Start to Identify Grasses: An Interview With Faith Anstey

Faith Anstey is the author of the Pocket Guide to Wildflower Families and Flowers in the Field: How to Find, Identify and Enjoy Wild Flowers.  In her latest book, Start to Identify Grasses, Faith turns her attention to grasses.

Faith Anstey
Pocket Guide to Wildflower Families
Start to Identify Grasses

 

 

Faith has coined the word ‘kleidophobia’ to mean ‘a fear of keys’, and it surely applies to many enthusiasts who would like to become more proficient at identifying plants, but are put off by the complexity of the customary botanical system of keys. So she has developed new ways of approaching ID that keep those daunting keys to a minimum.

To mark her new book and to encourage more people to discover the botanical wonders around them, we asked Faith a few questions about her writing and her life-long passion for botany.

What makes your books different from the usual field guides?

My books are not field guides at all. A field guide gives you a list of plant names, with pictures and descriptions, sometimes with a brief introduction. My books are all introduction: to field botany in general, to plant families and to grasses (maybe sedges and rushes next year . . .). A beginner armed only with a field guide has either to work their way from scratch through complicated keys, or to play snap: plant in one hand, book in the other; turn the pages until you find a picture that matches – ‘snap!’ By contrast, my books lead you into plant identification by logical routes, showing you where to look and what to look for. Their aim is to show you how to do ID for yourself.

What field guides would you recommend to use with your own guides?

Collins Wild Flower Guide

My personal favourite for beginners and improvers is the Collins Wildflower Guide (2016). This covers the whole range of wild plants including grasses, sedges and so on. It has keys that are well-organised and relatively easy to follow, and the ‘pics and scrips’ are accurate and helpful. Of course, Stace (3rd edition) is the botanists’ bible but it is rather daunting for beginners. I am also a great fan of Marjorie Blamey’s paintings in, for example, Wild Flowers of Britain & Ireland. For more detailed help with grasses & co, Francis Rose’s Colour Identification Guide has excellent keys and illustrations, suitable for most levels of experience.

What would be your best advice to anybody wishing to take their first steps towards identifying plants?

If you possibly can, go on a workshop for a day, a weekend or even a whole week. Having a real live person giving enthusiastic teaching, someone to answer all your questions and fresh plants to study is the best thing you can do. Look for a local botany or natural history group you can join, and go on their field meetings. When you get even a little more serious about your study, join Plantlife and/or the Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland. Identiplant is a very good online course but it is not really suitable for absolute beginners. Be a bit careful with apps and websites: some are incredibly complex, some seem to be aimed at five-year-olds, others are just inaccurate and misleading. The best ID websites I am aware of are run by the BSBI, the Natural History Museum and The Open University.

What are the easiest mistakes a beginner can make when trying to identify plants?

The most common mistake is to look only at the ‘flower’ – the showy bit with colourful petals – to try and identify it. To really pin it down, you need to study the whole plant: how the flowers are arranged, characteristics of the leaves and stem, how and where the plant is growing, and even what time of year it is. So long as there is plenty, please don’t be afraid to pick some to take home and study. The general rule on public land is: if there are 20 of the plant in question you can pick one, if 40, two and so on. Try to take the complete plant from ground level up – but don’t uproot it: that’s how the Victorians brought so many species to their knees. Photographs can be a big help, but remember to take several: whole plant, close-up of the flower, details of a leaf and so on.

What is the main threat to the diversity of wild flowers and grasses and what can be done to mitigate any decline?

The main threat is not people picking a few to study, or even simply to enjoy at home. Climate change is, of course, a threat in one sense, but I believe we shouldn’t necessarily dread the rise of ‘aliens’ from warmer climates which are now able to establish themselves here. Every plant in Britain was once an alien, after the last Ice Age ended, and I would rather learn to live with change than blindly try to turn the clock back. There may be a few exceptions like Japanese Knotweed, but their evils are often exaggerated and some natives like bracken can be equally invasive. The real problem we face is habitat loss: to house-building and industry, land drainage, vast monocultural fields without headlands, destruction of ancient forests and so on. And this is an area where watchfulness and action really can make a difference.

Have you ever had any bad or unusual experiences while out identifying plants?

Well, I nearly drowned once. I was botanising on my own in Glen Lyon, beside the rushing ‘white water’ of the River Lyon. There were plenty of large rocks above the water level that I thought I could use as stepping stones across the river. But I lost my footing on a slippery rock and was instantly immersed in the icy torrent. Luckily I was obeying the three-holds rule and my two hands were still clinging firmly to rocks. I quickly realised that, with heavy boots on, if I didn’t get up on a rock fairly soon I was likely to be swept to my doom. No good screaming either: the roar of the water would make that a fruitless exercise. Twice I heaved on my arms and failed to get clear of the water, but on the third try I managed to haul myself out and eventually get back to the bank. The first thing I examined was the sodden notebook in my waterlogged pocket, but my botanical notes were still legible, so it was a happy ending!

