Author Interview with James Lowen: Much Ado About Mothing

James Lowen is an award-winning writer whose work is regularly featured in The Telegraph, BBC Wildlife and Nature’s Home, among other publications. He is also an editor, lecturer, consultant and keen photographer.

From hiking up mountains, to checking his garden moth-trap with his daughter, Much Ado About Mothing is a wonderfully written, engaging account of James’ travels in search of Britain’s rarest and most remarkable moths. James has kindly agreed to answer some of our questions about his latest book below.

Could you tell us a little bit about your background and how you came to write Much Ado About Mothing?

I’m a Norfolk-based naturalist and author who has written 12 books, all broadly sitting in the nexus of wildlife, travel and conservation. Two of those books: A Summer of British Wildlife and 52 European Wildlife Weekends, won Travel Guidebook of the Year awards, which was most pleasing and inspired me to both attempt some longer-form writing (Much Ado About Mothing is fundamentally a travel narrative – an exploration of Britain) and take on a more ‘challenging’ topic. And what could be more challenging than championing the very animals (moths) that the general public purports to hate? 

I could readily understand where so many people were coming from in harbouring disdain for moths. For decades, I was also virulently anti-moth, (pre)judging them as uninteresting and usually irritating little brown jobs that remained invisible yet destroyed my suits. However, when a friend showed me a Poplar Hawk-moth, I remember the date precisely: 7 July 2012, my world changed forever.  Wrapped in silver and grizzled with iron filings, this sweetly furry being opened my eyes, brought me to my senses and revolutionised the way that I engage with nature. Over time, I came to appreciate that moths provided a huge variety of incredibly rich tales about ecology and evolution, camouflage and conservation. The more I learned, the more I felt that moths were unduly maligned. So I set out to champion these underdogs through telling their stories in this new book, aiming to challenge people’s preconceptions, correct common misunderstandings and reboot our collective attitudes. 

I really enjoyed reading about you and your daughter’s shared excitement when visiting your moth-trap. How do you think we can best encourage environmental awareness in young people on a broader scale?

First up, my daughter and I came to believe that moths provided surprisingly good ambassadors for natural beauty. This is by dint of their unexpected accessibility (there are probably hundreds of species living covertly around your garden), their unanticipated beauty (many moths ‘out-colour’ our butterflies!) and their welcome placidity (unlike most flighty insects, moths typically sit peaceably, thereby allowing prolonged perusal). To a certain extent, I think the same virtues, when converted into principles, apply to encouraging environmental awareness in youngsters, because there’s no substitute for first-hand experience. Let’s increasingly make wildlife accessible through urban nature reserves: Carlton Marshes on the outskirts of Lowestoft is a good recent example. Let’s showcase the beauty of animals and plants, running events that draw people’s attention to experiences that they would likely otherwise miss. And let’s put particular effort into helping people see non-skittish creatures: a close-up encounter with a ladybird is more likely to achieve a lasting impression than a distant view of a flying bird. 

Your book is filled with extraordinary and surprising facts about moths. Do you have any particular facts or discoveries that you’d like to share with us here?

Gosh, there are so many amazing factual nuggets that it’s hard to pick just a few. For a start, I love moths’ tales of mimicry (clearwings disguise themselves as wasps), camouflage (some moths conceal themselves as desiccated leaves, twigs and even bird poo) and migratory prowess (tiny, fragile creatures flying a thousand-plus miles). There’s wackiness too: china-mark moths, whose caterpillars live underwater; Sandhill Rustic, whose adults can swim underwater; Scarce Silver-lines, which sings from oak trees; various moths that are engaged in an evolutionary arms race with bats; Indian Meal Moth and Wax Moth, whose caterpillars can digest polyethylene and polypropylene (perhaps conceivably hinting at a solution to the global plastics problem?); and even one New World moth whose cells have proved critical for producing the Novavax COVID vaccine.

In terms of personal discoveries, dedicating a year to moths provided a rich vein of opportunities to try and push the boundaries of knowledge, particularly where this helped conservation organisations. Two finds particularly stand out. Helping out on a Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust survey, we came across the first adult female Marsh Moth seen in Britain since 1948; in the intervening seventy years, only males of this quixotic species had been seen! Then, within a mile of my Norwich home, I contrived to track down a new site for one of our most threatened and poorly understood moths, Marsh Carpet. As far as I am aware, the three we caught were the only adults seen anywhere in Britain that year and more than anyone had caught in a single night for years. Even better, this set in train a relationship between Butterfly Conservation and the land manager (Environment Agency), which should help protect the moth here. Both discoveries speak volumes about both how much we have to learn about these wonderful animals and how readily even inexperienced and distinctly amateur moth-ers can make tangible contributions to conservation.

