Greenery: An interview with Tim Dee

Tim Dee is a naturalist, radio producer, and author of Fourfields, The Running Sky and Landfill. His latest book, Greenery, is a poetic hymn to spring time, a masterpiece of nature writing that is deeply informed and profoundly beautiful.

Between the winter and the summer solstice in Europe, spring moves north at about the speed of swallow flight. That is also close to human walking pace. In the light of these happy coincidences, Greenery recounts how Tim Dee travels with the season and its migratory birds, out of Africa from their wintering quarters in South Africa, through their staging places in Chad and Ethiopia, across the colossal and incomprehensible Sahara, and on into Europe. Tim Dee has answered questions about this remarkable journey.

For those who don’t know, you have published three other major titles on green spaces and birds- Landfill, The Running Sky, and Four Fields. Following from these, how did the idea to travel with spring and its migratory birds come about? And how does Greenery differ from your previous books?

My last book was Landfill, a sort of junkyard travel-guide to the gulls that now thrive on our waste and in the middle of our towns and cities. Inevitably it was dirty and messy and botched: modern nature is like that. It has to find ways and means to live alongside us – we who are the most-botched species of all. I admire the gulls and I was fascinated by the gullers – watchers of gulls – who spend time in wretched places like landfill sites in order to connect with their quarry, but afterwards I needed some fresher air to live in and some wilder life to watch, and so the spring, which has always been my favoured season, appealed, and most especially some witnessing of the movement of passage migrant birds that make the European spring for birdwatchers. When I discovered that spring moves north through Europe at somewhere between the speed a swallows flies at and the speed we might walk at (about 4 km an hour), I knew that I had to try to follow the birds and the season for as long and as far as I could. So, I start with barn swallows in the European midwinter in midsummer South Africa and I end with the same species, who knows perhaps even the same individuals, in midsummer arctic Norway. Who wouldn’t want to have as much spring as possible?

By travelling north you poetically write about the birds that come and go; from observing redstarts in Lake Lagano, Ethiopia, to enjoying the dawn chorus in a reedbed in Somerset. What can be learned from birds in migration, and how is migration changing for them?

Studying and thinking about migration tugs at our notions of home. Migratory animals carry their homes with them. Yet, when I first saw barn swallows in South Africa I couldn’t see them as anything but away from their home. In fact, of course, they were perfectly at home: they were meant to be there and able to be fully alive there. Ever since migration has been observed, birdwatchers have ceaselessly wondered where the birds have come from, where they are going, how they know where to go and how they know how to live at the other end of the world. Migration has always intrigued – Homer makes poetry from it, Aristotle discusses it, the Bible and the Koran make parables for life from it. Nowadays we know more and more of its facts – know for example that a migrant redstart may literally return to the same tree in sub-Saharan Africa in its wintertime just as it flies to the same oak in a wooded coombe in Exmoor every spring of its life; but we also begin to understand (and face up to) how much our activities are tugging at the world’s time and making migration and a bird’s swapping of one tree for another harder and harder. This is what phenological mismatch is all about: the unseasonal time that our activities are creating.

You explore time and movement in this book. In a very fast-paced world, where few have the time to slow down and connect to the seasons, how has journeying with spring changed you? Was there anything specific you were looking for and anything you found?

To try to have more spring has been my mantra, to go looking for signs of new life even before a calendar year has ended, like a mistle thrush singing in November and thereby meaning therefore to have spring again, or rooks visiting their old nests each day from the autumn onwards with a literal view to their future; and to travel when possible both south from Britain to Mediterranean Europe where spring arrives earlier and then north towards the Arctic Europe where spring lasts longer. Hearing a pied flycatcher still singing in northern Norway when the same species are silent in their British breeding woods feels like a life-bonus, feels like more of life, which can only be good. We are only given one springtime in our own lives but the return of the season and the cyclical round or rondure of the natural year is a marvellous tonic and corrective to the linearity of our one-direction journey. Again, who would say no to that – to a bit of time travel and season stretch in order to stay with the season of becoming and of re-energy. Greenery is an anagram of re-energy: I was thrilled to discover that.

Pied flycatcher, Ficedula hypoleuca, single male singing on branch, Powys, Wales, April 2012

When most people think of spring they think of new life, new beginnings, however you eloquently write “spring means more to me with every year that passes and takes me deeper into my own autumn.” Could you elaborate more on this, what does springtime mean to you?

There’s that lyric to a song: you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til its gone…. And I think as we get older the morning of life, the world’s morning as D H Lawrence called spring, feels more and more poignant and uplifting. We are headed only one way but, hey presto, here are new shoots, and green beginnings once more, and then a chiffchaff, fetching an echo out of a wood, as Gilbert White noticed them doing in Eighteenth Century Selborne in Hampshire. My eyesight has got worse, my hearing is half-baffled, I move increasingly with a wobble, but the injection of new birds from the south, the heavenly racket of their song, and seeing them at home in their new places is a forever tonic, like an effervescing vitamin C tablet, or a pick-me-up, or a fillip – life is worth living among those that are living it most, and spring visiting birds are the most alive – active, mobile, purposeful, committed – things that I know.

As you explore life and death, love and grief through springtime, is there anything in particular you would like for people to take away from this book?

I think we all spend a lot of time ignoring time, shut away from the weather, heating our lives, conditioning our air, eating strawberries out of season, yet I know that we all, almost all of us at least, notice the spring, want it, anticipate it, lift our faces to the first splash of sun after grey skies, talk about snowdrops, look out for the first swifts, and so on… We are reminded of spring by spring itself coming around, it schools us in life and growth, in beginnings and becomings; and in my book I just want to underline that reminder and encourage us all to take in what can be taken in, and to keep in step with the passing of time and so live happily in time and on time too. Look at the birds that do that so well; I have done that and it has helped me live.

