Q&A with Series Editor, Chloe Currens: Penguin’s Green Ideas series

This August, Penguin Classics will launch their new series: Green Ideas. Featuring authors such as Greta Thunberg, Rachel Carson and Tim Flannery, Green Ideas brings together key environmental voices, classic and contemporary, who are advocating for change to the way we view our living planet. Exploring a wide-range of topics, from art to economics and almost everything in between, this twenty book series highlights the most important environmental issues of our time, while seeking to broaden our collective understanding of our environment.

Ahead of publication, Series Editor Chloe Currens has very kindly agreed to answer some of our questions below.

The Penguin Green Ideas series will make for wonderful additions to the recent influx of books on climate change and the environment. Could you tell us a bit about where the idea for the series originated?

Our former publicity director came up with the idea for the series in the wake of the publication of Greta Thunberg’s No One is Too Small to Make a Difference. Thunberg had managed to raise the temperature of the global conversation – we were suddenly talking about ‘the climate and ecological crisis’, about a house on fire, rather than gesturing to a milder vision of ‘climate change,’ which, if it was a threat at all, was somewhat obscure, or distant. The suggestion was that Thunberg was one of a line of great environmental thinkers, each of whom had made a similarly profound contribution to our understanding of the living planet. From our current vantage point, we could look back on the seventy-odd years of modern environmentalism and identify those key figures. Together they would form a new canon, and so it made sense to bring the series into Penguin Classics.

A fantastic array of important authors have been featured in the series. How did you approach decision-making when selecting excerpts?

The overall aim of the series was to draw out the emerging environmental canon, following it from its modern origins – roughly, Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac and Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, which exploded into public consciousness in the sixties – through to the present day, with major, agenda-setting works by Naomi Klein, Amitav Ghosh, George Monbiot, and others. A variety of subjects naturally followed, and so the series covers everything from art and literature to economics and geopolitics, though there is a guiding concern with sustainability throughout.

In thinking about the individual selections, we again took inspiration from Thunberg’s book of speeches. In just under 80 pages, Thunberg confronted readers with a new conception of the climate crisis. She jolted us into a new understanding of whom it affects – she is of the generation we are condemning through inaction; she will be 75 years old in 2078 – and who is responsible: ‘no one is too small to make a difference’ refers to the way that ‘every single kilo’ counts when it comes to carbon emissions; none of us is exempt. These speeches are the tip of an iceberg of research – of hours spent speaking with scientists, reading scientific journals – which would be out of reach for most readers. Thunberg’s genius is the way she distils the essence of the science and thus allows millions to absorb it. We had these principles in mind when approaching the other titles in the series – we sought out accessible, representative selections of each author’s central ideas: Leopold’s ‘land ethic,’ McKibben’s ‘end of nature’, Kimmerer’s ‘principle of reciprocity’, and so on.

Were there any challenges in putting together a series such as this?

What initially appeared to be a challenge – the logistics of co-ordinating a series remotely during a global pandemic – turned out to work to our benefit, as authors around the world have been able to connect and collaborate online as we launch the series. It has been a thrill to witness.

From the original concept to producing final copies, what ambitions do you hope to achieve with the series?

Together, the twenty short books encompass many of the key ideas in modern environmental thought. I hope that the series will be used by readers as a path through the vibrant, urgent, and perhaps occasionally overwhelming wider world of ecological writing.

With many more subjects to cover and authors to feature, are there plans to expand the series with future volumes?

Yes. Like any canon, this is an evolving ecosystem.



Q&A with Lynx Edicions

Lynx Edicions is a Barcelona-based publishing house, originally founded in 1989 to create the Handbook of the Birds of the World series. They are known for their fantastic ornithology titles, alongside a varied collection of general natural history. They have published over 150 titles, including field guides and bird checklists, and continually produce exciting works, such as their most recent publication Seabirds: The New Identification Guide, a full, 600-page treatment of all known seabird species. 

Lynx Edicions are our Publisher of the Month for August and have taken the time to answer some questions about their background, motivations, and current major project.

Could you please tell us a little bit about Lynx Edicions and your mission as a publishing house?

Lynx Edicions is a publishing house committed to providing high-quality ornithology and natural history books. It was founded to create the 17-volume Handbook of the Birds of the World series, the first work ever to illustrate and describe in-depth each member of an entire Class of the Animal Kingdom: Class Aves. We then applied the same detailed treatment to Class Mammalia with the Handbook of the Mammals of the World. Our work has not stopped there, but rather it has grown from this strong foundation. Furthermore, we are proud to collaborate with many different organizations and professionals to publish a wide range of titles devoted to promoting understanding and appreciation of ornithology and nature, as well as its conservation.


What inspired you to create your flagship publication, the Handbook of the Birds of the World?

In 1980, Lynx Co-founder Josep del Hoyo took a 13-month trip to Africa to explore the wildlife with a special focus on birds. In preparation for the trip, he purchased several bird field guides to help identify the species that he would be seeing. On his trip, he soon discovered that the books were not as helpful as he had imagined – they lacked details and, in some cases, they even lacked species! The experience with the books was frustrating, but Josep just thought that he had purchased the wrong books and that certainly a definitive work covering all the birds existed. However, when he returned from the trip and searched for a comprehensive treatise dedicated to birds, he surprisingly found there was none. This inspired him to create one himself and he was fortunate to find two partners, Jordi Sargatal and Ramón Mascort, to join him in this monumental effort. Together they founded Lynx Edicions in 1989 and set to work on the Handbook of the Birds of the World project.

What is the process of creating handbooks of this scale? What are the challenges involved?

