Book Review – Seeds: Safeguarding Our Future

Seeds: Safeguarding Our FutureSeeds: Safeguarding Our Future

Written by Carolyn Fry

Published in hardback in April 2016 by Ivy Press

With a topic such as seeds and Ivy Press’s reputation for beautiful books you would be forgiven for thinking that this might be another coffee-table book in the same vein as the successful series of books published by Papadakis on seeds, pollen, and fruit. Although richly illustrated, Seeds: Safeguarding Our Future is very much a popular introduction to the biology of plants, focusing on seeds in particular, with pithy chapters covering evolution of plants, reproduction, seed dispersal, and germination. The subtitle gives away the angle this book takes though, with the first chapter on the importance of seeds to humanity, and the final chapter on how we might use seed biodiversity to ensure our own survival in the future. Though modern agriculture can feed many, its monoculture approach has also led to the loss of a large amount of genetic diversity. The dangers this could pose, especially with the impact of a changing climate, is a theme that runs throughout the book. Each chapter ends with a profile of a well-known plant and a profile of one of the many seed banks around the world that operate to conserve and catalogue the genetic diversity of plants.

Seeds internal image 1

Carolyn Fry is well-placed to write on this topic, having previously published books on Kew’s Millenium Seed Bank Project and on plant hunters. Furthermore, Kew Royal Botanic Gardens have endorsed the book and several of their experts have contributed expert advice. The book is a good primer on plant biology, and I noticed the short sections on, for example, reproduction were a great way to brush up on my slightly forgotten textbook knowledge. The seed bank profiles, pretty much one for each continent, are interesting little sections, highlighting the important work done here to safeguard against future threats to agricultural crops. Though shortly mentioned in the final chapter, I would have loved to have seen the futuristic Svalbard Global Seed Vault profiled in the same way. As a planetary back-up of agricultural seed collections around the world, this surely is one of the most impressive and intriguing seed banks.

Seeds internal image 2

All in all this is an excellent introduction to seed biology with a focus on conservation and agricultural importance, executed to Ivy Press’s typical high production standards.

Seeds: Safeguarding Our Future is available to order from NHBS.

What’s new for 2016 – Bat detector news

Elekon Batlogger C
Elekon Batlogger C

The bat survey season is just beginning and since our last update in November 2015 many of the new bat detectors have arrived in stock and we have received some customer feedback and updates on specifications from manufacturers. The total count of new bat detectors now stands at six – three passive full spectrum recorders from Elekon, two passive recorders in the Song Meter family from Wildlife Acoustics, and the handheld Anabat Walkabout from Titley Scientific.

Song Meter SM4BAT
Song Meter SM4BAT

We have had the Wildlife Acoustics SM4BAT FS in stock on and off now for the last few weeks (supplies have been limited) but we now have plenty on the shelves. We are really impressed with these units – they are smaller, lighter and easier to programme than the old Song Meters and have massively improved battery life (up to 45 nights for the FS and 70 nights for the ZC). They come in a strong lockable enclosure that can easily be chained to a tree and include a 3m microphone cable when purchased with the SMM-U1 microphone. The ZC units have not arrived yet but are expected in early April. The SM4BAT detectors also include an incredible three year warranty (excluding the microphones).

Wildlife Acoustics have also announced that they are phasing out the EM3+, the SMZC and the SM2BAT+, which are being replaced by the Echo Meter TouchSM4BAT ZC and SM3BAT / SM4BAT respectively.

Elekon Batlogger C
Elekon Batlogger C

Elekon have now released three new passive bat detectors within the last few months which are based around the very highly regarded Batlogger M handheld bat detector. The Batlogger C is probably the highest specification bat detector on the market today – it has everything you would expect from a high end passive detector including programmable recording schedules, fully weatherproof enclosure, and high quality full spectrum recordings as well as many extras. These include optional sms and/or email messages reporting the status of the unit and the number of recordings made as well as the amount of power remaining. Furthermore, because the Batlogger C also has in-built GPS it can send you an alert if the unit is moved. A wide range of power options are available: a 50 hour rechargeable battery is included and there is space for a second. Mains power is also an option as is solar power which requires the addition of the Batlogger C solar panel. When used with two 50 hour batteries, just half a day of sun in every 10 days should be enough to keep the Batlogger C powered indefinitely.

Elekon Batlogger A+
Elekon Batlogger A+

Also from Elekon, the Batlogger A family – the A and the A+ are new miniaturised passive bat detectors. Both are programmable, are housed within a small weatherproof enclosure and include a Knowles FG microphone on a 2m extension cable. The Batlogger A will record for up to 30 hours on eight AA batteries (e.g. three 10 hour nights). The Batlogger A+ was created after a customer contacted Elekon to say that the Batlogger A looked perfect for installing up trees and in other inaccessible location but that ideally, the battery life should be longer. In response the team at Elekon quickly created the new Batlogger A+ which is slightly larger than the Batlogger A but includes the same rechargeable lithium ion battery used in the Batlogger C. This will power the A+ for up to 70 hours. Stock of both models are fairly limited so please contact us soon if you would like to place an order.

