Last year saw the publication of the first comprehensive review of the status of British mammal populations for over 20 years and and the more concise Britain’s Mammals 2018. These works provide vital reference texts for anybody working within UK mammal conservation and both titles express The Mammals Society’s commitment to science-led mammal conservation.
Forty Years of Publishing
To celebrate The Mammal Society, we are offering 20% discount on four of their important titles throughout January.
The Mammal Society aims to continue to publish new and updated titles in 2019 and beyond. We are particularly looking forward to a new edition to the long out-of-print Live Trapping of Small Mammals A Practical Guide which is currently in preparation.
The Mammal Society and NHBS
NHBS are proud to be the official distributor for all The Mammal Society books and are delighted to be able to help them communicate their expertise to passionate naturalists and conservation professionals alike.
It has been a great year for natural history publishing, with the release of long-awaited texts and surprise best-sellers. From nature writing to ID guides, this list comprises the very best natural history books of 2018 which we feel stand out for their novelty, insight, and accessibility.
Some of these books have been decades in the making and combine the expertise of leading scientists, illustrators and photographers to reach fruition. This list offers a small insight into our diverse range of wildlife, ecology and conservation titles, visit our new website to browse the full catalogue.
What was your ‘best’ book published in 2018? We would love to know: please tell us in the comments section, or just email us at email@example.com
All price are correct up until 31st December 2018.
To the general naturalist, ladybirds are arguably the most familiar group of beetles and an up-to-date field guide has been long overdue. Now, after exhaustive research and diligent illustrations, this brand new field guide covering all 47 species of ladybird occurring in Britain and Ireland is finally available.
The authors Helen E. Roy and Peter Brown and illustrator, Richard Lewington signing the hardback edition exclusively for NHBS. Available while stocks last…
They also found time to answer a few questions regarding the making of this definitive field guide to the ladybirds of Britain and Ireland.
With all the research, detailed illustrations, and accessible format design of this guide, how long has this project been in the making?
As the illustrations of the adults, larvae and pupae were all made from living specimens, collected in the wild, we needed at least two seasons to collect them all, and for Richard to illustrate them.
Ladybirds are a niche set of organisms which can be often overlooked, where did the inspiration to produce this field guide come from?
The brightly coloured ladybirds are an extremely popular group of insects but the small so-called inconspicuous ladybirds are under-recorded. Similarly, the larvae and pupae of ladybirds are less well known. We hope that this field guide, adding to the popular series of field guides published by Bloomsbury, will encourage recording of all ladybirds in all life stages. It is also a celebration of the amazing contributions to the UK Ladybird Survey from so many people.
Field guides can provide an essential tool to assist monitoring and conservation efforts of species. Could you explain why our ladybirds may need to be monitored?
Ladybirds, like all insects, respond to environmental change in different ways. Some species are expanding in range but many others are struggling. Understanding these patterns and trends is extremely important for informing conservation and decision-making. Many species of ladybird are beneficial, providing pest control of common garden and agricultural pests such as aphids and scale insects, and so it is important to consider the changing dynamics of these important species. How ladybirds are responding to climate change is another important aspect that the monitoring data will show.
Each illustration is so detailed, what is the process for reproducing a ladybird so accurately?
Detail and accuracy are the two most important considerations when producing illustrations for a field guide and working from actual specimens, rather than from photographs, is essential. Only then can measured drawings be made for correct anatomical details. Photos can be used as a supplement and museum specimens are also helpful if live material is unavailable.
With each book or field guide you hear of unexpected challenges. What was the biggest challenge in creating this field guide?
As the larval and pupal stages of ladybirds are quite short in duration, the main challenge for Richard was having to illustrate them as soon as he received them, often by post. The larvae also needed to be fed, at the same time ensuring the carnivorous species were kept apart, as many are cannibalistic. The inconspicuous species were the most challenging to illustrate as they are tiny, most around 2–4mm long, and covered in minute hairs, which often form diagnostically important patterns on their wing cases.
It has been such a pleasure to work together – we have all learnt from one another along the way. It has been inspiring to hear from Richard about the microscopic details of some of the little ladybirds that had previously gone unnoticed by us.
Helen E. Roy (Author)
Peter Brown (Author)
Richard Lewington (Illustrator)
Professor Helen Roy’s research at the Biological Records Centre focuses on the effects of environmental change on insect populations and communities, and she is particularly interested in the dynamics of invasive species and their effects on native biodiversity.