Faith’s new book Start to Identify Grasses is available now from NHBS

Start to Identify Grasses
Paperback | May 2018
£3.50

 

 

 

Also by Faith Anstey…

Pocket Guide to Wildflower Families
Paperback | January 2016
£5.99

 

 

Flowers in the Field: How to Find, Identify and Enjoy Wild Flowers
Paperback | May 2010
£12.99

 

 

Great offers on further reading for improvers and experts alike…

Collins Wild Flower Guide: The Most Complete Guide to the Wild Flowers of Britain and Ireland
Paperback | 2016 | £18.99 £24.99
Hardback | 2016 | £29.99 £39.99

 

 

Wild Flowers of Britain and Ireland
Paperback | May 2013
£13.99 £18.99

 

 

 

New Flora of the British Isles
Paperback | 2010
£59.99

 

 

 

Colour Identification Guide to the Grasses, Sedges, Rushes and Ferns of the British Isles and North-Western Europe
Paperback | 1989
£39.99 £49.99

 

 

Faith Anstey in Ardnamurchan, Scotland

Enjoy your time in the field discovering and identifying the wild plants around you…

 

 

Please note that all prices stated in this blog post are correct at the time of publishing but are subject to change at any time. 

National Insect Week 2018

National Insect Week is organised by the Royal Entomological Society and occurs every two years. In 2018 it takes place from 18th to 24th June.

National Insect Week 2018

Following the shocking news in 2017 which revealed recent drastic declines in insect numbers, insect and invertebrate biodiversity has never been more critical. National Insect Week aims to inspire people of all ages and backgrounds to learn more about insects and the vital roles they play in almost every ecosystem on earth.

To celebrate National Insect Week hundreds of events will be occurring throughout the UK, ranging from Bioblitz days, insects walks, workshops and even the chance to dine out on edible insects. Take a look at the interactive map on the official National Insect Week website to see what’s happening where you live. Or why not organise your own event? Don’t forget to submit the details on the website though so that it can be added to the map!

New to the world of insects?

Why not get started by watching the following videos from the Royal Entomological Society. They provide a brief introduction to the various groups of insects and explain why they are so vitally important to life on earth. If you’re eager to learn more then you can read about all of the main orders of insects here.

Ready to start finding and observing insects outside?

At NHBS we sell a huge range of insect identification guides as well as butterfly and sweep nets, moth traps, handheld magnifiers, bug pots and all the other accessories you need to start identifying insects in the field. Follow the links below to visit the shopping pages on our website.

Guides to Butterfies and Moths
Guides to Bees, Ants and Wasps
Guides to Beetles (Coleoptera)
Guides to Flies (Diptera)
Moth Traps

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Insect Nets and Beating Trays

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hand Lenses and Microscopes
Bug Pots

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Listening In The Field: Thoughts on Field Recording

Separating the Signals From the Noise
Image from Wild Soundscapes: Discovering the Voice of the Natural World

 

 

 

 

 

NHBS equipment team member Johnny Mitchell, developed a keen interest in sound design and field recording whilst studying contemporary music. He continues to be fascinated by the technical challenges of field recording and its use for ecologists. With the recent publication of Joeri Bruyninckx’s Listening In The Field, interest around this subject continues to grow, so Johnny has provided some thoughts about the art of wildlife sound recording along with some excellent book recommendations.

‘In its broadest sense, field recording is the act of capturing sound outside of a traditional recording studio environment.

We live, it seems, in a culture that values vision and image above all other senses. In our increasingly noisy society, and as the cacophony of human-induced noise increases around us, it can be easy to forget the value of simply listening as a way to engage with the natural world.

One of the most evocative and earliest examples of field recording can be can found in the BBC recordings of Cellist Beatrice Harrison who, whilst playing in the garden at her home in Oxted, Surrey, noticed that the nightingales in the woods around her responded to, and even echoed, the notes of her cello. Broadcast just two years after the Birth of BBC radio in the early 1920’s, it was the first time that wildlife had been broadcast over live radio in the UK, and it proved to be so popular that the recordings were repeated every spring for the following 12 years.

Listening In The Field: Recording and the Science of Birdsong
Hardback | May 2018
£26.99

 

 

Advances in high-quality, portable audio equipment have led to a fascinating cross-pollination between artists, musicians and scientists. In his new book, Listening in the Field, Joeri Bruyninckx traces the development of field recording and its use in field ornithology. Drawing on expertise from experimental music to serious science, it provides a thorough and wide-ranging investigation into the power of sound and listening.

Anyone looking for further reading on the subject would do well to look to the work of Bernie Krause; in particular The Great Animal Orchestra and Wild Soundscapes.

In The Great Animal Orchestra, Krause, a former musician/composer and now leading expert in soundscape ecology, details his experiences in over 40 years of collecting wild soundscapes and explores what these can tell us about the health of various biomes.

 

Wild Soundscapes offers the reader both a philosophical guide and practical handbook- it is a highly readable and invaluable guide into the many techniques and different types of audio equipment available to anyone making their first forays into the field.

 

Krause encourages us to take a widescreen view of the soundscape as a whole rather than focusing on single species. Whilst listening to his recorded sounds and visualising them using spectograms, Krause also developed his ‘niche hypothesis’ – discovering that many creatures have developed temporal and frequency niches in which to communicate. What we would perceive as a chaotic web of sound is, he argues, highly ordered, and organisms in a soundscape structure their vocalisations over both frequency and time.

Tragically, over half of the soundscapes in Krause’s archive have either been dramatically altered by human activity or silenced altogether. However, as interest and technology advance it is fair to say that we are coming to understand and value the natural soundscape around us and our effect upon it’.

Field Recording Equipment

At NHBS you will find a great range of microphones, recorders and accessories for field recording.

