FSC | Field Studies Council

Field Studies Council: Bringing Environmental Understanding to All

1962 John Bebbington, retired Head of Juniper Hall, Somerset - FSC Malham Tarn

Now over 70 years old, I have been interested in invertebrates for most of my life (my parents said that I started at the age of two!). Attending Insect Week at FSC Malham Tarn was an absolute revelation.

Now over 70 years old, I have been interested in invertebrates for most of my life (my parents said that I started at the age of two!). By the time I reached secondary school I was completely immersed in insects and plants. I had to make a choice of 'A' levels - and chose Biology, Chemistry and French! This didn't go down well with a traditional boys' grammar school and I had problems from the start of the sixth form.

Yet another summons to the Head's study! However I found that far from being in trouble (for once) I was being offered a Romany Society bursary to attend a (then) Council for the Promtion of Field Studies course. I chose 'Insect Week' at Malham Tarn.

Arriving at the Centre on a Wednesday afternoon I was greeted by the then Warden, Paul Holmes, and his wife, who made me welcome and immediately showed me a cage of Emperor Moth larvae - something I had never seen before. They suggested that I take a walk over the Moss before evening meal and I was entranced by the completely new habitat and amazed to find a Lunar Hornet moth sitting by the walkway.

The course was an absolute revelation. I was the only school age member of the group, but all the adults were very supportive although amused by my home-made collecting gear and storage boxes (chocolate boxes with wine-bottle corks stuck in, and dressmaking pins!).

The course tutor, Allan Brindle (Curator of Entomology at Leeds Museum was incredibly helpful and at the end of the week said that he would see what he could do about equipment. I didn't really think much about it but a couple of weeks later a BRS van drew up outside our council house with two tea-chests of collecting and storage equipment!

I think that that was the moment when I decided to try to work for FSC - if the Centre and its visiting tutors were so supportive then it must be a great organisation.

Wind on to 1969 - I was a research student at UCNW Bangor and met up with two fellow postgraduates who were working with a member of staff at Rhyd-y-Creuau, monitoring Lesser Horseshoe bats in the old sulphur mines at Trefriw. Another exposure to FSC which strengthened my resolve, and a strong desire to work at Rhyd-y-Creuau - but the staff seemed firmly rooted!

Towards the end of my time at UCNW I started job-hunting and found that I was too specialised for industry and not specialised enough for university. However a tutor post at Rhyd-y-Creuau was advertised so I applied and was given an interview.

After waiting in the library with a female candidate - we more or less ignored each other - I had my interview and went back to Bangor. I was amazed and delighted to receive the offer of a job, staring in October 1970.

In September I was invited to observe a day's seashore ecology. Waiting at the bus stop was the woman who had also been iterviewed - "What are you doing here?" we asked each other. It turned out that there had been two posts!

We both decided to give the job a year or two and then move on to 'something better' but within a few months we both realised that despite the long hours and low pay we had each found a niche - we eventually retired from FSC 34 years later!

After working together for a few years we married, then I moved to Juniper Hall as Head of Centre in 1978 Our two daughters were born and brought up there, and we discovered that the building had a fascinating history, being the home of French 'aristos' fleeing the Revolution in 1793, and the dining-room was where Fanny Burney, the first successful English authoress, met her husband, Alexandre d'Arblay. We were fortunate to have the support of a very active Friends group, with Roger Chapman, Secretary and Treasurer in the '70s and '80s and they raised very large sums which enabled FSC to make significant improvements to facilities.

While at Juniper Hall we contributed to the FSC fold-out chart suite - eventually we were involved in 11 of them.

We left Juniper Hall in 2004 when I retired, and we will always be grateful for the experience of working for such a fantastic organisation. We both had the opportunity to teach groups from reception class age to third level OU ecology - and the learning opportunities for us were a tremendous bonus.

We are still learning! Old habits die hard.