Creating handbooks of this large scale involve a huge amount of collaborative effort and intricate coordination of data, materials, processes and professionals. For example, the Handbook of the Birds of the World includes detailed texts and high-quality illustrations from 277 specialists and 33 illustrators from 40 countries. The impactful photographs are the contributions of more than 850 photographers from all over the world. Of course, behind the scenes is also the hard work of a carefully orchestrated team including editors, coordinators, and production staff, as well as those dedicated to the logistics of selling and distributing the books across the world.

In addition to the challenges inherent in producing such a vast work, there are also challenges related to the important focus of the handbooks – the birds and mammals themselves – with information on species sometimes hard to find. Luckily the international ornithological and mammalogical communities have been highly supportive of the Handbook projects and have come to our aid repeatedly with data, photographs and other help to treat all the world’s birds and mammals in detail. We hope that, in a small way, the Handbooks have also encouraged some professionals to investigate, photograph and even protect species that had formerly not received as much attention.

The Handbook of the Birds of the World includes sections on species known to be extinct; why was this information important to include?

Conservation has always been an important goal of our publications, and we believe that “you cannot protect what you do not know”. So, to start, we aim to explain and illustrate the wonders of the natural world, so that people can see its value and fight to protect it. Another aspect is showing the reality of extinction and those remarkable species that we have already lost, which will hopefully lead people to act to avoid more species crossing the line into extinction. In our Handbooks, Illustrated Checklists, Field Guides and most recently All the Birds of the World, we have included the IUCN/BirdLife International conservation status for every species to help call attention to these important data. We have been very fortunate to collaborate with BirdLife International, Conservation International, IUCN, Re:wild and other international organizations to pursue the important goals of conservation through our work.

One of the publishing house’s main areas of expertise is in ornithology, with publications including field guides, illustrated checklists, and guides to bird conservation. What, in your opinion, are the greatest threats to bird biodiversity?

Habitat loss is probably the greatest threat to biodiversity on Earth today and it is certainly a devastating threat to bird biodiversity. In turn, habitat loss is directly related to human action as we modify and reshape the Earth for our uses. For example, some of the top threats to birds are related to habitat destruction and degradation, like agriculture, logging, invasive species, and climate change. Action by humans has been especially detrimental to forests, grasslands, wetlands, and other freshwater habitats.

We feel it is important to educate people about the importance of birds and their natural habitats, so that they can be encouraged to protect them and to find ways to coexist harmoniously. This is what has also inspired us to pursue our Field Guide collection for birds, as well as our Illustrated Checklist collection for mammals, in order to give local communities and travellers the tools to discover and protect local species and their habitats.

A current, major project is the Lynx and BirdLife International Field Guide Collection. Can you tell us a little about the motivation behind this series and why it is so important?

Carrying on from the previous point, this project came to life after years of conversations motivated by a shared idea between Lynx and BirdLife International that the existence of country field guides is a basic element for the “emergence” and education of birdwatchers, ornithologists, bird guides and naturalists in any given country, which, in turn, has important repercussions on the conservation of nature and biodiversity, both locally and globally. The principal goal of this collection is to produce modern, standardized field guides, especially for countries without any recent or country-level guide. The main collection is produced in English, including local-language names for the species when an official list exists. But we also have a secondary goal of publishing several of the titles in their local languages to enhance the local effects of the work. We are delighted by the success of the collection so far, with a growing number of titles authored by top experts, and we look forward to producing more now that hopefully travel will increase again after the challenging times of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Author Interview with James Aldred: Goshawk Summer

James Aldred is an award-winning documentary wildlife cameraman and filmmaker. James has collaborated on numerous high-profile projects with Sir David Attenborough, including Life of Mammals, Planet Earth and Our Planet, resulting in several BAFTA/RTS nominations. He is also the author of The Man Who Climbs Trees.

In his latest book, Goshawk Summer, James details his extraordinary and unique experience documenting a family of goshawks in the New Forest during the national lockdown of 2020. We have had the very fortunate opportunity to ask James some questions

Could you tell us about how you first came to be interested in the natural world?

Through time spent outdoors in the New Forest, where I spent much of my childhood. My teenage obsession was tracking deer, particularly Red, which were quite scarce in the Forest during the 1980s. I also got into tree climbing at an early age. Many of my friends were training to be foresters and tree surgeons and they showed me how to use ropes to access the forest canopy. I immediately fell in love with this hard-to-reach, but wildlife-rich environment and regularly took my stills camera up with me to try and capture images of the New Forest from this unique perspective.

Travel restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic presented a unique opportunity to document nature with very little human interference. Do you think this period of time will have had any lasting impacts on the country’s wildlife?

Yes, but in a rather unforeseen way. The space provided by the initial lockdown period definitely helped those birds and animals with a shorter breeding cycle, but ultimately the lockdown period was too short to be of much lasting benefit to a lot of the larger wildlife, including large ground-nesting birds such as curlew. The levels of disturbance in the post-lockdown period were very high in some places and this had the unfortunate effect of causing problems for those species that had not yet completed their breeding season. Ironically though, these high levels of disturbance in the countryside in the immediate aftermath of lockdown may yet provide useful data in terms of how best to manage large visitor numbers in the future as our population increases to grow and national parks are placed under increased pressure.

To capture footage of the goshawks required time, patience and understanding, but your efforts were clearly rewarded. Do you have any particular highlights from your goshawk summer?

There were so many, but I think the nesting dynamics between an adult male and female were particularly fascinating. Their relationship was surprisingly complex, subtle and even-keeled for such a fiery bird. The male often covered the clutch to keep the eggs warm whilst the female fed off site, and was even allowed to feed the chicks himself on several occasions whilst the female stood by and looked on. Very unusual for Goshawk females to tolerate their mate being so close to the chicks like this.