Dr Peter Brown is an ecologist and senior lecturer in zoology at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge. His research focuses on three main areas: ladybirds, non-native species and citizen science.
This is part two of a two-part series that will look into different ways of watching wildlife in your back garden. Part 1 looked at trail cameras. In this second part, Antonia Peacock will take a look at nest box cameras and advise you on what to look out for when buying one.
There is a whole world of wildlife in our back gardens, but often these creatures can be elusive or hidden away. Our range of wildlife equipment can offer you an amazing insight into their world from the comfort of your house, without the risk of disturbing your wildlife.
Come early spring, our garden birds will begin their breeding season. Placing a nest box in your garden will not only give breeding pairs a helping-hand in finding somewhere safe to have their young. But it also provides an opportunity for you to get up close and personal with the goings-on inside with the use of a nest box camera. There are several options and kits out there and a few things to think about when it comes to picking a nest box camera. Here, I will offer some advice and options to ensure you can find the kit that is right for you.
Wired, Wireless or WiFi? The difference in nest box cameras come mainly in the way that you receive images from the camera itself. These are either wired, wireless or WiFi. Wired kits can provide better, higher quality, more reliable images, but are sometimes not as convenient as Wireless or WiFi kits. Note that even in wireless or WiFi kits, the camera itself still requires power from a nearby mains source (extension leads are available to buy separately. Alternatively, wireless or WiFi cameras can be powered by an external rechargeable battery that can last up to 36 hours on one charge.
Kit Contents If you are completely new to nest boxes and nest box cameras, complete kits are available with a nest camera already mounted inside a nest box. Alternatively, if you are looking to purchase a nest box camera, but you already have a nest box, then you can buy nest box cameras separately.
Viewing your footage You can view your footage in a variety of ways depending on what camera or extra equipment you have. Wired cameras plug straight into your TV with an AV cable (included in wired camera kits). If you would like to view and record footage on your laptop or computer instead, you can buy a USB video capture device for both Windows and MacOS. These devices come with software that enable you to set up motion detection or schedule recording, ensuring you don’t miss any exciting moments.
With wireless kits, the footage is transmitted to a receiver which can then plug directly into your TV or PC using the provided AV connectors. Alternatively like the wired cameras, you can use a USB capture device to enable PC or laptop recording.
WiFi cameras transmit their footage over their own WiFi connection. This means you can connect your smartphone, tablet or PC to the camera’s WiFi to view or record footage.
Watch live footage from anywhere in the world straight from your nest box with the live-streaming capabilities of the IP nest box camera, great to share with your friends and family. The camera plugs directly into your internet router or network switch via an included ethernet cable and once set up on a PC or smartphone app, you can share or watch your footage wherever you are in real-time.
If you need to use a wireless camera, a Digital Video Recorder kit is also capable of live-streaming. The wireless receiver can be plugged into the DVR which can be connected to your internet router to enable live-streaming. The DVR itself allows you to set up motion-detection or scheduled recording. You can also add up to four cameras to the DVR which may be useful if you want to watch from multiple angles or from multiple nest boxes.
Species You may have a particular species of bird in mind that you are hoping to capture on your nest box camera. Our nest box camera kits with boxes are aimed towards common garden birds. The species of birds that you may attract depends on the entrance-hole size.
A 29mm hole, such as that of the Nest Box Camera Starter Kit, is suitable for Blue Tits, Coal Tits, Marsh Tits, Great Tits, Tree Sparrows and flycatchers. A larger 32mm hole, such as that of the Gardenature Nest Box Camera System, is suitable for House Sparrows, Nuthatches, Blue Tits, Coal Tits, Marsh Tits and Great Tits. It also has a removable front panel that is ideal if you are looking to attract robins or wrens.
The Nest Box Camera Kit has a removable 29mm plate that can attach over its 32mm hole meaning it is capable of attracting a range of species. If you are looking to attract anything larger or a more ‘picky’ species, then you may want to buy a species-specific nest box and fit one of our separate nest box cameras to this.
Suggested Reading For a collection of handy tips, tricks and ideas, Susan Young’s book CCTV for Wildlife Monitoringis an ideal guide for photographing wildlife in your garden. Whether you are an experienced trail camera user or a newbie looking to order your first nest-camera, Susan Young’s book will offer a wealth of information to help you get even more out of your equipment.
If you wanted to read more about how to make, monitor and maintain your bird box, Nestboxes: Your Complete Guide is a great book that will guide you through everything you need to know about your nest box and its inhabitants.”
