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.

 

Book Review – The Book of Frogs: A Lifesize Guide to Six Hundred Species from Around the World

The Book of FrogsThe Book of Frogs: A Lifesize Guide to Six Hundred Species from Around the World

Edited by Tim Halliday

Published in hardback in January 2016 by Ivy Press

Ivy Press brand themselves as makers of beautiful books and The Book of Frogs is a fine example of this. The idea for these pictorial books (which we have informally dubbed The Book of… Series) may have started with New Holland with The Book of Leaves, but was quickly taken over by Ivy Press, who have since published books on fungi, eggs, beetles, a rerelease of leaves, and now frogs (note: if you live on the other side of the Atlantic pond you might have noticed that Chicago University Press has the rights for the US).

Like the other books, The Book of Frogs is a hefty tome, weighing in at 2.3 kg, and portrays 600 representative species from across the Anuran family tree. It includes common and endangered species, and even some which sadly have since gone extinct. A short, 30-page section introduces the reader to the basics of frog biology, including their life cycle, calls, population trends and threats, diseases, and taxonomy. The text is aimed at a broad audience with little or no prior knowledge. Terminology is explained, and a 4-page glossary is included in the back (although does anyone really need to have things like “armpit” and “groin” defined for them?). The text is free from footnotes, and is not referenced, although a very short section with recommended reading is included; and there was the occasional factoid that aroused my curiosity (e.g. the specific frequency range of frog’s hearing means females are effectively deaf to males of other species) and made me want to look at the underlying literature – but it’s no great loss.

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The meat of the book is the 600 brilliantly illustrated pages that follow, each profiling a species. The same layout is followed throughout the book with the top third displaying some technical data: species name; adult size range; a table with family, synonymy, distribution, adult and larval habitat, and conservation status; a world map illustrating distribution; and a line drawing. The bottom two-thirds of the page contains a caption and two paragraphs of text giving a morphological description, some particulars on behaviour, reproduction etc., and a description of similar species. The real highlight is of course the photo content. A huge number of individuals and organizations have been approached to source high-quality images, which have been painstakingly cut out of their background. Most photos are duplicated, one life-size, the other blown up or scaled down. They highlight the diverse and sometimes bizarre appearance of frogs. Look out for the large-mouthed Surinam Horned Frog, the spectacularly coloured poison frogs in the family Dendrobatidae, or the barely frog-like Purple Frog. The book is a delight to flip through.

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Obviously, this book is not intended as a field guide or identification guide. Neither is it in-depth enough to be considered a fauna or encyclopedia, nor an iconography such as coleopterists and conchologists understand this term, although it does remind one of this to some extent. Given its global coverage, you can of course only give a selective cross-section in 600 pages. But calling it a mere coffee table book would not do justice to the carefully curated text. To my mind this book is squarely aimed at the armchair naturalist and those who love beautiful books, as the books in this series are eminently collectible. They make perfect gifts too.

Ivy Press has hit on a very successful formula here and I’m curious to see what will be next (butterflies, feathers, shells?). There are plenty of other small and colourful things to be found in the natural world that could be pictured in this format.

Buy a copy of The Book of Frogs

Bats of Britain and Europe: interview with authors Christian Dietz and Andreas Kiefer

Christian Dietz and Andreas Kiefer, authors of Bats of Britain and Europe
Christian Dietz and Andreas Kiefer, authors of Bats of Britain and Europe, in caves with bats…

Bats of Britain and Europe is a new field guide highlighting the remarkable diversity of bat species regularly occurring in Europe. 45 species are described in detail, the pages are full of hundreds of colour photos of bats, and illustrative diagrams and tables, and there is substantial information on bat biology and ecology, tracking and detecting, and identification.

Bats of Britain and Europe

As authors Christian Dietz (long-established teacher, author and bat expert) and Andreas Kiefer (Research Associate at the University of Trier, Germany) say in the Foreword, this book represents the achievement of their “dream of continuing the field guide that introduced us both to bats” – Schober & Grimmberger 1987 /1998.

What is your background in studying and working with bats, and what makes them special for you?

Christian: I am working as a consultant in impact assessment studies mainly focused on bats and as a scientist in bat research. Bats are so special for me since they have evolved so many special adaptations to their nightly way of life and developed such a high biodiversity.

Andreas: I am a researcher in bat ecology and conservation. The diversity of bats is so big and in most species we are just barely scratching the surface on understanding them. And we need to know which species live where and why, otherwise conservation cannot be successful.

Bats of Britain and Europe

What was your first experience of seeing a bat in the wild?

