Obituary - Eric Philp

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Monday, 04 February 2013 18:31

ERIC GEORGE PHILP

1930 – 2013

Eric Philp

Eric Philp, Keeper of Natural History at Maidstone Museum, 1958-1993, former President and Honorary member of the Kent Field Club died on 8th January 2013 aged 82. He will be greatly missed by all. He was a major driving force behind founding the Kent Field Club (the Natural History Society of Kent) in 1955, in conjunction with Tony Tynan, former Keeper of Natural History at the Museum and Mr George Morgan.

Eric took on many executive roles in the Field Club as it flourished during its early years and membership expanded. He was Joint Secretary with George Morgan from 1957-1959, and with John Felton from 1960-1964. He took on the Editorship of the Bulletin from 1961- 1964, and was Assistant Editor of the KFC Transactions from 1967 to 1971 covering Vol. 3, Part 2 to Vol. 3, Part 4. A new post, Honorary Director of Field Studies was soon created with the aim of overseeing the Field Club's ever expanding programme of field surveys and field meetings. When our first director, Francis Rose, moved to Hampshire in 1970, Eric took over this position, a role he held until 1986. This fitted in nicely with his position as Keeper of Natural History at the Museum and allowed him to direct plant recording for the Field Club's Atlas of the Kent Flora published to great acclaim in 1982. Eric was elected President of the Kent Field Club in 1990.

Eric set up the Kent Biological Archives at Maidstone Museum, the first centralised database for storing the county's wildlife records in 1971. This was a hard copy system, comprising sets of individual species cards arranged by taxa group and a folder for each tetrad, where details of all the known records of plant and animal species from sites within the tetrad were stored, together with relevant correspondence. The known distribution of each species in the county was summarised in tetrad map form (for the first time) on the front of each species card, with a brief listing of locality, date and recorder's name for all the individual records below. This was a massive undertaking in the days before computerised databases. Eric was pleased to note that when the Nature Conservancy Council began transferring county data onto its national database in the 1980s, the usual 1-2 day visit to a county records centre extended to a month in the case of Kent. His pioneering work and the efforts of the county's recorders were well justified.

Eric's encyclopaedic knowledge about the status and distribution of the county's flora and fauna was second to none, and meant that he was continually in demand as a public speaker. For many decades he spoke enthusiastically and authoritatively at Kent Field Club events and to audiences across the county about Kent's wildlife and its conservation. His publications include the Atlas of the Kent Flora (1982), The Butterflies of Kent (1993), the Provisional Atlas of the Amphibians and Reptiles of Kent (1998), the Provisional Kent Mammal Atlas (2002) and A New Atlas of the Kent Flora (2010).

At various times during his career Eric was county recorder for vascular plants (BSBI recorder for VCs 15 and 16), plant galls, Orthoptera, Heteroptera, Coleoptera, Siphonaptera, Arachnida, Myriapoda, Mollusca and Vertebrata excluding birds, and well-versed in the taxonomy and recording of other groups.

Eric was also heavily involved in setting up the Kent Trust for Nature Conservation (now Kent Wildlife Trust), hosting meetings of interested parties at the Museum and for a time was Chairman of the Trust's Conservation Committee.

For many of us, Eric has always been with us, he was the 'Kent Field Club', and we shall greatly miss his presence in the field and at indoor meetings. He was an extraordinary field recorder, often finding rare or overlooked species right under our noses when on a field meeting, entertaining us with details of the species history, and enthusing us to look the species for ourselves. He was a pioneering conservationist, an inspirational teacher and fantastic flag-waver for the Kent Field Club. Our condolences go to his wife Dorothy and son Stephen and family.

John Badmin