The NHBS Guide to UK Chat and Flycatcher Identification

Chats and flycatchers are birds in the Old World flycatcher family, the Muscicapidae. They are small passerine birds and are mainly insectivores. Chats (subfamily Saxicolinae) were originally included in the thrush family, Turdidae, but were reclassified after genetic analysis. Several chats and flycatchers have a number of subspecies, although the classification of these species is often contested.

This family contains many well-known species, such as the nightingale and the robin, which have important cultural connections and have inspired many songs, fairy tales, artworks and poetry. The nightingale’s song has been an important symbol for many poets and writers, often depicted as a mournful lament. The robin has featured prominently in British folklore for centuries, with a strong association with Christmas beginning in the mid-19th century. In both the 1960s and 2015, the robin was voted as the unofficial national bird of the UK.

Many of the birds on this list are striking examples of our wildlife but some now face a serious threat of extinction in the UK. Several have been listed on the birds of conservation concern 4 (BoCC4) red list, such as the pied flycatcher and whinchat, due to their severe population declines. These declines have been attributed to several different threats, including agricultural intensification, climate change and nest failures caused by mowing.

Nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos)

Distribution: Summer migrant, visiting between April to July/August, Found mainly in the south east, east of England, south west and areas of the east and west Midlands.
BoCC4 status:
What to look for:
The nightingale is a brown species, with a paler throat and underside and a reddish tail. They have pale, pinkish legs and a small beak that is yellow and grey.
Did you know?
There are three accepted subspecies, the western nightingale (L. m. megarhynchos), which visits the UK, and the caucasian (L. m. africana) and eastern nightingale (L. m. golzii).

Kev Chapman via Flickr
Black redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros)

Distribution: Rare. During the summer, they’re found mainly in Greater London, Birmingham and the Black Country, with scattered pairs in Liverpool, Manchester and along the south coast between Suffolk and Dorset. During the autumn and winter months, they can be found along the south coast and areas of Wales and Scotland.
Birds of Conservation Concern 4 (BoCC4) status:
What to look for:
This species is a similar size to the robin. Males are grey-black with a red tail, dark brown wings and a dark black face. Its underside is lighter and it has paler fringes on its secondary feathers, forming a whitish panel. Females are browner and lighter, with the same red tail. They have darker wingtips and a black beak.
Did you know?
There are several subspecies of the black redstart, with different authorities accepting between five to seven subspecies, generally separated into three major groups according to DNA sequencing, biogeography and morphology. The subspecies that visits the UK is P. o. Gibraltariensis, one of the two European subspecies.

xulescu_g via Flickr
(Common) Redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus)

Distribution: A summer migrant, found in the north and west of the UK, with the greatest concentrations in Wales.
BoCC4 status: Amber
What to look for: The redstart has a distinctive bright orange-red tail. Males are black and grey with a red underside and black legs. Their face is black and their crown is grey, with a white patch across the forehead. Females are duller, with a greyish-brown colouration but still have red tail feathers.
Did you know? There are two subspecies accepted for this species. The one that migrates to the UK is P. p. Phoenicurus, the other subspecies, P. p. samamisicus, is found in the Crimean Peninsula, Turkey, the Middle East and parts of Central Asia.

hedera.baltica via Flickr
Stonechat (Saxicola rubicola)

Distribution: Present across much of Scotland and Wales, parts of Northern Ireland and parts of England, particularly the south coast and the east of England.
BoCC4 status: Green
What to look for: During the summer, males have a black head with white patches on either side of their throat, a rust-red breast, streaked dark brown wings and a pale underside. During the winter, they are brown with a rust-brown breast. Females resemble the male winter form, although they are a lighter brown with a whitish throat.
Did you know? There are two currently recognised subspecies, S. r. hibernans (present in the UK) and S. r. rubicola. S. r hibernans is the darker subspecies, with less white than S. r. rubicola. 

Ron Knight via Flickr
(Northern) Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe)

Distribution: Much of Scotland, Wales, Ireland and northern England, as well as parts of the coasts of south east and south west England.
BoCC4 status: Green
What to look for: The males have a blue-grey upperside, black wings and a white underside, with an orange breast and throat. They have a black mask, edged above and below with white. Females are brown, with dark wingtips and an orange breast and throat, with no black mask. Both have a white rump and tail, with a black T-shape on their white tail. Immature and non-breeding birds lack the contrasting black wings and are buff coloured.
Did you know? There are four accepted subspecies, two of which have been recorded in the UK, O. o. oenanthe and O. o. leucorhoa.

Michele Lamberti via Flickr
Whinchat (Saxicola rubetra)

Distribution: Summer migrants to Scotland, Wales and the north and north east of England. They can be found in other areas during their migration, such as parts of the south west and Ireland.
BoCC4 status: Red
What to look for: This species has a pale eyestripe, dark cheek and crown, and a pale chin. The males have a streaky brown upperside, with a buff-orange breast and throat during the breeding season, but females are paler. Male whinchats have a dark tail with a white underside, while females have a paler tail with a white underside.

Michele Lamberti via Flickr
Bluethroat (Luscinia svecica)

Distribution: This is a rare species and can be seen on passage between May to June and August to October, usually along the east coast of the UK.
BoCC4 status: Not assessed
What to look for: Two subspecies visit the UK, the red-spotted bluethroat (L. s. svecica) and the rarer white-spotted bluethroat (L. s. cyanecula). Both species have grey upperparts and white underparts, with a chestnut-coloured patch under their tail. The males have a bright blue patch on their throats, which is where the two subspecies differ. The white-spotted bluethroat has a patch of white on its throat within the blue patch, whereas the red-spotted bluethroat has a chestnut coloured patch. Under this patch on both subspecies is a half-moon of black and another of chestnut feathers. The beak is black, with yellow colouration on the inside and a yellow gape flange, the area where the upper and lower mandibles of the beak join together at the base.