Andreas: I started very late. When I was 20 I helped counting hibernating bats in slate mines, only half a year later I had my first own project. I searched for summer roosts of greater horseshoe bats in my home region but I found only grey long-eared bats. Up to now long-eareds are my favourite study objects.

Christian: As a child I found a brown long-eared bat injured by the neighbour’s cat and tried to care for it. Later I became fascinated with searching their roosts and practical conservation of hibernacula.

What areas of bat research are you currently focusing on?

Christian: As a consultant I am very interested in mitigation and monitoring of populations, and scientifically I am mostly engaged in studying the biodiversity and cryptic species in the Middle East and the Caucasus. Knowledge about the taxonomy and distribution of species is the important base for future conservation work.

Andreas: At the moment I am a researcher at Trier University. In my small bat group we currently work on the impact on wind energy on bat populations, the ecology and conservation of the Sardinian long-eared bat, and new methods for monitoring bat populations.

How are the British and European bat populations doing at the moment?

Andreas: Most of our bats species do fine, but we have signals that the grey long-eared bat is declining not only in Germany. The situation of Mehely’s horseshoe bat is more dramatic when you see it in a European context. Another species, the Sardinian long-eared bat which is endemic for Sardinia has fewer than 400 specimens left. Maybe this species will go extinct in the next years. Other species expand their range and come more to the North.

Christian: Some species like the pipistrelle bat do fine and are common and widespread, and even some rare bats like the lesser horseshoe bat seem to recover from former population crashes and slowly recolonise parts of their lost distribution. On the other hand some species still decline and may even face local extinction of populations. Examples are the grey long-eared bat and Mehely’s horseshoe bat, both specialists for preying on large moths in mosaic-like open habitats with grasslands, orchards and hedges. While the grey long-eared bat is still widely distributed, and the observed negative population trends and local extinctions still do not threaten the species as a whole, the situation with Mehely’s horseshoe bat is much more dramatic. It has already lost big parts of its European distribution and become extinct in some countries, while remaining populations are scattered and isolated. I am much afraid the species will become extinct since I have seen it disappearing in parts of Bulgaria already where I used to study it a decade ago.

If you could implement any policy change that you think would be of benefit to bats, what would it be?

Christian: Since the establishment of the European Natura 2000 network, bats get considerable protection and are taken into consideration in impact assessment and mitigation. However the implementation of these laws differs extremely between countries, and especially in the eastern parts of Europe nature protection is still difficult. There, changes in agriculture and massive habitat loss threaten some of the largest bat populations in Europe – on the other hand very expensive and sometimes ineffective compensation measures are done in western European countries. I think it would help a lot to concentrate some money from compensation to protect wonderful habitats and bats in Eastern Europe.

Andreas: Of course we need more money and projects for bat conservation, especially in Eastern Europe. And we need more sensitivity for useless compensations in Western Europe. But mainly we need a change in European agriculture politics. A better support for EU-subsidies for organic farming, less pesticides and a stop of land consumption would be helpful for bats and nature conservation overall.

The new book is a field guide to the 45 species of bat of Britain and Europe – who is the book aimed at, and what unique information will it provide for the reader?

Bats of Britain and Europe

Andreas: We hope that it is useful for professionals and beginners. For the first time, we give an overview to all European species and we show a key for the species identification of bat hairs from droppings.

Christian: We tried to give an up-to-date overview to the fascinating biodiversity of European bats and to give many ideas for practical conservation work.

You include newly described species – what can you tell us about these?

Christian: Bat taxonomy has seen big changes in the last decades, the biodiversity of European species has been much underestimated. We studied all newly discovered species in Europe from the Iberian Peninsula to Anatolia and on islands like Sardinia and Crete.

Andreas: Many new bat species had been identified in the past two decades, mainly with the help of DNA-sequencing. We tried to cover Europe and neighbouring areas and all European islands in the Mediterranean Sea.

If somebody is curious about studying bats, what advice would you give them to get started – apart from buying a copy of your book!?

Andreas: Join your local bat group! These people know what they do and they are happy when new bat friends will help them. Nothing is better than learning from experts and Britain has a lot of them.

Christian: Great Britain is famous for its many NGOs and local bat groups – so the best is to make contact to people being already engaged in bat research and conservation – they will help you.

Bats of Britain and Europe

Buy a copy of Bats of Britain and Europe

 

Trees in Winter: another way of seeing

Winter oak refelctions 01 (Image by Jim Champion, via Flickr Creative Commons license CC BY-SA 2.0)
Winter oak refelctions 01 (Image by Jim Champion, via Flickr Creative Commons license CC BY-SA 2.0)

Winter woodland has a bare, skeletal charm all of its own, and a walk in the woods is a good time to try to put names to those familiar trees.

