By A. Maitland Emmet, Saffron Walden, Essex
British and Continental entomology has suffered a severe loss in the death of John Heath on the 6th July 1987 at the age of 65. He made a major contribution to the literature and scientific recordings of Lepidoptera. The conservation of butterflies and moths relies on sound information about their distribution and degree of abundance, and the techniques he developed at the Biological Records Centre for the processing and plotting of records have become the models for similar schemes in many othe countries. Since accurate recording requires accurate determination, he launched The Moths and Butterflies of Great Britain and Ireland as an authorative and up-to-date text book covering the whole of the British Lepidoptera. The high standards of scholarship and scientific accuracy which he set inevitably meant that progress was slow and he died with the project less than half finished; ist completion will be his most fitting memorial. John Heath was born at Worcester in 1922, the son of an officer in the Indian Army. He was educated at King Edward VI School, Southampton and had been hoping then to go up to Cambridge, but Britain was at war and he found himself instead in the army. When R.E.M.E. was formed, he became a founder member and was trained in the installation and maintenance of RADAR equipment, skills that were to serve him in good stead in later life. He was posted to remote coastal stations in the west country and south-eastern England, ideal localities for his off-duty hobby of entomology. His earliest papers on Lepidoptera were published while he was still in uniform. After the war he still cherished hopes of studying at university but these were not to be fulfilled. Nor did he find it possible to gain suitable employment in electronics to practise the skills he had learnt in the army. After minor fill-in jobs, he decieded to make a profession out of his hobby and obtained employment with th Biological Research Department of Pest Control near Cambridge where he served from 1947 to 1952. A year of this time was spent in Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia) studying control of the insect pests of the tobacco crop. Then in 1953 he joined the Nature Conservancy and was posted as an experimental officer to Merlewood Research Station, Cumbria. It was there that he met his future wife Joan, whom he married in 1955. Much of his work concerned Lepidoptera and he studied in particular the insects associated with yellow balsam (Impatiens noli-tangere). These included the geometrid moth Eustroma reticulatum ([Denis & Schiffermüller]), the netted carpet, which is confined to the Lake District in Britain and has more than once been feared extinct. His research into ist life history and distribution led to the establishment of conservation measures which have increased the population and should ensure ist future safety. His work was not restricted to Lepidoptera. He also studied invertebrates living in the soil and in 1966, in collaboration with K.L. Bocock, he published an important paper on the feeding habits of the millipede Glomeris marginata (Villers). Recording the distribution of the netted carpet called for the operation of light-traps in remote places and there was no suitable instrument on the market. Accordingly, applying skills learnt in the army, he designed and developed the truly compact and portable Heath trap, now widely used by entomologists, especially when travelling on holiday. In 1967 he transferred from Merlewood to the Experimental Research Station at Monks Wood to set up the insect mapping scheme, his wide knowledge of entomology and technical training making him the ideal choice. He remaind at Monks Wood until his retirement in 1982, reaching the rank of principal scientific officer and spending his last three years in charge of the Biological Records Centre. During his term of office he presided over the change from manually operated punch-chards to modern computers as the equipment for the storage of biological data. The pioneer work conducted in this country soon attracted attention on the Continent and John became closely involved in the establishment of similar schemes abroad. In 1969 he and Professor Leclerq of Belgium together set up the European Invertebrate Survey with the object of mapping the distribution of invertebrates throughout Europe. Johns many visits to the Continent to lecture and advise on data storage soon led to international recognition and to his becoming one of Britains best-known lepidopterists. He was a founder member and vice-president of the Society of European Lepidopterology and was actively involved in the planning and conduct of their biennial conferences, on occasion taking the chair. One aspect of his work which gave him great pleasure was the running of field courses and expeditions for the training of entomologists, especially those who were young. Most were sponsored by the Field Studies Council and in many he was assisted by Jim Reid. Between 1968 and 1985 he presiede over no fewer than 28, inculding two in the Republic of Ireland and one each in the French and Swiss Alps. Among the students he helped to train are some who are now well-known names in entomology. John delighted in sophisticated equipment, especially if it was electric. To help with instruction on the courses he made cine films of insects in the field and sound recordings of Orthoptera. To assist in his literary work, he mastered the operation of a word processor, himself formulating the complicated programmes needed for type setting. Throughout his life John contributed numerous papers to British and foreign journals. Most of them dealt with the subjects with which he was professionally concerned, conservation, biological recording and lighttraps. But he also made an important contribution to the taxonomy of his favourite family, the Micropterigidae. Nearly 20 of his papers concern these minute moths and he named a number of species which are new to science. His final paper which will be published posthumously contains a check list of the genus Micropterix. He has bequeathed his important collection of Micropterigidae to the British Museum (Natural History); he collected little outside this family. As well as writing papers, he contributed chapters to several enomological books, published in Britain and abroad and was the author of Threatened Rhopalocera (butterflies) in Europe, no. 23 in the Council of Europes Nature & Environment series and the standard work of the subject. He collaborated with E. Pollard and J.A. Thomas in the well-received Atlas of Butterflies in Britain and Northern Ireland, he wrote two of the introductiory chapters and covered several families in the synoptic section including, of course, the Micropterigidae. John was always a gregarious entomologist. In his army days he would make contact with local collectors. He was one of the earliest members of the Amateur Entomologists Society. He became a fellow of the Royal Entomological Society in 1945. When working at Merelewood he was a founder member of the Grange-over-Sands Natural History Society. After moving to Monks Wood he joined the Huntingdon Flora and Fauna Society and in due course became ist president. Likewise in 1982 he became president of the British Entomological & Natural History Society which he had joined (as the South London) nearly 30 years previously. John was a kindly, sociable man with a wide circle of friends, both in Britain and Europe. Many of those who attended the courses he ran for the Field Studies Council have testified to his good humour and fliar for generating enthusiasm: some students who came just to sample entomology became confirmed addicts under his guidance. Initiative was one of his salient characteristics and he helped to shape the course taken by entomology in this country. The recording procedures he devised are now standard practice. He helped to change the modern lepidopterist from a mere collector into a recorder and ecologist. Above all he will be remembered as the architect and chief editor of The Moths and Butterflies of Great Britain and Ireland.
Nachruf John Heath (aus Nota lepidopterologica 10)
Autobibliografie John Heath (aus Nota lepidopterologica 11)
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