(Red-spotted) ?sa Berndtsson via Flickr
(White-spotted) Gertjan van Noord via Flickr
Pied Flycatcher (Ficedula hypoleuca)

Distribution: A summer migrant present in Wales, the north west of England, and parts of the south west and Scotland.
BoCC4 status: Red
What to look for: Male pied flycatchers have a mostly black upperside and white underside, with a white patch on the folded wing. Females and non-breeding males are browner, with a brownish chest and a less bold white wing patch. They have a black beak, and breeding males have a small white patch above it.
Did you know? There are four recognised subspecies, F. h. hypoleuca is the subspecies that visits the UK but there is some suggestion that F. h. tomensis (formally F. h. sibirica) has also been recorded in Britain.

caroline legg via Flickr
Spotted Flycatcher (Muscicapa striata)

Distribution: Widespread across the UK between April to August/September.
BoCC4 status: Red
What to look for: The spotted flycatcher is a streaked grey-ish brown species, with a pale underside and a streaked breast and crown. They have a dark beak and legs and are a similar size to a house sparrow (Passer domesticus).
Did you know? There are five recognised subspecies of spotted flycatcher. The subspecies that migrates to the UK is M. s. Striata.

hedera.baltica via Flickr
Robin (Erithacus rubecula)

Distribution: Widespread across the UK.
BoCC4 status: Green
What to look for: This well-known bird has brown upperparts, a brown crown and a red face and breast. It has a pale underside and a grey stripe from its eye to its side, between its brown and red plumage.
Did you know? There are multiple subspecies of the robin, although the exact number is contested. E. r. melophilus is endemic to the UK and there is some suggestion that E. r. rubecula, the western European subspecies, has also been recorded here.

oudjat45 via Flickr
Suggested reading and equipment:

Europe’s Birds: An Identification Guide






Britain’s Birds: An Identification Guide to the Birds of Great Britain and Ireland

£13.99 £19.99




Where to Watch Birds in Britain






Robins and Chats

£59.99 £64.99





Hawke Optics Frontier HD X: 8 x 42


See our full range of binoculars

The NHBS Guide to UK Deer Identification

Deer are among the UK’s most elegant and familiar mammals and sightings of them in their natural habitat are always special moments, however these encounters can often be fleeting, and our views obscured.

This ID guide covers all of the native and non-native deer species that are found in the UK, and describes the key features to look out for to aid in their identification.

Deer are hoofed ruminants that comprise the family Cervidae. They are naturally found across Europe, Asia and the Americas and can be divided into two subfamilies, differentiated mostly by their bone structures. Most familiar in the UK are the Cervinae or old world deer subfamily, which includes the red, sika, fallow, Chinese water and Reeves’ muntjac. The Capreolinae (new world) sub family includes the roe deer as well as elk, reindeer and all the species found across the Americas.  

Of the six species found in the UK, only the red and roe deer are truly native, although fallow deer were thought to have been first introduced to Britain in the 11th Century from the Mediterranean region, so are long established. Three other species, the sika deer, Chinese water deer and Reeves’ muntjac are all more recently naturalised within the UK.

Identification of deer can be straightforward in some situations, but some species are similar and, when not seen well, identification can be a challenge. Two of the best features to focus on for identification are the rump and the antlers, if they are visible. Except for reindeer (caribou), in which both sexes grow antlers, and the Chinese water deer and musk deer, which lack any antlers, all male (stags) deer usually grow antlers, which they use in battles to access females (hinds) during the rut. Antlers are unique to deer and a great tool to look at to identify different species. However, they are shed every year after the rut, so although a striking feature, the rump pattern of deer is perhaps the most reliable feature to use for identification.

Red Deer (Cervus elaphus)
Red deer by caroline legg via Flickr

Distribution: Widespread in Scotland and abundant in the Highlands and Islands. Elsewhere populations occur in Cumbria, Lancashire, the Peak District and Pennines, Exmoor and the Quantock Hills, the New Forest, and East Anglia. There are also small populations in Wales and Ireland.

Head and body length: 1.6–2.6 metres for a male and 1.7–2.1 metres for females

Height at shoulder: 1.14–1.22 metres.

What to look for: Both our largest species of deer and land mammal, the magnificent stags can weigh in at around 200kg making them an impressive and noticeably large species. Look for their reddish-brown coat that lacks any spots or delineation of colour. Only their rumps and tails feature a paler buff cream colour. Another characteristic of red deer are their elongated faces and large ears.

Their favoured habitat is woodland, although in Scotland they have adapted to live year-round in more open treeless landscapes. Grasses make up the bulk of their diet throughout the year, but they will also browse on a wide range of shrubs, young trees and bark, brambles, bracken and heathers. Sika deer are the most similar looking and the two species have hybridised in several regions. Sika have white spots in summer and darker brown coats in winter with shorter faces. Hybrid red and sika deer tend to resemble smaller darker red deer than they do sika.

Antlers: The antlers of mature stags are wide and branching with usually 8 sets of points per antler that curve upwards and sometimes in on themselves. Younger males have short unbranched, straighter pointed antlers.

Rump: A soft creamy colour with a very short russet-brown tail.

Sika Deer (Cervus nippon)
Sika dear by Chris Parker via Flickr

Distribution: Sika deer are native to Japan, Korea, Taiwan and far eastern Asia, but escaped into Britain from collections in 1860. Since their initial introduction in 1860, they have naturalised and spread to many regions. Population strongholds include Dorset and the New Forest, Lancashire and Cumbria Northern England, the Scottish borders and the Highlands.

Due to their genetic similarities to red deer, sika deer are thought to have hybridised with the native red deer in several regions, particularly in the Scottish Highlands. Sika prefer to keep to woodland cover more than red deer which have adapted to feeding in more open habitats. 

Head and body length: 1.2–1.9 metres for a male and 1.1–1.6 metres for female.

