Why can’t we all become amateur naturalists?

It is nigh impossible to change the culture of a business let alone change the culture of a planet; however, it is possible – but everything’s against us. Which is why we all need to start today.

Take, for example, the food that we eat: how on Earth (literally!) are we going to provide enough food for another three billion people by 2100 without destroying the natural world? Add to food security the additional demands for healthcare and social cohesion and we’re facing a problem that is not going to go away.

If we’re lucky enough to still be roaming the planet by 2050 we’ll be sharing it with around 9bn other people – that’s a 20% increase in the world’s population.

Sub-Saharan Africa may well become the fastest growing region –  but their problem is our problem: take for example “our” migrating swallows that depend on a safe passage to and from Africa – are they to become a food source? Will there be enough habitat left to sustain their survival? This growing human population will be forced to seek food and shelter elsewhere in the world. We are interconnected.

So what can we do?

We can start by putting our own house in order and then we can all agree on the job – what needs to be done; what must get done. Then we can adopt that as the game plan. It may be too late for many of us to play a part, which is why it’s essential that education becomes the culture changing vein. This is something the contributors to this blog are passionate about and one of the reasons Professor Cooper and his wife Margaret Cooper spend time sharing what they have learned and passing on their knowledge to help fight wildlife crime and care for animals. Together John and Margaret Cooper have passed  on their knowledge the way Maxwell Knight passed on his knowledge as an amateur naturalist to John Cooper when he was a Surrey schoolboy and boy scout.

At times it is an unglamorous and hard life; however, if the life of an amateur naturalist was good enough for one of Britain’s most successful MI5 spy-running agents (Maxwell Knight) and the inspiration behind Ian Fleming’s “M” it might just be a worthy way for us (and our children) to spend our time, too.

Why can’t we all become amateur naturalists?

We can.

Simon King

Maxwell Knight and The Frightened Face of Nature manuscript

Nature: friend or foe?


“Many people think that animals of all kinds can be neatly put into groups and labelled Friend, or Foe; or Harmless, or Harmful. Unfortunately, nature does not work like this, and there are very few creatures in this country that can be described as wholly beneficial or equally destructive… 

This business of friends and foes in nature is a complicated one, but the way to approach it is to learn all we can about the habits of these animals before we decide whether they are guilty or not guilty.”

– Maxwell Knight (Source: The Frightened Face of Nature).


It’s true, Maxwell Knight’s notoriety isn’t without controversy…

His skills were honed as a member of Rotha Lintorn-Orman’s British Fascists who imported the ideology of Fascism. He was the group’s spymaster and managed to assemble a large number of amateur sleuths, who reported regularly on Communist group activity. It was his success during these pre-war Fascist interventions that made him a must-have recruit for MI5. Previous books and articles have uncovered aspects of Maxwell Knight’s life, behaviour and psychology to leave readers in no doubt that he wasn’t immune to foibles and human weaknesses. All that glistens is not gold and he would be amongst the first to have admitted that he was indeed just human.

Scratch deeper, though, and “the truth,” as Winston Churchill once said “is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may defend it, but in the end, there it is.” Maxwell Knight’s fascinating contribution to natural history and national history.

He lived two very separate, but equally influential, lives. He had (at times) the ear of Winston Churchill, during the Second World War; the respect of his naturalist peers, which included the professional zoo community, leading wildlife charities and the blessing of the BBC to broadcast confidently to a nation.

This is a man who knew how to be a detective in the field and organise a mine of counter-subversion information and who used his powers of deduction to record The Frightened Face of Nature to forewarn all of us that nature only lives once.