Which aspect of documenting the moths did you find the most challenging?

In a year-long quest to see rare and remarkable moths across the whole of Britain, failure constantly whispers its name. It only takes one thing to go wrong, from bad weather, early flight season or late emergence to inept choice of survey sites and elusive species, for the entire pursuit to fail. With relatively inflexible dates to boot, we really were reliant on everything going right on every trip, which is a high-risk strategy when, for example, driving eleven hours to Scotland’s Ardnamurchan Peninsula to look for a particular sun-loving, day-flying moth. I guess the other thing to emphasise is that whereas moth-trapping in your garden makes for gloriously lazy wildlife-watching, simply flick the switch and let the insects come to you, surveying moths in remote places is contrastingly hard work. After a long drive, often on the back of little sleep, you need to lug heavy generators and a fleet of moth traps up steep slopes or across difficult terrain. And then you need to stay alert all night to make sure you don’t miss anything. I didn’t get much sleep that year…  

You mention in your book that climate change is fluctuating in its effect on moths, with some species thriving in the warmer temperatures, while others are under much more pressure. Having finished your book, do you feel hopeful for the future of lepidoptera?

Yes and no. Britain’s moth ‘balance sheet’ is pretty complicated, as a recent report by Butterfly Conservation shows. Since 1900, we’ve gained nearly 140 new colonists, but perhaps fifty species have gone extinct. Others seem likely to follow: roughly one in eight of our larger moths are nationally threatened or near threatened. Four times as many species are enduring long-term declines as long-term increases and that includes previously very common and widespread ‘generalist’ moths such as Garden Tiger and Garden Dart. Most worryingly of all, one-third fewer moths are flying today than fifty years ago.

On balance, that’s a gloomy picture. But there’s hope too. Among several environmental organisations, Butterfly Conservation is doing ever more to save moths, from an initiative to connect populations of Barberry Carpet to intrepid endeavours to safeguard the UK’s only site for New Forest Burnet. This is underpinned by surging engagement with moths among folk interested in nature. During the first COVID lockdown, retailers sold out of moth traps such was the demand for the kit. In 2020, nearly 75% more people submitted records of moths to Devon’s county recorder than the previous year. There’s definitely a growing wave on enthusiasm and passion for moths, and that’s got to be a very good thing. 

Do you have any other projects in the pipeline?

Much Ado About Mothing is a book about people as well as place and moths. One of the things I learned during my travels is that many people are deterred from entering the world of moths by the difficulty of identifying them, ‘all the moths look the same’ was a regular refrain. Some brilliant field guides to moths exist, but there seemed to be a demand to complement them with a book that helped newcomers to the hobby easily put a name to our commoner species. The result is my next book,  Britain’s Moths: A Gateway Guide, which came out in September 2021. It aims to be a ‘gateway’ to both the enchanting world of moths and to those more detailed field guides. I hope it inspires more and more people to discover these amazing animals – and then fall for them, just as I have done.

Much Ado About Mothing
By: James Lowen

HarperCollins: Publisher of the Month

Originally founded in 1819 as Williams Collins & Sons, today HarperCollins is one of the world’s foremost publishers, with an extensive catalogue covering both fiction and non-fiction. Producers of the justly famous New Naturalist series, and the familiar Collins Classic Field Guides, there can be few people interested in wildlife who do not have a few of HarperCollins’ natural history titles somewhere on their bookshelves.

Working with a range of authors from the bestselling and prize-winning to the brilliant debut, HarperCollins has forged a reputation for publishing books that investigate, challenge, and push forward the thinking of the day.

New Naturalist Series

Established in 1945, the iconic New Naturalist series is arguably the most influential natural history series in the world with first editions highly collectable and much sought after. Covering a wide range of subjects and appealing to both professionals and naturalists alike, the series are consistent bestsellers for NHBS.

June 2021 sees the arrival of the latest volume in the series, Ecology and Natural History, with Peak District to follow in October and Trees in November.



Nature Writing and Popular Science

Recent publishing has included some fantastic additions to HarperCollins repertoire of nature writing, including Roy Dennis’ Restoring the Wild, which draws on his life’s work as a field ornithologist and expert in species reintroduction. Read our Q&A with Roy Dennis.

Sarah Gibson’s Swifts and Us and Mary Colwell’s latest book exploring our past, present and future relationship with predators in Britain Beak, Tooth and Claw. Read our Q&A with Mary Colwell.

Due in June from the author of The Seabird’s CryWinner of the 2018 Wainwright Prize for Nature Writing, the highly anticipated The Sea Is Not Made of Water. In addition, from the author of Extraordinary Insects, we look forward to Tapestries of Life, also due to be published in June.

