‘Hoverflies of Saddleworth’ – The Story of the Book

Hoverfly – Chrysotoxum arcuatum (c) Ken Gartside

The late and much respected entomologist and Botanist (and Curator at Oldham Museum) Leonard N Kidd wrote a small booklet in the 1990’s titled Flora of Saddleworth. It is still relevant and is used as a reference today. It is interesting to see what was about at that time and what has changed – new plants, abundance or indeed what’s died out locally. I knew we had nothing in print in a similar local vein for many insects, but especially Syrphidae – the Hoverflies, which by now I had been recording regularly for a few years for Roger Morris’ Hoverfly Recording Scheme (HRS), most recently by way of the very active Facebook group. So I decided to try and write such a book to not only address this shortfall but also to try and enthuse others to get involved with recording and instill a love of Syrphidae.

I did one of my illustrated talks to Saddleworth Naturalists titled ‘Saddleworth Hoverflies and other Diptera’ in February 2020, to be repeated to Rochdale Field Naturalists if Coronavirus allows in November. At that talk, I explored if folk would be interested and the response was quite positive, so I set to. It’s pleasing that some of those at the talk have now actively started to record too and we have seen the species and numbers of records increase accordingly.

Coronavirus lockdown enabled me to do the writing and version control changes fairly quickly, and as a naturalist photographer for many years I already had a stored image library of nearly all the species to illustrate the book.

It started with the basics, I had to find out what had actually been recorded over many years, how common they were locally and where you might see them, both from my experience and local knowledge and the grid references in the data.

A E Wright Collection Drawer at Oldham Museum

Roger Morris and Stuart Ball at HRS kindly provided a rough extraction spreadsheet for this area, but the OS grid is square, whilst Saddleworth is not, having a meandering historical boundary. Saddleworth is in VC63 as it is in Yorkshire, but administratively became part of Oldham, within Greater Manchester, in 1974. Even so, to go through that list and create another just for the book was a time consuming task to exclude those outside that curving boundary. In addition to that, I needed to ensure data was accurate and reflected all sources so that all records were captured. So I needed to visit and go through Oldham Museum’s cabinets and lists, Greater Manchester Ecology Unit Local Records Centre data and the Leonard Kidd manual files held there. Staff were really helpful – but a huge task of wading through Oldham’s cabinets was immensely shortened by access to the list and notes that Darwyn Sumner had set up in the 90’s, for which I was very grateful – I don’t have the expertise to differentiate between many of the more tricky or rarer species with reference to  their genitalia for example. That still wasn’t enough as Sorby NHS – via Derek Whitely – also have a database that includes part of Saddleworth, so that needed a look at too. Not to mention information kindly provided by Roy Crossley, Simon Hayhow and the Lancashire dipterists such as Phil Brighton and Glenn Rostron to see if their records had anything for me. However, to a great sigh of relief, they did not, nor did anyone else as the HRS records were historic, accurate and bang up to date.

During Lockdown my friend and fellow naturalist Steve Suttill was meanwhile beavering away and found some new species records to add on – and I was thrilled to do so with another couple too – not least Sericomyia lappona, which had evaded me for over 10 years.

I had to decide the content and what would read well, be useful for complete beginners but also relevant for the more experienced as it was never intended as a field guide, but as a local checklist with species notes, all to fit in around 40 pages due to printing requirements. It thus includes some details of the history of Hoverfly recording in Oldham, how to record, brief species accounts with the photographs, including pitfalls of similar looking species, photography notes, local sites, acknowledgements and local Natural History Society contacts. It includes interesting work and notes on a couple of Tanyptera Trust priority species too – Callicera rufa and Meligramma guttatum.

Hoverflies of Saddleworth Book Cover

From my final version word document and photographs I entrusted the layout and proof reading work to fellow naturalist Steve Suttill at MARC environment friendly printers in Salford, who came up with the final arrangement and fitted it all in. Gary Hedges at Tanyptera Trust, National Museums Liverpool, was also very helpful and supportive throughout and advised on the grant application to help with publishing costs.

The time from concept to publishing took around 6 months, with attendant sleepless nights over-thinking it and repetitive strain of my right wrist typing it…..The book is locally available and through me on Facebook via messages and has so far had good, positive responses.

You can also order a copy by emailing Ken at ken.gartside@btinternet.com