Anabat Walkabout
Anabat Walkabout

A few software glitches delayed the release of the Anabat Walkabout in 2015 but this incredible new bat detector has now been in stock for several months. The touch screen Android tablet based bat detector not only records any passing bats but also lets you view the sonogram in real time in both full spectrum and zero crossing formats. A GPS, lux-meter, thermometer and humidity sensor are all in-built so not only will each call be geo-tagged but you will also be able to collect the full range of environmental data for each transect without needing any additional tools. A fully charged unit will last for around eight hours. The Walkabout bundle will soon also include a copy of Analook Insight analysis software to allow you to view and analyse full spectrum and zero crossing recordings.

If you would like any help, advice, or a short loan of one of our demo bat detectors please get in touch with our Wildlife Equipment Specialists on 01803 865913 or customer.services@nhbs.com.

 

James Lowen is your guide to A Summer of British Wildlife

James Lowen, author of A Summer of British Wildlife: 100 Great Days Out Watching Wildlife
James Lowen

James Lowen is a wildlife writer, editor, guide and photographer. Immersed in all aspects of natural history from a young age, he has spent several years leading wildlife tours in South America and Antarctica. Now back in Britain, he continues to express his passion for bringing nature to life for the non-specialist, and has turned his attention to British wildlife. A Summer of British Wildlife: 100 Great Days Out Watching Wildlife – his second book on the subject – is out now.

How did you come to write this book?

The concept of A Summer of British Wildlife grew out of my previous book for Bradt Travel Guides, 52 Wildlife Weekends: A Year of British Wildlife-Watching Breaks (also available from NHBS). Whilst writing that guide, I realised that Britain in summer possesses such an abundance of natural riches that I could not possibly squeeze them all into a single book! In his review of 52 Wildlife Weekends for British Wildlife magazine, celebrity wildlife-blogger Mark Avery suggested that I might have lavished summer with ‘long weekends’. That got me thinking about the 100 best wildlife experiences that Britain has to offer over each and every summer.

How did you choose what to include in the book?

A Summer of British Wildlife: 100 Great Days Out Watching Wildlife
Cornwall – basking shark

Good question. There was so much to write about that I could probably have produced this book three times over! In whittling down the worthy longlist, I took account of principles such as how best to cover the breadth of British wildlife experiences (from bumblebees to basking sharks, orchid-rich meadows to seabird skyscrapers), geographical spread (the days out stretch between Scilly and Shetland), and the likely interest for families (using my 5-year-old daughter as a barometer). Fundamentally, however, I had to be personally excited by the experience: if not, I wouldn’t be able to inspire others to travel.

There is a strong ethical element to wildlife travel these days – how does the book support that?

This is not a guide to particular travel operators or service providers, which is how ethical considerations are typically framed nowadays. Instead, the book takes a wider approach to ethics. By focusing on Britain, I commend ‘staycations’, which largely avoid the greenhouse gas emissions of aircraft travel. By encouraging people to visit reserves run by particular wildlife charities, I encourage people to reward those land-managers with their custom. I stress the guiding principle of responsible wildlife-watching, namely that the welfare and conservation of species supercedes our enjoyment of them. Following advice from reserve managers, I remain silent about wildlife experiences about which I would love to have written; red helleborine and spiny seahorse are notable examples. Finally, by homing in on children’s interests, I seek to inspire the next generation of wildlife-watchers. If our offspring do not love wildlife, there will not only be no wildlife travel (ethical or otherwise) in future… there will be no wildlife either.

Can anyone enjoy this book or do you need lots of outdoor gear?

You don’t need any outdoor gear to enjoy nature. Just some combination of locomotion, eyes and ears. Clearly, some specialist outdoor gear can help – whether binoculars, digital cameras or moth traps – so if you want an enhanced experience, you might want to browse the NHBS equipment catalogue.

What stands out about the book as a read?

You should probably ask a reader that, rather than the author! Everyone will have their own take on what stands out from the book, just as they have their own idea of what stands out in the spectrum of British wildlife. But I will convey some thoughts from the very first review of the book, by naturalist Amy-Jane Beer in BBC Wildlife magazine (April 2016 issue). Amy-Jane says that the book “will fuel your imagination, frame your desires and simplify your logistics for the summer ahead”. Amy-Jane considers that the book “maintains a lovely tone, necessarily practical but also occasionally poetic – a friendly, encouraging and knowledgable companion”. She concludes that the guide is “an ideal addition to any family bookshelf, though it should also spend plenty of time in your backpack or glove compartment”.