For a young aspiring naturalist, a career as a wildlife photographer would seem to be an ideal choice, especially since our collective experience and knowledge is usually limited to what we see on film/television or on paper. Could you tell us a bit about the reality of what it’s like to be a wildlife cameraman?

The reality is very anti-social working hours, high levels of frustration and a huge impact on home life! But I wouldn’t change it for the world as it is undoubtedly one of the most soul-nourishing jobs you could ever hope to do, in my opinion. It’s a tough, highly competitive industry, but this doesn’t mean you can’t get in through gentle persistence and dedication. Knowledge is everything: read, watch and learn everything you possibly can about your chosen wildlife subject before even attempting to film it.


What’s next for you? Do you have any current or future projects planned?

I’m currently working on a large project commissioned by a popular US-based video-on-demand provider. I’ve just been filming in the Congo for them and due to head out to Borneo soon. I’m also working on an exciting UK-based project about rewilding, which is a subject I find particularly compelling and relevant. All the more so since it is UK based and has the potential to inspire the next generation of naturalists.


Goshawk Summer
By: James Aldred
Hardback | July 2021 




Lynx: Publisher of the Month

Lynx Edicions is a Barcelona-based publishing house known for their fantastic ornithology titles, alongside a varied collection of general natural history. Originally founded in 1989 to create the Handbook of the Birds of the World series, they have since expanded to over 150 titles, including field guides, monographs, and bird checklists. They continually produce exciting works, such as their most recent publication Seabirds: The New Identification Guide, a full, 600-page treatment of all known seabird species. NHBS is delighted to announce Lynx Edicions as our Publisher of the Month for August.

Throughout August we will have special offers on a selection of titles, giving you the perfect opportunity to explore their books. Browse a selection of highlights below, or Lynx’s entire range here.








Handbook of the Birds of the World (16-Volume Set + Special Volume)
Josep Del Hoyo (editor) et al.
SERIES: Handbook of the Birds of the World (HBW)
Hardback | £1,999.00 £3,375.00

Handbook of the Birds of the World (16-Volume Set + Special Volume) comprises all volumes of HBW, illustrating and describing in detail every species of bird in the world. This is the first work ever to illustrate and describe in detail every species of bird in the world, and also the first to verbally and visually portray each member of an entire Class of the Animal Kingdom.


All the Birds of the World
Josep Del Hoyo (editor)
Hardback | £64.99 £84.99

An easy-to-use, fully-illustrated volume of all the birds of the world. Created for a broad audience, from novice birders to expert ornithologists and anyone interested in the spectacular diversity of birds, this fascinating book has something for everyone to discover.


European Breeding Bird Atlas 2
Verena Keller et al.
Hardback | £69.99 £84.99

This book represents the most up-to-date source of information on bird distribution and change in Europe, and is a great contribution to the global aim of understanding biodiversity to ensure its conservation.


Handbook of the Mammals of the World
Don E Wilson et al.
SERIES: Handbook of the Mammals of the World (HMW)
Hardback | £140.00 £155.00

Volume 9 completes the Handbook of Mammals of the World series, and it deals with the bats, order Chiroptera.

Read our interview with the series creators


Illustrated Checklist of the Mammals of the World
Connor J Burgin (editor) et al.
SERIES: Handbook of the Mammals of the World (HMW)
Hardback | £180.00 £200.00

This series of 9 large-format volumes describes and illustrates every currently recognised mammal species, and gives a detailed overview of each mammalian family. It provides up-to-date information on the evolutionary relationships, natural history, ecology, and current conservation status for all mammals.


Birds and Mammals of the Galapagos
Dušan M Brinkhuizen (Author), Jonas Nilsson (Author)
SERIES: Lynx and BirdLife International Field Guides
Flexibound | £22.99 £29.99

This comprehensive field guide covers all of the birds and mammals known to occur in the Galapagos archipelago, providing the latest insights on field identification and taxonomy for challenging groups such as pelagic birds, Darwin’s finches, and cetaceans.


Mammals of Madagascar 
Russell A Mittermeier et al.
SERIES: Lynx Illustrated Checklists Collection
Paperback | £18.99 £22.99

The first book to describe and illustrate every mammal species found in Madagascar. Also includes those of the nearby islands of Comoros, the Seychelles, Réunion and Mauritius.



All prices correct at the time of this article’s publication.

June Top 10

NHBS’s Top 10 bestsellers June 2021

We love looking back at our bestsellers from the month before, and are very excited to share our new monthly update featuring NHBS’s Top 10 for June.

This month, highlights include the latest addition to the New Naturalist series, Ecology and Natural History, as well as Insectinside, as recently featured on BBC’s SpringWatch.


secrets of a devon wood: my nature journal | jo brown
Hardback | October 2020

In top place and one of NHBS’s bestselling books to-date, Secrets of a Devon Wood has captured hearts and minds across the globe. Artist and illustrator Jo Brown started keeping her nature diary in a bid to document the small wonders of the wood behind her home in Devon. This book is an exact replica of her original black Moleskin journal, a rich illustrated memory of Jo’s discoveries in the order in which she found them.

Jo very kindly agreed to answer some of our questions for a Q&A. Read the full interview here.


Ecology and Natural history | David wilkinson
Hardback | June 2021

In second place – the latest addition to the New Naturalist Series, Ecology and Natural History.

Ecology is the science of ecosystems, of habitats, of our world and its future. In the latest New Naturalist, ecologist David M. Wilkinson explains key ideas of this crucial branch of science, using Britain’s ecosystems to illustrate each point.