Height at shoulder: 1.07–1.22 metres.

What to look for: Sika are very similar in appearance to red deer and the two species do interbreed in many regions. They are noticeably smaller than red deer and in summer they have white spots on their coats, but thick and often dark (sometimes almost black) coats in winter.

Their diet and feeding habits are very similar to red deer, with grasses and heather making up the bulk of their diet, but they will also browse on both deciduous and coniferous trees, gorse, holly bark and acorns. They are however generally less social than red deer and outside of the breeding season, both males and females can be solitary with females forming only small herds with young.

Antlers: Similar to those of red deer, but thinner, lighter coloured and less complex with usually only 4 points per antler.

Rump: A conspicuous white rump patch with a dark edge and a short white tail with a single thin dark dorsal stripe along its length.

Roe deer (Capreolus capreolus)
Roe deer by caroline legg via Flickr

Distribution: A woodland specialist that’s rarely found far from some woodland cover, although they are increasingly using hedgerows and scrub as cover within more agricultural and urban landscapes. They are widely distributed throughout the UK but absent from Ireland, with the greatest population densities found in Scotland.

Head and body length: 0.95–1.25 metres

Height at shoulder: 0.6–0.75 metres

What to look for: A medium sized lightweight deer with a long neck and uniform brown coat. Other features that distinguish them from the larger deer include shorter muzzles and a clean white rump patch. In summer their coats turn a rich reddish brown and appear sleeker, while in winter, the coat turns a thicker and dark more peanut brown. 

They are mostly solitary but sometimes form small family groups with young, particularly during the winter. They browse a wide variety of trees, shrubs and herbs including bramble, heather, and rosebay willowherb but during the autumn will also feed on the ground on fruits, acorns and occasionally fungi.

Antlers: Short and mostly vertical, they are rarely much taller than the head, with only 2 or three points per antler. With a close view, the antlers can often appear particularly velvety or crusty at the base, depending on the season and growth stage.

Rump: The patch varies between the sexes, but both have a clean white patch and no visible tail. Males have a kidney shaped white patch, whereas females have more of a round shape.

Chinese water deer (Hydropotes inermis)
Chinese water deer by Nick Goodrum via Flickr

Distribution: The Chinese water deer is a native of eastern China and Korea but has formed a naturalised population in England after escaping from Woburn Park in Bedfordshire towards the end of the 19th Century.  They’re found throughout most of East Anglia and a more scattered population in the southeast-England where there is suitable habitat. The strongholds include the Norfolk broads and Cambridgeshire fens. The population trend is increasing, with over 1500 individuals and their distribution is also expanding. Interestingly, it is thought that due to population decline in their native range, the British population may now represent a significant part of their world population, despite not being a native species. 

Head and body length: 1 metre

Height at shoulder: 0.7–0.95 metres.

What to look for: A small and uniformly light brown (sometimes greyish) coloured deer with large, rounded ears and a distinctive black nose. They are strongly associated with freshwater marshland habitats where they feed on coarse grasses, reeds, herbs and aquatic vegetation. Chinese water deer are solitary and secretive, preferring to keep close to cover and use both woodland close to wetlands and reedbeds. They will occasionally forage in farmland but prefer to keep close to cover.

Chinese water deer by Nick Goodrum via Flickr

Males have impressive and prominent downward pointing tusks instead of canine teeth that can be seen with a close-up view. These tusks are used during the rut, mostly for display purposes between rival males and to impress females. They are quite a distinctive looking deer with a more unusual almost bear-like face, although their secretive nature means that obtaining good views can be difficult.

Antlers: This species lacks any antlers.

Rump: Their rear and short tail is the same pale brown colour as the rest of their coat. 

Reeves’ muntjac (Muntiacus reevesi)
Reeves’ muntjac by Peter Trimming via Flickr

Distribution: The Reeves’ muntjac is also native to China and again its UK population derives from escaped individuals from Woburn Park in Bedfordshire from 1901. They are now abundant and found throughout southern, eastern and central England spreading rapidly into southwest-England, Wales and southern Scotland. Since 2000, a population has become established in Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Head and body length: 0.9–1 metres

Height at shoulder: 0.45–0.52 metres

What to look for: A very small, robust and stocky deer that often appears to have a hunched-over appearance due to its short neck, arched back and tendency to walk with its head facing down to the ground. The coat varies from a deep russet brown in summer to a greyer and paler brown in the winter. The face is short and squat with a characteristic set of black stripes creating a V shape on the top of the head. Male muntjac also have slightly protruding tusks but they are much shorter than those of Chinese water deer and rarely visible without a close view.

Muntjac favour dense undergrowth within both deciduous and coniferous woodland but will also thrive within urban environments with suitable cover. They browse woodland leaves and flowers during the spring and summer including some scarce woodland ground flora species. During the autumn and winter their diet switches to nuts, fungi and grasses.

Antlers: A single very short point that curves back.

Rump: The rear patch and tail are the same reddish-brown colour as the back. The tail is short but when alarmed it will often raise the tail revealing the white underside.

Fallow Deer (Dama dama)
Fallow deer by Heather Smithers via Flickr
Female fallow deer by Steve Slater via Flickr

Distribution: Introduced to Britain for hunting in the 11th Century and to Ireland in the 13th Century from the Eastern Mediterranean, the species is now found throughout England, with more scattered populations in Wales and Scotland.

Head and body length: 1.45–1.55 metres for a male and 1.30–1.45 metres for a female.

Height at shoulder: 0.7–0.95 metres

What to look for: Fallow deer are quite variable in their appearance due to their wide range of pelage (hair). Typically, most individuals have some conspicuous white spots on pale brown, fawn or gingery coats in the summer and then dark brown coats with only faint or no spots in the winter. There is a great range of variation within this species though with some individuals and populations remaining very dark or very pale throughout the year, some of which can be melanistic. Fallow are medium sized deer that are very social, often forming large herds that remain together throughout the year.  Due to their numbers, they also leave conspicuous signs of their presence such as runs and tracks in frequented areas.