Tim Dee has been a birdwatcher for most of his life and written about them for twenty years.  As well as Greenery, he is the author of LandfillThe Running Sky and Four Fields and is the editor of Ground Works.

 

Greenery

Hardback | Oct 2018 | ISBN-13: 9781908213624   £15.99 £18.99

 

 

 

 

Gardening for Wildlife: Providing Food

Spring is blooming all around us, with primroses, wood anemones and blackthorn flowering now and foxgloves on their way. Birds are building nests ready for eggs and the sky will soon be full of wheeling summer migrants such as house martins and swallows.

Wood anemone. Photo: S. Webber

With many of us being confined to our homes, those of us lucky enough to have a garden or outdoor space will probably be spending a lot of time outdoors. Being surrounded by nature is a fantastic way to boost our mental wellbeing, and gardens can be an invaluable resource for wildlife. By following some basic principles, you can turn your garden into an oasis for wildlife and enjoy some brilliant wildlife spectacles up close.

Planting for wildlife

Attracting insects to your garden is one of the primary ways in which you can help wildlife and also increase productivity of plants and trees. You can provide vital food resources for bees, butterflies, nectar-drinking moths and other insects by planting pollinator friendly plants with high levels of pollen and nectar. Lavender, verbena and buddleia are well known for attracting bees and butterflies, but other plants can be equally important, such as goldenrod for hoverflies and late flowering plants such as ivy.

Peacock butterfly on buddleia. Photo: Andrew Fogg, www.flickr.com

The Royal Horticultural Society has a fantastic database of plants for pollinators so that you can choose plants that will flower across the seasons to provide a year-round resource for pollinating insects. Increasing the insect diversity in your garden will also encourage insectivorous birds and mammals into your garden. 

 

 

Wildflower borders and meadows

Another option is to create a wildflower border by scattering either annual or perennial wildflower seed mixes on to bare soil. It’s a low maintenance option that will provide invaluable habitat for insects. The UK has lost 96% of its species-rich meadows so these are a beautiful and valuable addition to the garden and broader landscape. It’s best to choose a mix of native plants such as poppies, cornflowers and corn marigolds (annual) or ragged robin, buttercups, yellow rattle, knapweed and grasses (perennials). If you wish to create a permanent area of meadow grassland with perennials then the RSPB has a guide to creating a wildflower meadow. Wildflower seed mixes can be ordered online.

Wildflower meadow. Photo: cristina.sanvito, www.flickr.com

Seeds and fruit

It is also good to think about plants and trees that will produce fruits and seeds for birds. Native species such as hawthorn, elder, and rowan provide a fantastic autumn feast of berries, and if you leave the heads on sunflowers after they have flowered, goldfinches can take the seeds. Fruit trees such as crab apple offer blossom for insects and birds in the spring, and fruit for species such as blackbirds in the autumn. The wild type native trees and shrubs usually attract more birds than some of the cultivars, so they are worth seeking out. Most of these plants and trees can be ordered online.

Feeding birds and mammals

Finally, providing supplementary food for birds and other wildlife can help increase their overwinter survival prospects and give you the most dazzling display of wildlife behaviour.

Greenfinch and goldfinches on a seed feeder. Photo: Nick Holden, www.flickr.com

Investing in a wide range of bird feeder types and food sources will ensure the most diverse range of birds visit your feeders. Peanuts are very popular with blue and great tits, sunflower seeds will draw in finches such as chaffinches, greenfinches and goldfinches and nyger seed is a favourite of siskins. During the winter birds need extra calories so suet balls can be supplied in feeders, or apples left out for ground feeders such as blackbirds and redwings. In addition to hanging bird feeders, a bird table will offer space to ground feeders such as robins and chaffinches. Ensure that feeders are placed at height and away from windows, and not too close to cover, to avoid sudden predator attacks. Birds and mammals also need fresh water so offering a water bath with sloping sides is important, as well as providing a fascinating focal point for watching your garden wildlife.

Hedgehog. Photo: milo bostock, www.flickr.com

Gardens have been shown to be an increasingly important habitat for hedgehogs and with their numbers in steep decline, feeding hedgehogs can give them a much needed extra food resource. Leaving food such as tinned dog or cat food (excluding fish flavours) or cat or dog biscuits will encourage hedgehogs to visit your garden, particularly if there is access from neighbouring gardens via a ‘hedgehog highway’ hole in the fence. Hedgehog feeding stations or nest boxes can provide a useful way of protecting the food from other garden visitors.

Watching wildlife

Having attracted wildlife to your garden, there are a range of ways you can get fantastic views up close.  Binoculars give you great views of wildlife that is further away, but with close focus distances now much improved, they also offer a great way of magnifying insects. Read our blog post to find out How to Choose a Pair of Binoculars. Alternatively trail cameras can be used very effectively in gardens to record garden visitors. They are standalone weatherproof cameras that use passive infrared to detect passing warm-bodied animals and take either still photographs or videos. With options including the Bushnell NatureView Live View, that has interchangeable lenses for excellent close up feeder shots, and the Browning Recon Force Edge that has amazing 60fps video footage. For more information on trail cameras, see our blog post on How to Choose a Trail Camera.