We have a limited number of signed bookplates for the hardback edition, available while stocks last


Insectinside: life in the bushes of a small peckham park | penny metal 
Paperback | October 2017

As recently featured on BBC’s SpringwatchInsectinside is a fantastic book featuring hundreds of species of insect that have all been found in Warwick Gardens in Peckham by author, Penny Metal.


With Penny’s incredible photographs and often humorous social commentary, Insectinside is an inspiring look at the diversity you can find just beyond your doorstep, as well as the vital importance of our natural spaces.

We caught up with Penny to ask her some questions about her book – read the full interview here.


Britain’s insects:  Field guide to the insects of great britain and irelanD | Paul brock
Flexibound | May 2021

Britain’s Insects is an innovative, up-to-date, carefully designed and beautifully illustrated field guide to Britain and Ireland’s twenty-five insect orders, concentrating on popular groups and species that can be identified in the field. Featuring superb photographs of live insects, Britain’s Insects covers the key aspects of identification and provides information on status, distribution, seasonality, habitat, food plants and behaviour.


the wild flower key: how to identify wild flowers, trees and shrubs in britain and ireland | francis rose, et al.
Paperback | December 2006

Revised and expanded edition of this essential guide with full keys to more than 1600 wild plants found in Britain and Ireland.

This edition of The Wild Flower Key is packed with extra identification tips, innovative features designed to assist beginners and many more illustrations.



Great british marine animals | paul naylor
Paperback | June 2021

With 500 new photographs, the 4th edition is by far the largest revision of Great British Marine Animals to date and see the number of pages increase from 320 to 432, while the fourth edition features 930 colour photos, versus 600 previously. This book is an eye-opening celebration of the wonderful diversity of animals that live in British seas, and the colourful and fascinating ways they go about their lives.


a field guide to grasses, sedges, and rushes | dominic price
Spiralbound | April 2016

A Field Guide to the Grasses, Sedges and Rushes aims to simplify the identification of this fascinating group of plants, using characters that are both easy to spot in the field and simple to remember. Over 100 species are described, focussing on key features of both their genus and species.

Read our interview with Dominic Price here.


grasses: A Guide to identification using vegetative characters | Hilary wallacePaperback | April 2021

Developed by highly experienced field botanist and habitat surveyor Hilary Wallace, this groundbreaking guide uses vegetative characters to all the grass species found in the UK.

This Grasses guide is part of the FSC’s AIDGAP series (Aids to Identification in Difficult Groups of Animals and Plants).

FSC are our current Publisher of the Month! Read our blog here about FSC and the fantastic series’ they produce.


britain’s mammals: a field guide to the mammals of great britain and ireland | Dominic Couzens, et al.
Flexibound | June 2021

Britain’s Mammals is a comprehensive and beautifully designed photographic field guide to all the mammals recorded in the wild in Great Britain and Ireland in recent times – including marine mammals, bats and introduced species that have bred.

The updated edition features minor amendments to the 2017 version.


flight identification of european passerines and select landbirds: an illustrated and photographic guide | tomasz cofta
Flexibound | March 2021

A ground-breaking guide with numerous features. Aimed at identifying European passerines in flight, this book provides Tomasz Cofta’s illustrations with photos, species descriptions, flight call descriptions and sonograms, and supplementary audio recordings online.


Author Interview with Jo Brown: Secrets of a Devon Wood

One of NHBS’s bestselling books to date, Secrets of a Devon Wood has captivated people across the globe. An exact replica of Jo Brown’s original Moleskine journal, each page features extraordinary illustrations of species such as the buff-tailed bumblebee, blue tit, red campion and oyster mushroom, and are accompanied by detailed observations and notes regarding physiology and life history. Inspiring for naturalists and budding artists alike, this book will be one to treasure.

Jo Brown is a professional illustrator and a blogging sensation. She graduated from Falmouth College of Arts in 2000 with a BA Honours in Illustration and works from her home studio in Teignmouth. She has very kindly answered some of our questions below.

Firstly, could you tell us about your background and how your interest in the natural world began?

Image by Jo Brown

I’ve been interested in nature from a very young age and have many early memories of my mum taking me into the garden to show me woodlice, spiders and butterflies. I always knew I was going to be an artist, because it was the only thing I ever really wanted to do. I first explored art at school and had a great relationship with my art teacher. Later, when I left university in Falmouth, I freelanced and took on design jobs and commissions, though often creating content that didn’t speak to me. Nature and art together came much later when I felt able to produce artwork for myself.

We all absolutely love your book and the original way it’s been produced. When you first started your sketchbook, did you anticipate having it published at the end?

No! I wasn’t even thinking about publishing – the journal was a personal project. I realised very early on that when I draw and document things, I remember them. I remember things like Rumex Obtusifolius (the Latin name for Doc Leaf) – it’s been a wonderful learning tool and almost everything I’ve learned about nature, I’ve learned entirely on my own through observation, supported by research.

After putting up a flick-through video of the journal on YouTube in 2019, my followers jumped from 9 thousand, to 20 thousand overnight. This was incredibly overwhelming for someone who is a bit of a recluse and spends a lot of time on their own. I was approached by several publishers and agents from the UK and US, and came out of the other side with an agent, Clare Wallace, and a publishing deal with Short Books. It was genuine recognition of my work and a wonderful moment. Short books allowed me complete creative control and wanted to publish my journal as it was without any changes.

The response to your book has been phenomenal and people all over the world have been inspired by your artwork. What advice would you give to any new, budding artists?