Collins Field Guides

HarperCollins are famous for the distinctive black jackets on their Collins Classic Field Guides. These are consistently popular with naturalists and ecologists throughout Britain. In fact, the Collins Bird Guide is our all-time bestselling book here at NHBS! Covering Europe and the UK’s flora and fauna, these field guides set the benchmark for quality descriptions, illustrations and distribution maps.

In addition to the Classic Field Guides, Collins have a comprehensive range of field guides spanning several series, including: Collins Pocket Guides, Collins Complete Guides and Collins Field Guides.

Due in September is Collins Birds of the World – an exciting and all-encompassing new field guide comprising of 25,000 illustrations of 10,000 species on 280 colour plates.




Browse a selection of highlights below


Orchard: A Year in England’s Eden
By: Benedict Macdonald and Nicholas Gates
Paperback | June 2021| £7.99 £9.99

A brilliantly written and informative insight into the ecological niche traditional orchards can provide and the benefit they can have for the larger ecosystems around them.


Metazoa: Animal Minds and the Birth of Consciousness 
By: Peter Godfrey-Smith
Paperback | July 2021| £9.99

Combining vivid animal encounters with philosophy and biology, Metazoa reveals the impossibility of separating the evolution of our minds from the evolution of animals themselves.


Extraordinary Insects: Weird. Wonderful. Indispensable. The Ones Who Run Our World
By: Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson
Paperback | April 2020| £7.99 £9.99

A journey into the weird, wonderful and truly astonishing lives of the small but mighty creatures who keep the world turning.


Farming and Birds
By: Ian Newton
Paperback | July 2017| £29.99 £34.99
Hardback | July 2017| £52.99 £64.99

Ian Newton discusses the changes that have occurred in British agriculture over the past seventy years, and the effects they have had on bird populations.


Collins Complete Guide to British Insects: A photographic guide to every common species
By: Michael Chinery
Paperback | April 2009| £13.99 £16.99

A photographic field guide to all the common and some unusual species of insects across Britain that the keen amateur naturalist is likely to spot.


Freshwater Life of Britain and Northern Europe
By: Malcolm Greenhalgh
Paperback | March 2007| £16.99 £19.99

A beautifully illustrated guide to the wide variety of species found in rivers, streams, lakes and ponds in Britain and Europe.



Collins Tree Guide: The Most Complete Field Guide to the Trees of Britain and Europe
By: Owen Johnson
Paperback | April 2006| £15.99 £18.99

Part of the Collins Classic Field Guides series, the Collins Tree Guide is a definitive guide to the trees of Britain and non-Mediterranean Europe.


Browse all HarperCollins books at NHBS 


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





Author Interview with Mike Alexander: Skomer Island

Renowned for its incredible and diverse wildlife, it is no wonder that Skomer Island receives thousands of visitors year upon year. Famous for its thriving populations of seabirds, grey seals and its vast swathes of spring flowers, Skomer is a fantastic example of how carefully managed eco-tourism works alongside conservation.

Mike Alexander was Warden of Skomer for ten years, and has had links to the island for over six decades. He is now Chair of the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales and the Pembrokeshire Islands Conservation Advisory Committee. Illustrated with his own stunning photographs of the flora and fauna, this book is a comprehensive history of the island and its inhabitants.

Could you tell us a bit about your background and where the motivation for your book came from?

I first visited as a schoolboy in 1962, just a couple of years into Skomer’s incarnation as a nature reserve, and it was a day that changed my life forever. The most overwhelming idea that stayed with me from that day was that eventually, whatever it took, I would become warden of Skomer.  I finally fulfilled that long-held childhood dream in the spring of 1976. Following 10 wonderful years on Skomer I moved to North Wales where initially I was responsible for the management of 5 spectacular National Nature Reserves and in 1991, I became responsible for supervising the management of the entire series of NNRs in Wales, a position I held for over twenty years. In 2018 I became the chair of the Pembrokeshire islands conservation advisory committee and so my commitment to Skomer continues.

I had long dreamed of writing a book about Skomer, but in truth had little idea of how I might achieve that goal. Skomer is a cultural landscape shaped over thousands of years by people striving to make a living. I wanted to show how the island has evolved in response to changing human values, attitudes and interventions. I also wanted an opportunity to demonstrate what nature conservation means in practice. Reserves like Skomer are the most powerful advocate for nature that we could possibly have. The island gives visitors an almost magical insight into somewhere that transcends our ordinary world, where one close encounter with a puffin may speak more eloquently for conservation than a thousand words ever could.

Previous to the island becoming an NNR in 1959, you mention Skomer’s agricultural history. Could you tell us here a little about the island’s past?