Hi-Sound Mono Parabolic Microphone
H2a Hydrophone

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sennheiser MKH 416-P48 U3 Microphone
Basic Stereo Hydrophone

 

 

 
Tascam DR-05 Handheld Recorder
Tascam DR-40 Handheld Recorder
Further reading:

The Sound Approach to Birding: A Guide to Understanding Bird Sound
Hardback | Dec 2006
£29.95

 

In The Field: The Art of Field Recording
Hardback | May 2018
£11.99

 

 

Further listening:

Browse our range of wildlife audio CDs and listen to the sounds of the Amazon, the pure voice of the nightingale or the frog calls of Madagascar.  Find the full list here.

 

Enjoy being in the field, there really is plenty to listen to.

 

Please note that prices stated in this blog post are correct at the time of publishing and are subject to change at any time.

 

Field Studies Council: Publisher of the Month

 

The Field Studies Council (FSC) is the NHBS Publisher of the Month for June.

 

The FSC publish six diverse, thoroughly researched and constantly expanding series, all of which are geared towards helping naturalists identify and monitor the plants and animals they are interested in.

These include Royal Entomological Society Handbooks, AIDGAP Guides, Fold-out Identification Charts and Chart Packs, Synopses of the British Fauna and Biological Records Centre Atlases.

RES Handbooks
AIDGAP Guides
Wildlife Packs

 

 

 

 

 

Synopses of the British Fauna
Fold-Out Identification Charts
BRC Atlases

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fold-Out Identification Charts

The FSC’s range of compact identification charts are designed to assist nature enthusiasts with identifying and naming the fauna and flora they find. The first fold-out identification chart, The Woodland Name Trail was produced in 1994 and, since then, these guides have become the FSC’s best-selling publications.

What makes FSC’s Fold-Out Identification charts stand out are the beautiful and accurate illustrations. Many are illustrated by some of the world’s finest wildlife artists including Richard Lewington, Lizzie Harper, Chris Shields and Mike Langman.

The top five FSC guides at NHBS are:

Guide to British Bats
Butterflies of Britain
Guide to Bees of Britain
Freshwater Name Trail
Garden Bugs and Beasties

 

 

 

 

In 2018, the FSC has added three new fold-out identification charts to their extensive selection:

Longhorn Beetles of Britain
Guide to Rushes
Winter Coastal Birds

 

 

 

 

More recently, the FSC have gathered together some of their most popular fold-out charts into Wildlife Packs. Each pack consists of three or more related charts, together with a card-sized magnifier.

AIDGAP guides

In 1976 The ‘AIDGAP’ (Aids to Identification in Difficult Groups of Animals and Plants) project was started, with the aim of producing user-friendly and reliable field guides which would make identification achievable for those with little taxonomic training.

The most recent addition to the AIDGAP series is an updated edition of the Key to the Earthworms of the UK and Ireland, originally published in 2012.

Paperback | April 2018
£9.99

 

Browse all  AIDGAP Guides

 

 

 

RES Handbooks for the Identification of British Insects

In 2004 FSC started working with the Royal Entomological Society to publish their Handbook series. The aim of these handbooks is to provide illustrated identification keys to the insects of Britain, together with concise morphological, biological and distributional information. These comprehensive books are primarily aimed at experienced users.

The latest addition to this series is RES Handbook, Volume 7, Part 4: The Banchine Wasps (Ichneumonidae: Banchinae) of the British Isles

Paperback | July 2017
£29.99

 

Browse all RES Handbooks for the Identification of British Insects

 

 

 

Synopses of the British Fauna

In 1991 FSC formed a partnership with the Linnean Society of London to publish their Synopses of the British Fauna series. The first Synopses FSC published was Volume 49,  Woodlice and since then, 60 additional volumes have been published.

The latest addition to this series is SBF Volume 61: Marine Gastropods 2: Littorinimorpha and Other, Unassigned, Caenogastropoda

Paperback | October 2017
£56.99

 

Browse all Synopses of the British Fauna

BRC Atlases

The FSC also publishes Atlases on behalf of the Biological Records Centre (part of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology). Suitable for more experienced users, these Atlases map the distribution of records within Great Britain and Ireland for named groups of animals.

Browse all BRC Atlases

 

 

 

In Preparation

New FSC publications to look out for in 2018 include:

Two new RES Handbooks – Ichneumonid Wasps. and Beetle larvae. Also expected soon is a Water Beetle Atlas for the BRC.

Fold-Out Charts – A new chart covering Invasive Plants is in the early stages of production, whilst the Butterflies Chart is currently being updated to include the Large Blue, Long Tailed Blue, Wood White and the Cryptic Wood WhiteA second edition of The Caterpillar Chart is also being considered, along with a Field Signs Guide.

 

The Field Study Council (FSC) is an environmental education charity providing informative and enjoyable opportunities for people of all ages and abilities to discover, explore, and understand the environment.

Their Mission is to bring environmental understanding to all, and their Vision is inspiring environmental understanding through first-hand experience.

*We have no detailed information regarding titles that are ‘in preparation,’ however, you can place a pre-publication order by contacting customer.services@nhbs.com

Please note that pricing in this blog post is correct at the time of publishing (June 2018) and is subject to change at any time.

 

NatureBureau: Publisher of the Month

NatureBureau are the NHBS Publisher of the Month for May.