Image by Jo Brown

I would say to begin with, if you find or see something that inspires you, whatever it may be – satisfy yourself first. Don’t draw for anyone else – as long as you’re happy with the work that you’re doing and you’re improving your own skillset and artistic evolution; it doesn’t matter what anybody else thinks. It’s not about what’s popular, or to gain recognition or approval – the only approval you need is your own. As long as you put your passion into whatever you’re interested in, nothing else really matters. It’s an absolutely flooded market, but try to find your own way in and fulfil your own needs. Building your own style takes years.

It’s always wonderful to see a combined passion and talent for both art and science, as they are often seen as very separate entities. How do you think art can be better used to encourage environmental awareness?

As people’s attention span seems to have naturally decreased in the age of social media, I try to use my art to stop people scrolling for a minute. If you can hold someone’s attention with an image, you then have a chance to offer up some relevant information in the words beneath – a chance to promote conservation and environmental awareness.

Did you face any challenges while putting together Secrets of a Devon Wood?

Image by Jo Brown

Finishing the book under a national lockdown was incredibly pressured. It was very difficult to feel inspired during such a tremendously hard time. In the middle of the first lockdown, I was coming up to the end of the book and the deadline was looming. If it was up to me, I’d have produced 200-300 more pages, but I had to be realistic. After a month extension, and after weeks of sweat and worry, I completed the last 9-10 pages – half of the book was completed in my own garden because of being in lockdown. The most challenging part of producing the book was getting the work on pages.

We’ve heard exciting rumours of a second nature journal – is this something you’re currently working on? What is your focus this time and when might we expect this to be published?

Yes, though the first book took 2 years to create. I have no deadline for the 2nd Nature Journal, and I have experienced terrible creative block in the third lockdown. When you’re an artist, you need peace and little stress to be in the zone. The 2nd Nature Journal will be water-based, focusing on species within 3 miles of the coast. Journalling will be an ongoing project for me, even if it isn’t published; I’ll never run out of subject matter! I will also be involved in other books and be selling my artwork online.


Secrets of a Devon Wood
By: Jo Brown
Hardback | Published October 2020



Author Interview with Jon Dunn: The Glitter in the Green

Jon Dunn is a natural history writer, photographer and wildlife tour leader. He is the author of the fantastic Orchid Summer among other books, and his writing and photographs have been featured in Britain’s Mammals and numerous wildlife magazines and journals.

In his latest book, The Glitter in the Green, Jon documents his expeditions from the farthest reaches of Alaska to the tip of South America in Tierra del Fuego in search of hummingbirds. Weaving history and travel writing together, the book describes the special place hummingbirds have in both mythology and culture, all while addressing not only how hummingbirds have suffered in the past, but the threats they face today. Jon kindly agreed to answer some of our questions below.

When and how did you first discover hummingbirds and what is it that draws you to them?

I’ve got the Natural History Museum in London to thank for planting the seed that was to grow, over the years, into a full-blown hummingbird habit. I was a young kid in the 1980s, taken to London by my mother for a day doing the usual tourist things – she wisely saved a visit to NHM London until later in the day, as she knew once I was in there I wouldn’t want to leave.

Amongst the many exhibits one in particular caught me by surprise – a large glass cabinet filled with hummingbird taxidermy. I know, that’s a bit bleak by the standards of today, but back then all I had eyes for were the shapes, forms and colours of the birds. They were so very different to the birds I was used to seeing in the Somerset countryside around our home. After that, every now and again I’d see footage of hummingbirds on wildlife documentaries, and began to appreciate further just how remarkable they were – what Tim Dee described as ‘strange birds: not quite birds or somehow more than birds, birds 2.0, perhaps’.

As a naturalist and a storyteller, I’m a bit like a bowerbird, drawn to colour. Hummingbirds really have it all going on – their biology is one superlative after another; their plumage is jewel-like; they’re found throughout the Americas in almost every conceivable habitat; and they’ve fascinated mankind from our earliest recorded encounters with them – there’s a rich vein of stories to dig into. 

Were there any particular encounters that stood out for you during your research?

Seeing my first Marvellous Spatuletail caught me by surprise. They’re renowned for their plumage and rarity alike, so I was prepared to feel that cocktail of joy and relief familiar to any birder who’s just caught up with a keenly anticipated species. The reality though far exceeded that – the delicacy of the bird compared to the many other hummingbird species swirling around the clearing in question, those preposterous tail feathers, the culmination of waiting decades to see one… I found that a bird could be literally as well as metaphorically jaw-dropping.

There were plenty of other moments that I’ll hold in my heart, and they don’t all involve the iconic, rare species. One such was watching Golden-tailed Sapphires, a hummingbird that looks as if it’s been dipped in rainbows, feeding in a clearing in the immediate aftermath of a heavy rain shower. As the sun broke through the dripping vegetation and steaming air we were suddenly surrounded by myriad small rainbows through which the birds were flying. That moment was ephemeral, over almost as soon as it began, but it’s etched in my memory forever. 

Hummingbirds have long been venerated and romanticised in art and in your book you talk about the emotive response that hummingbirds elicit in people. Why do you think that this is?

I found myself asking myself that very question as my journey into their world unfolded… Hummingbirds certainly seem to touch something deep inside us. They featured in the mythology of the Aztecs; inspired the most dramatic of all of the immense geoglyphs carved into the desert floor by the Nazca; appear in renowned art and literature; and, to this day, are singled out for particular love by those whose gardens they frequent, people who would not necessarily identify themselves as birders.

I think it’s their character as much as their beauty that has always called to us – many species are confiding, and are happy to feed in close proximity to us. Over millennia we’ve given many animals ample cause to be shy of us – and indeed, down the years we’ve slaughtered hummingbirds in their millions for their feathers, whether they were to feature in Aztec status symbols, Catholic icons or on 19th century hats. Yet despite this, hummingbirds remain unphased by our presence. Perhaps there’s something subconsciously reassuring about that.    

