British Wildlife Book Reviews

British Wildlife has featured book reviews since the very first magazine back in 1989. These reviews provide in-depth critiques of the most important new titles in natural history publishing, from nature-writing bestsellers to technical identification handbooks. They are all authored by experts in relevant subjects, which ensures an honest and insightful appraisal of each book featured.

Since 2018 every review included in the magazine is available to read on the British Wildlife website. Here are ten titles that have featured so far in some of the recent issues of British Wildlife, all with links to take you directly to the full review.

1. Beak, Tooth and Claw: Living with Predators by  Mary Colwell

“She walked and travelled through the farms and uplands of Britain and Ireland. She talked to people on both sides of the divide – sheep-farmers, salmonfishers, raven-tamers, writers, scientists, conservationists, gamekeepers. She watched her chosen predators in the field and noted how they ‘fit into the landscape’.”

Reviewed by Peter Marren in the June 2021 issue (BW 32.7) – read the review here

2. Broomrapes of Britain & Ireland by Chris Thorogood & Fred Rumsey

“This monograph has been meticulously proofread, and is neatly laid out, well printed and generally excellent. I am particularly grateful to the authors for finally nailing down a violet-coloured broomrape which I found, years ago, growing on the seashore near Sandwich.”

Reviewed by Peter Marren in the August 2021 issue (BW 32.8) – read the review here

 

3. Much Ado About Mothing: A Year Intoxicated by Britain’s rare and Remarkable Moths by James Lowen

“Most of his literary energy lies in individualising the moths. He is a generous and imaginative, and, yes, ‘intoxicated’ describer. The quest has barely got going before we are introduced to the Pale Tussock’s ‘shag-pile furriness’ and the male Muslin Moth’s ‘grey mad-professor hair’.”

Reviewed by Peter Marren in the August 2021 issue (BW 32.8 – read the review here

 

4. Butterflies by Martin Warren

“In summary, I have nothing but praise for this book. Anyone interested in butterflies, and especially those involved with sites where butterflies are a significant presence, should read it. It is beautifully produced and printed.”

Reviewed by Bob Gibbons in the August 2021 issue (BW 32.8) – read the review here

5. International Treaties in Nature Conservation: A UK Perspective by David Stroud et al.

“It is therefore authoritative and densely packed, yet commendably succinct, well paced and easy to read. Inevitably specialist, it is nevertheless a compelling read and will become a worthy source of reference for years to come.”

Reviewed by Anthony Fox in the October 2021 issue (BW 33.1) – read the review here

 

6. Why Nature Conservation Isn’t Working: Understanding Wildlife in the Modern World by Adrian Spalding

“We deliberately choose big, glamorous species to release simply because we like them. Spalding thinks that all this is wrong, that wild species have an existence entirely separate from Homo sapiens in time and space, in their lives, in their habitat, and in their evolutionary and historical past (and future).”

Reviewed by Peter Marren in the October 2021 issue (BW 33.1) – read the review here

7. Human, Nature: A Naturalist’s Thoughts on Wildlife and Wild Places by Ian Carter

“As Ian Carter puts it, the many and varied connections he has with nature play a significant part in making his life feel worthwhile. They have provided the material for the journals he has kept over three decades, and form the substance of this book. His thoughts on the conundrums and contradictions in the way humans interact with wildlife build into a thoughtful and timely look at contemporary relationships between people and nature.”

Reviewed by James Robertson in the October 2021 issue (BW 33.1) – read the review here

8. Ecology and Natural History by David M. Wilkinson

“Although it is clearly written, and eschews mathematics, it is dense with concepts and facts, with a strong whiff of university teaching. It is therefore one of the more technical New Naturalists. But where does it say that nature has to be simple? Its complexity is surely part of its fascination.”

Reviewed by Peter Marren in the October 2021 issue (BW 33.1) – read the review here

 

9. Freshwater Snails of Britain and Ireland by Ben Rowson et al.

“This is a terrific book: a ‘must have’ for anyone who wants to learn how to identify, accurately, freshwater snails in Britain and Ireland.”