Are the experiences in the book weatherproof?

Ha! Most are yes, which is just as well given the erratic nature of British weather. Where particular weather is key, such as searching for mountain ringlet (a rare butterfly) in Perthshire, I make this clear. Of course, some days benefit from inclement times, such as looking for windblown shearwaters off the Cornish coast!

Are there any unexpected, unusual, or surprising entries in the book?

A Summer of British Wildlife: 100 Great Days Out Watching Wildlife
North & East Yorkshire – tansy beetle

What will flabbergast one person may appear mundane to another, so that is hard to answer. I cover what I feel to be the very best of British wildlife, but that doesn’t mean it is all universally well known. So I suspect that some eyes may open wide at my suggestion to spend a morning looking for the globally threatened tansy beetle near York, or to combine a family day on the beach with watching dune tiger-beetles scurry along the sand. Some may also be amused at my cheek in proposing that we go looking for red grouse in the Peak District on August 11, the day before the hunting season commences.

How does Britain compare to the rest of the world as a wildlife destination?

I have gone wildlife-watching in about 60 countries worldwide, and have written books about the wildlife of Antarctica and Brazil. When I returned to Britain from four years living in Argentina, I thought I would be bored by British wildlife. Not a bit of it. This book, and its predecessor (52 Wildlife Weekends) are testament to the exhilaration that I feel every single time I set foot outside my door in search of wildlife. There are 60,000 species of ‘thing’ in Britain, and I have seen just 3% of them. There is loads more out there that I need to track down!

Where are you going for your summer holidays this year?
As a family, we plan to spend lots of time exploring our new home county of Norfolk: camping, kayaking and walking our way through the wilds.

What do you like to read on your travels?
I am usually too busy watching wildlife while travelling to actually read anything. But I always take a book for the journey. On my last trip (to wintry Japan; see my images here), I read George Monbiot’s Feral. On my next trip (a family holiday to Spain) I will be taking the memoir of my childhood hero, Chris Packham: Fingers in the Sparkle Jar.

James Lowen
@JLowenWildlifewww.jameslowen.com

A Summer of British Wildlife: 100 Great Days Out Watching Wildlife

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Summer of British Wildlife: 100 Great Days Out Watching Wildlife is available now from NHBS

Getting the knowledge: the top 25 easy to forage wild foods

Clare Cremona and children - ready to forage
Clare Cremona and children – ready to forage

Foraging for wild food is a world away from the trolley-push through the supermarket.

Those brightly-lit aisles barely cut it when you imagine gathering wild garlic in springtime, blackberries from late summer hedgerows, or sweet chestnuts as the tired old year begins to cool.

Clare Cremona wants to remind us how easy foraging for wild food can be, and it’s perfectly possible to start at home. “You would be surprised what is coming up on a bare patch of earth in your back garden,” she says.

And as an unusually mild winter slowly gives way to spring, she adds: “Right now there is actually quite a lot about. I think everything is coming out quite early, like pennywort, that is very good in a salad.”

Pennywort – the distinctive round leaves at their best and juiciest before flowers appear, usually in May – is just one of the wild foods she has chosen in the most recent of the Field Studies Council’s handy fold-out charts.

Guide to foraging: top 25 edible plants, written by Cremona, with illustrations by Lizzie Harper, highlights some of the easier wild foods to forage for, chosen to span most of the year.

“I agonised over the 25, that was the hardest thing,” she says. “Twenty-five is not very many, that took longer than actually writing it, deciding what to leave out.”

Among those that made the cut are common sorrel, one of the earliest green plants to appear in spring; jack-by-the-hedge, another harbinger of spring, which can be used to make a slightly garlicky sauce for lamb; wood sorrel, a woodland plant, once recommended by John Evelyn as suitable for the kitchen garden; fat hen, a very old food plant, its remains have been found at Neolithic settlements throughout Europe; and wild garlic, a good addition to salads and soups.

Guide to Foraging: Top 25 Edible Plants
Guide to Foraging: Top 25 Edible Plants

There are hints on when and where to look for each plant, identification notes, and suggested uses.

Several of the well known favourites that need no introduction are there, such as blackberry. As is the customary health warning – never eat any wild food unless you are absolutely sure you have identified it correctly.

Cremona includes a few poisonous plants that could be confused with the edible ones, such as hemlock water dropwort, extremely toxic and probably responsible for more fatalities than any other foraged food, and dog’s mercury, highly poisonous, common in woodlands, and easy to inadvertently pick with other foraged plants.