Their preferred habitat is open deciduous woodland but will also use farmland and woodland edge habits if there is cover close by. Fallow deer are grazers with grass forming most of their diet, although they will also eat nuts and browse on heather, holly and some deciduous trees to a lesser extent.

Antlers: Very large, broad and palmate shaped with numerous spikes.

Rump: A clean white rump with a dark outside edge. The tail is long and appears mostly black because of a long black stripe that runs down the course of its length, but the underside is clean white.

Further Reading:

Britain’s Mammals: A Field Guide to the Mammals of Great Britain and Ireland

£11.99 £17.99



How to Find and Identify Mammals [Revised Edition]





Mammals of the British Isles: Handbook, 4th edition jacket image

Mammals of the British Isles: Handbook





A Guide to British Mammal Tracks and Signs





Sika Deer





Chinese Water Deer





Scottish Red Deer and Their Conservation





Fallow Deer





Muntjac and Water Deer: Natural History, Environmental Impact and Management

£21.50 £34.99

This Week in Biodiversity News – 17th January 2022

Loss of animal biodiversity is impacting the survivability of some plants. Species that rely on animal-facilitated dispersal are unable to keep up with climate change as they cannot disperse their seeds far enough to shift their geographic ranges, due to the decline in biodiversity of birds and mammals. Published in Science, a new study has shown that 60% fewer seeds are being dispersed far enough to reach newly suitable habitats, with North America, Europe, South America and Australia the most affected.

A number of environmental organisations, including Wildlife Trust and the RSPB are warning that permitted use of the banned pesticide thiamethoxam by sugar beet farmers threatens bees. The Government has announced that it will permit the use of thiamethoxam on sugar beet in England in 2022, because of the threat posed by a virus, transmitted by aphids. Neonicotinoids are banned within the UK and the EU, as even small traces of these chemicals can reduce bees’ ability to forage and navigate, threatening whole colonies.

Norway has blown up a dam that blocked the Tromsa River for more than 100 years to free up migratory routes for fish. The dam has not been used for over 50 years and the river, which feeds into Norway’s biggest lake, will allow fish in the area to thrive, including grayling, Alpine bullhead and common minnows. Prior to this, the fish were only able to live and spawn in 950 metres of the river. Now that the dam has been removed, these species will be able to swim 10km upriver.

A new study suggests that the sixth mass extinction is currently underway.  The planet has undergone five major extinction events but, according to the study published in Biological Reviews, the current one is entirely caused by human activities. Since the year 1500, between 7.5% and 13% of 2 million known species could have already been lost, with drastically increasing rates of species extinctions and declining abundances. However, a bias towards evaluating birds and mammals and an under-reporting of other fauna such as invertebrates may be leading to many denials that the current rate of species die-offs amounts to a mass extinction.

NHBS In the Field – Elekon Batlogger M2

The Elekon Batlogger M2 is a sophisticated bat detector, designed for use in active transect surveys and bat walks. The detector is ergonomically designed and compact in its build. Unlike the Batlogger M, the replaceable microphone is set back within the casing, reducing the chance of breakages if accidentally dropped.

It is an easy-to-use detector, able to record ultrasonic calls over a wide range of 10-192Hz, retaining details of the harmonic structure and amplitude of the original bat call.

This detector also includes features for real-time heterodyne monitoring scheduled recording and several preset recording modes for typical survey types, including ‘Explore’, ‘Transect’ and ‘Passive’. There is also an option to create your own presets, with all settings accessible directly on the Batlogger M2.

The recordings can be easily and quickly managed and analysed using the free BatExplorer Software for Windows. This software also includes computer-aided species identification.

How we tested

In August 2021, we tested the Batlogger M2 on Dartmoor in South Devon at dusk. We chose an area with both open moorland and woodland to monitor the dusk emergence of several bat species. Using the ‘Explore’ recording mode, the device was set to real-time heterodyne monitoring, with the trigger settings selected to 45Hz.

The recordings were stored on a 16GB MicroSD card, output via WAV and XML. The files can be easily transferred to your computer with the included cables (a USB-C to USB-C cable and a USB-C to USB-A adapter) however, we simply used an SD card reader to access and transfer our recordings.

Elekon’s ‘BatExplorer Lite’ software was used to visualise and analyse our recordings.

What we found

At only 222g, this device is lightweight, therefore it was not a hindrance when hiking to the site. It was easy to hold and operate in low light, which is important as it will often be used in conjunction with other equipment while undertaking surveys. However, the buttons do not light up or glow in the dark, therefore it is important to familiarise yourself with the setup beforehand.

Our survey used the ‘Explore’ recording mode however, we looked briefly at the other preset modes and felt they would be very useful if carrying out these types of surveys. In particular, the ‘Transect’ mode allows you to pre-program the detector with your own GPS survey route, which will then display directions to keep you on path.

Setting up our recording session was quick and easy. When triggered, the detector automatically recorded the calls in full-spectrum, therefore no further operation was required. Each recording logs the GPS location, temperature, humidity and brightness at the time of recording, so there is no need to bring separate equipment for these parameters. The device also has an integrated voice microphone to enable you to take time-stamped voice notes while surveying, which allows for more accurate note-taking than writing in the dark.

The screen display was bright and easy to view in the dark. The main screen shows the current recording time and frequency, as well as amplitude and harmonic structure of the previous bat call, the time since the last sequence and the species suggestion for that recording. The other recorded information can be accessed by pressing the left and right buttons to switch screen displays, allowing for an uncluttered screen and fewer distractions.

We tested the detector’s audio output with both earphones and through the built-in speakers (includes an adjustable volume). Both had clear audio with little background noise.

