Admission of Simon H King as a Fellow of The Linnean Society of London (FLS)

It seemed like an age had passed since Margaret E Cooper FLS informed me that she intended to recommend me for election to Fellowship of The Linnean Society of London and emailed over the formal certificate of recommendation – listing my qualifications along with a lengthy reference dated 9 September 2019. Margaret wrote that it was ‘necessary to demonstrate how, both professionally and privately, you have promoted natural history.’

Here’s what Margaret wrote:

CERTIFICATE OF RECOMMENDATION

MR SIMON H KING

My husband and I have known Simon – and worked with him – for nearly ten years. Our association was initially through Simon’s responsibilities as Associate Director (Digital and International Trade) of John E Haith Ltd (Haith’s), the suppliers of specialist seed and other foods for birds, both captive and wild.

He is also a Northern Powerhouse (Export) Champion (a voluntary role), the recipient of an Inaugural Board of Trade Award and a speaker at Department of International Trade events.

While the main business of Haith’s is the sale of bird and fish feeds, the company’s website and Wildlife Catalogue (https://www.haiths.com/browse-our-brochure-online/) provide advice and information regarding birds and garden wildlife. Simon is the lead contributor to the Haith’s wildlife blog.

Together with Simon, we have organised training sessions for the Haith’s staff and (through my husband’s laboratory work) the quality testing of seeds that help to promote the health and welfare of birds.

In addition to his professional, business, literary and family commitments, Simon has devoted substantial time to the study of Maxwell Knight, one of the best-loved BBC naturalists in the 1950s and 60s, who was also considered Britain’s greatest spymaster. Maxwell Knight was a Fellow of the Linnean Society.

Simon has taken a deep interest in the life and work of Maxwell Knight, not only as a spymaster but also in the latter’s many contributions to natural history. Simon has organised and catalogued a collection of Knight’s papers and artefacts. He set up, and manages, the Maxwell Knight/Frightened Face of Nature (FFON) website (see:  https://thefrightenedfaceofnature.com/). He uses it to provide information about interesting, important and pressing issues relating to wildlife and conservation.

In November 2018 Simon organised, jointly with my husband and myself, a Symposium commemorating the life and work, especially as a naturalist, of Maxwell Knight. Simon gave a paper (available on the FFON website) that examined the connection between the two aspects of Maxwell Knight’s life and his concerns for wildlife and the environment, the latter still relevant 50 years after Knight’s death.

Simon King’s concern for the natural world, his recognition of the importance of a healthy environment to human well-being, and his aim to increase public awareness of the growing threats to our planet permeate much of what he does.

I believe that Simon King has, both professionally and privately, done a great deal to promote natural history. Simon has visited the Linnean Society, met some of its staff, and attended a meeting. He would be proud and honoured to become a Fellow and I am happy to nominate him.

Margaret E Cooper LLB, FLS, Hon FFFLM

Thank you, Margaret.

Regular readers of the FFON blog will already know that John and Margaret Cooper are a formidable husband and wife team, from the United Kingdom. “John E Cooper trained as a veterinary surgeon and is now a specialist pathologist with particular interests in wildlife and exotic species, tropical diseases and comparative medicine. Margaret E Cooper is a lawyer who qualified originally as a British solicitor and has made the study of animal and conservation law her special interest.” If you don’t already know about their work, please click here to find out more.

The three of us are equally focused on using this platform to provide information about interesting, important and pressing issues relating to wildlife and conservation – which is one of the reasons Margaret wanted to sponsor me for the Fellowship.

On 14 November 2019, I was thrilled to see a large white envelope on the doormat franked proudly with the Linnean Society coat of arms (crest). I’ve been lucky enough to open a number of envelopes containing exciting news, but this one was always going to be extra-special to me for several reasons:

First, my sponsor, Margaret E Cooper FLS, who I have the deepest of respect for, had been kind enough to feel me worthy of a Fellowship and – what’s more – had taken time out of her busy schedule to pen the certificate of recommendation.