In order to see some species, your expeditions took you to some very remote places. Did this present any challenges?

Inevitably there were some logistical challenges to contend with, not least having to reacquaint myself with horse-riding after a decades-long and deliberate avoidance of it! There were a couple of close encounters with large predators that were, in hindsight, more alarming than they felt at the time – as a naturalist, I was thrilled to get (very) close views of a puma… But perhaps the most challenging moment of all was landing in Bolivia at the very moment the country was taking to the streets to protest the outcome of a recent presidential election. There was an incident at a roadblock manned by armed men that was genuinely scary, with an outcome that hung in the balance for a terrifying instant, and could easily have ended badly.

Hummingbirds face many threats to their existence, including habitat loss, climate-change, deforestation, as you talk about in your book. Post-research, do you feel any optimism for these magnificent creatures?

This is a really difficult question. On the one hand, I learned of examples of conservation where hummingbirds – amongst other species, of course – were the beneficiaries of excellent conservation work at a local level. On the other hand, when you start to take a pragmatic long view of our impact to date on the habitats the birds rely upon across the Americas, it’s hard to remain upbeat. We’ve destroyed so much already, especially in the past century – and with a growing global population, the pressures of economic development are only going to intensify human activity and its impacts.    

I sometimes think there’s almost too much optimism expressed when talking about conservation challenges anywhere in the world – a narrative that suggests “if we only care enough, the [insert iconic species name here] can be saved”. And to a degree, that’s good – we’ve got to have hope, as the alternative is too dreadful to countenance – but given our impact to date, and in an uncertain future where the effects of climate change are still unfolding and will continue for many decades to come, to name just the biggest of the mounting pressures on the natural world, I’m not sure that I do feel terribly optimistic, least of all for those hummingbird species that have very localized populations, or depend upon very specific habitats. They’re undeniably vulnerable. But like Fox Mulder, I want to believe…   

 Do you have any plans for further books?

I do indeed… Having delved into the worlds of two of my personal favourites, terrestrial orchids and hummingbirds, in the last two books, the book I’m currently writing will have a wider focus – exploring the evolving relationship between humanity and the natural world. It’ll be a deep dive into a world of obsession, joy, exploitation and wonder – a place where the truth is stranger than fiction. 


The Glitter in the Green
By: Jon Dunn
Hardback | June 2021


All prices correct at the time of this article’s publication.


Author Interview with Penny Metal: Insectinside

As recently featured on BBC’s Springwatch, Insectinside is a fantastic book featuring hundreds of species of insect that have all been found in Warwick Gardens in Peckham by author, Penny Metal.

With Penny’s incredible photographs and often humorous social commentary, Insectinside is an inspiring look at the diversity you can find just beyond your doorstep, as well as the vital importance of our natural spaces.

Can you tell us about your background and how you came to write this book?

I have a background in graphic design and often work in the area of nature conservation. This means I get to see what projects are happening etc. I work from home and decided to spend my lunch breaks in my local park photographing and surveying insects. I learned about the insects, watched them and counted the sheer number of species, and realised that no one else had actually surveyed a small urban park extensively. The book came about as I wanted to show people what was living in the bushes and to put Peckham on the entomological map!

Insectinside is written from the unique perspective of the insects that dwell in Peckham Park. What inspired you to write this way, rather than in a more traditional prose?

I wanted to try a different way of presenting information that would ‘hook’ people and short stories were the way to go. A lot of people don’t like insects and comparing their lives to ours not only elevates them, it gives the reader another perspective on how wonderful they are, and you can add a bit of humour alongside topics which are happening at the time (gentrification, Brexit etc). I find them fun to write, and am often inspired by how an insect looks or acts and what is going on in the news and try and link the two together. It is a good way to introduce some of the lesser known insects. My strategy appears to have worked!

Do you have any favourite species that you would like to tell us about?

I am a big fan of wasps, especially parasitic wasps. My favourite is the Gasteruption jaculator and watching her squeeze herself into the tiniest beetle holes where the scissor bees nest to lay her eggs is a sight to behold.

Recreational places like parks might not always be considered for their conservation potential. What can you tell us about the significance of parkland in the UK?

I think parks have been overlooked as areas of conservation. They can be large places and they have to work hard – recreation, dog spaces, playgrounds, sports spaces, neat formal areas for aesthetics etc, lighting, and usually open 24 hours – but there is no reason why we can’t include habitats for our wildlife. A simple solution would be to leave areas un-mowed to grow wild. In the parks of my local area in London, large swathes of grasses and flowers have been left to mature and people have been really receptive to it. I think we are finally moving away from the Victorian ideal of neat and tidy!

With an ever-growing population in the UK, parklands are becoming increasingly busier. What do you think we need to do to protect our natural spaces?

Tell people to stop destroying them, and to take their rubbish home! Luckily there is more awareness now about the importance of our natural spaces, though there is a way to go yet to get everyone on board. Personally, I would like for our natural spaces to be so integrated into our lives that we can drop names like ‘nature reserve’ and just appreciate nature for what it is.

The book has a great many beautiful insect photographs, taken by yourself. Do you have any advice for aspiring macro-photographers?

Keep a sharp eye and a steady hand! Watch them to see how they move – for instance dragonflies tend to return to their perch a couple of times before they fly away for good.  And a sunny day with clouds is the best time to photograph flying insects as they stop and have a rest when the sun is hidden.