We recorded multiple calls including over 60 calls during one 30 minute survey. We were impressed with the quality of the recordings and the lack of ambient noise assisted in the identification of calls.  It is worth noting that the M2 uses a SiSonic microphone, whereas the older Batlogger M uses an FG Knowles microphone, so experienced Batlogger M users may notice a slight difference in their recordings.

Automatic species identification was not always to species level, with some recordings having no suggested species. Those that were suggested, however, appeared mostly accurate when we analysed the recordings via the BatExplorer software.

Our opinion

The Batlogger M2 by Elekon is a very easy-to-use and accessible detector. The preset recording modes are useful for almost all circumstances and allow quick survey set up without the need to trawl through complicated settings – particularly helpful for newer ecologists. The only limitation we found was the lack of visual aids for the buttons in the dark, however, this can be easily overcome by familiarisation and repeated use.

It is clear from the design of the M2 that Elekon has acted on feedback from the Batlogger M and have created an intuitive detector with a robust build, perfect for any survey needs.

The Elekon Batlogger M2 can be found here. Our full range of active bat detectors can be found here.

If you have any questions about our range or would like some advice on the right product for you then please contact us via email at or phone on 01803 865913.


‘Wilding for Conservation’ series – one year in

Rewilding has remained very much in vogue over the past 12 months: a wealth of new initiatives and enterprises have emerged, ‘celebrity rewilders’ have made headlines and, most significantly, Defra has announced recently that one part of the new, restructured farm-subsidy system in England will incentivise a switch from agriculture to nature restoration on large landholdings. With momentum only set to build, discussion of the direction of travel, and opportunities and challenges for rewilding remains as important as ever – the ‘Wilding for Conservation’ series, launched in British Wildlife at the start of 2021, aims to provide a forum for that discussion. Here, we revisit the varied topics covered in the series’ first year and look ahead to articles coming up in 2022 and beyond.

Wilding for Conservation, edited by Rob Fuller, began in the February 2021 issue of British Wildlife with an editorial explaining the aims of the series, including to ‘explore the many facets of rewilding as they relate to conservation in Britain’ and ‘bring ideas contained within the expanding scientific and cultural literature to a wider audience, while providing examples of what is happening on the ground in the UK and elsewhere’.

That same issue featured the first two articles in the series. To start, Steve Carver and Ian Convery set out the history and principles of rewilding, and argued that this approach in its pure form could offer a more ambitious future for conservation in Britain. Accompanying this was a piece by Rob Fuller and James Gilroy, who examined the limitations of, and similarities between, rewilding and ‘traditional’ conservation management, and discussed how the two could be used in tandem to produce the greatest possible benefit for wildlife.

In the May 2021 issue, Jonathan Spencer explored the economics of rewilding, offering a brief history of how industry first maintained, and then later destroyed, high-nature-value habitats, and explaining how the emergence of natural capital approaches and changes to farm subsidies could present new financial opportunities for rewilding enterprises.

In June, Keith Kirby, described European strict forest reserves – protected woodlands left to develop with minimal intervention – and outlined how these might provide lessons for rewilding in British forests.

In the November issue, Hugh Webster reviewed the ability of large carnivores, including wolf and lynx, to regulate populations of other species, and cautioned against building the case for reintroduction of apex predators on their potential ecological benefits, which may fail to materialise.

Most recently, in December 2021, the charity Rewilding Britain introduced a selection of projects currently trialling wilder approaches to conservation, and explained how rewilding can be applied, and yield benefits, in a great variety of contexts.

Wilding for Conservation will continue through 2022 and beyond with articles on a range of topics, including a landscape-history perspective on the limits of rewilding, the reality of passive rewilding in established woodland, the roles of rewilding in carbon storage and mitigating the impacts of climate change on wildlife, case studies on the New Forest and Southern Uplands of Scotland, and much more. And alongside the series, British Wildlife will continue to bring readers the best of natural history and species conservation, and the most important developments in environmental policy.

British Wildlife is a subscription-only magazine which has been published by NHBS since 2016. Annual subscriptions, starting from just £40, can be taken out online, by email ( or by phone (01803 467166). Individual back issues of British Wildlife are available to buy from the NHBS website.

Edward O. Wilson and Thomas Lovejoy Obituary

Edward O. Wilson 1929–2021 and Thomas Lovejoy 1941–2021

We have recently received the sad news of the passing of Edward O. Wilson, a biologist, naturalist and Pulitzer Prize-winning author, who died aged 92 and Thomas Lovejoy, a leading extinction researcher and conservation biologist who popularised the term ‘biological diversity’, who died at age 80. These two pioneering conservationists were instrumental in establishing the field of conservation biology and continued to contribute to conservation and research throughout their long careers.

Edward O. Wilson began his interest in natural history from an early age, undertaking his first expeditions at age 9 around the Rock Creek Park in Washington, DC. He earned his BS and MS degrees in biology at the University of Alabama before transferring to Harvard University to complete his PhD.

Wilson was referred to by some as the ‘father of biodiversity’ and ‘a modern Charles Darwin’, praised for his influence as a theorist and observer. He began his career as an ant taxonomist between 1956 and 1996, working to understand their microevolutions and developing the theory of a ‘taxon cycle’. While appointed to the Harvard Society of Fellows, he spent many years travelling, embarking on several overseas expeditions to research and collect ant species in Cuba, Mexico, Australia, Fiji and Sri Lanka, amongst other places. Wilson has been credited with the discovery and description of more than 400 species of ants. Later in life, he led a number of scientific expeditions to Mozambique, the southwest Pacific and the archipelagos of Vanuatu.

Wilson was also an accomplished author, publishing many titles including On Human Nature (1979), which won him his first Pulitzer Prize; The Ants (1990), for which he won his second Pulitzer Prize; his autobiography Naturalist (1994); The Diversity of Life (2012); Letters to a Young Scientist (2014); and his most recent book, Tales from the Ant World (2021). Wilson also played a key role in the launch of the Encyclopedia of Life (EOL) initiative, which aimed to create a global database on all scientifically recognised species.