Skomer’s time as a nature reserve spans barely a moment in its history. People have occupied Skomer for millennia, and archaeologist John Evans has described Skomer as possibly unique in the completeness of its archaeological remains. Present day visitors to the island can clearly pick out faint patterns of the distant past: field systems, lynchets, hut circles and more. Until recently, archaeologists and historians believed that apart from rabbit trapping and livestock grazing, the island had been abandoned after the Iron Age. However, new excavations in 2017 revealed the presence of medieval land clearance and ploughing.

During my ten years living on Skomer I became increasingly interested in the people who had lived there before me and most of all, the 19th century inhabitants who had farmed and made their living on the island. The people of the 19th century left the heaviest footprints as theirs was a time when people imposed their will on the island, shaping the land to meet their needs. This was a period of intense intervention and although it began to fade towards the end of the century, it was a time when people had the most impact on the island, its scenery and vegetation. How long will it be before the Victorian farmers’ footprints fade away? We, the later islanders, have become noninterventionists, and observers of nature’s progress. Ours should be the lightest of all footprints, and so perhaps the impact of the 19th century will, for now, be the most enduring of all human influences.

Recent news of Skomer’s thriving populations of seabirds like the puffin and Manx shearwater offer much hope. What major changes do you think are necessary to ensure species recovery and habitat restoration in Britain?

My generation has grown up with an almost subliminal pessimism about the fate of our wildlife to the point where decline seems inevitable and we can only hope to slow the rate of it. To have seen Skomer thrive throughout its time as a nature reserve is contrary to nearly everything I have grown up to believe, and yet it is important to remember that Skomer once had the potential for so much more. We know from photographs taken around the turn of the last century, that there was a minimum island population of around 100,000 Guillemots: four times the present number. The photographs also show the grassy slopes above the cliffs thick with Puffins, where now they only form a thin fringe. Perhaps these things will not be possible again, but it is a vital reminder never to set our sights too low and to hold on to that vision of what the future could be.

Species and habitat recovery will only happen when our policies and legislation are translated into action.  Good intentions alone will achieve nothing. It is quite ironic that despite the enormous growth in public concern and protest about the fate of our natural environment, governments are failing to provide the essential resources. 

The NNRs, along with all other protected areas, will be a central and essential component of any species and habitat recovery or restoration programme. They are the stepping stones, the vital reservoirs and the crucial resources that will enable landscape scale recovery in Britain.

With restricted movement during the Covid-19 pandemic that many are referring to as the ‘anthropause’, people across the globe have noticed changes to their local wildlife. How has the lack of eco-tourism affected the wildlife on Skomer during this time?

Skomer is an extremely fragile island with hundreds of thousands of seabirds. Puffins and Manx Shearwaters nest in shallow burrows, while the cliffs provide homes for thousands of Guillemots, Razorbills and Kittiwakes. As a consequence, all visitors to the island understand that they must keep to the system of marked footpaths at all times. This has made it possible for us to claim with confidence that visitors to Skomer have no impact on the wildlife that they come to enjoy. So apart from overgrown paths, there has been no significant discernible impact.

There are plenty of signs from elsewhere that wildlife has responded positively to the lack of human disturbance.  It may well be that some species will gain a short-term advantage, but I am not convinced that the impact of Covid-19 on wildlife will be anything more than a very minor, and almost irrelevant, hiccup, unless of course we can learn from the experience. We must learn to change our behaviour and realise that we will not survive on this planet if we regard unfettered consumerism as our main purpose in life. 

Do you have any other projects on the horizon you’d like to tell us about?

I will take a break from writing and concentrate on photography.  I was recently elected Chair of the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales and I am looking forward to devoting much of my time to working for the Trust.

Skomer Island
By: Mike Alexander
Hardback | Due April 2021 | £29.99


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

Author Interview with Mary Colwell: Beak, Tooth and Claw

With the recent return of the white-tailed sea eagle to Britain and the mooted return of the Lynx, living with predators is becoming a much more frequent topic of conversation. In Beak, Tooth and Claw, Mary Colwell explores our past and present relationship with predators in the UK, and considers what it might look like in the future.

Author of Curlew Moon, Mary Colwell is an award-winning conservationist, writer and producer, and has written for the GuardianBBC Wildlife MagazineCountry Life and many other publications. She has very kindly agreed to answer some of our questions about her latest book.

Could you start by telling us a little bit about your background and how you got into conservation?

I became interested in conservation during my career at the BBC Natural History Unit, when it became clear just how much was going wrong. A lot of my work as a producer was celebrating nature, but it was apparent that the beautiful pictures were covering over a fractured, damaged world. Wild creatures are struggling to make their lives work in our increasingly human-dominated landscapes, and this rich, vibrant planet is thinning out. Over the years the press releases I read, particularly from Ireland, highlighting the decline of curlews were eye-watering. It ate away at me, this relentless destruction, and I decided I had to get more involved. Not so much in the fieldwork and practicality, but in doing what I had been trained to do – tell the stories of the earth and help make the problems accessible and understandable to people like me, non-specialists who care.