Suddenly leafless but not as anonymous as we sometimes think, with a little practice it is surprisingly easy to begin to place those barren winter twigs.

Here is a quick, and by no means definitive, guide to identifying six of the UK’s more common deciduous trees in winter, chosen at random on a midwinter ramble in my local woods.

Oak (below): A rugged twig with fat, oval orange-brown alternate buds, and a characteristic cluster of buds at the tip. The twig of the sessile oak is less rugged than pedunculate oak, but be careful the two species often hybridise and it can be tricky to tell the difference.

Oak

Ash: A twig that looks as if it means business, with black buds in opposite pairs and an unmistakable, fat terminal bud covered in black scales.

Ash

Beech: A slender, rather delicate twig with long, alternate and markedly pointed brown buds. Hornbeam is very similar but the buds hug the twig rather than point outwards, and the twig is noticeably more zigzagged.

Beech

Hazel: The twig is downy all over – although you may need a hand lens to see this clearly – with alternate, pale green to reddish-brown, smallish buds. Catkins are not at the end of the twig, unlike in birch species.

Hazel

Field maple: Hairy twig and buds – again a hand lens is useful – with tiny reddish-brown buds, always in opposite pairs. The terminal bud often has smaller buds on either side, sometimes appearing to be a triple end bud.

Field Maple

Sycamore: Another sturdy twig, with plump pale green buds in opposite pairs. The large green bud scales on the terminal bud are easy to see.

Sycamore

I use an elderly copy of the Forestry Commission’s Know Your Broadleaves for Christine Darter’s fabulous drawings of winter twigs; David Streeter and Rosamond Richardson’s similarly dated Discovering Hedgerows has a useful key.

The stand out recent work is Dominic Price and Leif Bersweden’s Winter Trees: A Photographic Guide to Common Trees and Shrubs one of the Field Studies Council’s AIDGAP Guides, which covers 36 of the common broadleaved tree and shrub species likely to be found in the UK, as well as a few rarer ones. With pictures of bark as well as twigs, and notes on habitat, winter tree-ID suddenly seems much easier. Author royalties from the book go to the Species Recovery Trust

Winter Trees: A Photographic Guide to Common Trees and Shrubs

Reintroducing the griffon vulture in Bulgaria: an interview with Emilian Stoynov

Emilian Stoynov, vulture conservationistEmilian Stoynov and colleagues created the Fund for Wild Flora and Fauna (FWFF) in Bulgaria in 2000 to support a project to reintroduce griffon vultures in the country.

Emilian has been involved with vultures for many years and in 2007 won the Whitley Award for work with reducing the threat to wolves, bears and vultures from humans and poison in Bulgaria.

A book summarising the griffon vulture reintroduction process from 2010 to 2015 has just been published.

How did you become interested in working with vultures, and how did you come to be a part of this reintroduction project?

When I was a child I was interested to explore nature. At that time there was not much literature to find and to learn about nature. First I wanted to work on plants. Just around 1985 the first edition of the Red Data Book of Bulgaria was published and I tried to buy a copy and start studying the species. But when I had enough money from my parents and relatives around New Year’s Eve, I did not succeed to find the Volume I of the book- plants. I found after checking a lot of book stores in Sofia the Volume II- animals. It was only one copy of the book and part of it was missing (reptiles and amphibians), but the birds were there. I found that some of the rarest birds were the vultures and they were historically found in the area of my father’s birth town – Kotel. Here I started to wish to meet vultures in nature. After some time I became a member of Bulgaria Society for the Protection of Birds (BSPB) – now BirdLife Bulgaria – which was just established and was in charge of the conservation of last colony of griffon vultures in the country in the Eastern Rhodope Mountains. I was first a volunteer and later was working for the project for conservation of vultures in this area. Then I started to think about restoring the population in other sites in Bulgaria. I tried to organize feeding sites in other parts of the country where vultures historically were present, but this was not enough to restore the old colonies. Then I saw what was done in Massif Central in France by Michel Terrasse and his colleagues from FIR/LPO– namely reintroduction of griffon vulture through release of captive bred but also rehabilitated birds from Spain. Thus I decided that this should be done also in other parts of Bulgaria. BSPB were not very willing to work on reintroductions, which is why it was necessary to create a new NGO to work on reintroductions – Fund for Wild Flora and Fauna (FWFF) – created in 2000.  Then I married Nadya Vangelova- and we went to live in her town – Blagoevgrad. The nearest historical place for vultures was Kresna Gorge (only 25 km away from the town) and it appeared it was still suitable for vultures, but they were gone extinct in the 1960s due to a mass and well organized state level poisoning campaign targeting terrestrial predators. Ten years later after the establishment of FWFF we succeed to implement the reintroduction of the species in Kresna Gorge, which is now presented in the current book.