Publishing under the imprint of Pisces Publications, they are renowned for beautifully designed, internationally important handbooks and atlases as well as highly localised UK field guides.

Find out more about NatureBureau’s distinguished list of past publications, as well as their upcoming books in this post.

High Standards in Design

NatureBureau’s creative director, Peter Creed; a keen amateur naturalist and photographer with a background in art, was disappointed with the design of many wildlife books and set about creating a new standard in wildlife publishing.  The ground-breaking A Comprehensive Guide to Insects of Britain & Ireland (2014) bore witness to Peter’s endeavours and set a new benchmark in style and content.

As well as exceptional production standards, NatureBureau’s well researched and informative content keeps them in high regard with natural history and wildlife enthusiasts, and their books have become treasured and well-used additions to many libraries.

Local, National and International Guides

Working with authors who are passionate about the flora and fauna of their own county, NatureBureau have produced a range of local interest hardbacks, all illustrated with beautiful photography. In 2017 they published both The Butterflies of Sussex and The Bees of Norfolk, followed in 2018 by The Flora of Sussex.

They recently partnered their bestselling A Comprehensive Guide to Insects of Britain & Ireland with A Photographic Guide to Insects of Southern Europe & the Mediterranean. Both books are currently on offer, for a limited time, in our Spring Sale.

Pocket Guides

Their popular series of photographic pocket guides for beginners use non-technical language and include high-quality photos to make identification in the field as simple as possible. Just published for summer 2018 is A Guide to Finding Bees in Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire.

 

 

 

 

Celebrating 30 years

As NatureBureau approach their 30th year, they are continuing to expand their range of titles by publishing  The Nature of the Malverns: An Ancient Landscape Steeped in Wildlife and Oxfordshire’s Threatened Plants: A Register of Rare and Scarce Species.

Other books currently in preparation* and expected over the next few years include:

Atlas of Britain & Ireland’s Larger Moths (for Butterfly Conservation) – in preparation for publication early 2019
Life cycles of the British and Irish Butterflies (author Peter Eeles) – in preparation for publishing late 2019/early 2020
The Bumblebee Book (author Nick Owens) – in preparation for publishing in late 2019
Moths of the West Midlands – in preparation for publishing later 2019

Also, building on the success of their two best-selling insect guides, A Comprehensive Guide to Insects of Britain & Ireland [2014] and A Photographic Guide to Insects of Southern Europe and the Mediterranean [2017] NatureBureau are now planning a companion volume of non-insect terrestrial invertebrates: ‘Spiders and Other Mini-Beasts’.

*We have no detailed information regarding titles that are ‘in preparation,’ however, you can place a pre-publication order by contacting customer.services@nhbs.com

NatureBureau also offer ecology services alongside a unique graphic design and print management department for nature-related publications. Their clients range from local wildlife trusts to international NGOs.

Curlew Moon: An interview with Mary Colwell

Mary Colwell is an award-winning writer and producer who is well-known for her work with BBC Radio producing programmes on natural history and environmental issues; including their Natural Histories, Shared Planet and Saving Species series.

Her new book, Curlew Moon, documents her 500-mile journey from the west coast of Ireland to the east of England to raise awareness and funds for the Curlew, now one of the UK’s most threatened birds. Part travel diary and part natural history, the book is also a beautiful exploration of the way in which the Curlew appears in local myths, culture and language.

We were delighted to chat with Mary about the book and about her fight to save the UK Curlew population before it’s too late.

Curlew MoonI guess I’ll start with the obvious question – why Curlews? What is it about them that captivates you and has made you dedicate so much time and energy to raising awareness for their conservation?

That’s perhaps the most difficult question. I honestly don’t know why Curlews in particular, other than I love the way they look, how they sound and where they live. Those calls over wetland and meadow or over mountain slopes are soul-grabbing. W S Graham described the Curlew’s call as a ‘love-weep’ a melancholic, yearning, beautiful sound. I grew up in the Staffordshire Moorlands and back then, in the 70s, they were common, so perhaps they infiltrated my brain! What I found on the walk is that many people feel the same. To know them is to love them. And over the last few years, as I became aware of what was happening not out on the savannah or in a rainforest, but right here under our noses, I decided to try to help. A contract with the BBC Natural History unit came to an end and the next day I started to plan the walk.

Curlew MoonWhere I live in North Wales, on the banks of the Menai Straights, the sight and sound of curlew are very common. Living somewhere like this, you could easily believe that they are both abundant and thriving here in the UK. Do you think that this, along with a lack of understanding of their complete natural history (e.g. the types of habitat they require to breed, food sources and predator pressures) contributes to masking the problems they face?

For sure that is the case. The UK and Ireland population of Curlew are boosted by winter visitors. From August to March as many as 150,000 Curlews rest up and feed ready for the breeding season. But come the warmer months most disappear back to N Germany, Scandinavia or Finland, leaving our own breeding birds thinly scattered. Also, as Curlew don’t breed until they are at least 2 years old, juveniles may well spend all year on the coast. The story of loss is in the fields and meadows. A Curlew’s life is complicated, and we are only just getting to grips with that. It needs whole landscapes to feed, roost, nest and over-winter. They bind the coast to the mountains and country to country. It’s hard to understand, but worth the effort. They really are fascinating.