Following on from Curlew Moon, what was it that made you decide to write a book about predators?

I was naïve when I first got involved in curlew conservation, I had no idea how enmeshed they are in the biggest conservation issues we face in the 21st century, namely predator control, habitat loss to farming, afforestation and development, climate change, increasing pressure from leisure activities and so on. The predator issue seemed particularly potent in the uplands on grouse moors, but it is a source of contention everywhere. How people view predators is rarely based on science, it is shrouded in cultural attitudes and traditions. I found this interesting, and it also pointed to a way forwards. If conservationists can work with communities within their world view, on the ground projects are far more likely to succeed than trying to impose solutions on people. I don’t have definitive answers, but I explore this in the book.

Carefully managed reintroduction of some of Britain’s predators has already proved hugely beneficial to biodiversity, and may also pose future economic advantages. What lost species would you like to see returned to Britain next?

In Chapter 8 I look at reintroductions, and I think what is happening is a very good way to go. Start with wildcat then scale up. The quiet, efficient regulator of woodlands, the lynx next. If we ever find it possible to introduce wolves, it would be incredible, we would live in a very different country, both the physical landscape of Britain, but also the landscapes of our minds would change. We will be wilder in every sense. It won’t be easy, in fact it is probably not possible given the direction of travel and the density of the human population, but it is tantalising to think about. I’m aware, though, that it is easy to glow with excitement about wolves in the wilds of Britain, but living with them on the doorstep will be a challenge for rural communities.

Opposing views on predators and reintroduction projects seem irreconcilable – do you think there is any way both sides of the argument can find common ground?

We will only welcome big predators back into our lives if we feel secure in their presence. As long as they are perceived as a threat to us, both physically and metaphorically, there will be opposition. The solution is to find ways that will assuage fear and highlight the positive aspects of their presence. And there are many positives as well as issues to face honestly and with understanding. There have been centuries of mis-information and vilifying which can’t be unravelled quickly. This is the long game, the gentle, constant discussion of facts and the erosion of fiction. Taking away fear is not easy, but I hope we get to a place where, although it might feel like a scary and difficult step to take, we will all put our hearts behind a new, wilder world.

What’s your vision for the future of conservation and rewilding in the UK? Are you hopeful or pessimistic?

This is the hardest question of all. The future of conservation and the future of rewilding seem, in some ways, like different topics. The future of conservation relies on the pincer movement of sound environmental policies that make it easier for landowners/developers etc to do the right thing, and citizens wanting to have more nature and helping make it happen. We have to incentivise land use that makes wildlife worth preserving and we have to educate people about nature and our role in the natural world – something that has been largely side-lined over the 20th century. We need to create a more nature-literate society, one where people understand the issues and can make informed decisions. Who knows if the government’s 25-year plan and green vision will play out as we all hope, but it is there and it is welcome and we all have a role to play in enabling it.

Rewilding is part of that vision, but it is a catch-all term that has a variety of meanings. I take it as increasing biodiversity across Britain, rather than simply the idea that we should let nature go wild without any human interference. The way we live in the UK has made pure, unadulterated nature a dream, not a reality. There is nowhere that is wild but everywhere could be wilder. Rewilding for me is doing what needs to be done, area by area, bit by bit, to increase the net amount of nature across the UK.

Am I optimistic? On the whole, yes. My experience in starting Curlew Action gives me hope. We are a tiny charity that is only 18 months old, yet the support we have been given is amazing. ‘Ordinary’ people (no one is ordinary!) have supported us in a simple, clear way – they want to show how much they care for nature, and that has been so heartening. Even if many of us are not skilled in the field, we can all play a part in raising awareness and fund raising for conservation efforts to help wildlife.

Always, my advice is – pick something to love and love it. Love never comes alone, it is accompanied by barrow-loads of responsibility and care – so simply saying “I love nature” is not enough. If you love something you will move heaven and earth for it. I think many people will do that if they feel they have permission, despite not being an “expert”, so yes, I am optimistic.

Do you have any projects in the pipeline you’d like to tell us about?

I am so keen to push through the long awaited plan for a GCSE in Natural History. We are just waiting for a final yes from the Department of Education – once we have that we are up and running. So I shall continue to work away at that. I am starting my next book for Bloomsbury on walking the Camino last winter in between lockdowns – a 500-mile pilgrimage across northern Spain. The natural world was a constant companion, and it got me wondering about our relationship with nature over the 1000 years people have walked this track. I am also now Chair of the newly formed, Defra supported, Curlew Recovery Partnership, a roundtable of 9 organisations and an extensive network charged with turning it around for curlews over the next 10 years. With Curlew Action work and other projects constantly ticking away, life is full and fascinating.