There is a conservation issue too. She advises only picking what you need, never uprooting a wild plant (an offence without the landowner’s permission under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981), and never pick a protected species, such as cowslip, even if you’ve found an old recipe book with the most tempting of recipes.

Cremona, a Forest School and Wildlife Watch leader for the Field Studies Council and Devon Wildlife Trust, says: “Generally people have a go and test something, people generally don’t strip the land of everything.

“For me it is far more important people know what they are seeing, if they don’t we are not going to look after them. And we are losing the knowledge of what you can and what you cannot eat.”

Which brings us neatly to cooking. Cremona makes her first nettle soup of the year at Easter time – it has become a family tradition – and includes a recipe for nettle soup here, and some others, including a mouth-watering wild garlic pesto.

A seasonal tradition in parts of the north of England is to make bistort pudding – sometimes called Easter-ledge pudding, dock pudding, passion pudding, or herb pudding – where foraged bistort leaves are cooked with onions, oats, butter and eggs, although recipes vary from place to place and sometimes other hedgerow leaves go into the mix.

The resulting partly-foraged and wholly distinctive savoury pudding is served as a side dish with lamb at Easter, or with bacon and eggs at other times. Competitions are held to find the best tasting, including the annual World Dock Pudding Championships, at Mytholmroyd, in the West Riding.

So perhaps this Easter is the time to have a go at foraging for wild food?

Guide to Foraging: Top 25 Edible Plants

Guide to foraging: top 25 edible plants is available now from NHBS

How bird atlases swept the world… with a little help from their friends

The bird atlas movement that has swept the world in the last 40 years is surely one of the great recent achievements of citizen science.

More than 400 have been published since the 1970s and it is possible more people have been involved as volunteers than in any other form of biological data collection.

But it was not birders but botanists who pioneered the biological atlas, with the now familiar grid-based dot-maps. The Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland’s Atlas of the British flora was a revelation when it appeared in 1962; half-a-century later American ornithologist Walter Ellison would describe it as the “great-grandfather of the hundreds of natural history grid-based atlases that were to follow in the next few decades as the atlas movement swept over the face of the Earth”.

1962 Atlas of the British flora - the great-grandfather of all natural history atlases
1962 Atlas – the great-grandfather of the natural history atlas

The story is nicely told in C.D. Preston’s paper Following the BSBI’s lead: the influence of the Atlas of the British flora, 1962-2012. Planning had begun in 1950 and from the start it was intended to be a scientific exercise. The atlas in fact had little impact on science, which had to wait until computers that could analyse the amount of data atlases generate became widely available, but it did have an immediate impact on conservation – leading directly to the first British Red Data Book.  

Speaking at the atlas’ launch, Max Nicholson, then head of the Nature Conservancy, described it as a great leap forward. And –  we can imagine the great Twentieth Century conservationist had his tongue firmly in his cheek – suggested the ornithologists had been put to shame by the botanists.

Tony Norris, another of Britain’s conservation greats, responded when he and members of the West Midland Bird Club produced the Atlas of the Breeding Birds in the West Midlands in 1970.

1970 West Midlands atlas; image courtesy BTO
1970 West Midlands atlas; image courtesy BTO

The first grid-based bird atlas, modelled on the format pioneered by the botanists, covered the English counties of Staffordshire, Warwickshire and Worcestershire, and inspired the Atlas of Breeding Birds in Britain and Ireland, organised by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and the Irish Wildbird Conservancy, published in 1976.

The 1976 bird atlas was followed by The Atlas of Wintering Birds in Britain and Ireland (1986), The New Atlas of Breeding Birds in Britain and Ireland (1994), and, bringing things right up to date, the Bird Atlas 2007-11: The Breeding and Wintering Birds of Britain and Ireland (2013). The fieldwork led to any number of county and regional atlases to various parts of Britain and Ireland – a recent post on the Devon Bird Atlas 2007-2013 prompted this look at bird atlases.  

1976 British and Iriah atlas; image courtesy BTO
1976 British and Irish atlas; image courtesy BTO

Dawn Balmer, the BTO’s head of surveys, guesses at least 60,000 volunteers have contributed in Britain and Ireland alone over the last 40 years, 40,000 on the most recent atlas. Some take holidays in remote places in order to fill gaps, some make expedition-like trips to remote islands, some embark on marathon mountain bike journeys to record birds in inaccessible parts of the Scottish Highlands.

She said: “The atlas only gets finished because people do amazing things. Every time there is a new atlas you are engaging people in citizen science… it is quite addictive, people become atlas addicts.”

By the turn of the 21st Century there were also British atlases to butterflies, moths, bryophytes, reptiles and amphibians, spiders, dragonflies, molluscs, leeches and ticks. Freshwater fish followed soon after, and after that fleas, the latter the product of a 50-year labour by schoolteacher and wartime Spitfire pilot Bob George.