Recommended Reading


Wildlife Gardening
#244291
£14.99

 

 

 

 

Wild Your Garden
#249932
£12.99  £14.99

 

 

 

 

The Garden Jungle

Hb  #246359  £16.99
Pb   #249709  £7.99  £9.99

 

 

 

 

 

Guide to Garden Wildlife
#246618
£12.99

 

 

 

 

 

 

Butterfly Gardening
#226117
£9.99

 

 

 

 


Making Garden Meadows
#212003
£9.99

 

 

 

 

Wildlife Gardening Products

 

Droll Yankees Lifetime Seed Feeder

From £19.99

 

 

 

Defender Metal Seed Feeder
#238813
£15.95  £17.50

 

 

 

 

 

 

New York Slate Hanging Bird Table
#236543
£26.99

 

 

 

Droll Yankees Bird Lovers Suet Ball Feeder
#176819
£7.99

 

 

 

 

Challenger Peanut Feeder
#238828
£2.99  £6.95

 

 

 

 

 

 

Defender Metal Niger Feeder
#238816
£19.50  £21.95

 

 

 

 

 


Echoes Bird Bath
#195520
£25.96  £37.99

John Beaufoy Publishing: Publisher of the Month

Established in 2008, John Beaufoy Publishing (JBP)  is a natural history publisher covering a range of subjects such as ornithology,insects & invertebrates, reptiles & amphibians, marine & freshwater biology, and conservation from all over the world, with a focus on South Asia, South-East Asia and tropical regions.

NHBS is pleased to announce John Beaufoy Publishing (JBP) as our Publisher of the Month for April. We have great offers on a selection of their new and bestselling books throughout the month; making this a perfect opportunity to celebrate the world’s fauna and flora by exploring their catalogue of books.

Books from JBP are written by leading experts in their fields, many notable, such as Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne and his books on Sri Lanka’s natural history and botany. Another JBP author Bikram Grewal, of The 100 Best Birdwatching Sites in India, is a trustee of the Wildlife Preservation Society of India (WPSI) and was awarded the Lifetime Award for spreading awareness about birds and conservation in India.

JBP has an exciting programme of new titles, together with revised and updated editions of some of their most successful books. We have selected ten titles to highlight, and you can browse their full range available at nhbs here

 

The 100 Best Bird Watching Sites in India
Paperback| February 2020| £16.99 £19.99
This fully illustrated guide describes the 100 best sites for viewing both common and rare species throughout the 26 states of the subcontinent, including the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

 

Phillipps’ Field Guide to the Birds of Borneo: Sabah, Sarawak, Brunei and Kalimantan
Paperback| February 2014| £19.99 £24.99
669 species superbly illustrated in 141 colour plates with more than 2,000 full colour bird images, including most of the sexual variants and immature forms of polymorphic species.

Wild Flowers of the Mediterranean
Paperback| August 2017| £13.99 £16.99
A user-friendly pocket nature guide to the plant world of the Mediterranean: a region is remarkable for its great diversity of species and forms.

 

 

A Field Guide to the Birds of Mongolia
Paperback| October 2019| £24.99 £29.99
Birdwatchers have long wanted a field guide to the birds of Mongolia. Featuring fantastic illustrations on 154 plates, this guide covers all 521 officially recorded species.

 

A Naturalist’s Guide to the Mammals of Australia
Paperback| November 2017| £11.99
This easy-to-use identification guide to the 300 mammal species most commonly seen in Australia is perfect for resident and visitor alike – part of JBP’s Naturalist’s Guides Series

 

The London Bird Atlas
Hardback| December 2017| £29.99 £39.99
Brings together the analyses of millions of bird records and research to tell you which birds are doing well, which ones have declined or held steady, and what the changes have been in relation to previous distribution surveys.

A Naturalist’s Guide to the Butterflies & Dragonflies of Sri Lanka
Paperback| October 2018| £9.99 £11.99
An excellent book for residents and visitors alike to learn about the commoner butterflies and dragonflies of Sri Lanka before progressing to more advanced technical books.

A Naturalist’s Guide to the Reptiles of India: Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka
Paperback| December 2017| £9.99 £11.99
High-quality photographs from the region’s top nature photographers accompany this identification guide to the 239 reptile species most commonly seen in South Asia.

Wild Philippines: The Landscapes, Habitats and Wildlife of the Philippine Islands
Paperback| August 2019| £19.99 £24.99
More than just a ‘coffee table’ book; Wild Philippines provides an authoritative and entertaining study of the wide spectrum of wildlife on the land and in the seas of this diverse country.

A Field Guide to the Birds of Malaysia & Singapore
Paperback| Due August 2020| £19.99 £24.99
Due to be published in August 2020, this is a fully comprehensive field guide to the 815 bird species of Malaysia and Singapore

 

 

Browse all John Beaufoy Publishing at NHBS

Our ten favourite spring garden activities for children

This spring is destined to be a different and difficult one for most of us. Some things, however, remain the same – the leaves and buds on the trees are unfurling, the flowers are blooming, and the outside world is gearing up for a new year of growth and renewal. If you’re lucky enough to have a garden, then getting the children outside each day is a great way for them to burn off some energy and to get some fresh air and vitamin D.

With this in mind we have put together ten of our favourite garden activities, most of which are suitable for children (and adults) of all ages – although supervision may be required for the younger ones.