Beak, Tooth and Claw
By: Mary Colwell
Hardback | Published April 2021 | £13.99 £16.99

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

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

Author Interview with Charles Foster: The Screaming Sky

A summer visitor, the common swift appears suddenly with the change in season, swooping overhead with its unmistakeable call. From their travels to Africa, to their short breeding season in the UK, swifts appear to defy gravity with their extraordinary migratory feats, with some in flight for ten months of the year. In The Screaming Sky, Charles Foster follows the swifts across the world, recounting his travels and the lives of these remarkable creatures.

Charles Foster, author of the New York Times bestseller, Being a Beast, is a writer, barrister and a Fellow of Green Templeton College, University of Oxford. With publication of his latest book due soon, Charles has very kindly agreed to answer some of our questions.

Firstly, could you tell us a little bit about your background and how you came to write The Screaming Sky?

I’m originally from Sheffield, and as a small boy I was obsessed with natural history. One summer I was sitting in a field watching and counting the house martins. Suddenly there was something else there: it was a completely different kind of creature, and it inhabited the air while other birds just visited it. I was immediately drunk on its power and its mastery and its swashbucklingness. It could have ended badly: it might have made me worship power. But (that’s another story) I was spared that fate, and instead started to wonder whether I could know anything at all about something as different from me as that. So I followed them in every way that I could: through books that taught me about their biology, through poems that taught me how impossible it is for human language to tie swifts down, by gazing up into summer skies, by playing recordings of their calls when I was missing them like crazy in the winter, and by travelling along their migration routes, hoping to catch up with them in Africa and everywhere en route. How could I not write about birds that have taught me so much about what it means to be alive?

During your travels, were there any encounters that particularly stood out for you?


  1. Sitting at the foot of a tower in Greece with the swifts diving so near to my head that I could feel the air from their fluttering on my face, knowing that they were about to leave for Africa, and wondering what the bereavement would do to me.
  2. Sitting at the top of a tree in Oxford amongst a group of swifts which were grazing on the aerial plankton being wafted up from the ground. And seeing the grey triangular tongue of a swift as it snapped at a ballooning spider near my ear.
  3. Being asleep under a bush in Africa, and being suddenly awake, knowing that the swifts that I’d been searching for for so long were going to be there. And they were! It wasn’t that I’d heard them coming (swifts are generally thought to be silent in Africa). It wasn’t that I’d been told to expect them: I’d been told that we probably wouldn’t see them at all. So how did it happen? If I told you my speculations you’d think I was mad.

What were the major challenges you faced while writing your book?

I’m a fat, lumpen, middle-aged man. It’s hard to think of any organism that’s less like a swift. And, as I’ve said already, language (which is pretty inadequate at the best of times) fails particularly obviously when it comes to swifts. That’s bad news for a writer on swifts. And then there were snakes and elephants and rabid dogs and torrential diarrhoea and bush fires and soldiers and downright laziness and roads washed away and guilt at leaving the family behind.

Wildlife has suffered a substantial decline over the last few decades, and swifts have been no exception with a loss of over half of the breeding population. Has your recent experience writing The Screaming Sky left you more optimistic or more pessimistic regarding the future of the common swift?

They watched the continents shuffle to their present positions, and the mammals evolve. They’ll be screaming through the sky long after our own race has been and gone.

Do you have any new projects in the pipeline that you’d like to tell us about?

In August a book of mine called Being a Human: Adventures in Forty Thousand Years of Consciousness will be published. It’s an attempt to imagine how it would have felt to be around at three pivotal moments in the history of human consciousness: the Upper Palaeolithic (when modern consciousness ignited), the Neolithic (when we first started to see ourselves as distinct from the wild world, and started to tame ourselves and other animals), and the Enlightenment (when the universe, which had always been seen as alive, was reconceived as a machine – with disastrous consequences). And at the moment I’m writing a book called The Siege – to be published in 2022 – which is a collection of stories illustrating the challenges of living alongside you and me if you’re a wild thing with all your senses switched on.

The Screaming Sky
By: Charles Foster

Author Interview with Dave Goulson: Gardening for Bumblebees

From the Sunday Times bestselling author of The Garden Jungle and A Sting in the Tale comes the much anticipated Gardening for Bumblebees. Part identification guide, part instruction handbook, Gardening for Bumblebees is packed full of information and ideas on how to create pollinator-friendly spaces for all types of garden.

As well as an award-winning author, Dave is also a Professor of Biology at the University of Sussex and founder of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust. We have recently had the opportunity to ask him some questions about his latest book.