All stemmed from the Atlas of the British flora, which perceptive contemporary reviewers recognised had a significance beyond the British Isles.

Grid-based dot-maps were promoted by the European Ornithological Atlas Committee, formed in 1971 – the idea of using grid squares, for many years a solely military pre-occupation, had originally come from the Netherlands.

Bird atlases for France and Denmark appeared in 1976. The first American bird atlas, to Vermont, was published in 1985; by 1990 all the Atlantic coastal states from Maine to Virginia had completed fieldwork for bird atlases.

Atlas of Breeding Birds of Vermont (second edition, 2013)
Atlas of Breeding Birds of Vermont (second edition, 2013)

At the last count there were more than 400 national or regional bird atlases from nearly 50 countries, the majority in Europe and North America. There were fewer covering Africa and the Pacific, where all but one come from Australia, and only a handful from Asia, the Middle East and South America.

The original Atlas of the British flora contained another gift: it included pre-1930 records – not as far away in time then as it appears to be now – of uncommon species as open circles and contemporary records as black dots, making it immediately clear many species were in decline.

A standout feature of the 1994 New Atlas of Breeding Birds in Britain and Ireland was a huge reduction in the breeding range of farmland birds since fieldwork for the earlier atlases had been done. The 2013 atlas revealed upland birds and wading birds – according to Balmer the extent of the latter’s problems came as a particular shock – were under far more pressure than previously recognised.

“It is about the bigger picture and you only get that from having these large scale surveys periodically,” Balmer said. “It really helps you identify species which are showing the greatest change over time and it can highlight groups that are real conservation challenges.”

Browse the range of recent regional bird atlases published in the wake of the BTO Bird Atlas 2007-11.

 

NHBS acquires British Wildlife and Conservation Land Management magazines

In March 2016, NHBS acquired the two magazines British Wildlife and Conservation Land Management from Bloomsbury Publishing.

Since itBritish Wildlife 27(3)s launch in 1989, British Wildlife has established its position as the leading natural history magazine in the UK, providing essential reading for both enthusiasts and professional naturalists and wildlife conservationists. There is no other publication that offers such high-quality, authoritative, well-researched and accessible articles on such a wide range of subjects.

 

OrigiConservation Land Management 13(4)nally published by Natural England, Conservation Land Management is a quarterly magazine designed for those involved in managing land. Articles focus on a wide range of issues, using up-to-date case studies to support practical solutions. Additional information, including costings, materials and equipment, is presented in easy-to-follow boxes and diagrams.

 

Both magazines were published until 2013 by British Wildlife Publishing under the direction of Andrew Branson, and have now found a permanent home with NHBS.

NHBS founder Bernard Mercer about the acquisition of British Wildlife:
“We are thrilled and honoured to be the publisher of one of the great assets of the British wildlife, natural history, conservation and ecology world, and will do all in our power to continue the high-quality papers, articles, news and opinion for which it is known.”

The administration of the magazines will move to NHBS over the coming weeks; if you are a subscriber to British Wildlife or Conservation Land Management, please rest assured that there will be no interruption to your subscription.

The NHBS guide to newt survey equipment

05_2015_066 by Highways England via Flickr under license CC BY 2.0
Newt survey – image attribution below

The newt survey season is almost upon us and NHBS has been working hard through the winter to increase the range and quality of newt survey products we sell. Read on for a selection of our most exciting new products and news of some old favourites.

Newt survey nets and bags

Amphibian Net
Newt Net

We now sell a specially designed newt net with a 300mm wide head, 300mm deep bag of soft 2mm mesh fabric, and 1.2 metre wooden handle. The net is attached over the frame unlike our standard professional pond nets to ensure that newts cannot get caught between the frame and bag.

Dewsbury Newt Trap

Dewsbury Newt Trap
Dewsbury Newt Trap

NHBS is the exclusive distributor of the Dewsbury Newt Trap. The Dewsbury trap is safer for both newts and surveyors. Fewer traps are required per pond and the clever design allows the newt to either seek shelter at the bottom of the water column or rise to the surface to breathe even if the water level within the pond changes during the trapping period.

Newt Bottle Trap
Newt Bottle Trap

Bottle Traps

We also manufacture the traditional bottle traps. This is not a fun job so allow us to save you a lot of time and effort with our standard 2l bottles sold with the head cut off and inverted. We also sell bamboo canes for securing the traps at the edge of the pond and Virkon disinfectant tablets for sterilising the bottles between ponds.

 

Torches

 We now sell an even wider range of torches suitable for newt survey.