Tell us about the Kresna Gorge in terms of biodiversity – what sort of place is it, and how do vultures fit into the ecosystem?

Reintroduction of Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus in Kresna Gorge, Southwest Bulgaria 2010-2015

The Kresna Gorge is one of the very few places in Bulgaria with Mediterranean climate. This, in combination with steep slopes and rocky outcrops, makes the area very interesting for biodiversity. Some species of Bulgaria’s reptiles are found only here. Autochthonous loose forests of Juniperus excelsa were declared nature reserve and many southern species of birds are found here. In terms of vultures’ suitability, the area still has well preserved extensive livestock breeding and transhumance practice, where the herds are moved in the nearby high mountains Pirin and Rila, home to two of the three national Parks in Bulgaria. So it is the combination between deep valley with mild winters and high mountains with alpine pastures that makes the habitats suitable for vultures. Extensive livestock breeding and the presence of large carnivores like wolf and bear are additional benefits for the vultures. The last also poses a threat for the vultures, because the conflict between livestock breeders and carnivores some times leads to illegal poison baits use, which is the biggest threat for the vultures. We found that providing the feeding sites for vultures make it safer for them. Also, some people are concerned that it may be unnatural to feed vultures but because we dispose mainly of – although not only – food coming from the nearby villages, this makes the process rather natural.

Why was there a need to embark on a reintroduction process – how did the griffon vulture lose its place?

Since the beginning of the twentieth century the situation of the vultures of the Balkans and Europe became worse and worse based on extensive livestock breeding decline but mainly on direct persecution and non-deliberate poisoning. Not least the habitats changed especially in Bulgaria, where vast areas were reforested and thus the vultures no longer were able to search for and find food. In the 1960s nearly every available carcass for the vultures was poisoned and they went extinct from the entire country. In 1970 all large European vultures were considered extinct from the country. Only a small colony of less than 30 birds and 2-3 breeding pairs survived in Eastern Rhodope Mountains on the border with Greece. Although the conservation measures helped this colony to increase from 2-3 pairs to about 80 nowadays, the range of the species did not extend and still is only in Arda River Valley in Eastern Rhodopes. In the 1970s the large vultures were still surviving in Greece, but with time the bearded and griffon vultures have gone extinct from the mainland. The only black vulture colony in the Balkans is found in Dadia National Park in Greece close to the Bulgarian border. So we saw there is now suitable source of vultures where from they may recover naturally and that is why we decided to establish 5 new colonies – 4 to the north along the Balkan Mountain chain where we work in close cooperation with other NGOs such as Green Balkans and Bird of Prey Protection Society, and to the south west, Kresna Gorge. The last is also close to the small and declining population of the griffon vulture in FYR of Macedonia. But with the newly established colonies, it seems the situation gets a bit stabilized now. The summering, wintering and migrating birds on Balkans now have some more safe areas – read the book for the Reintroduction in Kresna Gorge to find how it works.

In short – if we want to have forests, wolves, but also vultures we have to reintroduce and organize feeding sites for them in our modern world dominated by man.

Reintroduction of Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus in Kresna Gorge, Southwest Bulgaria 2010-2015

Reintroductions are quite a hot topic at the moment.  One of the main concerns is finding accord between conservationists, landowners and the public regarding the benefits of such actions. Was this a problem for you in Bulgaria?

This is manageable. Especially with friendly species like the vultures it is a small concern for the local people in the very beginning and then they just appreciate the lovely and gorgeous birds flying high in the sky. The proper communication and involvement with local people is crucial for the success of any such initiative.

What are some of the major challenges the team faced during the years of the project?

The development of the network for receiving in-time information about livestock carcasses was very important and it took quite some time. Establishment of the first nucleus of griffon vultures also was a challenge. We did it twice until we found what the most important thing is. It was the food that should be provided not only in large quantity, but also at the best place for the vultures, and in summer to be provided frequently in small amounts so as not to decompose.  We hardly learned that decomposed carcass is not an appreciated food source for vultures. They prefer fresh carcasses. Or at least not rotten meat. When we found that and made an effort to overcome it we saw the success.

Would you say that the process has been a success, then?

Yes, this is a success story. Of course we would like to see some more achievements in successful breeding and increase of the number of the breeding pairs of griffon vultures, as well as the return of the black and Egyptian vultures as breeders in the area. And one day also the return of the bearded vulture too.

Are there any lessons learned from this project that might have application for reintroduction practice in general?