He was also known for his campaigning, arguing that humans have a moral duty to value species for not only their own sake, but also for future human generations. His work in extinction research informed much of his activism, leading to his advocating for forest protection and the setting aside of 50% of the earth’s surface for wildlife to thrive in, known as the Half-Earth concept. During his long career, Wilson was awarded a number of scientific and conservation honours, including the National Medal of Science (1977), the ECI Prize (1987), the International Prize for Biology (1993), Carl Sagan Award for Public Understanding of Science (1994), the Nierenberg Prize (2001) and the Kew International Medal (2014), as well as being recognised as one of Time Magazine‘s 25 Most Influential People in America in 1995.

E. O. Wilson, 16th October 2007 by Sage Ross via Flickr

Edward O. Wilson: 10th June 1929–26th December 2021

Thomas Lovejoy introduced the term ‘biological diversity’ to the scientific community in the 1980s, as well as helping to establish the concept and study of conservation biology, by convening ‘The First International Conference on Research in Conservation Biology’ with a group of other leading conservationists in 1978.

Referred to by some as the ‘godfather of biodiversity’, Lovejoy’s interest in nature and biology began when he attended Millbrook School and worked at The Trevor Zoo in the 1950s. From there, he worked for many years in the Amazon of Brazil, later founding the Biological Dynamics of Forest Fragments Project (BDFFP) in Brazil in 1979 and later co-founding the Amazon Biodiversity Center in 2018. He worked to understand the impacts of forest fragmentation, leading the Minimum Critical Size of Ecosystems project in the Amazon and calling for the protection of tropical forests.

Lovejoy served on a number of science and environmental councils under presidents Reagan, Bush and Clinton and as Science Envoy for the Obama and Biden administrations. Through his work in the field of extinction research, he discovered that human-caused habitat destruction, pollution and climate change were threatening species around the world and predicted in the 1980s that 10–20% of all species would be extinct by the year 2020. This work won him the Blue Planet Prize in 2012, for being the first scientist to academically clarify how humans are causing habitat fragmentation and driving the biodiversity crisis.

Lovejoy also developed debt-for-nature swaps, where a part of a nation’s foreign debt can be forgiven in exchange for investments in environmental conservation measures, such as setting aside land as a nature preserve that would be off-limits to development. Throughout his career, Lovejoy authored many articles and books, while also providing forewords for numerous others. He helped to found the long-running TV series NATURE, a show that has educated and inspired the public about wildlife for over 40 years.

Thomas Lovejoy, environmental science and policy professor at George Mason University, speaks on the panel at Deforestation in the Amazon: Drivers and Policy Solutions. Image by Inter-American Dialogue via Flickr

Thomas Lovejoy: 22nd August 1941–25th December 2021

The NHBS Guide to UK Rabbit and Hare Identification

Rabbits and hares are species in the family Leporidae, which contains over 60 species. They are mammals within the order Lagomorpha, together with the pikas. They are small to moderate-sized species, characterised by long hind legs, long ears and rapid movements. They are almost exclusively herbivorous, feeding mainly on grasses and herbs, although they do also eat leaves, fruits and seeds. Leporids are coprophagous, meaning they pass food through their digestive system twice. To do this, they first expel the food as soft green faeces, termed cecotropes, which they then reingest, eventually expelling it again as dark faecal pellets. This increases their ability to break down and digest plant material, extracting further nutrients.

They inhabit a wide range of habitats, from mountains and wetlands to forests and grasslands. Leporids play an essential role in many of these ecosystems, as seed dispersers, ecosystem engineers (a species that significantly modifies their environment) and as a primary prey item for a number of predator species, such as foxes, wildcats and some mustelids, including stoats and weasels. Their young are particularly vulnerable to these predators, as well as badgers, domestic cats and several birds of prey. Because of this vulnerability, many leporids have large litters, often nesting in burrows underground to protect their young from predation.

One threat to populations, particularly in European rabbits, is myxomatosis, a disease caused by the poxvirus Myxoma virus. Its two natural hosts, the tapeti and brush rabbits of South, Central and North America, experience only mild disease. However, myxomatosis is a severe and usually fatal disease in European rabbits. When the disease originally spread to the UK in the early 1950s, the mortality rate was 99%. In the 1970s this declined to between 47 and 69% but populations were severely affected. The disease, which causes localised swelling, skin lesions, blindness and respiratory distress, has also been deliberately introduced into the wild on multiple occasions. Used to try to eradicate or control rabbit pest populations, myxomatosis was intentionally introduced in Australia, New Zealand, South America and parts of Europe, including Britain.

Other threats to leporid populations include rabbit haemorrhagic disease (RHDV1 and RHDV2), hunting, habitat loss and agricultural intensification. Rabbit populations declined by 64% in the UK between 1996 and 2018 and numbers of brown, mountain and Irish hares are also thought to have declined in some areas. As ecosystem engineers, the loss or reduction of these species can have major consequences, particularly for rabbit-dependent habitats. In their absence, the consequent changes in vegetation structure due to a lack of grazing can have further impacts on other wildlife, such as invertebrates.

Rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus)

Distribution: Widespread across the UK, although they are absent from Rum, Isles of Scilly and some smaller islands.
What to look for: Rabbits are the smallest leporids in the UK, with the characteristic long ears and long hind legs. They have a sandy, grey-brown colouration and a white tail. They have dark, amber coloured eyes. Other than their size, the most noticeable difference between rabbits and other leporids in the UK is the lack of a black tip on the ears.
Did you know? The rabbit, also known as a coney, is not native to the UK. The exact date of their introduction is one of ongoing research. It was previously thought that rabbits were first introduced by the Normans in the 11th or 12th century as both a food and fur resource. But the recent re-examination and radiocarbon dating of a bone found at a Roman palace show that at least one rabbit was present much earlier, in the first century AD. Researchers have stated that there is no evidence of many rabbits in the area and another analysis suggests the rabbit was kept in confinement, therefore it has been suggested that it was most likely kept as an exotic pet.