Cluson CB2 Clubman Deluxe Li-Ion 9.2Ah High-Power Lamp/Torch
Cluson CB2 Clubman Deluxe Li-Ion 9.2Ah High-Power Lamp/Torch

Traditionalists can buy the classic high powered Cluson CB2 lamps with either a lead acid battery or a lighter longer lasting lithium ion battery. We also sell the new CB3 lamphead allowing you to increase the light output and battery life of your old CB2, and a new range of powerful hand torches from LED Lenser that are more than adequate for newt surveys and considerably less bulky than the Cluson lamps.

 

Waders and Gloves

Snowbee Lightweight Neoprene Gloves
Snowbee Lightweight Neoprene Gloves

Generally the aim is to stay out of the water but occasionally it may be necessary to enter a pond to retrieve lost traps or to access difficult sites. NHBS sells a wide range of waders including both thigh waders and chest waders.

We also sell some excellent new neoprene gloves with a nylon jersey knit palm material allowing the gloves to be worn without compromising dexterity and a thick neoprene back to provide extra warmth.

Walkie Talkies and Whistles

Mitex General UHF Two-Way Radio
Mitex General UHF Two-Way Radio

Newt surveys are not without risk and the best way to mitigate these risks is to have appropriate safety equipment. NHBS sells Two-Way UHF Radios so that you can keep in contact with colleagues, and emergency whistles to attract their attention if you do slip into the water. We also have waterproof first aid kits that will stay dry no matter how wet you get.

 

 

 

Main image: 05_2015_066 by Highways England via Flickr under license CC BY 2.0

The NHBS guide: Where to hang and how to maintain your nest box

House Sparrow Terrace FSC Nest Box
House Sparrow Terrace FSC Nest Box

With spring rapidly approaching, now is the ideal time to start thinking about nest boxes for your local birds. With this in mind we have put together some answers to the most Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about nest boxes – covering where and when to put up your boxes, cleaning and maintenance as well as dealing with predators.

You can browse the full range of nest boxes we sell online and if you’re keen to find out more – check out the BTO Nestbox Guide, it’s packed with essential information.

When is the best time to put up nest boxes?

Traditionally people have put up nest boxes in the early spring to ensure that they are ready for the breeding season.  However, there really is no ‘best’ time to put up nest boxes.  By putting up nest boxes in the autumn you can provide much needed winter refuges for roosting birds and increase the chance of them staying and nesting there when spring comes around.  However, any box erected before the end of February stands a good chance of being occupied.  Even after February there is still a chance of occupancy; tits have been known to move in during April and house martins as late as July.  Whatever the time of year, your nest box is likely to be used for roosting so shouldn’t stay unoccupied for long.  Therefore, put your nest box up as soon as it is available rather than leaving it in the shed!

Where should I hang my nest box?

1B Schwegler Nest Box
1B Schwegler Nest Box

When it comes to nest boxes, the ‘where’ is much more important than the ‘when’.  Nest boxes must provide a safe comfortable environment and protect their inhabitants from predators and the worst of the weather.  This may be difficult to achieve; a safe location out of reach of predators may also be exposed to the weather, so have a good think before you start bashing nails in.

Nest boxes can be fixed to walls, trees or buildings and different styles of boxes are available which are suitable for each.  Fixing to artificial surfaces means the growth of the tree does not have to be considered which is useful for Schwegler nest boxes which last for at least 20-25 years: a significant amount of time in the life of a small tree.  If you’re planning any building work, remember that some bird and bat boxes can also be built directly into walls and roofs.

Locating boxes out of the reach of predators can be a challenge (weasels can climb almost anything), but there are things you can do to make it harder for the predator.  Boxes in gardens should be located where cats cannot get to them, making walls a better option than trees. Prickly or thorny bushes can also help to deter unwanted visitors. Some nest boxes also have anti-predator designs (e.gSchwegler’s Tree Creeper nest box).  It is best to avoid nest boxes that have a combined bird feeder and boxes should not be sited too close to the bird feeders in your garden. Visitors to the feeder may disturb the nesting birds and the feeder could attract unwanted attention from predators.

For many species the height of the box is not crucial.  However, by placing it at least several metres off the ground you can help prevent predators and human interference.  The direction of the entrance hole is also not too important but it is beneficial for there to be a clear flight path to the box.  Crucially, the box should be sheltered from the prevailing wind, rain and strong sunlight, so in most UK gardens aim for an aspect of northerly, easterly or south-easterly.  If possible, position the box with a slight downward angle to provide further protection from the rain.  Wherever you position the box, try to ensure that you can still get access to it for maintenance.  And finally, if possible, try to put it somewhere where you can see it so as to maximise your enjoyment of watching wild birds in your garden.

Is there anything else I can do to deter predators?