All of our trail cameras, nest-box cameras and other wildlife CCTV equipment comes with easy-to-follow instructions. Our wildlife equipment specialists are also on hand to advise you if you encounter any issues or need any help with your kit.
Would you like some more advice on which trail camera or nest box camera is most suitable for you? Contact us on +44 (0)1803 865913 or email firstname.lastname@example.org . Alternatively, reply below and we will get back to you.
This is part one of a two-part series that will look into different ways of filming wildlife in your back garden. In this part, we will take a look at trail cameras and what to look out for when buying one.
One of our Wildlife Equipment Specialists, Antonia Peacock, shares her advice to help you choose the right trail camera for you.
The variety of trail cameras on offer can be overwhelming, here are a few key things to look out for:
Type of LEDs In order to capture videos or images in the dark, camera traps use infrared LEDs to illuminate the subject with little to no visible light used. There are two main types of LED flash systems that trail cameras use. These are No Glow and Low Glow. No Glow LEDs produce no visible light and so are completely undetectable by the subject. Low Glow LEDs produce a very faint red glow and so are not completely invisible, this can sometimes alert animals such as deer and foxes. However, they do have the benefit of being able to illuminate better over a longer distance.
Trigger Speed Trigger speed is the time taken for the camera to take a photo once it has detected movement. If you are aiming to capture a fast-moving subject, then a quicker trigger speed (below 0.3 seconds) will enable you to achieve these photos before your subject has moved out of frame.
Recovery Time Recovery time is the time taken for the camera to process an image and become ready to take a second photo. If you want to capture multiple images of a subject as it comes into view of your camera, then a shorter recovery time will allow for this.
Hybrid Mode Hybrid mode allows the camera to take videos and photos simultaneously. A camera with this capability may be useful if you want to get as much footage as possible of anything that falls into frame of the camera. If you are more interested in capturing only photographs or only videos, this mode may not be an important feature.
Resolution and Interpolation The quality of the images and videos that your trail camera can take will depend on its resolution. Most cameras have settings that can alter the resolution either, decreasing it through compression, or increasing it through interpolation. Compression is useful if you want to deploy your camera for a long time and memory card capacity may become an issue, whereas interpolation can produce a larger image by adding pixels. The best way to compare the quality of images between cameras is to look at sample photos and videos. The displayed megapixel value is often resolution as a result of interpolation. The true resolution of the image sensor can usually be found in the specifications as the true sensor resolution.
Screen Some trail cameras come with screens that you are able to view your photos and videos on. This may be useful if you want to take a few test shots to check the positioning of the camera.
Our Suggestions We have a range of trail cameras to fit all budgets and needs. Here are a selection of some of our most popular:
If you’re looking for a good entry-level camera, then take a look at the Ltl Acorn 5310, an easy-to-use camera with an impressive 5MP true sensor. LED type: No Glow Trigger speed: 0.6s Recovery time: Not stated Hybrid: Yes Resolution: 12MP (5MP true sensor) Viewing Screen: yes (internal)
For the next step up, the Bushnell E3 is one of our most popular trail cameras and another ideal entry-level option producing high quality images and videos but at a relatively low price. LED type: Low Glow Trigger speed: 0.3s Recovery time: 1s Hybrid: No Resolution: 16MP (3MP true sensor) Viewing Screen: No
If the subject of your trail camera photos or videos is particularly fast, it may be worth taking a look at the Spypoint Force-11D whose trigger speed of 0.07 seconds is the fastest on the market. LED type: Low Glow Trigger speed: 0.07s Recovery time: 0.5s Hybrid: Yes Resolution: 11MP (interpolated) Viewing Screen: yes (internal)
Or perhaps your desired subject is on the smaller side and you are looking to capture close up images, the Bushnell NatureView Live View HD comes with a close focus lens and a live-view screen. LED type: No Glow Trigger speed: 0.2s Recovery time: 0.7s Hybrid: Yes Resolution: 14MP (3MP true sensor) Viewing Screen: yes (external)
Accessories There are a selection of accessories that you may want pair with your camera to get the best out of your camera-trapping experience. If you are worried about leaving an expensive piece of kit outside and unattended, then you may want to invest in a Python Lock. This cable lock will fit most trail cameras and and will give you piece of mind that your camera is secured in place. Here you can watch how to set up this lock with your own trail camera. You also may be interested in a security case that is compatible with your trail camera. These cases house your camera and secure with a padlock, which helps prevent vandalism and theft.