  1. Learn about the insects and bugs in your garden

Insects and bugs are fascinating to children of all ages. As soon as the weather warms up in spring, the garden fills with the buzzing of flies, bees and wasps, whilst the soil teems with beetles, worms and other creepy crawlies. A butterfly or sweep net is ideal for catching flying insects and those in the long grass, while a pooter can be used to pick up tinier specimens. Or simply get down on the ground with a hand lens and see what you can find. There are lots of great field guides that will help you to identify your specimens. FSC guides, such as the Woodland Name Trail and Guide to the Butterflies of Britain and Ireland provide a great starting point. Or, for a more in-depth investigation, the Guide to Garden Wildlife covers not only insects and bugs, but also birds, mammals and amphibians. It also provides suggestions for some great nature-related activities.

  1. Install a nest box (and watch the eggs hatch from the comfort of your home)
Image by gordon.milligan

It’s never too late to install a nest box. Even in late spring you may manage to entice a breeding pair of birds in time to lay a late clutch of eggs. At the very least, you will provide a useful winter roost space and the box will be ready for the breeding birds next year. You can even equip your nest box with a tiny camera which will allow you to watch all the nesting, rearing and fledging action from the comfort of your home. Kits are available which contain everything you need to get started; choose from wired, wireless or Wi-Fi options. See our blog post on nest box cameras for more information.

  1. Learn to identify plants

Rummage around in the wilder parts of your garden and you’re likely to find a wide range of plants that your little ones can study and try to identify. Even in the most manicured of outdoor spaces, you’re sure to find some ‘weeds’ that will provide a useful starting place. This is a great way to learn about common and Latin names and to study the different parts of flowers. The Pocket Guide to Wildflower Families will help you to identify the family to which your flower belongs, and the Collins Wild Flower Guide is a beautifully illustrated guide for those wanting a more in-depth look.

  1. Watch (and listen to) the birds
Image by Airwolfhound

Get to know the birds in your garden by installing a feeder. During the spring there should be plenty of wild food sources for them to use, but protein-rich foods such as black sunflower seeds, mealworm and high-quality seed mixes will provide a valuable addition to their diet. (Avoid feeding fat balls and peanuts at this time of year, as they can be harmful to young birds.) If you’re not sure what kind of bird you’re looking at, the RSPB website has a great identifier tool which includes information on 408 species found in the UK. Once you’ve identified your bird, the website also allows you to listen to its song, helping you to further improve your identification skills.

For a fun garden game, why not play bird bingo? Simply draw a 3×3 grid on a piece of paper, and write the name of a common garden bird in each square. Put a cross in the square when you spot the bird – the winner is the first to cross off all nine squares.

  1. Grow something pretty or edible

If you have space, now is a great time to sow some seeds. Sunflowers and sweet peas provide a great splash of colour in the summer and will provide food for birds (sunflower heads) and pollinators (sweet peas). Peas and beans are both easy to grow in a small space and are happy in pots. Strawberries and bush varieties of tomatoes can be grown in hanging baskets.

Making seed bombs is another excellent activity to do with children and, when planted in the garden, will provide much needed flowers for pollinating insects. The Wildlife Trusts have a recipe that’s simple to make, along with a list of recommended flower seeds to include.

  1. Be a weather watcher
Image by Paper of Light

In most temperate countries (and particularly in the UK), the weather is constantly changing, making it a fascinating thing to track and record. A weather diary is a great way to do this. You can include as much information as you like, or keep it simple with just pictures for the younger children. You could even make a weather board, where the day’s weather is displayed every day. Wind speed, temperature and humidity can be easily measured using an anemometer, and rainfall with a simple rain gauge. (For more economical options, use a large yoghurt container with measurements marked on the side as a rain gauge and a piece of lightweight fabric tied to a pole to track the direction of the wind).

Clouds are also endlessly interesting – learn about the different types with Weather WizKids which has lots of information and explains how they are formed, why they look the way they do and how we can use them to predict the weather. Why not also investigate some of the old-wives tales pertaining to the weather? For example, is it really true that ‘swallows high, staying dry; swallows low, wet will blow’, or ‘Red sky at night, shepherds’ delight, red sky in the morning, shepherds’ warning’?

  1. Make a pond
Image by Alex Thomson

Recent surveys have shown that some amphibians, such as frogs, are now more common in garden ponds than they are in the wild. When planted with a variety of submerged and emergent plants, a pond will provide a complex environment with a variety of micro-habitats, and is also an attractive feature for the garden. Even in a small space it’s easy to use a bucket or other container to create a small aquatic environment which will provide valuable habitat for amphibians, insects and lots of other species. Take a look at the Wildlife Trusts website for a step-by-step guide to making a garden pond (including a handy list of suitable aquatic plants) or this RSPB page for advice on making a mini pond from an old washing-up bowl. Always ensure that younger children are supervised around water.

  1. Weave with nature

Weaving with natural materials is a fun activity and a great choice for several reasons: it is cheap to do and the results, while temporarily beautiful, can be composted, making it the ultimate in sustainable art. To begin, make a simple frame from four twigs, held together at the corners with a small amount of natural twine. Wind more twine from side to side around the frame leaving gaps between each winding, and then repeat in the other direction. Collect a wide selection of leaves, twigs, weeds, flowers, feathers and grass and weave into your frame in a pattern of your choice. For the best results, try and include as many different colours and textures as possible. Hang your masterpiece inside or in the garden to enjoy until the colours fade, and then throw it on the compost heap or in your garden waste bin.