Reintroduction of Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus in Kresna Gorge, Southwest Bulgaria 2010-2015

There are two things: the vultures will not survive in the modern world without managing the carcass disposal. We could not have forests and wolves and also to have vultures just on their own. The last should be supported through feeding sites, at which the carcasses from the local villages and farms would be disposed and made accessible to vultures.

We developed a good method for individual identification of the vultures through so-called visual marking. We use cameras with long lenses and take pictures of every bird seen in flight. Then we compare the characteristics of the plumage. This way, even birds not marked with rings or wing-tags could be distinguished. The method is well described in the book.

If you could make one change to policy in Bulgaria, or beyond, that would be of benefit for vulture conservation, what would it be?

Reintroduction of Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus in Kresna Gorge, Southwest Bulgaria 2010-2015

In the vultures’ range (either historical or current), where suitable habitats are still found, every natural or national park authority should be involved in maintenance of feeding site(s) for vultures. This should be one of the basic management practices for all protected areas that have an administration body. This way a large network (e.g  Natura 2000 sites) of vulture safe areas will be established and the coherence of the habitat and space restored.

Some adaptations of the legislation concerning poisoning of wildlife and domestic cats and dogs should be done especially in Bulgaria. The use of poison baits in natural environment should be treated as an act of hunting. Nowadays the Bulgarian legislation does not treat the poison bait setting for dogs and cats. Only if a game species and/or protected species is affected the law could be applied.

How are the vultures doing today, and what are the next steps, for the project, and your own work with the Fund for Wild Flora and Fauna?

The vultures are preparing for the new breeding season. They are now making the very attractive simultaneous flights as breeding displays and seem very much enthusiastic especially in warm and windy days.

The next step is the reintroduction of the Eurasian black vulture, within the frame of the new Bright Future for Black Vulture in Bulgaria project LIFE14 NAT/BG/649, in cooperation with Green Balkans, Vulture Conservation Foundation, EuroNatur and the regional Government of Extremadura. I hope in future a similar story and a book will be issued for the black vulture in Kresna Gorge and Balkan Mountain in Bulgaria, where the species is now extinct for more than half a century.

I would like to mention here my colleagues and friends that work hard for all this to happen – Hristo Peshev, Lachezar Bonchev, Atanas Grozdanov, Nadya Vangelova and Yavor Iliev.

Buy the book here

Reintroduction of Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus in Kresna Gorge, Southwest Bulgaria 2010-2015 [English / Bulgarian]

Staff Picks 2015

As usual at this time of year, we like to have a look back at what we’ve been enjoying over the last twelve months – see our selection of staff picks below. We wish all our customers a happy new year – and look forward to working with you again in 2016.

Haeckel's Embryos: Images, Evolution, and FraudHaeckel’s Embryos: Images, Evolution, and Fraud

Haeckel’s drawings of developing embryos are some of the most iconic images in biology, and surely everyone who has studied biology will recognize them. Most people will also know that these images are notorious, and that charges of fraud have been levelled at Haeckel. But are these charges justified? And how much was lost in translation as these images were reproduced and disseminated in the 19th century? This richly illustrated book is the definitive account of these images and their history, going all the way back to the source material in the Haeckel archives in Germany, and hopefully will put the speculation and controversy surrounding these images to rest. A must-read for those interested in the history of science.
Leon – Catalogue Editor

The Vital Question: Why is Life the Way it is?The Vital Question: Why is Life the Way it is?

This book stood out for me this year, as it ticks all the boxes: Lane is right at the cutting edge of science, he provides plausible and well-reasoned solutions to a whole host of fascinating questions. The Vital Question is very well written and I might even read it again!
Anneli – Senior Manager

 

African Wild Dogs: On the Front LineAfrican Wild Dogs: On the Front Line

Having spent most of my life obsessed with African wild dogs and having focused the majority of my degree studies on them, I jump at the chance to read any new book about these amazing creatures. This book* does not disappoint; it is part witty memoir, part serious exploration of African wild dog conservation practise. I promise you won’t be able to put it down.
Natt – Customer Service Supervisor

*Please note, African Wild Dogs is temporarily out of stock and is supplied from South Africa. We expect more stock in Spring 2016.