SD Cards All cameras need a memory card to store your photos and videos on. Make sure to check what SD card capacity your camera needs, this is usually found in the specifications section. Browse our selection of SD cards to order alongside your camera so that you can get snapping as soon as possible. Power Options Most cameras are powered by batteries. We recommend you use Lithium Ion batteries with your trail camera to ensure maximum trigger speeds and longer battery life.Make sure to check how many batteries your camera needs. Some trail cameras are also compatible with solar panels which will allow you to extend the battery life of your camera. This is especially useful if you want to leave your camera outside for extended periods of time.
Starter Bundles If you are looking to buy a trail camera and want to make sure you will be able to get out and start capturing as soon as it arrives, then you may want to take a look at our starter bundle options. These bundles come with a memory card and batteries that are right for your camera to ensure you have everything you need to get started.”
To see more trail cameras available, take a look at our range here.
Would you like some more advice on which trail camera or nest box camera is most suitable for you? Contact us on +44 (0)1803 865913 or email email@example.com . Alternatively, reply below and we will get back to you.
Welcome to our annual round-up of the books and equipment we have most enjoyed reading and using this year, all chosen by members of the NHBS team. Here are our choices for 2018!
A Pocket Guide to Wildflower Families
I am a complete amateur when it comes to botanising. I have struggled in the past to make sense of botanical field guides, and they always left me feeling rather stupid and frustrated. This booklet came to my rescue on my walks this year, and helped me make sense of both the plants, and the features to recognise them by, and the field guides! The author, Faith Anstey wrote a great article for the NHBS blog, and with this blog and her Pocket Guide (and her other books), she has done an enormous service for those who need a friendly guiding hand. Anneli – Senior Manager
The process of returning the land to nature has a name that is rapidly entering the mainstream; ‘Rewilding’ or as Iasbella Tree’s book refers to ‘Wilding‘. The subject provokes great debate among conservationist and Isabella’s book certainly doesn’t sit on the fence when it comes to Knepp’s experiment. But her book is written with passion and knowledge and whatever your viewpoint, there is no doubt this book has put Rewilding onto the agenda and could be a game-changer when it comes the stewardship of our countryside in a post-Brexit Britain. Everyone who cares about wildlife and nature should read this book. Nigel – Books and Publications
Seasearch Guide to Seaweeds of Britain and Ireland
As a Marine Biology Graduate I automatically drift to marine-based books, and the Seasearch Guide to Seaweeds of Britain and Ireland is no exception, climbing straight to the top of my field guide list. Finding an available, accessible, up-to-date guide to Britain and Ireland’s seaweeds is incredibly hard, especially one that covers all the Brown, Red and Green seaweeds! As an avid seaweed-presser I’m fascinated by seaweed diversity and this guide helps me find and identify the common, rare and invasive species that line our coasts, thanks to its detailed descriptions and distribution maps. I recommend all naturalists who have not yet attempted seaweed identification to seize this opportunity to branch out. Kat- Editorial Assistant
I have long considered gulls a paragon of the bird world, here’s a family whose numerous members excel in flight, at sea, and on land, even navigating the fast-changing urban landscape we have created, and not one of these facets kowtows to lessen another. In the wake of some popular gull identification guides in 2018, Tim Dee and the good folks at Little Toller bring us Landfill – a compact, thoughtful and beautifully crafted gem of a cultural companion to these adaptable birds. Landfill also highlights how our wasteful, short-sighted march has shaped their fortunes and our relationship with them. Oli – Graphic Designer
BeePot Bee Hotel
The BeePot Bee Hotel is my favourite piece of equipment this year. It is stylish, sleek and is of course fantastic for bees! Solitary bees use this as a safe nesting space where they lay their eggs and where they can find refreshment from pollinator-friendly plants planted in the top. Ideal for gardeners or nature lovers! Check out the wider range of products which can be integrated into buildings here. Bryony – Wildlife Equipment Specialist
The World in a Grain
The staff picks are becoming increasingly hard, as I have read even more books than last year. The World in a Grain is one of several books this year that made a large impression on me. Most people can name at least a few current or upcoming resource crises, but I doubt many people would rank sand amongst a natural resource that we could run out of any time soon. But, as Vince Beiser shows in this hard-hitting piece of investigative journalism, we are and the prospects are unsettling, to say the least. An excellent read that does not shy away from difficult questions and uncomfortable truths. Leon – Catalogue Editor
Echo Meter Touch 2
The Echo Meter touch 2 is an extraordinary little bat detector that offers you the capabilities of a lot of high-end bat detectors for a fraction of the price. Once plugged into a compatible phone or tablet, and with the help of a free app, the EM touch 2 IOS (also avaliable for Android) will turn your device into a bat detector, allowing you to hear, view, record, and even GPS-map bat calls that you encounter. But my favorite feature has to be the automatic species ID that will suggest the most likely species in real-time and provide a link to more information. It’s a great detector for enthusiasts, making entry-level bat detecting more accessible, easy, fun and informative than ever before!