  1. Eat some weeds

Did you know that lots of the weeds in your garden are actually edible? And what’s more, many contain higher amounts of trace elements like iron than their supermarket equivalents such as spinach and kale. Nettles are extremely common, very easy to identify, and can be made into a tasty soup (don’t worry, they lose their sting as soon as they are cooked). Similarly, dandelion leaves, fat hen, hairy bittercress and chickweed are prevalent in most gardens and can be used as salad greens. Children will love knowing that they have picked some of their meal for free, and that they are eating the garden weeds. If you’re unsure about what you’re picking, there are lots of helpful guides and images on the internet. Or you can invest in a book such as Food for Free, Foraging, or the compact and economical FSC’s Guide to Foraging.

  1. Draw from nature
Image from the Biodiversity Heritage Library

Sketching from nature was once a vital part of the naturalist’s skill set. Accurate drawings of specimens, alive or dead, played a vital part in classifying and sharing information about new species. Although this process has largely been replaced by photography, the act of putting pencil to paper and studying a specimen closely enough to draw it accurately can provide an excellent opportunity to study its structure and finer details. Flowers, plants and feathers are ideal starting points as they won’t fly or scuttle away; but insects, birds and other animals can also be fun to try. Keep notes of when and where your drawings were made and, over time, they can form the basis of a wonderful nature journal.

During these troubling times, we hope you can find inspiration in nature and we wish you all the best of health.

For a great selection of garden wildlife books and ID guides, take a look at the Garden Activities for Children collection at nhbs.com.

NHBS Guide to Reptile Survey Equipment

Reptiles play an important role in the function of ecosystems, whether as predators controlling prey populations, or as a source of prey for both birds and mammals. There are eleven species of reptile in the UK, of which six are native and all are protected under UK legislation, with the extremely rare smooth snake and sand lizard protected by additional EU legislation.

Sand lizard Lacerta agilis – Photo: xulescu_g, www.flckr.com

At this time of year reptiles are emerging from hibernation and ecologists are beginning to prepare for the survey season. Reptiles are active between March and October and surveys are carried out in April, May and September when the reptiles are at their most visible. In the main summer months (June – August) reptiles tend to bask less and are unlikely to use any artificial refugia, therefore surveys are not undertaken during this time .

The most common survey methods for reptiles include searching for basking animals on banks, piles of wood and edges of woodland, or laying out artificial refuges like corrugated iron sheets and carpet tiles or roofing felt, which are bedded down well into the vegetation. A wide range of reptile surveying equipment is available to buy on the NHBS website. For any advice please contact our Wildlife Equipment Specialist team who would be happy to help.

Corrugated Reptile Survey Refugia

Corrugated reptile refugia are often used in reptile surveys as they absorb heat and provide shelter from predators, making them an ideal basking spot, especially for slow worms or smooth snakes. The refugia are made from corrugated roofing material (bitumen soaked organic fibres) which is lightweight and waterproof. The material is free from asbestos,non-toxic and is both waterproof and long lasting. The sheets are 2.6mm thick and measure either 500mm x 500mm or 500mm x 1000mm, both with a corrugation depth of 40mm.

Reptile Survey Felt Squares

As with the corrugated refugia above, felt squares also create favourable conditions beneath them for reptiles and are commonly used for surveys, as they are light and will roll up for transport. These tiles are made from bitumen felt and are available in two sizes: 50 x 50cm or 100 x 50cm. 

Snake Hooks 

A snake hook is useful for catching and managing snakes for inspection or translocation. There are two snake hooks available, both made from aluminium which provides a tool which is both strong and lightweight. The standard snake hook comes in two sizes: 100cm or 130cm and has a wooden handle. The telescopic snake hook can be extended from 95cm to a total length of 140cm and the end of the handle has a comfortable rubber grip.

Snake Tongs

Snake tongs are also useful for handling snakes for inspection or translocation. There are two lengths of tongs available: 92cm or 122cm. They are made from an anodized aluminum shaft with a pistol grip handle to provide a lightweight yet strong tool enabling maximum holding pressure with minimal risk to the handler or the snake. 

Snake Handling Gloves

Snake handling gloves are designed to give you protection when handling snakes and to protect you when conducting snake surveys. The gloves are made from leather to minimise the risk of injury from bites and will also help mask your scent. They are available separately for the left or right hand.

N.B. These gloves are not suitable for handling venomous species!

Pesola Light-Line Spring Scale

Native reptile species in the UK range on average from 5 to 100g. Pesola scales are universally acclaimed precision scales which are reliable and durable. The Light-Line range features a transparent tube for panoramic reading and a long, clear double display with coloured marker ring. They are adjusted by hand with a guaranteed accuracy of +/- 0.3% the precision spring is made of corrosion-free, fatigue-resistant alloy, and the scales are impervious to humidity. 

Recommended accessories:

Silva Classic Compass

 

 

 

Rite in the Rain Spiral Bound Notebook

 

 

 

Reptile Holding Bag

 

 

 

dialMax Vernier Dial Caliper

 

 

 

Lifesystems Light & Dry Micro First Aid Kit

 

 

 

WeatherWriter A4 Portrait

 

 

 

A note on licensing

Please note that reptiles in the UK are protected by law. Any reptile survey work must be undertaken by a licensed ecologist. Different levels of license are required for different survey and mitigation methods. For more information, please visit: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/reptiles-protection-surveys-and-licences

If you have any quieries you can contact our Wildlife Equipment Specialist team on 01803 865913 or via email at customer.services@nhbs.com.

 

NHBS: In The Field – IP Nest Box Camera

IP Nest Box Camera

Providing a nest box for birds is one of the easiest ways that you can help wildlife in your garden or compensate for lost nesting sites as a result of development. Adding a nest box camera gives you a unique insight into the fascinating processes of nest building, egg laying, incubation and chick rearing. The IP Nest Box Camera is the ideal camera to use if you wish to live stream footage from the camera on to a PC, smartphone, tablet or to a website. The high definition camera provides 1920 x 1080p colour footage during the day and black and white footage at night and the high quality video makes it perfect for enthusiasts and researchers alike. We decided to test the IP Nest Box Camera to examine how easy it was to set up and use.