Curlew MoonPoetry features heavily in the book and I absolutely loved how you explore the myriad ways in which the curlew features in the myths, legends and cultures of the areas you passed through. (I am currently in the process of moving to Clynnog Fawr so I was particularly thrilled with the tale of St. Beuno!). Why did you choose to style the book in this way rather than writing a more prosaic natural history and travel diary?

I think being a producer on Radio 4’s Natural Histories for two series deepened my understanding of just how much the life around us has contributed to art, literature, poetry, science, folklore and spirituality. For all of our time as humans on earth we have looked at the natural world and forged connections. We still do that today. Part of the reason for the walk was to discover how curlews have inspired us. I had known about the lovely story of St Beuno and the Curlew for a long time – enchanted by it – so I knew there must be more out there. And there certainly is!

Particularly at a time where it seems that we are encouraged to value wildlife primarily for how it can benefit us, and ‘ecosystem services’ type approaches aim to put a monetary value on our wild spaces and creatures, do you think the arts have an important role in highlighting and championing those species that might otherwise fade away without notice?

Yes of course, anything that helps us to re-engage with nature is vital, be that through arts or science or economics. People are complicated – each of us has so many facets, rolled into one being. We are consumers, parents, children, lovers, friends. We are both rational and irrational, emotional and calculating, loving and full of division. Spiritual, religious, atheist, agnostic, often all at the same time. The arts understand this complexity and great art touches all those facets. The role of the arts in our lives is incalculable, so it isn’t surprising it doesn’t appear on a financial spreadsheet. I’m not sure I could write a straight natural history of any animal, bird or plant. I will always want to delve into its connection to our lives.

Curlew MoonWith any conservation work, it can sometimes feel as though you are swimming against the tide, with every move forward followed by two moves back. Especially with a species such as the Curlew, where there seem to be so many challenges to overcome, how do you maintain the hope required to keep fighting and how do you prevent yourself from succumbing to despair?

I touch on this a bit in the book – in the section where I walk though the middle of England with a friend who is an ex- Dominican friar, a gay activist and a writer, Mark Dowd.  He helped put my feelings into context. This wasn’t a walk that will necessarily produce tangible proof of more Curlews on the ground within 5 years. Rather it is in the realm of hope –  that something good will emerge at some point. It was a walk of trust, that if you put yourself on the line, people will respond. And so I didn’t walk with the aim that there would be a 20% increase in curlews in the UK and Ireland by 2020 (although that would be great), rather it was underpinned by a hope that people will be more aware of what needs to be done and will act on it. The series of workshops I organised with help from so many good people also gave me hope. We may fail, we may yet lose curlews from large areas, but, as David Attenborough once said, “As long as I can look into the eyes of my grandchildren and say I honestly did what I could, then that is all I can do.” I agree with that.

My final question is of a more practical nature, as I’m fascinated by people who take time out of their lives to undertake challenging journeys. Are you a seasoned long-distance walker or is this the first walk of this length you have undertaken? How did you prepare for it, both physically and mentally?

I used to do a lot of walking, but then children came along and life changed. So for 20 years I didn’t do much. But determination takes you a long way – and going to the gym. I just felt ready for the challenge and was so sure it was the right thing to do. But I did suffer from blisters! Still, a small price to pay and a good excuse to buy new boots for my most recent long distance walk – 230 miles through the Sierra Nevada in California along the John Muir Trail. That was tough, it made 500 miles along footpaths look like a stroll in the park.

Curlew Moon by Mary Colwell is published by William Collins and is available from NHBS. You can read more about Mary and her work at www.curlewmedia.com.

Signed copies of the book are available while stocks last.

 

Rewilding

 

Rewilding  provokes great debate among conservationists and the recently published book Wilding: The Return of Nature to an English Farm is likely to provide more fuel for future discussion.

British Wildlife editor Guy Freeman has sketched out the framework in which this debate takes place, and we have picked out some key books on this exciting new approach to nature conservation.

 

Rewilding – the process of returning land to nature – is rapidly gaining momentum. The concept itself is fairly simple, but its delivery is complicated by the question: ‘what exactly are we hoping to achieve?’ There is general agreement that rewilded landscapes should replicate those which existed before major human interference (i.e. prior to the development of farming during the Neolithic, around 6,000 years ago), but the significant point of contention comes when trying to establish what those landscapes looked like. The accepted view has long been that Britain became covered in a blanket of dense woodland – the ‘wildwood’ – as trees recolonised after the last glacial period.

This has been questioned however, and other theories have emerged, including one compelling alternative proposed by ecologist Frans Vera. Based on observations at the Oostvaardersplassen, a nature reserve in the Netherlands, Vera suggested that grazing animals would have dictated the distribution of different vegetation types and maintained a landscape that was far more open than previously thought.

This ongoing debate has important implications for rewilding and, in particular, the role that grazing animals should play. Based on the ‘wildwood’ or ‘closed-canopy hypothesis’, rewilding need entail little more than just leaving land untouched – Lady Park Wood, in Monmouthshire, provides a fascinating insight into how woodland develops without human intervention. Under Vera’s hypothesis, however, grazing animals need to be at the heart of the process – the Knepp Estate, in Sussex, is an impressive example of how nature responds when such an approach is taken.

Understanding historic vegetation patterns is important, and our knowledge is improving as analytical techniques develop and new strands of evidence are revealed. In reality, however, we will probably never know exactly what Early Holocene Britain was like, and we should not let the debate distract from the task at hand – in the many degraded parts of our landscape, any form of rewilding will be good news for nature.

