through’. So it is in every department.

Sometimes I genuinely cannot believe my luck, living so close to such an institution. This is close to nirvana to me. The only downside from my first impressions is that which afflicts nearly every wildlife society – the lack of youngsters. The BNSS is no different from anywhere else. Children love cartoons (which are largely based on animals), they love birds, animals, pond-dipping, looking at bugs - and then come the dreaded teens and they tend to disappear, understandably so. Hormones kick in, going on field trips might be considered ‘uncool’, there is the computer, smartphone, Facebook, and as we know, those who have retired have (on average) more income, more leisure time, available transport; so it’s all fair enough and reasonable. No, the problem is not the kids; it’s that they do not return later on. Where are the 20, 30, 40 year olds? Where did that love of nature go?

This is entitled ‘First Impressions’ and so it is. I will discover more. From the first day I felt, and was made to feel, immediately at home, by nearly everyone, by world experts and others 30 years as members, and here was I having just come off the street. There seems a desire and love to impart knowledge.

If you are interested in birds,or butterflies, geology, geography, fossils, history, astronomy, insects, spiders, fungi, flora, trees, evolution, mammals, reptiles, archeology, field trips, talks, then the BNSS is for you. Not cheap, but not expensive, for virtually everything is then free for the year. It costs about the equivalent for a night out at the theatre for two. You can volunteer to help, or just enjoy it all. Lectures are thankfully restricted to one hour, so it does not become 'work'. There are top of the range world authorities, both as members or lecturers. It is heartening that individuals will come from near and far to impart their knowledge, just for the barest of expenses (not quite on a MP's scale).

The British are a curious people; curious meaning - 'I wonder what is over that horizon?' So, we sent James Cook to study the transit of Venus, and whilst he was at it, why not go around the world? So he did this - 3 times. We disptched explorers, plant hunters, we discovered fossils, and pondered their meaning - what was a fossillised ammonite doing on top of a hill in Oxfordshire? We pondered and tried to find answers. Later, this mantle may have been taken over by the USA. There may have been more than one reason for going to the moon, maybe to show capitalism was better than communism during the space race, but the overriding reason was just simple curiousity. There can be no greater reason and a reflection of the greatness of that country. What was up there? Later Voyagers 1 & 2 were sent on their fantastic trips to the unknown, to the edge of the solar system and then beyond on a grand tour, and 35 years later we are still getting information from Voyager 1! If this intrigues you, join the BNSS. You do not need to be a slingshot trajectory mathematical genius, you do not need to an academic, you do not need to be an expert in anything, but have that curiosity, that wonder, a yearning for knowledge that a 5 year-old has, and you will enjoy this Society. There are a mere 250 members of the BNSS, so plenty of room if you wish to join. If you live within a 30 mile radius, and love the natural world, have not lost your childish curiousity, then pay a visit or check out the website - now. If you live further away, put your residence up for sale - now - and move to sunny Bournemouth.

We should never forget how this place is run by volunteers, from the person who makes the tea, to the Chairman, President, writers, lecturers, field guide leaders, data collectors, historians, photographers, and many others who all do this solely for their love of subject and for their fellow man, expecting no pay, expenses or even thanks.

If you wish to see it, check the website, or come on a field trip, or visit on a Tuesday morning when it is open to all, or when they have Open Days and special weekend events.

I have told my friends that Dorset has so much to offer, it is the best county for wildlife and scenery, so they should all sell up move here immediately, and in addition there is the BNSS. A beautifully tended garden, 2 or 3 lectures every week (and as stated, these are restricted to an hour - perfect), regular field trips, experts in everything to do with the natural world, a combination of the Science, the Natural History, the Geological and the British Museum, a library, thousands of exhibits such as butterflies, birds, shells and fossils, all cramped together in one ‘house’. It must make it unique, certainly in Britain and perhaps anywhere in the world, and it is all within walking distance for me. It is worth moving to Bournemouth just to be near the Society. When the 3-month programme is revealed, there is however a problem - that is, I want to attend virtually every lecture and field trip; again, I am not being flippant. I should in fairness ad that not all lectures are unforgetable, although some are for the wrong reason. Some are good, some are outstanding, and some are lousy. However, this is often a subjective emotion, and others will disagree (although they are sadly deluded with poor taste and awful judgement).

I love everything about Bournemouth, its vibrancy and youth, I love everything about this most scenic county of Dorset and I feel lucky and fortunate that I have discovered the matchless BNSS http://www.bnss.org.uk/

 

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BOURNEMOUTH NATURALLY

For the next 2 years, Heather Dixon will be running 'Bournemouth Naturally', with assistance from the BNSS, together with the Wildlife Trusts, Lottery funding and many other groups. This is to encourage locals to become involved in recording or simply enjoying the wildlife that the town and immediate surroundings has to offer. The walks and talks are free, are for all ages, and it is a great way of learning about the natural world, and discovering the vast number of green spaces around Bournemouth. Information here on the website - http://www.bnss.org.uk/bournemouth-naturally

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