By: Penny Metal
Paperback | Due in stock soon |  £19.99


All prices correct at the time of this article’s publication.








Author Interview with Adam Nicolson: The Sea Is Not Made of Water

From the author of The Seabird’s Cry, Adam Nicolson’s new book The Sea Is Not Made of Water offers a glimpse into the intricacies and minutiae of the intertidal zone. Blending ecology and human history, poetry and prose, Adam takes us on a fascinating journey to the shore.

Adam is a journalist and prize-winning author of books on history, landscape and nature – among many other accolades, he won the 2018 Wainwright Prize for Nature Writing. He has also made several television and radio series on a variety of subjects.

First of all, we loved The Seabird’s Cry and were very excited to learn of The Sea Is Not Made of Water about intertidal zones. Could you tell us about what drew you to this habitat and the inspiration behind your book?

For nearly thirty years now I have been going to stay in a small house at the head of a bay on the west coast of Scotland. It is somewhere my wife’s family have been going for generations and now our children and grandchildren love it too. It has everything you might long for from a place like that: cliffs, woods, waterfalls, a dark beach made of basalt sands, a lighthouse, a ruined castle, stories, beauty, birds, fish; but one thing it did not have because of the geology, was a rockpool. For years I have dreamed of making one – a place of stillness set in the tide, and this book is the story of how I made three of them in different parts of the bay; one dug in with a pickaxe; one made by damming a narrow exit to the sea from a hollow so that the dam held the pool behind it; and one by making a circular wall low down in the intertidal.

The foreshore belongs here to the Scottish crown, and so I got permission to do this first and then set about making the pools – wanting them to be cups of what I learned to call bio-receptivity – beginning with quite literally a rock-pool, an empty planetary space, and then waiting to see what the sea would deliver to them. An enlargement of the habitat. A tiny gesture to counteract the lack of accommodation we are all making for the natural world. In a way, no more than making sandcastles, but sandcastles that would invite their inhabitants in and would last more than a single tide.

Shorelines and rock pools are incredibly biodiverse environments; how did you decide which species to write about?

It was not about rarities. I thought for a while I should call the book ‘All the Usual Beauty’. And anyway the species selected themselves. I began at the top of the beach at the spring equinox, although there was not a hint of spring, when I started poking around in the seaweeds thrown up there by the winter storms. Nothing else seemed to be alive on this frozen March day, but lift away the lid of weed and quite literally the sandhoppers sprang into life around me. Again and again they went though their routine: leap, wriggle, play dead, leap, wriggle, play dead. Almost toy-like in their repetitions.

And so that provided the model – see what was there and look carefully at it. Of course, books like mine are entirely parasitic on the work of many generations of biologists and that too turned out to be the pattern. Watch the sand hoppers and then read about them. Read about them and see how much of what I read I could find on the shore. With prawns, winkles, shore crabs, anemones, limpets, sea-stars, urchins and barnacles, I simply oscillated between the pools and my books: what was there? What had people discovered about them? How did they interact? What were the principles governing their presence or absence? And with all of that came the repeated and slightly sobering realisation that unless I knew to look for something it was very difficult to see it was there. Mysteriously, we are often blind to what is in front of our eyes.

Did you discover anything particularly interesting that you were previously unaware of during your research?

So much! I never knew that sandhoppers could inherit from their parents an understanding of where the sea was and how to get there. That winkles can tell if a crab has been in their pool. That crabs, even in the tiniest of larval stages, can recognise the movements and timings of the tides. That sea anemones can identify other sea anemones that are not their relations and effectively destroy them. That prawns have an imagination – that might sound like too much, but it has been shown that they can remember past pain and project it into present and future anxieties. Anxiety is different from fear; it is a fear of what might be there. In other words a prawn can think beyond its present reality.

Some of my most treasured childhood memories involve investigating Dorset shorelines and delighting in the incredible variety of species I would find there. What do you think it is about the shoreline that people connect with so strongly?

I think maybe the shore is so alluring because it is both so strange and so easily to hand. It is a revelation of another world a yard or two away from our own. The temptation is to think of the pool as a natural garden, but it is a very odd and very wild garden. Looking perhaps as settled and delicate as a painting but in fact a theatre and cockpit of competition and rivalry. And garden whose walls are dissolved twice a day, an enclosure that becomes part of the general world with every high tide. That ambiguity is what entranced me, the sense of its being a micro-ocean, a micro-arcadia, a micro-laboratory in which all kinds of intimacies and precision in natural beings can be witnessed an inch beneath your nose.

Although adaptable, rocky shore inhabitants are not invincible, what do you think is the biggest threat to the rocky shore ecosystem and are some species more at risk than others?

Sea-level rise should not cause the inhabitants of rocky shores too many problems. They will climb the rocks in time with the water. But other anthropogenic effects are quite likely to be catastrophic. Animals that depend on their shell for protection are living in an increasingly hostile world. Everywhere in the North Atlantic outside Europe, as the Dutch evolutionary biologist Geerat J. Vermeij has written, an increase in shell thickness has been taken as a response ‘to the spread of the introduced European green crab (Carcinus maenas), but these changes may also have resulted from an overall increase in the abundance of native shell-crushing crabs (Cancer spp.) and lobsters (Homarus americanus) as the predators (including cod) of these crustaceans were overfished’.

The destruction of the cod and the collapse of their position as an apex predator in the Atlantic has made it a sea of claws. That hugely increased claw count, and competition between the clawed animals, has risen to the point where the shell-dwellers are feeling the pressure and have responded as shell-dwellers and shell-wearers must: by thickening their defences and toughening their lives.