IP Nest Box Camera

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The small camera plugs directly into your router or network switch via a 20m Cat6 ethernet cable with waterproof connector. Following setup on your PC or via an app on your mobile device, live streaming can begin. We tested only PC viewing and recording. If viewing on a PC, most camera access software will allow both motion detection and scheduled recording.

There are many nest box cameras available that will cover a wide range of requirements, and our blog post on Watching Wildlife – How to choose the right Nest Box Camera can help you decide between the different options.

Setting Up

Before you install the camera in the nest box it is a good idea to wire it all up and check everything is working. We followed the Green Feathers Quick Start Guide instructions to connect the Cat6 cable between the camera and the PoE injector and between the injector and the router / switch, and then connected the injector to a power supply using the supplied adapter. We downloaded three camera access software programs to trial, Gamut CMS5, iSpy (both as recommended by Green Feathers) and Anycam.iO.

IP Nest Box Camera Setup

We installed the camera in our Camera Ready Nest Box and found that the easiest way of installing the camera into the box lid was to attach the camera bracket to the lid first and then to attach the camera to its bracket afterwards. It is best to have the camera pointing directly downwards and not angled.

After the box was installed in position, we connected everything up and downloaded software to connect to the camera. We have tried three software programs, all of which are free to download, although additional features may require payment.

Anycam.iO
iSpy
Gamut CMS5 – link to download

What We Found

The camera was really easy to connect up and access across the network. The main software we used to configure the camera was the Gamut CMS5 software and we followed the supplier instructions for how to add an HD IP camera to the Gamut software. There are many configuration options and we updated the time and date on the camera and added it to the software without any problems

We discovered a difficulty with the Gamut software, however, in that you cannot record to a subdirectory, you either need to record to an empty storage device that is mounted on its own drive or a partitioned and empty C:/ drive. For this reason we also tried the iSpy software, following the supplier instructions for how to configure an HD IP camera to record to a Windows PC. This was a very easy process and we managed to get the software to record with motion detection with no difficulties.

We also tested recording on the Anycam.iO software, which was very easy to install and set up. Recording and taking snapshots images are easy but you have to pay extra to get the motion detection function.

The Anycam.iO software was by far the easiest to use, with a really simple interface and really good resolution images and video. It is immediately obvious how to take a snapshot photo and how to record manually and if you pay the extra for the motion detection it is really easy to configure. One thing we did find is that you have to be careful with the ‘Archive’ setting on the Recording menu because it limits how much footage it will store unless it is set to ‘Unlimited’.

The images below were all taken with the Anycam.iO software and you can see the quality of the colour and resolution.

We captured some fantastic video footage of the blue tits first visiting the nest box and then a later video where the female is making her own nest box modifications. The quality of the later recording does seem to have deteriorated, which shows the difference when the light quality coming into the box is poor.

The iSpy software had many more configuration options than the Anycam.iO software but the recorded footage seemed not to be as high quality. The interface would suit a more professional user as there are many more settings that can be altered.

Our Opinion

We highly recommend purchasing the IP Nest Box Camera if you have the facility to connect a camera directly into a network. The footage is really high quality, with excellent resolution still images, and the camera provides a reliable continuous live stream. There are a number of different software options to suit a range of users and the camera can be used to capture still images and video with motion detection. We are hoping that our blue tit visitors begin bringing in nesting material soon and we can post updates on nest building. The IP Nest Box Camera is available to buy from the NHBS website. For any advice on purchasing this or other nest box cameras, please do not hesitate to contact our team of Wildlife Equipment Specialists on 01803 865913 or equipment@nhbs.com.

NHBS Guide: Where to hang and how to maintain your bat box

Natural roosting sites for bats are in decline due to changes in building standards and countryside management practices. Installing a bat box is a simple and affordable way of providing much needed roost space for a variety of species and now is the ideal time to install one, before bats fully emerge from hibernation. However, placing your bat boxes in the correct location and at the correct height is essential to encourage bats to occupy them. With this in mind, we have put together some answers to the most frequently asked questions about bat boxes – covering where and when to put up your boxes, cleaning and maintenance, and the legalities of checking whether they are occupied.

Which bat box should I purchase?

Bat boxes can be placed in trees, on walls and on or in the brickwork of buildings. To help you choose the most suitable bat box based on where you want to locate it, take a look at our three-part series designed to help you make the right choice:  

 

Top 10 Bat Boxes for Trees and Woodland

Top 10 Bat Boxes for Walls and Fences 

Top 10 Bat Boxes for New Builds and Developments

When is the best time to put up a bat box?

Bat boxes can be installed at any time of year, but they are more likely to be used during their first summer if they are put up before the bats emerge from hibernation in the spring. If you are installing bat boxes as part of an exclusion project from a building, it is best to erect the boxes four to six weeks before the exclusion. 

Schwegler 1FF Bat Boxes

Where should I hang my bat box?

All bat boxes should be positioned at a height of 3-6 metres (the higher the better) in an open, sunny position (6-8 hours of direct sunlight, or in a location where it receives the morning sun if this is not possible). Try to install the bat box where it will not be disturbed by bright lights at night such as porch or security lights. 