Entrance hole protection plate
Entrance hole protection plate

As already mentioned, location is the most important factor when trying to deter predators.  Whilst some mammals can climb walls, a blank wall is is fairly inaccessible so can be a good choice.  Ensure that the box cannot be reached by a single jump from a nearby branch or the ground.

Box design can also help deter predators.  An entrance hole reinforced with a metal plate will prevent grey squirrels and some avian predators from enlarging the hole and gaining access to the nest.  Schwegler’s wood-concrete boxes are too hard for any predator to break through.  However, you can also reinforce a nest box yourself with metal protection plates or provide additional protection with prickly twigs.  Not only can these prevent predators from getting to or finding purchase on the nest box, but they can also help insulate the box from the weather.  Deep boxes may prevent predators reaching in and grabbing nest occupants, although some tits have been known to fill up deep boxes with copious quantities of nesting material.  An overhanging roof will also help prevent predators reaching in.  If using open-fronted nest boxes, a balloon of chicken wire over the entrance can prevent some predators gaining access, although weasels will still be able to slip through.  If you live in an urban area, cats are likely to be the most common predator.  Gardeners have long since used various methods to exclude these unwanted visitors, such as pellets, electronic scarers and even lion dung (available from your nearest obliging zoo), all with varying degrees of success, so you may want to do some experimenting.

How do I manage the nest box?

A well-designed nest box will only need one annual clean in the autumn. It is important not to clean out nest boxes before August as boxes may still be occupied.  Wait until autumn and then remove the contents of the box, checking first that the box is definitely unoccupied.  Scatter the contents of the box on the ground some way from the box to help prevent parasites re-infesting the nest box.  Use a small brush or scraper to remove debris from the corners.  Do not wait until the winter to clean out nest boxes as birds may already be roosting in them.

How many nest boxes do I need?

House Martin Nests
House Martin Nests

The exact amount of boxes required will depend on the species and the surrounding habitat.  As a very general rule of thumb, start with ten assorted small boxes per hectare (ensure uniform spacing between boxes).  Keep adding several more boxes each season until some remain unused and hopefully you’ll hit on the correct density of boxes.  However, even if you only have space for one box, remember that one box is better than no box (providing it’s suitably located).  Many UK bird populations have plummeted to worryingly low levels and they need all the additional nesting habitat they can get.

If you are interested in installing a nest box camera into one of your bird boxes, take a look at our “How to choose a nest box camera” article, for more information on choosing the model that’s right for you.

Further information about individual nest boxes, including advice on positioning, can be found alongside each nest box in our range.  If you have any other questions then please get in touch with customer services.

 

Doomsday for Devon’s birds?

Curlew in flight by Smudge 3000 via Flickr under license CC BY-SA 2.0
Curlew in flight – attribution at end of post

My Atlas of Breeding Birds in Devon has a pale blue cover, a black-and-white picture of a stonechat on the front, and a price tag of £1.50. It is more than 40 years old.

The atlas, based on fieldwork from five breeding seasons, spanning 1968 to 1972, was described, somewhat inevitably, as an ‘ornithological Domesday Book’, from which changes in the status of the county’s breeding birds could be measured.

So how does the data, published in 1974, measure up to the new Devon Bird Atlas, published this year?

1970s vintage...
1970s vintage…
Devon Bird Atlas 2007-2013
… This year’s model

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cuckoo and starling were recorded everywhere in the old atlas, yellowhammer everywhere except Lundy. All three are now missing from large parts of the county.

The skylark was abundant throughout Devon then. Today it is scarce or absent from large areas, mainly farmland.

The skylark’s modern strongholds are Dartmoor and Exmoor and the new atlas says: “If present trends continue… the glorious song-flight will become less and less familiar in intensively farmed areas.”

The plight of the lapwing is even more pronounced. In the old atlas it was a widely distributed breeding species, despite a decline that had been noted since the 1930s; the new atlas records lapwing breeding in only three places, two of them at the RSPB’s Exe estuary reserves, the other on the southern fringe of Dartmoor.

Grey partridge was recorded breeding almost everywhere in the old atlas; now it is confirmed in only two places.

Dr Humphrey Sitters edited the old atlas, and in the preface to the new one says more agri-environment schemes are needed, but will only be put into effect if people who know what is going on “present the data we have collected and batter the politicians and bureaucrats into submission.

“Therefore, ultimately, if we lose our breeding birds it is as much our fault as everyone else involved.”

Species whose numbers have increased include siskin, Dartford warbler, Cetti’s warbler and great crested grebe.

Cetti’s warbler was not in the old atlas, the first British breeding record is from Kent in 1973 – it may now be present at all suitable sites in Devon.