The Antelope of AfricaThe Antelope of Africa

The Antelope of Africa is a fantastic new field guide, and perfect for the armchair wildlife traveller. Not having visited the continent, Africa’s diverse landscapes and nature retain their mystery, and this appealing full-colour photographic guide evokes the desire to roam the grassy plains in the company of hirola, gazelle, and topi. However, I’m probably not the target audience for this book! It contains a substantial amount of scientific information and will be an essential tool for conservationists and policy makers striving to solve the challenges facing antelope populations in Africa’s stressed ecosystems.
Katherine – Marketing

Few and Far Between: On the Trail of Britain's Rarest AnimalsFew and Far Between: On the Trail of Britain’s Rarest Animals

Charlie Elder makes a memorable quest to the front line of British conservation in his search for some of our most iconic endangered species, and some of our more understated gems. He handles the potentially sombre topic of scarcity with true passion and optimism and writes with equal bounces of humour and thumps of heart. Few and Far Between celebrates the rich diversity of wildlife sharing our home, and is enlightening in how we can help to secure its place in the future.
Oli – Customer Service

 

SteriPEN Aqua Water PurifierSteriPEN Aqua Water Purifier

If you love camping, travelling and generally stomping around outdoors then the SteriPen Aqua is a great bit of kit. It uses UV light to sterilise water in less than a minute and doesn’t leave the nasty taste that you can get with iodine tablets (and it’s much quicker!). The SteriPen is small enough to fit into my rucksack and is always a reassuring component of my outdoor gear. I’m looking forward to taking it on lots more adventures in 2016.
Luanne – Equipment Specialist

 

The HuntThe Hunt

I watched the entire series of The Hunt, brought to us from the BBC’s highly acclaimed Natural History Unit in Bristol. With every new major production they release, the standard in wildlife film-making is raised yet again. The style of filming is consistently innovative and unique in places, such as attaching a camera onto the side of an elephant to get close up shots of hunting tigers. I guarantee you’ll be amazed. Here is the accompanying book, full of stunning photography and insightful text.
James – Equipment Specialist

 

What’s new for 2016 – Torch news

LED Lenser P17.2 and H7.2
The LED Lenser P17.2 and H7.2 are just two additions to our lighting range.

Ecologists use torches for a wide range of applications including newt surveys, for note taking and safety during nocturnal surveys and to look for roosting bats and other creatures within lofts and other confined spaces. Each application requires different things from the torch – high power for newt surveys, a red filter to preserve night vision, light weight and / or hands free operation to reduce fatigue, a long operating time, lower power settings to reduce disturbance and an LED bulb to reduce heat output. So far, we know of no single torch that combines all of these attributes in an affordable package but progress is being made. Here we introduce three new torches from the LED Lenser range that we have heard great things about and one new lamp and two new torches from Cluson.

LED Lenser P7.2
LED Lenser P7.2

The LED Lenser P7.2 is a hugely popular, general purpose handheld LED torch. Despite its compact size (it weighs just 175g!) it is very powerful, boasting 320 lumens when used at its highest setting.  It has a robust but ergonomically designed weatherproof casing (IPX4 rating) and is great for prolonged use in the field. At the high setting (320 lumens, 260m beam) four good AAA batteries will last for two hours and at the lowest power setting (40 lumens, 100m beam) the batteries will last for 50 hours.

The LED Lenser P17.2 has a higher specification than the LED Lenser P7.2 with a powerful beam of 450 lumens that can reach 420m. It is constructed from tough, aircraft-grade aluminium with a dust and water resistant coating (IPX54 rating) and a smart, anti-slip black matte finish. The P17.2 has a fast focusing mechanism which enables the use of one hand to hold the torch and focus the beam simultaneously. Power, Low Power and Boost modes can be selected using a large dynamic switch that is designed for single handed use and for users wearing gloves. Perfect for carrying out newt surveys. Three D-cell alkaline batteries will power the P17.2 for 300 hours at the lowest setting (50 lumens, 140m beam) and for an impressive 30 hours on the highest setting (450 lumens, 420m beam).

We have also added the LED Lenser H7.2 Head Torch – a great little head torch with an extremely powerful 250 lumen maximum beam. Its lightweight (165g) and clever design make this torch extremely comfortable to wear and easy to use. Choose between eight light functions ranging from the most powerful 250 lumen, 160m beam setting to a comfortable 20 lumen setting for reading and note taking. Four good quality AAA batteries will power this head torch for seven hours on the maximum setting and for 60 hours on the lowest setting.

Cluson CB3 LED
Cluson CB3 LED

The Cluson CB3 LED Lamp combines the legendary features of the CB1 and CB2 High-Power Lamps with an LED lighting system. The 25W bulb uses half the power of the 50W Xenon bulb in the CB2 and produces an impressive 750m beam and four hours of continuous illumination (compared with just 1.5 hours for the CB2). For those of you that already own a CB2 the great thing is that you can buy the new lamp head on its own – more than doubling the performance of your old CB2 for a fraction of the cost of a new lamp.