Guy Freeman is the editor of British Wildlife  The Magazine for the Modern Naturalist

 

Further Reading

We have selected some further reading around the subject of Rewilding.  We suggest our top five below and you can click on the link to view our complete selection.

Feral: Rewilding the Land, Sea and Human Life
Paperback | June 2014
£7.99 £9.99

 

 

Wilding: The Return of Nature to an English Farm
Hardback | May 2018
£16.99 £19.99

 

 

Woodland Development: A Long-Term Study of Lady Park Wood
Paperback | Sept 2017
£34.99

 

Trees, Forested Landscapes and Grazing Animals: A European Perspective on Woodlands and Grazed Treescapes
Paperback | June 2017
£36.99

 

Rewilding European Landscapes
Paperback | Oct 2016
£44.99

 

 

Browse all our suggested further reading for Rewilding.

Please note that prices in this article are correct at the time of posting (April 2018) and may change at any time.

 

Hedgehog Awareness Week 2018

The hedgehog is one of the nation’s favourite garden visitors. However, due to severe declines in their numbers, they are now a priority species in the UK’s Biodiversity Action Plan. Image by Peter O’Connor via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Hedgehog Awareness Week runs from 6th – 12th May and is organised by the British Hedgehog Preservation Society.

Here are seven ways that you can get involved this year:

1. Donate to the BHPS by texting HHOG18 £5 to 70070, or donate via their Just Giving page. The BHPS is a charity that relies solely on membership and donations. They provide advice to the public on how to care for and encourage local hedgehogs and they maintain a national list of hedgehog rehabilitators. They also raise awareness and support for hedgehogs and fund research into the behaviour and conservation of hedgehogs in the UK.

2. Hold a coffee morning or other fundraising event to raise funds for hedgehogs. Make sure you tag any posts about your event on social media with #hedgehogweek and don’t forget to let BHPS know what you’re doing, so they can keep up-to-date with everything that’s going on around the country.

3. Post some leaflets in your local area letting people know how to care for hedgehogs in their garden and what to do if they find an injured hog. Lots of leaflets can be downloaded from the information section on the BHPS website.

4. Contact your local council or tool hire centre and ask them to put free warning stickers on all of their strimmers.

5. Educate yourself about hedgehogs and their needs. Take a look at our Hedgehog Facts & FAQs blogpost for lots of information or treat yourself to one of the great books about hedgehogs available from NHBS:

The Hedgehog

Hedgehogs

Hedgehog

 

 

 

 

 

A Prickly AffairHedgehog RehabilitationHedgehog New Naturalist

 

 

 

 

 

From left to right, top to bottom:
The Hedgehog – Pat Morris
Hedgehogs – Pat Morris
Hedgehog – High Warwick
A Prickly Affair – Hugh Warwick
Hedgehog Rehabilitation – Kay Bullen
Hedgehog New Naturalist – Pat Morris (Due June 2018)

6. Make your garden hedgehog-friendly: Attempt to keep some areas wild and overgrown and, if you have a garden fence, cut a hole at the bottom measuring 13 x 13cm as this will allow hedgehogs to pass through on their nightly wanderings. Provide a shallow dish of fresh water along with some dog or cat food, some chopped unsalted peanuts or some sunflower hearts. Finally, make or buy a hedgehog home. This will provide a safe and warm space for hedgehogs to hibernate throughout the winter, and also for a female to raise her young in the spring and summer.

Igloo Hedgehog Home

Hedgehog Nest Box

Eco Hedgehog Nest Box

 

 

 


From left to right:

Igloo Hedgehog Home
Hedgehog Nest Box
Eco Hedgehog Nest Box

7. Find out if hedgehogs are visiting your garden with our brand new Mammal Footprint Tunnel. Simple to set up and safe for children (and animals), the tunnel is a fun way to collect tracks of hedgehogs and other small mammals in your garden.

The Big Bluebell Watch 2018

In late April and May bluebells create a stunning blue carpet in woodlands around the UK – a favourite sight for naturalists and walkers everywhere. Image by Carine06 via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

What is the Big Bluebell Watch?

The Big Bluebell Watch is organised by the Woodland Trust and takes place from 2nd April until 31st May. This nationwide survey involves members of the public submitting their sightings of bluebells around the UK via an online map, the results of which will allow the Woodland Trust to monitor the status of native bluebells and to guide future conservation efforts.

Continue reading for more information about bluebells in the UK, as well as some tips on telling the difference between native and non-native species. Then head over to the Woodland Trust website to submit your findings.

Bluebells in the UK

Our native bluebell, Hyacinthoides non-scripta, flowers between mid-April and the end of May, transforming our woodlands with a stunning blue carpet beneath the budding canopy. Although present throughout Western Europe, more than half of the world’s bluebells are found in the UK where they are an important indicator of ancient woodland.

Despite being one of the nation’s favourite flowers, H. non-scripta is now threatened by habitat destruction, illegal collection and hybridisation with non-native species. Because of this, they are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981) and, since 1998, it has been illegal to collect native bluebells from the wild.

The Spanish bluebell (Hyacinthoides hispanica) is a closely related species which was introduced to Britain in the 1600s as an ornamental garden plant. It has now spread into our countryside where it hybridises freely with native bluebells. This is a problem as the hybrids tend to be hardier and can outcompete the native bluebell, while diluting their gene pool and characteristics. There is a huge concern that, if left without monitoring or management, the native British bluebell will no longer exist in the wild.