Antonia – Wildlife Equipment Specialist
I’ve always loved orchids, despite my inability to grow them. The Orchid is an unusual and delightful book containing many fascinating stories about this beautiful and ubiquitous plant. Supplemented with notes and letters from the Kew archives and 40 botanical prints featuring illustrations by great orchid artists such as John Day and Sarah Drake, it will make a great present for any orchid-devotee. Soma – Marketing Coordinator
Droll Yankees Lifetime Seed Feeder
After starting to feed the birds in our outside space at NHBS, I quickly realised that the Droll Yankees Lifetime Seed Feeder was needed to provide our local birds with food over the winter months! The prominent perch extensions and robust design makes this bird feeder my staff pick of 2018. Marie – Warehouse Coordinator
Reindeer: An Arctic Life
I always get excited about a new Reindeer book, especially if it’s about the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre (my favourite place to be in the UK!). Reindeer: An Arctic Life is a wonderful introduction to a fascinating species with great facts and anecdotes throughout. You’ll learn so much about Reindeer evolution and behaviour and learn more about how the Cairngorm herd came to be. Natt – Customer Service & Dispatch Manager
Eco Hedgehog Hole Fence Plate
I once read somewhere that a hedgehog requires something like 20 average-sized gardens to forage in every night! The trouble is that with our tendency to surround our gardens with fortress-like wooden fences, we do not always make access easy for them. The Eco Hedgehog Hole Fence Plate is a nice way to neaten off and protect an access point for your garden visitors and, at the same time, helping to conserve our hedgehogs. You can even buy a pack of two and give one to your neighbour so that they can make their side of the fence look good too! Or go halves! There you go – neighbourly love and hedgehog conservation for very few pennies! Jon- Wildlife Equipment Specialist
Standing a metre tall, with a wingspan approaching three metres, the Steller’s Sea Eagle is a magnificent and impressive bird.
Published in November, Richard Sale’s new book is the first English-language study of this bird of prey. A translation of an earlier Russian book written by Masterov and Romanov, the English version benefits from significant updates and a wealth of new photographs.
We recently chatted with Richard about the Steller’s Sea Eagle, his passion for birds and his love of the Arctic.
In your author biography you are described as a physicist with a PhD in astrophysics. Is physics still a part of your life or do you now devote all of your time to your writing and natural history studies?
Physics will always be a part of my life. I started out as a working physicist, at first as a glaciologist in Switzerland because they paid me to stay in the mountains where I could climb on my days off. Then I moved back to the UK to work. After a few years I left full-time employment and started a consultancy which allowed me to share physics with my love of birds and of snow and ice.
You obviously have a huge passion for birds, and you also spend much of your time studying Arctic ecology. Where did these twin passions come from?
The love of birds started with my father who was a birdwatcher. Our holidays were geared around the breeding season and we went to the moors rather than the beach. He taught me to really watch birds, not just to be able to name them but to able to understand their habits. My other love as a kid was climbing; at first rock faces, then mountains. The love of snow and ice and birds led naturally to wanting to visit the Arctic. After the first trip I really didn’t want to go anywhere else, especially as I am no lover of hot weather.
How did the collaboration for Steller’s Sea Eagle come about? Were you approached to work on the English version of the book or is it something that you yourself instigated?
I had visited Kamchatka in summer and winter and been in the field with Yevgeni Lobkov, one the experts on Kamchatka’s Steller’s. I subsequently went to Hokkaido several times to see the eagles on the sea ice. Then I found the Russian book and corresponded with Michael Romanov. That led to the idea of translating it into English, so I obtained the English rights from the Russian publisher. At first the idea was just to translate the Russian book, but by questioning Michael and Vladimir about sections of text, and then suggesting that we include my work on flight characteristics, the two of them suggested I should be co-author as the book was now looking substantially different from the original.
Can you describe your first sighting of a Steller’s Sea Eagle? How did it make you feel?