Reviewed by Jeremy Biggs in the November 2021 issue (BW 33.2) – read the review here

 

 

10. Britain’s Insects: A Field Guide to the Insects of Great Britain and Ireland by Paul D. Brock

“Its structured approach offers a general illustrated guide to insect orders (such as mayflies, or dragonflies and damselflies), including some larvae. Then, when you reach an order, there is a good introduction and the species accounts are further broken down into sections…”

Reviewed by Bob Gibbons in the November 2021 issue (BW 33.2) – read the review here


Since its launch in 1989, British Wildlife has established its position as the leading natural history magazine in the UK, providing essential reading for both enthusiasts and professional naturalists and wildlife conservationists. Individual back issues of the magazine are available to buy through the NHBS website, while annual subscriptions start from just £35 – sign up online here.

 

Conservation Land Management: Autumn 2021

The Autumn issue of Conservation Land Management (CLM) covers a variety of themes relevant to those involved in managing land for conservation, from the creation of bare ground habitats to incorporating climate objectives into the management of wildlife sites. Here, Assistant Editor Catherine Mitson provides a summary of the articles featured in this latest issue.

Ingleborough National Nature Reserve (NNR) covers a huge expanse of limestone grassland and pavement, acidic grassland, blanket bog and heath in the south-western Yorkshire Dales. Previously, the land had been grazed by sheep, numbers of which had doubled from the late 1960s to the 1980s while the number of cattle halved. The negative impact of sheep grazing was evident, especially in heavily-grazed areas where grasses dominated, and the only plants remaining in significant numbers were hardy species such as thyme, clovers and daisies. But an opportunity arose to reduce sheep numbers and to promote cattle grazing, and in this article Andrew Hinde, Peter Welsh and Bill Grayson describe the success of the reintroduction of cattle grazing to Ingleborough and outline the NNR’s conservation objectives going forward.

The next article brings us to Havergate Island in the Alde–Ore Estuary SSSI in Suffolk. Since 1997, spoonbills have been trying to colonise the estuary but breeding attempts failed, mainly due to the presence of and predation by foxes. But over on Havergate Island, a more secluded site with little human disturbance, spoonbill numbers were increasing. To encourage breeding on Havergate, RSPB set up elevated nesting platforms and, owing to the presence of foxes and other predators on the island, installed predator-exclusion fences. Vivienne Booth, Aaron Howe and Adam Rowland describe how the predator-exclusion fences were designed and installed, leading to the return of breeding spoonbills to Suffolk.

Christopher du Feu and Michael Gillman take us to Treswell Wood in north-east Nottinghamshire. In 2014 Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust purchased an area of the wood that had previously been cleared for agriculture, known as the assart. Instead of planting trees, it was decided to let nature take its course and leave the assart to return to woodland naturally. Monitoring of woodland regeneration began in 2016, but in 2017 ash dieback struck the assart. In this article the authors report the results of this ongoing monitoring, and demonstrate the remarkable effect that ash dieback has had on natural regeneration.

With COP 26 fast approaching, many of us have noticed increasing news coverage of the climate and biodiversity emergencies. But on nature conservation sites, can climate objectives and biodiversity-related priorities co-exist? Heathlands, for example, are managed by techniques such as burning, a contradictory approach from a climate perspective. John Bacon addresses this dilemma, and takes a look at some initiatives in Shropshire to demonstrate how climate objectives are being incorporated into habitat management, with biodiversity still being the top priority.

The final article encourages us to appreciate the importance of bare ground habitats. Many species of spiders, ground beetles, wasps, bees and reptiles (to name a few) depend on the warm microclimate that bare ground provides for hunting, basking and nesting. Using examples from south Staffordshire, Katie Lloyd describes the process of bare ground creation, including the design, type and size of scrapes; how to maintain and manage newly-created bare patches; mitigation and other considerations to be aware of before undertaking such a project; and the benefits that this overlooked habitat provides.

In this and every issue you can expect to see Briefing, keeping you up to date with the latest training courses, events and publications, and On the ground which provides helpful tips or updates on products relevant to land management.