How to tell the difference between native and non-native bluebells

There are three types of bluebell that you may encounter in the UK: the native British bluebell, the introduced Spanish bluebell and the hybrid, which results when the two species cross-breed. Here are a few tips to help you tell the difference:

British Bluebell
Image by User:Colin via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

British bluebell
• Leaves are narrow (approximately 1 – 1.5cm wide)
• Stem often droops to one side
• All or most of the flowers are on one side of the stem
• Tips of the petals curl up
• Flowers are cylindrical in shape
• Flowers are usually deep violet-blue although sometimes white or pink
• Flowers have a strong sweet scent
• Pollen is creamy-white

Spanish Bluebell
Image by Leonora (Ellie) Enking via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Spanish Bluebell
• Leaves are broader than those of the British species (often over 3cm wide)
• Stems tend to be straight and erect
• Flowers are distributed around the stem
• Tips of the petals do not curl
• Flower are bell or cone-shaped
• Flowers often paler blue or pink or white
• Flowers have little to no scent
• Pollen tends to be blue

Hybrid Bluebell
The hybrid bluebell is a cross between these two types and may show a wide range of intermediate characteristics. If you find a bluebell that has any of the characteristics from the second list, then it is probably safe to assume that you are looking at a hybrid bluebell.

Where do I submit my bluebell sightings?

During April and May, the Woodland Trust are collecting records of bluebell sightings from all around the UK. It doesn’t matter where you see them – whether they are in your garden, in a field or in a woodland, every sighting is important and will help to build a comprehensive picture of the state of our native bluebells. If you’re not sure which type you’ve seen then you can still make a submission to the records.

Submit your sightings before 31st May on the Woodland Trust website.

Wildflower Guides

If you’re interested in learning more about the flowers and plants you see while out and about, why not pick up a wildflower guide. Below you will find a list of some of our bestsellers.

Wild Flowers of Britain and Ireland

Wild Flowers of Britain and Ireland
Marjorie Blamey et al.
This is the first fully-illustrated and fully-mapped guide to the British and Irish flora, covering more than 1,900 species. Its restriction to the British Isles alone allows far more detail and more local information, and identification is made easier with the inclusion of maps for most species.

 

Collins Wild Flower Guide

Collins Wild Flower Guide
David Streeter
Featuring all flowering plants, including trees, grasses and ferns, this fully revised and updated field guide to the wild flowers of Britain and northern Europe is the most complete illustrated, single-volume guide ever published. Illustrated by leading botanical artists.

 

The Wild Flower Key

The Wild Flower Key
Francis Rose and Clare O’Reilly
The expanded edition of this essential guide is packed with extra identification tips, innovative features designed to assist beginners and many more illustrations. Also includes a compilation of the latest research on ancient woodland indicator plants.

 

Seeds of Science: An interview with Mark Lynas

photo of Mark Lynas
Mark Lynas

Mark Lynas is an author, journalist and environmental activist. He has previously written books on climate change (including High Tide: News from a Warming World and Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet) and the Anthropocene (The God Species: How the Planet Can Survive the Age of Humans). A one-time anti-GMO activist, Mark changed his mind on genetically modified organisms while researching his books on climate change. Seeds of Science: Why We Got it so Wrong on GMOs chronicles Mark’s conversion and examines the widespread opposition to GMOs and the damage this is doing. I contacted Mark to talk more with him about GMOs, and about his new title, which is published this week.

We have been domesticating crops for millennia, and you write that radiation is an accepted method to induce genetic mutations. Such plants can even be labelled “organic”. Effectively, there is a continuum from very crude tools (domestication) to more precise ones nowadays to achieve the same end goal: plants with traits that we desire. Why has recombinant DNA technology been singled out by activists?

I think that if mutagenesis by radiation were invented tomorrow, Friends of the Earth would be up in arms. I suspect that it really is a matter of grandfathering with these kinds of technologies. The newer ones get opposed because they seem too new, for want of a better way of putting it, too innovative and too artificial, whereas we are comfortable with the older ones because they have always been there. As I say in the book, your pet dog is genetically modified from the original wolf, otherwise you would not let it anywhere near your children. But if a scientist in a labcoat were to propose to genetically modify a wolf directly in the laboratory, in order to give it a pug nose and make it unable to breathe properly, I am sure there would be all kinds of hullabaloo. So, it is about being comfortable with something that has become traditional, which maybe was innovative decades or centuries ago, but has become part of our established normality.

These things are socially constructed debates, they are not really a result of scientific innovation directly, they are a result of interest groups deciding that they are opposed to specific innovations for specific reasons. So, there has not been any significant opposition to the use of genetically modified bacteria or micro-organisms to produce insulin for diabetics, or rennet for cheese, or multiple other biotechnological applications. It is very much about opposition to some kind of perceived adulteration of the purity and authenticity of food, especially because food has got such powerful cultural and deeply political meaning.

I would include seeds in that as well. So, the concept of the seed is a very politically significant one. The idea that farmers must control seeds, that seeds are a kind of inherited genetic common property that have been enclosed and privatised by corporations – for people with particular political views these are very powerful concerns.