I mentioned Yevgeni Lobkov above. He and I took a trip along the Zupanova River in a Zodiac and I remember the first time a Steller’s came over us. It was low down and seemed to blot out the light because of its size. No one who sees a Steller’s can avoid being impressed and I was immediately enraptured.
I was intrigued to read that you have worked with a captive Steller’s Sea Eagle here in the UK. Can you tell us more about this experience?
Once in the Arctic, on Bylot Island, I was watching a Gyrfalcon hunting Arctic Ground Squirrels and because of the terrain, a narrow valley, I could see the falcon was not stooping in a straight line. That led to investigating the physiology of falcon eyes, and to designing a small unit with gps, tri-axial accelerometers, magnetometers and gyros (and other bits) to fly on falconry birds to study how they fly. I managed to get the weight down to a few grams – though that hardly mattered when I found someone flying a captive Steller’s in England as it weighed 5kg. It was flying the units on that bird that is in the new book. Atlas, the eagle, was flown in demonstrations for the public and allowed me to investigate wing beat frequencies, speed etc. It was great fun as he was such a docile bird, a real gentle giant, and being allowed to get so close to him was marvellous.
It seems that two of the main pressures on the Steller’s Sea Eagle are fossil fuel exploration from humans and predation from brown bears. Are there currently any population estimates for the species, and are you hopeful for their future survival?
The situation is not good. The company drilling for oil and gas have been helpful in taking enormous care over onshore works near breeding sites and are to be commended for that. But the fact is that, as human activities of all sorts have expanded close to Steller’s habitats (most of which are well away from the oil/gas exploration sites), the population has gone into decline. We can overcome bear predation by fitting anti-bear devices to trees. We can erect artificial nest and roost sites. But despite all of this, at the moment the population numbers are slowly coming down, probably as a result of global warming, though we are not yet definite about that. Hopefully the population will stabilise but only time will tell if our efforts have been sufficient.
Within a given year, how much time do you spend travelling and how much writing? Do you enjoy each part of the process equally?
Age is catching up with me now and so I spend less time in the Arctic than I did (when I could be there for many weeks during the breeding season). But I still get into the field regularly – particularly at the moment with my units flying on falconry birds and with studies on Merlins in Iceland, Scotland and Hobbies in England and Wales. But I also spend a lot of time in the library reading about birds and, sadly, the damage we are causing them through industrialisation and climate change. As everyone knows, there is hardly any money to be made nowadays as a writer of books on natural history and related topics, but I also enjoy the process of writing and preparing books for publication.
Another of your books, The Arctic, is due for publication in December. What’s next for you? Do you have another project in the pipeline?
That book is an updated, but shortened, version of one I produced some years ago with new photographs by myself and a Norwegian photographer I bumped into one winter out on the sea ice of Svalbard. We have made several journeys together since and stay in close touch as we share a love of the Arctic. The next will likely be an updated and expanded version of the one I produced on the Merlin. Merlins are my favourite raptor. Falcons are, in general, warm-weather birds. The exceptions are the Gyrfalcons, which are the largest falcons, the Peregrine (which lives more or less everywhere) and is also large, and the tiny Merlin. I am as entranced by these little birds making a living in the harshest climates as I am by the huge Steller’s.
Richard Sale is a physicist with a PhD in astrophysics, who now devotes his time to studying Arctic ecology and the flight dynamics of raptors. With Eugene Potapov he co-authored The Gyrfalcon monograph which won the US Wildlife Society Book of the Year in 2006. His other books include The Snowy Owl, Wildlife of the Arctic and the New Naturalist title Falcons.
Landfill is the story of gulls. Often derided as ‘bin chickens’ these complex birds are a surprising success story, exploiting and enjoying a niche created by our own waste-making behaviours.
In Landfill, Tim Dee has written an honest, funny and intelligent ode to these inquisitive, resourceful and daring birds. Their story is interwoven with our own – it is a nature book for our times.
We asked Tim a few questions regarding his fascination with gulls and his thoughts about these ubiquitous and canny survivors.
Why did you choose to write about Gulls?
I’ve been a birdwatcher for fifty years and grew up in a simpler world of gulls. They were mostly still ‘seagulls’ then – marine species – and there were only a handful regularly occurring in Britain. Thirty years ago – but without me fully clocking it at the time – gulls in Britain got more obvious and more interesting. Gulls became urban birds then, like never before – moving to breed in our cities and feeding on our rubbish dumps and stealing our chips – and they were also taxonomically reappraised so that the few species I thought I knew became a dozen or more species to search for and to learn to identify. These changes and the ways the birds have continued to live as often the wildest creature closest to our contemporary lives made them interesting to me, troubling even, and I started trying to work out what was going on.