JJ Harrison via Flickr
Brown hare (Lepus eueopaeus)

Distribution: Widespread across the UK, although they are less common and more restricted in Northern Ireland and absent from parts of north-west Scotland.
What to look for: This species is larger than the rabbit, with long, black-tipped ears and very long hind legs. Their colouration is redder than the rabbit and the mountain hare, and they have a black-topped tail that is white underneath. The brown hare has amber eyes and their fur can appear grizzled.
Did you know? This species is also non-native and were introduced in the Iron Age. Radiocarbon dating of bones found in Hampshire and Hertfordshire, along with historical accounts, suggest that brown hare were not eaten until hundreds of years later during the Roman period, and were instead associated with deities.

caroline legg via Flickr
Mountain hare (Lepus timidus)

Distribution: Mainly in the highlands of Scotland, although they are also found in other areas of Scotland, on some Scottish islands and in the Peak District.
What to look for: This species has a grey-brown coat during the summer and a white coat in the winter, although the tips of their ears remain black in both forms and their tail remains white. They have brown eyes and long ears, although these are shorter than the brown hare’s.

Brown form: Andrew via Flickr
White form: John Johnston via Flickr
Irish hare (Lepus timidus hibernicus)

Distribution: Widespread across Ireland
What to look for: They are very visually similar to the mountain hare, except they do not develop a white coat during winter months and are noticeably smaller. During the summer, their coat is reddish-brown which dulls to grey-brown in winter, although their tail remains pure white.
Did you know? The Irish hare is a subspecies of the mountain hare and is the only lagomorph species native to Ireland. Fossil carbon dating suggests that these hares have been present in Ireland for at least 30,000 years.

Jimmy Edmonds via Flickr (Image cropped)
Domestic rabbit (feral) (Oryctolagus cuniculus domesticus)

Distribution: Unknown
What to look for: Domestic rabbits can have a huge variety of appearances, with at least 305 breeds of domestic rabbits around the world, although different numbers are accepted by different organisations. They can vary in size, colouration, body shape, coat type and ear length.
Did you know? Many pet rabbits are abandoned each year, particularly in the period after Easter.

Paul Korecky via Flickr
Suggested reading:

Britain’s Mammals: A Field Guide to the Mammals of Great Britain and Ireland




RSPB Spotlight: Hares




Guide to the Land Mammals of Britain




How to Find and Identify Mammals [Revised Edition]

This Week in Biodiversity News – 3rd January 2022

Chester Zoo helps reintroduce ‘extinct fish’ to Mexico. The tequila fish (Zoogoneticus tequila) is a small species of goodied fish that disappeared from the wild in 2003 due to water pollution and the introduction of invasive fish species. A team of conservationists from Chester Zoo and the Michoacana University of Mexico have returned over 1500 fish to a number of springs in the Teuchitlán River in south-west Mexico, with the fish now thriving and breeding in the river. This project is hoped to have created a blueprint for future reintroductions of other endangered fish species.

Baby hellbender salamanders hatch at the St. Louis Zoo in Missouri, with hopes of restoring this species in the wild. The population of this species in Missouri has declined by over 75% since the 1980s, as they’re sensitive to environmental changes caused by climate change, pollution, disease and habitat modification. Chytridiomycosis, the deadly amphibian disease linked to massive worldwide amphibian die-offs, has also been detected in Missouri hellbenders. These captive-bred eggs will be carefully monitored and the hatchlings will be released into the wild when they are two years old.

19 bird species have been added to Nepal’s list of nationally threatened birds in the past decade. As of 2018, this list consists of 168 birds, with aquatic species making up 49 of these. The nationwide count of aquatic birds is taking place between 1st and 16th January, and will show the latest condition of the threatened bird species in Nepal. This increasing number of threatened species is thought to be due to a number of issues, including shrinking forest cover and wetlands, habitat destruction, chemical poisoning, land fragmentation, climate change and hunting.

The National Trust, RSPB, Woodland Trust and The Wildlife Trusts are calling on the Prime Minister to make New Year’s resolutions to tackle the climate and nature crises. These conservation charities are asking the UK government to make seven commitments for 2022 that focus on the protection and restoration of peatlands, protection for our marine environments and paying farmers to restore nature.

NHBS Staff Picks 2021

Welcome to our annual round-up of the books and equipment we have enjoyed reading and using this year, all chosen by members of the NHBS team. Here are our staff picks for 2021!

Song Meter Micro

Released earlier this year, the Song Meter Micro produces high-quality soundscape recordings at a significantly lower price point than standard acoustic recorders. The Micro opens the door to keen naturalists, like myself, to begin exploring the world of bioacoustics. This spring, we recorded our local dawn chorus (highly recommended!) and found it incredibly easy to set up using the free app on our own smartphone. Of particular use was the preset recording schedules, one of which uses your location and time zone to target recording around sunset and sunrise. The ease of use and beautifully clear recordings make the Micro a clear choice for my 2021 staff pick.
Gemma – Senior Wildlife Equipment Specialist


Islands of Abandonment: Life in the Post-Human Landscape

Officially abandoned places are often still very much inhabited by people on the fringes of society, as well as being reclaimed by nature. Islands of Abandonment is a highly enjoyable read about places, people and nature; part travelogue, part anthropology and part natural history, it reminded me strongly of The World Without Us. Cal Flyn writes engagingly, intelligently, and with compassion. I enjoyed reading this in hardback when it was first published, and the paperback is due to be released soon.
Anneli – Head of Finance and Operations


