Little buzz about entomology

January 15, 2009

My late father was a traditional plant pathologist, so I empathise very much indeed with Joan Kelley (Letters, 8 January) and her plea for the training of a new generation of professional plant pathologists able to recognise and identify the myriad fungi, both described and undescribed, that surround us.

My sympathy for the plight of British plant pathology is further increased by the fact that I too belong to an endangered species - I am a classically trained entomologist. Like plant pathology, entomology has suffered from the perception that enthusiastic amateurs are enough to provide for the future.

Although there are many such amateurs around, they too are in decline and there are now individuals who are the only experts on whole groups of insects. None of these individuals is getting any younger.

There is only one formal qualification in entomology available in the UK, the MSc in entomology that I run at the Silwood Park campus of Imperial College London. Looking at the demography of my teaching staff and the recruitment policy of the department, I predict that the last cohort of formally trained entomologists in the UK will graduate in 2015 unless something is done.

As insects and their allies constitute a huge proportion of the world's biodiversity, both beneficial and noxious, it seems unwise to ignore this situation. Ironically, until last year we also ran a MSc in plant pathology. Sadly, staff retirements have meant that we have had to suspend that course until further notice.

Simon R. Leather, Imperial College London.

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