J.A. Baker, the author of Peregrine and perhaps the founder of nature writing once wrote ‘science can never be enough; emotion and sentiment will always rule.’ Public perceptions of gulls range from dislike all the way to loathing. Is there anything that might make us more accepting of gulls and their place among us?
I think they hold a mirror up to us. They have flown in our slipstream in the last 100 years, coming ashore first to feed on fish guts, then following ploughs, and more recently finding life in our leftovers on city streets and rubbish dumps. They have found a way to live alongside us. Most birds have gone in the opposite direction. Instead of admiring the gulls for getting good at various human-like activities (surviving in the jostle of cities, shifting to new places where opportunities arise, making do in strapped times) we have derided them. I think we fear them with a dark loathing and, in an atavistic way, other animals that we see as succeeding. This is quite wrong. We have made the world the gulls have adapted to and we should look to our own debased and wasteful existence before hating other species for getting on with their lives. They might teach us about ourselves if we could learn how to know them properly. The gullers in Landfill know this and I have tried to write the book for the gulls as much as about them.
Gulls have proved to be adaptable, especially regarding human interaction; what changes have they already accomplished and what do you envisage for them in the next fifty or even one hundred years?
There has been a gull moment and it looks like it is coming to an end. Urban gulls – living in cities and eating our food waste on dumps – are a product of urbanising humanity and the throwaway decades of the 1960s-1990s. Nowadays the large species (herring and lesser black-backed above all) have two largely separate populations – one urban and one still marine. The seaside gulls are threatened species now and not doing well. At the moment the urban birds are still expanding their range and populations (there is remarkably little traffic between the two populations). But food waste recycling is increasingly efficient in the UK and little or no putrifiable waste is soon meant to be arriving on dumps. The food source is ending for the gulls. We don’t yet know what will happen. It seems likely that the numbers of the birds (100,000 pairs of urban herring and lesser black-backed gulls in Britain it is thought) cannot be sustained without this food source. It is good for us to be recyclers and to be less wasteful but the gulls may well not be so pleased.
With their increased visibility in towns and cities, what might be their impact on the urban wildlife that is already established there?
I’ve seen them eating a starling chick, others have seen them eating human hair outside a barber shop. The slum avifauna as it has been called is a dynamic one. Urban human life drives change in the leftover wildlife that can survive in the hectic built up world. Gulls take pigeons. And rats. But it is tough times for all species in these environments. On the rubbish dumps I have visited to ring gulls a super bold landfill red fox will take black-headed gulls if we are not careful to throw the ringed birds back into the air. Marginal living is hard for all. And in these shifting landscapes in states of permanent rebuild no one can tell who is going win out.
During your research for Landfill can you think of one stand-out surprising fact or discovery that you didn’t previously know?
Cities are warmer and safer and more nutritious for gulls than their original habitats; lesser black-backed gulls used to be migratory birds in Britain but seem to be evolving into sedentary birds; Caspian gulls are storming out of Eastern Europe, but are running out of their own species to mate with so are hybridising with others: nothing sits still for long in nature. Evolution is relentless, and the gulls are telling us how it is.
Are there plans for, or are you currently embarking on any new writing projects?
A nicer book in some ways I hope – I am writing about the spring in Europe following migratory birds north from south of the Sahara to the top of Arctic Scandinavia. Spring moves at about walking pace north and it is my favourite time of year. I have tried to walk the season from south to north in time with swallows and wheatears and nightjars and redstarts. And not many gulls, though I love them now too of course.
With a heritage stretching back 200 years, HarperCollins is one of the world’s leading publishers and has an extensive catalogue covering both fiction and non-fiction. We are pleased to announce that they are our Publisher of the Month for November and December.
HarperCollins are pioneers in the world of natural history publishing and are renowned for their extremely popular New Naturalist series, iconic Collins Field Guides and a fantastic range of other natural history and popular science titles.
The New Naturalist series, established in 1945, is arguably the most influential natural history series in the world, and first editions have long been collector’s items. The series has been revitalised in recent years with many more titles planned for the future.
We will have a limited number of signed first editions of The Burren available. Customers with standing orders and pre-orders will be automatically allocated signed stock, but additional copies are limited so place your order now if you would like to guarantee yourself a signed book.