Recon Force Elite HP4

Being able to record the presence and often secret behaviour of the more elusive wildlife on my local patch with a trail camera is thoroughly rewarding. At the start of the year, Browning launched their latest trail camera, the impressively well-designed Recon Force Elite HP4. After seeing the stunning quality of video it captures in 1920 x 1080 FHD, it has become one of my firm favourites and I am excited to get it out into a wider range of habitats. Just ten years ago, having a trail camera that could record in this quality and also offer so many practical features and settings would have been prohibitively expensive, so I feel the Recon Force really does offer excellent value.
Ian – Wildlife Equipment Specialist


Beasts Before Us: The Untold Story of Mammal Origins and Evolution

Beyond a few academic textbooks and technical monographs, the deep evolutionary history of mammals has remained largely hidden in the academic literature. Beasts Before Us unleashes their story most spectacularly and engagingly. This beautifully written debut marks Panciroli as a noteworthy new popular science author.
Leon – Catalogue Editor


Defender Metal Seed Feeder

I have a Defender Metal Seed Feeder in my garden and absolutely love it. The ports and perches are all made of metal meaning that the local squirrel isn’t able to chew and wreck the feeder! Everything is easy to disassemble and reassemble, making cleaning the entire feeder a breeze. Paying a little bit extra for a metal bird feeder was definitely well worth it for the quality and longevity.
Antonia – Wildlife Equipment Manager


A Trillion Trees: How We Can Reforest Our World

A Trillion Trees is my choice for this year’s staff picks as it’s an optimistic take on the future of the world’s forests, championing the role of trees in the fight against climate change and in people’s daily lives. This book celebrates trees, exploring their importance, the history of our relationship with forests and the future role they may have in an emerging community-centred approach to the land.
Hana – Ecology Content Writer/Editor


Kite Falco Binoculars

Kite Optics have a great reputation for their entry- and mid-level optics. I’ve had my 8×32 Falcos for a few months now, and I’m absolutely loving them. The ED glass provides a bright, crystal-clear image even in lower light, while the smaller size keeps them portable. In most lights very little chromatic aberration is visible. I’ve had great fun seeing some of the winter migrants that are currently in residence around the UK’s coasts. A great choice for any birder looking for quality optics at a good price.
Josh – Wildlife Equipment Specialist


NHBS Moth Trap Starter Kit

Handmade in our workshop here in Devon, the NHBS Moth trap is my 2021 staff pick. Constructed from lightweight plastic panels covered with white nylon and weighing in at 2kg, the trap is portable, easy to assemble, and convenient to store. The sturdy 4.5m mains power lead runs a single 20W Blacklight bulb and the white fabric sides help to reflect UV light ensuring good attraction rates. I’ve always been a fan of the standard skinner shape which allows you to easily lay egg boxes along the bottom, whilst the upper panels help to retain the catch. At an attractive price point, this trap is ideal for beginners or anyone looking for a convenient trap for their garden.
Johnny – Senior Wildlife Equipment Specialist


Advanced Bug Hunting Kit

Although it’s a product we’ve sold for a long time, my staff pick is the Advanced Bug Hunting Kit. This year I fell back in love with bug hunting in my local area. While not being able to travel far but having the freedom to explore my surrounding countryside, bug hunting helped transport me to a whole other world, the vast and fascinating world of insects! This kit has all you need to get you started. While being suitable for use with children for family fun, it also includes the Collins Complete Guide to British Insects and Super Fine Pointed Forceps to accommodate a more delicate, detailed look into what you have captured.
Beth – Wildlife Equipment Specialist


Gift Ideas that Support Wildlife

This festive season, why not consider giving a gift that will also support your local wildlife. Wildlife populations in the UK are facing serious threats and many species are in decline, however there are ways in which we can protect and help at-risk species by creating havens for wildlife in our own gardens. At NHBS we sell a range of products, from bird feeders to hedgehog houses,  that can both bring joy to the recipient and benefit wildlife at the same time. We’ve put together a selection of some of our favourite items for you to browse below. 

Eco Hedgehog Hole Fence Plate

#242607 | £4.99

Hedgehog numbers have dramatically declined in recent years. Creating a hole in a garden wall or fence will allow your local hedgehogs to pass through from garden to garden safely.


NHBS Wooden Bird Nest Box

#254495 | £14.95

Many bird species are struggling to find enough suitable natural nesting sites in the modern environment, but a bird box will provide a warm, sheltered substitute, with protection from most types of predators, helping to improve the chances of breeding success.


Froglio Frog and Toad House

#216744 | £22.99 £32.99

The Frogilo Frog and Toad House provides a safe retreat for frogs and toads in any garden and is handmade in frost-resistant ceramic with a decorative glazed roof.


National Trust Apex Insect House

#251682 | £23.90

The National Trust Apex Insect House is an ideal addition to any wildlife friendly garden. With a variety of shelter types, it offers a perfect habitat for important invertebrates such as lacewings, ladybirds, and even some butterflies.


Bee Brick

#244140 | £25.00 £28.99

Bee Bricks are made in Cornwall in England using the waste material from the Cornish China clay industry.  They provide much needed nesting space for solitary bee species such as red mason bees and leafcutter bees, both of which are non-aggressive.


Echoes Bird Bath

#195520 | £32.99 £43.99

A large and beautifully coloured and glazed bird bath with a ‘ripple’ step design that is both visually attractive and functional by providing extra footing/grip for wild birds.


Defender Metal Seed Feeder

#238813 | £15.95 £17.50

The Defender Feeder’s metal construction is tough, long lasting and offers excellent protection from squirrel damage.  The feeder is available with two, four or six feeding ports, each with a perching ring that allows birds to feed in a natural, forward facing position.



Hedgehog House

#234035 | £32.99 £43.99

Hedgehog numbers are rapidly declining across the UK and providing a refuge in your garden with the Wildlife World Hedgehog House will help to protect hedgehogs from predators and disturbance.

Discover more great gift ideas from the NHBS Best of Winter collection