Effectively, we have been consuming GMOs for millennia, ever since we started eating domesticated plants, with no ill effect on our health. Has the health scare not wasted tremendous amounts of time and money in unnecessary research that, as we could have known beforehand, showed that there is no danger to consuming GMOs?

The health scare is something I was never involved in promoting. Looking back at the things I wrote, I alluded to it a couple of times, but it certainly was never a central concern.

As I explain the book, realising there was a scientific consensus on GMO safety which was equivalent to the consensus on climate change was a big part of why I changed my mind. While I do not claim that science can answer all of the political and economical questions, if we could all at least agree that this technique is as safe as any other, and probably safer in terms of changing crop genetics to be honest, then we can move on to talk about the other topics sensibly. But so long as you have got activists out there, particularly in developing countries, spreading rumours and myths about GMOs causing cancer and sterility then I think that that is so objectionable that it has to be opposed directly, just as we do with anti-vaccine campaigners which are out there doing real damage to public health.

So, do you think that the argument that we have been eating animals and plants that have been genetically modified through domestication with no ill harm is one that will resonate with activists?

No, because it is not about the facts. You can present evidence until you are blue in the face, but that hardly changes anybody’s minds. You have to look at why there is this opposition, and the reason it has persisted for so long is that is has become an article of faith for a lot of people with a particular ideological bias. And that is not just on the left. Yes, there is an anti-corporate aspect to this, but it is also found on the right. It has recently come to light that the Russians have been promoting anti-GMO memes as a way of undermining public trust and the integrity of Western science. And you can see it from the extreme right in France: Le Pen is anti-Monsanto and anti-GMO. The same goes for the far-right and the far-left in Italy. It has become a kind of populist rallying cry which can be put in the context of this wider loss of trust in elites and intellectual expertise generally, which is a story of our modern times. It saddens me that the environmental movement is part of this shift towards post-truth, at least in the GMO sense, but it just goes to show that it is not resulting from any singular political perspective

In the Q&A session of your 2013 talk at the Oxford Farming Conference, you mention that the opposition to GMOs is effectively a proxy war against modern agricultural methods.  Why do people not make a distinction between the tool (genetic modification) and the wielder (in most discussions this ends up being big agricultural companies such as Monsanto)?

I am not even sure it is the business practices of Monsanto in any real sense. If you ask people what it is that Monsanto supposedly does, you will often get a lot of internet-generated myths. I included a whole chapter on Monsanto in the book, precisely because I felt that this was an elephant in the room that needed to be dealt with, and I needed to go through some of the anti-Monsanto memes out there and try and identify what was real and what was not. So, yes, I think there is a conflation between GMOs and modern agriculture in general with certain people in the West. This is quite an elite phenomenon; certain foodie types feel that the food system is failing them. It is kind of conflated with packaging, supermarkets and being disconnected from the local and the authentic. So, it is a kind of wider Romantic movement against what is perceived to be the dominance of technology in modern life. There is a nostalgic appeal to what the traditional farm was – with the farmer in overalls, chewing straw and getting his hands dirty – which is not there with the image of a modern farmer sitting high up in a cab of a combine harvester on Facebook while his machine is driven by GPS or even robotics. It does not have the same emotional appeal to it. So, I think there is this feeling of alienation with the modern food system in general, which I think has driven a lot of this opposition.

Seeds of Science cover

One reason I can think of why people oppose GMOs is a lack of understanding the science. How much are current high-school curricula paying attention to basic genetics, especially in the context of biotechnology in agriculture? Can we do more here and in the future see a new generation of better-informed citizens?

Well, that would be nice, but I do not think that it is essential any more than people need to understand immunology in order to have their children vaccinated. Yes, I am a passionate supporter of increasing science literacy, and I think it is important for a functioning democracy in a very general sense that we have a population who understands at least the basics. But it would not help – this is a political controversy. Even increasing science literacy does not help to diffuse it, because it is not really about the science. The scientists are not disagreeing on any of this. It is the same with climate change where people with different political viewpoints then claim to differ on the science. Presenting more scientific evidence does not help to resolve it, we have to make sure that the evidence is not steamrolled by emotional appeals by people who have an ideological interest in diminishing public understanding of science.

 You seem intent on putting an end to the polarised discussion and the trench warfare as you call it. I believe this is a large part of why you wrote this book. With this book about to be published, what more can we expect to see from yourself and others to try and bring the two sides closer together?

As I say towards the end of the book, the first draft was an angry book about how evil the anti-GMO movement is and decrying all that. And then I threw that away and rewrote it because I did not want to deepen the polarisation. I wanted to make a more honest attempt to understand where people are coming from who still oppose this technology. I felt it was incumbent on me as a former activist myself to do that in as humble a way as possible. So, I went back and talked to people who are still activists who I used to work with back in the day and I tried to give them a fair hearing. I think it is important that we recognise what these concerns are and that they are genuinely held. It is very easy to characterise your opponent as being evil or corrupt. However, people who oppose GMOs think they are doing the right thing. You can say that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, but if we at least do each other the honour of recognising that we are all trying to make the world a better place, then maybe we can meet somewhere in the middle by respecting each other’s concerns and worldviews so we can try and figure out what we have in common.

I say this in learning from the experience of climate change where I have been guilty of this as much as anyone. Through shouting and fighting we have just polarised the situation, and I think it is further away from being solvable now than it probably was back in the late nineties when I started working on it.

Seeds of Science is available to order from NHBS