The RE1T Red Eye and the Pro Scanner ML1000 Torches from Cluson use the same aircraft grade alloy body and rechargeable Lithium-ion batteries to produce two lightweight (190g) and robust torches that are perfect for surveys. The RE1T includes a red CREE LED giving a 300m beam of red light for two hours on the high power setting (10 hours on low power) and would be great for spotting badgers. The ML1000 also uses a CREE LED to produce a 300m beam of intense white light (1000 lumens), perfect for newt surveys although the battery life at full power is fairly short at 1¼ hours (three hours at low power). One set of Lithium-ion batteries and a charger are included, spare batteries can be bought separately.

How to choose a nest box camera

Bird Boxes
Installing a camera into a bird box is a great way to keep an eye on the nesting birds in your garden. Image by Simone Webber.

Deciding which nest box camera to choose involves a complicated tiptoe through competing technologies and equipment. Before you start watching birds you have to decide what sort of system is best for you and, crucially, how much money to spend.

The first question you need to consider is whether to choose a wired or wireless system.

Wired systems have a cable running from the nest box back to your house or classroom, which carries both power and the television signal. This results in excellent image quality but may not be ideal if you have children or pets in your garden, or if a cable running to your bird box will interfere with the gardening. You will also need to feed the cable into your house, either by drilling a hole in the wall or by feeding it through an open window.

Wireless systems do not require a cable to run between the bird box and the television but instead transmit images to a small receiver situated inside the house. However, a power supply will still be required for the camera (i.e. from a shed or outbuilding) and the signal can be compromised by other wireless devices in the area or by trees and other structures between the nest box and the house.

Next you will need to consider whether you require a complete kit or just the camera.

Nest Box Camera Starter Kit

If you are new to this particular aspect of watching and listening to birds, a complete kit, such as the Nest Box Camera Starter Kit is a good and economical choice. This starter kit includes a bird box with a camera mounted in the roof, which provides colour footage during the day and black ­and ­white at night. A 30 ­metre cable plugs into your television and supplies the camera with power. Another option is the Gardenature Nest Box Camera System, which includes a bespoke red cedar nest box made to RSPB and BTO guidelines. A small sliding drawer at the top of the box houses the Sony CCD camera, which adjusts automatically depending on light levels. A 30 ­metre cable connects the camera to your television.

Nest Box Camera with Night Vision

For the handyman or woman who wants to put a system together themselves, either in a bespoke or existing nest box, the Nest Box Camera with Night Vision is a good choice. The tiny camera will focus from a few centimetres to roughly 30 metres, with high definition for excellent daytime and night ­time images. The camera comes with a 30 ­metre cable and extension cables are available to purchase separately. The Wireless Nest Box Camera Kit is a great option if you want to fit a wireless camera to your own bird box.

What about watching on your computer?

All of the cameras and kits that we sell come with either a cable or wireless receiver that will connect directly to your television. If you want to view or save your footage onto your computer then an additional USB capture device is required. These are available both for Windows and Mac operating systems and come with all the software you require to get started.

 

Nature Classics Library: an interview with Jon from Little Toller Books

Jon Woolcott of Little Toller
Jon Woolcott of Little Toller at the publisher’s office in Dorset

Little Toller Books was established in 2008 as an imprint of Dovecote Press with the aim to revive lost classics of nature writing and British rural history. The success of their Nature Classics Library, has allowed them the independence to follow their inspiration in terms of the projects they pursue and they are now a leading voice in nature publishing. We asked Jon Woolcott of Little Toller Books about the Nature Classics Library.

The books are beautifully designed – what was the original inspiration behind the Nature Classics Library?

Thank you, that’s nice to hear – we work really hard at the design of the books, it strikes us that a book should be a beautiful object, and reflect the quality of the writing. The founders and co-owners of Little Toller, Adrian and Gracie Cooper, moved to Dorset but when they wanted to explore more about the country around their new home they found many of the books they wanted to read were no longer available. That inspired them to republish the great classics of nature writing – books like The Making of the English Landscape by W G Hoskins and The South Country by Edward Thomas. So Little Toller Books was born. The list has grown from there.

The Making of the English Landscape - W G Hoskins

With introductions by big name authors giving them great general appeal, are you hoping to bring these classics to a new audience?

Indeed – we’re not the first generation to rediscover these great books – and bringing authors like William Boyd, Robert Macfarlane and Carol Klein to them makes a big difference. We also use artists to complement the writing – the obvious example is Ravilious on our edition of The Natural History of Selborne by Gilbert White, but we use artists to illustrate our monograph series.

Eric Ravilious illustration fromThe Natural History of Selborne
Eric Ravilious illustration fromThe Natural History of Selborne

How do you choose the books that end up on the list?

We’re a tiny team (there are just four of us at Little Toller) so we work together but ultimately Adrian chooses the books – it’s based on his taste and a sense of what readers are looking for, but always with the goal of exploring nature and our relationship with landscape.