The most common location to hang a bat box is on a tree using a strong nail that is at least 85 mm in length. It is important to use aluminium nails, as these will not damage a chainsaw (or chainsaw user) should they be left in the tree when it is felled. For more details on how to hang your bat box to a tree, wall or fence, please read our blog on where to hang and how to maintain your nest box, which, although mainly focused on bird boxes, is equally relevant for bat boxes. 

How do I check whether the box is occupied?

Many bat boxes have an opening at the bottom and do not require any maintenance as the droppings will simply fall out of this space. If cleaning is required it is essential that you ensure that the box is not occupied before carrying out any maintenance. Once bats have inhabited a roost site they may only be disturbed by licensed bat workers. If you are unsure whether your bat box is occupied the best way to check for box occupancy is to observe the box at dusk (15 minutes after sunset for around 30 minutes) to watch for any bats leaving. Additionally, you can look under and nearby the box for guano (bat droppings). If there are bats present, wait until later in the season and then check again. It’s also a good opportunity to use a bat detector to identify the bats in your box – take a look at our guide on bat detecting for beginners.

Large Multi Chamber Bat Box

How do I maintain my bat box?

The best time to clean the majority of bat boxes (those suitable for summer roosts) is during the autumn or winter. Once you have ensured the bat box is not occupied you can open the box and clean out any droppings. Whilst you are cleaning the bat box it is a good idea to look for any damage, as this may mean it is unlikely to be used. The most likely damage will be broken seams around the roof, because the constant heating and cooling during the day can warp the wood slightly. To repair this, we would recommend using a roof sealant. 

Head over to the NHBS website to browse our full range of bat boxes. If you have any other questions or would like further advice, please get in touch with our team of Wildlife Equipment Specialists (email: equipment@nhbs.com or phone +44 (0)1803 865913).

 

This Week in Biodiversity News – March 16th

 

Ecologists in England and Scotland, in collaboration with ecologist Christopher Sutherland and Joseph Drake at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, report on a new tool for identifying an “entire community of mammals”, including elusive and endangered species that are otherwise difficult to monitor, by collecting DNA from river water. 

The white stork is returning to the wild in the south of England for the first time in several hundred years. Hunting and loss of habitat are the main factors that have led to their near extinction. After a successful breeding programme in Oxfordshire they are returning to West Sussex. 

Projects to reduce grass cutting and increase the diversity of plants and wildlife along Britain’s roads are having dramatic results for local ecology, seeing the return of butterflies and invertebrates in large numbers. 

 In Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique, a complex experiment is working to rebuild the park’s fauna, first by reintroducing herbivores; and, more recently, by establishing a healthy population of carnivores on an ecosystem that has learned to live without them.

7 Female Nature & Science Writers to Read for International Women’s Day

To celebrate International Women’s Day we have put together a selection of incredible nature and science writing books from some brilliant female writers. 

Tamed: Ten Species that Changed our World

by Alice Roberts

In Tamed, Dr. Alice Roberts uncovers the amazing deep history of ten familiar species with incredible wild pasts: dogs, apples and wheat; cattle; potatoes and chickens; rice, maize, and horses – and, finally, humans. Alice Roberts not only reveals how becoming part of our world changed these animals and plants but shows how they became our allies, essential to the survival and success of our own species – and to our future.                                                            

Poached: Inside the Dark World of Wildlife Tracking

by Rachel Love Nuwer

In Poached, science journalist Rachel Nuwer takes us on a harrowing journey to the frontlines of the illegal wildlife trade, exploring the forces currently driving demand for animals and their parts – such as the widespread abuses of Chinese medicine and the links with drug trafficking and international crime cartels – and introduces us to the individuals battling to save them: the scientists and activists who believe it is not too late to stop the impending extinctions.

Spirals in Time: The Secret Life and Curious Afterlife of Seashells

by Helen Scales

Helen Scales tells the story of the seashell, showing how these simple objects have been sculpted by fundamental rules of mathematics and evolution, how they gave us colour, gems, food and money, and how they are prompting new medicines and teaching scientists how our brains work. Seashells offer an accessible way to reconnect people with nature, helping to heal the rift between ourselves and the undersea world. 

H is for Hawk

by Helen Macdonald 

Destined to be a classic of nature writing, H is for Hawk is a record of a spiritual journey – an unflinchingly honest account of Macdonald’s struggle with grief during the difficult process of the hawk’s taming and her own untaming. At the same time, it’s a kaleidoscopic biography of the brilliant and troubled novelist T. H. White, best known for The Once and Future King. It’s a book about memory, nature and nation, and how it might be possible to try to reconcile death with life and love.

 

Field Guide to the Ladybirds of Britain and Ireland

by Helen E Roy

Professor Helen Roy’s research focuses on the effects of environmental change on insect populations and communities. This illustrated field guide covers all 47 species of ladybird occurring in Britain and Ireland in a handy and easy-to-use format. Twenty-six species are colourful and conspicuous and easily recognised as ladybirds; the remaining species are more challenging, but the clear illustrations and up-to-date text in Field Guide to the Ladybirds of Britain and Ireland will help to break down the identification barriers.

 

A Crack in Creation: The New Power to Control Evolution 

by Jennifer Doudna

CRISPR is a breakthrough discovery in genetic modification that is causing a revolution. It is an invention that allows us to rewrite the genetic code that shapes and controls all living beings with astonishing accuracy and ease. Jennifer Doudna is the co-inventor of this technology and a scientist of worldwide renown. Writing with fellow researcher Samuel Sternberg, here she provides the definitive account of her discovery, explaining how this wondrous invention works and what it is capable of.