Could you start by telling us how you came to write Gardening for Bumblebees, and how it differs from your previous book, The Garden Jungle?

Gardening for Bumblebees is a practical, full colour, nuts-and-bolts guide to encouraging bumblebees and other pollinators in the garden, including detailed sections on choosing the best flowers, creating meadow areas, building bee hotels, propagating plants yourself, organic pest control, and more. I hope that it will inspire people, and provide them with all the knowledge they need to turn their garden into a haven for wildlife.

In your book you mention several citizen science projects, such as BeeWatch and BeeWalk, both run by The Bumblebee Conservation Trust. What is the aim of these projects, and how are they beneficial?

If we are to effectively look after our bumblebees and other wild insects we need to know where they are, and how their populations are changing over time. Then we can target conservation efforts to the species and places that most need them, and see whether the things we are doing to help are actually working. Members of the public – “citizen scientists” – have an enormously important role to play here. The UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme is a great long-running example, whereby the efforts of thousands of unpaid volunteers now provide a really accurate picture of how our butterfly populations have changed since the 1970s.

Your book is filled with fascinating facts about bees that I previously did not know. In your opinion, what have you found to be the most surprising discovery in regard to bees?

I first became hooked on studying bumblebees when I noticed how a bee in a patch of flowers will often fly up to a flower but then veer off without landing. I wondered what was wrong with these flowers. It took five years of research to find out that they were sniffing the flowers for the faint smelly footprint of a recent bee visitor – which would indicate that the flower is likely to be empty. Bees use lots of clever tricks like this to help them gather nectar and pollen efficiently. They are remarkably clever!

You mention in your book your fascination with bees from an early age. How do you think we can best encourage environmental awareness in young people?

We need to make sure that young people have regular opportunities to interact with nature, so they do not grow up regarding insects as alien, unfamiliar, and scary. I’d love to see every school having access to wild greenspace, and more support to help teachers themselves learn about nature so that they can enthuse the children. I’d also pair every school with a nature friendly farm, and provide support so that the children could visit the farm at least once or twice a year, to understand the connections between growing food and nature.

There has been much public concern regarding bees, pollination, and the future of our crops. With the increase in publicity and information on how we can make simple changes to help secure the bumblebee population, do you feel hopeful for the future?

It is great to see the growing public appetite for making gardens more wildlife friendly, and councils also reducing mowing and introducing meadow areas to parks. However, to really make a difference we need farming, which covers 70% of the UK, to move away from the current highly intensive approach, which is reliant on many pesticides. The new Agriculture Bill and Environmental Land Management Scheme might, if done properly, provide a mechanism for positive change.

Alongside the Buzz Club, a citizen science project that is focused on garden wildlife, do you have any other projects on the horizon you’d like to tell us about?

I have another book out in August 2021, Silent Earth. It is a blunt assessment of the dire plight of insects globally, but with suggestions as to how we could halt and reverse their declines. I hope it will help to persuade people that we are in a time of crisis, and that we need radical change.

Gardening for Bumblebees
By: Dave Goulson
Hardback | April 2021 | £13.99 £16.99

An inspiring practical guide to creating pollinator-friendly spaces for all types of garden, no matter how large or small your patch is.



Discover other titles by Dave Goulson below.


The Garden Jungle

Paperback | £9.99

“An upbeat book about the wonders of the ecosystem in every garden.”
– The Times, summer reads of 2019


Bee Quest

Paperback | £7.99 £9.99

“Dave Goulson […] has perfected the art of turning the entomologist’s technical expertise into easy-reading everyman’s prose. He also laces his stories with rich helpings of wit and humour.”
–  Mark Cocker, Spectator


A Buzz in the Meadow

Paperback | £7.99 £9.99

“Buy this book, give it as a present. It is required reading for being a human in the 21st century.”
– Matthew Cobb, professor of zoology at the University of Manchester, New Scientist


A Sting in the Tale

Paperback | £7.99 £9.99

“Goulson has plenty of wondrous biological stories to tell, as well as the tale of his own struggle to return the short-haired bumblebee to Britain.”
– Patrick Barkham, The Guardian


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

Author Interview with Andrew Painting: Regeneration

The Mar Lodge Estate in the heart of the Cairngorms was acquired by the National Trust for Scotland in 1995, and has since experienced landscape-scale restoration with outstanding results. Discussing conservation, rewilding and land management, Regeneration is an honest account of both the progress made at Mar Lodge Estate and the challenges faced over the last 25 years.

After studying Environmental Anthropology at Aberdeen University, Regeneration author Andrew Painting moved to Scotland to volunteer with the RSPB. Since 2016, he has been Assistant Ecologist at the Mar Lodge Estate, and has documented its slow recovery. He has very kindly agreed to answer some questions about his book.