Second, even though the Linnean Society was founded in 1788, it remains ‘a forum for Natural History,’ and Fellows are dedicated to the ‘study and dissemination of information concerning natural history, evolution, and taxonomy.’

Third, I’m following in the footsteps of Maxwell Knight FLS who was, of course, himself a Fellow of The Linnean Society of London and would have walked through those very same imposing entrance doors to Burlington House, Piccadilly, London.

Field Work for Young Naturalists – Maxwell Knight (Bell 1966)

So, I opened the envelope and there it was: a certificate stating that ‘at a meeting of the Society on 17th October 2019 Simon King was elected a Fellow of the Linnean Society in accordance with the charters and bye-laws.

All I now needed to do was attend the formal admission at Burlington House and sign the ‘book of obligation.’

The Coopers suggested we attend the ‘Biodiversity Winners and Losers from Climate Warming‘ evening lecture (16 January 2020) by Jane Hill a Professor of Ecology in the Department of Biology at the University of York. 

When the day finally arrived, my wife and I joined the Coopers, Paul Budgen FLS, Dr Valerie Jeffries FLS and Sally Dowsett for a much-appreciated gathering for high-tea at the Royal Academy, which is but a gentle stroll across the courtyard from Burlington House.

The welcoming committee was encouraged by John Cooper to scribble a few notes on a postcard (Picasso’s Fish), which was presented to me along with a few kind words from John. I was very touched by the kind words from all.

After tea and cake, we ventured outside and meandered across the wet courtyard.

We arrived at Burlington House earlier than expected. Nervously, I opened the door and half expected to be told I was too early; however, the Linnean team were ready for us – which goes to show that good naturalists are ready for anything!

I entered the meeting room, which is described aptly by the Society: ‘under the watchful gaze of our original portraits of Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace, our historic Meeting Room is the cornerstone of the Linnean Society.‘ And I, for one, wouldn’t argue with that description.

A member of The Linnean Society team (Leanne) was kind enough to walk me through the proceedings. Thankfully, I was second (of four) on the list of elected Fellows – I was pleased not to be the first.

Sandra Knapp, President of The Linnean Society, watched over me as I signed the ‘book of obligation’ and then shook my hand as she welcomed me to the Society. I could feel the eyes of 120 or so people watching me too; however, it was the weight of the Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace oil paintings that made my legs feel weak and my mouth dry. I tried to say thank you, but I don’t think my mouth was open for business. I’d normally fight off these debilitating feelings, but I decided it was perfectly fine to feel nervous and overwhelmed in the company of so many talented people. Given the history, depth and breadth of the Society it was natural to feel uncomfortable even though everyone had been so kind, generous and welcoming.

Photo credit: The Linnean Society of London

After the formal admission I sat back in my seat and smiled while my sponsor (Margaret Cooper, FLS) took this photo, which I think speaks volumes.

I can now officially and proudly wear my Linnean Society tie.

The talk ‘Biodiversity Winners and Losers from Climate Warming‘ was excellent and I note the Society have published it on You Tube here.

After the talk, we gathered for a glass of wine in the library. I’d like to thank Paul Budgen for the first glass. Within twenty minutes a number of FLS had introduced themselves to me and took the opportunity to tell me more about the Society. Even Sandra Knapp (President) introduced herself and a conversation about ‘that hat’ ensued!

Enjoying the moment we lost track of time and needed to rally the Coopers to make a dash for a Black Cab to King’s Cross stopping briefly to take this photo outside Burlington House.

I’d like to thank my Sponsor, Margaret E Cooper FLS and Prof John E Cooper for encouraging me to do more to help the natural world. The Coopers bring people together and I’m grateful to have met Paul, Valerie and Sally to steady my nerves before the formal admission.

I hope I can repay the Coopers’ confidence by encouraging others to value natural history and not take nature for granted.

Simon H King FLS

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