 

Bats: An Illustrated Guide to All Species

by Marianne Taylor

Marianne Taylor has written prolifically on the natural world. This lavishly illustrated handbook offers in-depth profiles of 300 megabats and microbats and detailed summaries of all the species identified to date. An endlessly fascinating guide with an introduction exploring their natural history and unique adaptations to life on the wing. Bats includes close-up images of these animals’ delicate, intricate and sometimes grotesque forms and faces, each shaped by evolution to meet the demands of an extraordinarily specialized life.

The Accidental Countryside: interview with author Stephen Moss

Stephen Moss is a naturalist, broadcaster, television producer and author. He is the original producer of the BAFTA award-winning series Springwatch and has worked with David Attenborough, Chris Packham, Alan Titchmarsh, and other leading naturalists. Passionate about communicating the wonders of nature, he also lectures in Nature and Travel Writing at Bath Spa University. Originally from London, he lives with his family on the Somerset Levels and is President of the Somerset Wildlife Trust.

In The Accidental Countryside: Hidden Havens for Britain’s Wildlife, Stephen writes about the secret places, that are often overlooked when it comes to protecting habitats and wildlife. Stephen has given his time to sign copies and answer our questions about these vital habitats in our hidden corners. 

 

What inspired you to write about the ‘hidden havens’ for Britain’s Wildlife?

I’ve always been fascinated by these forgotten and secret places, that are often overlooked when it comes to protecting habitats and wildlife. As I say in the book, I first got my passion for the natural world by visiting the gravel pits near my suburban home; today I live near the Avalon Marshes in Somerset, another post-industrial habitat, created from disused peat diggings. During my career at the BBC Natural History Unit, I often filmed at these edgeland locations, as they harbour such a range of interesting wildlife, and are often more accessible to people than classic nature reserves in the countryside. 

Of all the places you visited, which habitat surprised you the most regarding its biodiversity?

That’s a tricky one, as I think they all surprised me in some way or another. The Avalon Marshes is probably the most packed with wildlife – three species of egrets, marsh harriers, bitterns and the famous starling murmurations on winter evenings – but I also loved the Montiaghs (in rural Northern Ireland, where peat was dug by hand), Parc Slip in South Wales (a former open-cast coal mine) and best of all, Canvey Wick in Essex, Britain’s first brownfield nature reserve, and a paradise for invertebrates including rare dragonflies and damselflies.

Avalon Marshes

Your book features exceptional and inspirational people that have found ways to make the most unlikely places wildlife friendly. Is it possible to highlight just one project that has succeeded against the odds?

Again, the Avalon Marshes stands out: once the peat had been removed, we were left with an ugly, scarred and wildlife-free landscape, which it was suggested could be used as a landfill site for Bristol’s domestic waste. Thanks to a local campaign, they were instead turned into nature reserves; thirty years later this is one of the best places for wildlife in the whole of the UK. Others include Canvey Wick, which again could have fallen to the developers; the roadside verges of Blandford Forum in Dorset, which are now awash with wildflowers and butterflies each summer; and the RSPB’s Window on Wildlife at Belfast Docks, home to breeding Arctic Terns.

A Murmuration of Starlings

Is there one habitat that you think hasn’t reached its wildlife friendly potential?

That’s easy! The rest of the ‘official’ countryside – the 70% of the UK that is used for farming. Of course we need to produce food, but not at the expense of wildlife, which is what is happening on the vast majority of farms at the moment. Some visionary farmers are working with conservationists to buck the trend – for instance, the Marlborough Downs Nature Improvement Project in Wiltshire – but most are simply fulfilling the consumer and supermarkets’ demands for cheap food, whatever the cost to the environment. 

You have been writing for many years and unfortunately, wildlife has suffered a substantial decline over the last few decades. Has your recent experience writing The Accidental Countryside left you more optimistic or more pessimistic regarding the future of wildlife in the UK?

I’d love to live in a country where the sites I feature in The Accidental Countryside are not important because the wider countryside has been transformed into a haven for wildlife. But I’m not holding my breath, despite the things we hear from the government. Now, more than ever, we need to understand that a healthy, wildlife-filled environment is not some ‘bolt-on extra’ to our lives, but essential – to the health and well-being of nature, of ourselves, and of course for the planet as a whole. So I have to be optimistic: there is no other choice!

Are there any books or projects that you are currently working on that you can tell us about?

Yes, I am just about to deliver the third in my series of ‘Bird Biographies’ for Square Peg (Part of Penguin Random House). Following bestselling books on the Robin and the Wren, I am now writing about that classic sign of spring and summer, the Swallow. I am a late convert to Swallows – only since I moved from London to rural Somerset in middle age have I grown to appreciate this classic bird of the British countryside. Writing this book, I have also grown to appreciate that the swallow is, as the writer Collingwood Ingram once noted, “beyond doubt the best known, and certainly the best loved, species in the world.”

 

The Accidental Countryside: Hidden Havens for Britain’s Wildlife                              Hardback,  published February 2020           £13.99 £16.99

 

 

Also by Stephen Moss: 

The Wren: A Biography                                                           Hardback,  published November 2018                                    £12.99 

 

Mrs Moreau’s Warbler                                                                                  Paperback,  published April 2019                                                  £7.99 £9.99

 

Wonderland: A Year of Britain’s Wildlife, Day by Day                    Paperback,  published April 2018                                                             £9.99 £12.99

 

Wild Hares and Hummingbirds: The Natural History of an English Village                                                                                 Paperback,  published September 2012                                                   £7.50 £9.99