Could you tell us a little about your background and where the motivation for this book came from?

I’m a lifelong naturalist, but it took me quite a while to take the plunge into working professionally in conservation. My first degree was in English Literature, so I’m glad I’ve finally been able to put it to good use! I’ve been working in the ecology team at Mar Lodge since 2016, when the fruits of two decades of hard work were beginning to show, and I instantly fell in love with the place. By 2018, all the graphs and reports we were producing were looking very respectable, and I realised we were sitting on a story that deserved a larger audience than it was getting at the time. 2020 was the 25th anniversary of the National Trust for Scotland acquiring the site, and one eighth of the way into the Trusts’ 200 year management vision for the land, so it seemed like a good time for a stock-take.

Of course, it’s never as simple as that. Mar Lodge Estate is not perfect (nowhere is), and as I got down to writing the book I realised that the social and political complexities of the ‘Mar Lodge experience’ were just as important to discuss as the successes.

Though far more is needed to keep up with the increasing levels of environmental destruction, you write of much hope for the future. What do you think is the current biggest challenge conservationists are up against?

Often, the biggest challenge to solving any problem is getting people to accept that there is a problem in the first place. Thanks to decades of campaigning from people from all walks of life, I think we are now at the point where there is broad agreement about the scale of the twinned environmental and climate crises, and the necessity of social change to address them. Politicians across the political spectrum are waking up to the fact that environmental conservation is both a vote-winner and also extremely good value for money, while the private sector is realising that nature-based businesses can be both highly profitable and enjoy high levels of public support.

So now I think that the challenge is to be bold and ambitious, and to make the most of this ‘unfrozen moment’. We need nature, not just in our National Nature Reserves and SSSIs, but also in our farms and seas, along roadsides, in our urban areas, schools and places of business. We now need to lobby those increasingly receptive politicians to instigate progressive policies that incentivise returning nature to these places. To that end, for me, the real power of Mar Lodge Estate is not in the amount of wildlife or carbon it holds, but in the example of ecological restoration that it sets to other Highland estates.

Could you talk about a particular conservation success story over the course of the project?

With any luck, in the years to come the landscape-scale restoration of high altitude woodland across the Cairngorms will become a ‘textbook example’ of an effective, large-scale and long-term conservation project. This habitat, a mixture of cold and wind-stunted birch, juniper, pine and montane willow species, has been almost lost from the UK. But we are beginning to see it return at a landscape level at Mar Lodge and much more widely across the Cairngorms and Scotland. In the Cairngorms, this has been facilitated by a really nice mixture of traditional conservation work, high-tech genetics work and landscape-scale partnership working. This is still very much work-in-progress, but what’s really exciting about it for me personally is that we’re really only at the very beginning of a journey which will play out over decades. So every time I head out into the high hills I’m excited to see what I will come across.

Has documenting this project inspired you to get involved in any other long-term initiatives?

There’s a lot to choose from these days! I’m originally from the West Country, so have fond memories of the Avalon Marshes and Steart – both of which are hugely exciting projects. I’ll never forget seeing and hearing my first cranes on a very cold winter day in the Somerset Levels. But for sheer size and ambition, there are few projects more exciting than the ones currently underway in the Cairngorms.

You talk about the well-documented value of nature for our mental health, while also questioning how to facilitate the means for people to enjoy and benefit from nature without harming it in the process. Do you think eco-tourism is beneficial to conservation?

It certainly can be! There are projects across Scotland which are highlighting the benefits of eco-tourism to local economies, from the Borders to Mull to Cromarty to Sutherland. But eco-tourism isn’t a silver bullet – areas which are dependent on a single industry or land use are incredibly vulnerable to social, economic and ecological change, so it should really be seen as part of a larger solution to environmental problems, rather than a solution in and of itself. I do feel that potential impacts of eco-tourism on sensitive habitats and species can generally be mitigated through good land management practices, better education and more awareness of our own personal responsibilities towards nature. And of course, for nature to really thrive, we need to remember how to live alongside it everywhere. Why should people be content to see charismatic wildlife only on their holidays?

This is your first book, and it is a great achievement. Do you think it will be the first of many?

Right now I’m just looking forward to getting back out into the field! I’m not sure about ‘many’, but I think I’ve got a couple more books in me. And of course, I’ll have to do another Mar Lodge book in 25 years’ time to check in on progress!

Regeneration: The Rescue of a Wild Land
By: Andrew Painting
Hardback | March 2021 | £16.99 £19.99

“Deftly weaving through the social and political complexities of nature conservation in Scotland the Regeneration of Mar Lodge is testimony to the miracles that can happen when disparate interests come together in common cause.”

Isabella Tree, author of Wilding: The Return of Nature to a British Farm.

Browse our selection of conservation and biodiversity books

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