But modern life has provided them with another hurdle: the acidification of the world ocean. One-third of all the carbon dioxide that has been emitted since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution has been absorbed by seawater, turning it acid. Making shells and skeletons, drawing calcium carbonate from the water, is more difficult in an acid sea. All kinds of ripple effects will spread out from that: more crabs, fewer winkles, denser algae and a disruption of the entire coastal ecosystem.

The effect is more than purely chemical. When sea-fish are exposed to acid water, their senses of smell and hearing are both disrupted. Young fish find it more difficult to learn, become less frightened by danger and are even attracted to the smell of predators. The same now seems to be true of shellfish. Acid water is distorting the minds of animals in the entire ecosystem.

Do you have any further projects or books in the pipeline?

I do! I am writing a long piece on English chalk-streams and also slowly researching a book about the birds in the wood at home. And I would love to write something one day about the mammals of the Scottish sea. Otters, seals, whales and dolphins. One day!

The Sea Is Not Made of Water
By: Adam Nicolson
Hardback | Due June 2021 | £16.99 £19.99


All prices correct at the time of this article’s publication.

Author Interview with Sarah Gibson: Swifts and Us

Whirling swifts overhead are evocative of early summer, and their arrival to the UK brings joy to many. In Swifts and Us, Sarah Gibson explores what is currently known about swifts and their ancestry, while also addressing some of the contributing factors to their huge decline over the last few decades. She meets key experts and researchers as well as many determined individuals, all advocating for change to ensure the swifts’ survival.

Sarah Gibson is Press Officer for Shropshire Wildlife Trust, as well as Editor of the members’ magazine. She also regularly writes nature columns for her local magazines and newspapers. Sarah has kindly agreed to answer some of our questions below.

Firstly, could you tell us about where the motivation for your book came from?

I’d become passionate about swifts since moving into a town from the country.  Then I had a long period of illness and would be exhausted after the briefest of conversations and couldn’t even walk up my street – I was so slow I would be overtaken by very old people on Zimmer frames. It seemed as though I’d hit 97 five decades prematurely.

Then I got better and decided it was time to do something new with my life – alongside my now part-time job at Shropshire Wildlife Trust. I knew I could string words together, so decided to research and write a book about swifts to try and inspire others to love and take action for them too.

During your research, did you discover anything especially interesting that you were previously unaware of about swifts?

That hummingbirds are the swift’s closest relatives! Fossil evidence from 52 million years ago found in Wyoming, USA, revealed a bird that is the forerunner of both. The characteristic common feature is a super-strong, stout humerus bone, that would enable the swift to endure and flourish in perpetual flight and the hummingbird to flap its wings 50 times per second as it hovers over flowers collecting nectar. Their shared ancestry seems less surprising when you think about the intense aerial demands of both birds. 

Your book features exceptional and inspirational people that have fought to ensure nest spots are protected and accessible for returning swifts. Do you have any particular highlights or success stories that you’d like to talk about here?

Photograph by Laurent Godel

The Crescent Art Centre in Belfast is a cross-community cultural hub, bringing people together from all backgrounds.  It also has a thriving colony of swifts and when major renovation work began 12 years ago, the architects and builders worked with a local swift champion to ensure that access to the original nesting holes was retained and additional holes provided by integrating nest bricks into the walls. This is a great example of how renovation doesn’t have to lead to ruin for swifts.  It can be achieved, if thoughtfully carried out. This swift colony is now a living emblem of the arts centre and its aspirations – uniting people across boundaries. 

What role can citizen science play in surveying and monitoring swifts?

Photograph by Ulrich Tigges

Local surveys to identify swift breeding sites are very valuable. Knowledge of swift colonies can at times make it possible to work with building owners when renovation works are planned, so that nesting holes can be retained. When the data is fed through to local biological records centres, the presence of swifts in particular areas will be flagged up to planners who will sometimes, but not always make it a condition for development that nest bricks should be integrated into buildings.

The RSPB’s SwiftMapper is a useful tool and you can find out about surveying with local swift groups from Action for Swifts or Swift Conservation.

Habitat destruction, climate change and a stark reduction in their food supply are just a few factors contributing to the decline of swifts over the past 20 years – the odds appear completely stacked against them. Post-research for your book, do you feel any optimism for the future of these incredible birds?

Photograph by Piotr Szczypa

Contemplating the global crisis in nature can lead to despair. Our inability to prevent the destruction of wild habitats and the wild creatures that depend on it strikes deep into our souls, but worrying about the future cripples our ability to act, so I try to live in the present. It is what we do now that will shape the future and we need all of our energy to bring better times.

Climate change is inextricably linked to the degradation of nature. At last, there seems to be a glimmer of awakening at a political level to the fact that nurturing nature is essential for all our sakes. The campaign for 30% of land and sea to be protected by 2030 across the world brings hope but it needs a radical reset of values to be achieved.  All of us though, can do something to help bring it to reality. 

Do you have any current projects or plans for further books that you’d like to tell us about?

I’ve just been down to my local cemetery where there’s a project to turn the unmarked graves area into a wildflower meadow.  The yellow rattle seed we sowed last August is coming up, along with cowslips and violets.  It will be a living memorial for those buried beneath and will attract bees and other pollinators.  I’m also keeping an eye on the eaves of a medieval building managed by the town council. Restoration work on the timbers last autumn included six bespoke swift nest boxes – fingers crossed! 

There will be another book but I haven’t written it yet.  It will explore the connectedness of people with nature but I can’t reveal more just now.


Swifts and Us
By: Sarah Gibson
Hardback | Published May 2021 | £16.99

We have a very limited number of bookplates signed by Sarah, available while stocks last.

All prices correct at the time of this article’s publication.