There was little evidence great crested grebe bred in Devon in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Numbers have since expanded, although it is doubtful more than 15 pairs successfully bred between 2007 and 2013, the years when data for the new atlas was collected.

The old atlas does not map where peregrine was breeding. During the fieldwork years only one or two pairs managed to rear young and the bird’s future, then blighted by pesticides and egg collectors, was too uncertain to risk identifying nests.

Today it is recorded as ‘possible, probable or confirmed’ almost everywhere, although in small numbers. Persecution is still with us, however, and the new atlas again tries to mask the actual nesting sites.

The sorriest story is possibly the curlew’s. It was breeding in more than half of Devon in the old atlas, although in small numbers – curlew had still not recovered from the historically cold winter of 1962/63, a trait then shared by many other species. Now breeding pairs are down to single figures, and the new atlas says the “future of the curlew as a breeding species in Devon looks bleak”.

The great landscape historian and great Devonian W.G. Hoskins described a Blackdown Hills parish, in the east of the county, as “a country of deep, winding lanes running from one ancient farmstead to another, haunted by buzzards in the valleys and by curlews on the heaths above, and full of flowers”.

The buzzards are still there but will we again be able to hear the curlew?

The old atlas grew from the BTO/Irish Wildbird Conservancy Atlas Project 1968-72, the new Devon Bird Atlas from the BTO’s Bird Atlas project 2007-11, which resulted in Bird Atlas 2007-11: The Breeding and Wintering Birds of Britain and Ireland. A large number of other regional and county bird atlases are also available and NHBS has prepared a list showing upcoming titles.Devon Bird Atlas 2007-2013

Buy a copy of the Devon Bird Atlas 2007-2013

Main image: Curlew in flight by Smudge 9000 via Flickr under license CC BY-SA 2.0 (image cropped to remove border)

Andrew Branson: the voice at the pulsating heart of the British wildlife movement

Andrew Branson talks to NHBS about how the UK’s biodiversity fared during his British Wildlife magazine years…

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You don’t expect Andrew Branson to begin a review of how the UK’s wildlife has fared in the last quarter-century by quoting Margaret Thatcher.

Responding to emerging worldwide concern about climate change in 1990, the then Prime Minister said that as well as needing cooperation and imagination to tackle the threat, ‘We shall need statesmanship of a rare order’.

“Sadly, that is just what we don’t have,” Branson says, tweaking the message to embrace the natural world as a whole.

The previous year Branson had founded the magazine British Wildlife, described by one writer as the ‘pulsating heart of the British wildlife movement’.

The magazine, along with British Wildlife Publishing books, made Branson, according to a 2014 article in The Independent, the thinking conservationist’s candidate to rank alongside Sir David Attenborough as the person in Britain who has done most for the natural world in the last 25 years.

Many of the big issues of the late-1980s, including planting conifers on peat bogs, grubbing-up hedgerows, and river pollution, to name just three, were high on the agenda of the Government’s own conservation bodies.

But those organisations are shadows of their former selves and are unlikely to have the same influence today, Branson said. They have been cut and restructured to such an extent that they can no longer speak to Government with a strong or independent voice and are now more about delivery and process.

During the same period membership of conservation NGOs, such as the Wildlife Trusts and RSPB, has mushroomed, although none has the same statutory clout as the Government bodies.

For Branson, the rise of the NGOs is one of the period’s success stories. They are better informed than they were, he said, and better at applying scientific research on the ground. Indeed, he makes special mention of the scientists, who have done some “fantastic work on species and habitats”.

Branson uses the bittern as an example, where over the last quarter of a century numbers of ‘booming males’ have risen from around 20 to more than 150 in 2015.

“That is a powerful example of conservation action for a particular species. They have put in the research, put in the ground work, and come up with a result.”

The flip-side is that beyond protected sites, wildlife is in trouble. According to the 2013 State of Nature report, around 60 per cent of species have declined.

Branson says: “The statistic that really hits you is that the UK has lost 44 million breeding birds since England last won the World Cup in 1966, and these losses are down to the general countryside being more intensively farmed, to loss of habitat, and the effects of aerial and water-borne pollution.”

On his local riverside walk in 1989 he would regularly see turtle doves and water voles. Now they are gone. The turtle dove is at risk of becoming extinct in Britain.

“These changes can be subtle. People see cattle grazing in a grassy field and think ‘that is fine’. But a while ago that same field may have held 50 or 60 species of plant, whereas now it may have only four or five.”

Generally, the public’s understanding of the problems is now greater than in 1989 but politicians need to wake up, he said. The current government, in particular, appears to have little clue when it comes to wildlife and the countryside. Time for some real ‘statesmanship’ he muses.

Branson sold British Wildlife Publishing two years ago, but is still busy working with wildlife groups in his home county of Dorset.