If you could gain rights to publish any book from the history of nature writing, what would it be, and why?

We’ve always got a wish-list on the go! We’d love to publish Tarka the Otter of course (we already publish Williamson’s Salar the Salmon) but a really exciting project would be to publish an anthology of Darwin’s letters recounting his explorations into his local area, and his relationship with his family. As yet, this remains in the pipeline though!

Salar the Salmon - Henry Williamson

Do you remember the first natural history book that you enjoyed?

At Little Toller we all have our favourites, books that made an enormous difference to the way we felt or thought about nature. Speaking just for me I would highlight a book we don’t (yet!) publish – Bevis by Richard Jefferies. It’s not really a natural history book – ostensibly it’s a children’s book in the Swallows and Amazons tradition but written earlier. Jefferies brilliantly articulates the feelings of a boy as he explores the landscape. Jefferies was an early exponent of what we now call nature writing and I remember being captivated by his style. Adrian would choose On the Origin of Species because it’s so important, but for pure enjoyment he would have to go for Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals (editorial note: available as part of The Corfu Trilogy).

What do you think characterises great nature writing?

Oh, that’s a difficult question – each writer brings something new – but it’s characterised by a deep understanding of the subject combined with wonderful writing. A sense of the personal reaction to the natural world is imperative – we don’t publish text books but instead those which bring the reader close to the subject.

Little Toller also publishes new writing, with Horatio Clare’s Orison for a Curlew just out. What are you looking for in potential new publications like this?

We look for originality, for subjects which readers will love, and for wonderful writing. It’s led us to publish Oliver Rackham, Iain Sinclair and Richard Skelton this year alone.

The Ash Tree - Oliver Rackham

What does the future have in store for Little Toller and the Nature Classics Library – any secrets you can let us in on?

We’re always looking to expand what we do – for instance we have two short films on our website about two of our books made by the authors – Iain Sinclair’s Black Apples of Gower and Richard Skelton’s Beyond the Fell Wall –  and Andrew Kotting made Iain’s film with him. We’re tiny so we can be really flexible in what we publish but we’re especially excited by In Pursuit of Spring by Edward Thomas – which will have Thomas’ photographs from 1913 taken along the journey, published for the very first time – coming in March next year. We’re also looking forward to Cheryl Tipp’s book on the sounds of the sea. Many of NHBS’s fans will know her – she’s the Wildlife Sounds Curator at the British Library. And we have new books in the pipeline from Tim Dee, Dexter Petley and Horatio Clare, as well as new Nature Classics from R M Lockley and others. We’re also continuing to put our monographs into paperback as we have just done with The Ash Tree. We’re very busy! But we’re enormously heartened by the reaction to our books.

Browse the full list of books in Little Toller’s Nature Classics Library at NHBS

Britain’s Butterflies: some good news but mostly bad

Marsh Fritillary
The Marsh Fritillary is just one of the species currently experiencing long-term decline. Image by Mark Searle.

News that three-quarters of the UK’s butterfly species have declined in the last four decades despite intensive conservation efforts comes as a disturbing jolt.

Climate change and pesticides may be playing a more harmful role than previously thought, according to The State of the UK’s Butterflies 2015, which can be read here.

Butterfly Conservation and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, behind the annual report, also blame habitat deterioration due to agricultural intensification and changing woodland management, particularly for those butterflies who only live in particular habitats.

This year’s findings reveal a clear north-south split, with butterflies in England declining and those in Scotland showing no long-term trend. Less severe habitat loss in the north and different effects of climate change are thought to be among the reasons.

Image by Mark Searle.

For some species the situation is stark. The long-term decline of Wood White, White Admiral and Marsh Fritillary shows no sign of slowing, while once widespread species such as the Essex Skipper and Small Heath are now amongst the UK’s most severely declining butterflies.

The Wall, once a common farmland butterfly in southern Britain, has suffered a 25 per cent decline since 2005, the once abundant Gatekeeper a 44 per cent decline in the same period, while numbers of Small Skipper have been below average every year this century.

Sorry reading but there is a silver(ish) lining – and the report’s authors believe conservation efforts may be beginning to help.

The UK’s most endangered butterfly, the High Brown Fritillary, has been fairly stable in the last decade, while numbers of threatened Duke of Burgundy Fritillary, Pearl-Bordered Fritillary, Dingy Skipper and Silver-Studded Blue have increased.

Red Admiral
Image by Mark Searle.

Many common migrant species such as Clouded Yellow, Red Admiral, and Painted Lady, have increased dramatically. While rarer migrants such as the Scarce Tortoiseshell and Long-Tailed Blue have also been arriving in the UK in unprecedented numbers.