We hope to offer a limited number of signed first editions of future New Naturalist volumes. Priority for these will be given to customers taking out a standing orders for the series: a standing order ensures you receive all new releases in a series, although they are not a commitment to buy and can be cancelled anytime. To find out more about setting up a standing order for the New Naturalist series, please contact Customer Services by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 01803 865913.
Collins Field Guides
HarperCollins are famous for the distinctive black jackets on their Collins Field Guides. These are consistently popular with naturalists and ecologists throughout Britain. In fact, the Collins Bird Guide is our all-time bestselling book here at NHBS! Covering Europe and the UK’s flora and fauna, these field guides set the benchmark for quality descriptions, illustrations and distribution maps.
The Field Guide series also encompasses guides for other locations around the world, the most recent addition to the collection being Birds of the Philippines. These field guides are written by well-known authors and showcase beautiful artwork from some of the world’s best natural history illustrators.
NHBS’ staff members are wild about wildlife! To showcase this, we are encouraging our team to write blogs about their experiences with nature.
During the Summer months, Jon Flynn, a member of NHBS’ Wildlife Equipment Team attended a number of Waterway Surveys for Daubenton’s bats (Myotisdaubentonii). Read more about his survey experiences below:
“On Monday 6th July I took part in a Waterway Survey for Daubenton’s bat along a stretch of the River Teign in Devon. The survey is completed twice per year in conjunction with the Bat Conservation Trust and is part of an ongoing data collection programme for bat species around the UK. The lead for this particular survey was John Mitchell who has been surveying this particular length of the Teign, near Teigngrace, for a good number of years. It was my third survey there.
The survey was due to start 40 minutes after sunset, so we met at 9.00pm and made our way along the edge of a maize field to arrive at our first stopping point. This was to be a transect survey which meant walking a length of the river bank and stopping at ten predetermined points to record bat activity at each one. We stood at the river’s edge and immediately noticed that the river level was a lot lower than it was during our last visit a year or so ago. We recorded air temperature and cloud cover and, as we prepared, various species of bats could already be seen zooming around the trees and openings as they commenced another night of nocturnal foraging. The air was very warm, still and humid, and flying insects were everywhere including a host of moths and some less welcome biting species.
As the light faded it was time to start. With bat detectors switched on and earphones in place, we directed a torch beam on the river’s surface and awaited the arrival of the first Daubenton’s.
The Daubenton’s bat is a species which typically occupies riparian woodland. They often roost in trees along the river bank and hunt by skimming low over the surface of the water for insects. They can take prey from the water’s surface using their feet or tail membrane.
As bats skimmed through the torch beam we were able to count them. We counted the number of passes that we observed and for this a clicker counter is always useful! The bats that we heard but did not see were also recorded as additional information. I set my Magenta 5 at 50hz and listened whilst John relied on his trusty and more accomplished Bat Box Duet.
After four minutes on the stopwatch we finished counting, compared counts and wrote down results. At stop number 1 there were certainly bats present, but they were swooping around quite high above the water surface and not showing the typical behaviour of Daubenton’s – John was dubious that they were our target species so we recorded them only as potential sightings.
Using GPS devices and torches we left for Survey Point 2 further down the river bank and repeated the same process as before. At this location there was no denying that these WERE Daubenton’s bats, as the torch beam caught their pale almost white ventral fur, confirming their identity. Our detectors were full of noise too, including the typical intense zap as a bat homed in on prey.
On we progressed with eight more stopping points to go. Occasionally our river bank scrambles took us through thickets of invasive Himalayan balsam (Impatiensglandulifera) and Japanese knotweed (Fallopiajaponica)– a sobering reminder of how our countryside is changing. The night remained still and warm and it almost felt like we were in a different country.
After eight more stops my watch said 11:20pm. It was good to see that bats were in profusion that night, as John stated ‘It was one of the best ever totals, with one stopping point recording over 50 passes!‘.
Two weeks later and we repeated the process. But this second night felt noticeably cooler and there were fewer insects on the wing. Nevertheless bats were still out and about in reasonable numbers and an average score was calculated between the two Waterway surveys. Overall there were encouraging signs that the Daubenton’s bat continues to do well along this particular stretch of the Teign.”
To find out more information about the various bat detectors available, go to our website. To find out more about how you can help bats in your local area, have a look at our handy guide.
If you like the idea of taking part in Waterway Surveys (or other kinds of bat surveys) then contact the Bat Conservation Trust or have a look at their website here. It’s great fun and you can put your bat detector to important use!