Other features that regularly appear in CLM include Viewpoint, a similar length to our main articles, but here authors can voice their own views on various conservation issues, and Review, which can include letters from readers or updates from our authors.

CLM is published four times a year in March, June, September and December, and is available by subscription only, delivered straight to your door. Subscriptions start from £18 per year. Previous back issues are also available to purchase individually (subject to availability).

If you are involved in a conservation project and think your experiences could be useful to other practitioners, we would love to hear from you. If you are interested in writing for CLM feel free to contact us – we will be happy to discuss your ideas with you.

COP 26: The road to Glasgow… and beyond

In just a few weeks, the UK will host the UN’s 26th Climate Change Conference, COP 26, in Glasgow. In an editorial in the October issue of British Wildlife, David Stroud, former Senior Ornithologist at JNCC and co-author of International Treaties in Nature Conservation: A UK Perspective, describes the build-up to the conference and what we can expect from the event itself. The editorial is shared in full below.

Psychologists tell us that humanity evolved to focus on immediate threats – the sabre-toothed tiger lurking in a cave – rather than to ‘over the horizon’ challenges that will affect us only at some distant time in the future. That, at least, is the suggested justification for humanity’s failure to address seriously the problem of anthropogenic climate change over the last half-century, despite increasingly definitive evidence of the existential threat it poses. The frequency of extreme weather events in recent years, however, no longer allows lack of immediacy to be used as an excuse: from flooding and wildfire to sea-level rise, the consequences of climate change are apparent here and now and they are part of the lived experience of people across the world.

The effects of global heating are not restricted to weather catastrophes. As naturalists, we are ever-more familiar with changes to our flora and fauna, as documented elsewhere in this issue (pages 13–20) and previously in British Wildlife. This presents significant challenges to national conservation policies, which have traditionally relied on essentially static networks of protected areas and protected species lists. Despite the announcement of various welcome (but limited) projects, UK governments are yet to promote or implement climate-change adaptation at the scale required to make a meaningful impact.

The October 2021 issue of British Wildlife

In August, the Sixth Assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) provided the starkest of stark warnings yet (IPCC 2021). This report was described by the UN Secretary-General as nothing less than ‘a code red for humanity’ (UN 2021). He noted that the internationally agreed threshold of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels of global heating is ‘perilously close… The only way to prevent exceeding this threshold… is by urgently stepping up our efforts, and pursuing the most ambitious path. We must act decisively now…’ With the 26th Conference of Parties (COP 26) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) soon to be held in Glasgow, the international community has an immediate opportunity to act on this latest science, and to use it as a solution. But will the response be adequate?

The nearly 30-year history of UNFCCC COPs is chequered and has been (rightly) dominated by issues of international development. Essentially, when the UNFCCC was negotiated, developing countries highlighted the need for developed nations – those with the largest economies and the greatest greenhouse-gas emissions – to take primary responsibility for the global issue they had (albeit unwittingly) created by more than two centuries of carbon-driven industrialisation. For this reason, the UNFCCC’s 1997 Kyoto Protocol (of COP 3) was framed on the basis of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’, placing the primary obligation to address the problem on developed countries (it also, importantly, recognised the contributions to climate change of greenhouse gases other than CO2).

The UNFCCC’s 2015 Paris Agreement (COP 21) made the progressive step of moving away from Kyoto’s top-down assignation of national targets, and instead established a bottom-up approach to delivering objectives through ‘Nationally Determined Contributions’ or NDCs. In essence this allows each country to put on the table what it pledges to do, hoping that this is collectively adequate. Importantly, the NDC approach was agreed by, and thus brought on board, the developing countries – still recognising ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ while acknowledging that low- and especially middle-income countries also have individual contributions to make to the global solution.

The human development needs of the poorest countries, however, are yet to be met, as recognised by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Thus, for affluent nations such as the UK there are actually two requirements for an effective Paris Agreement: not only to offer an adequate NDC, but also to contribute to the ‘financial mechanisms’ that allow developing countries to skip dirty, greenhouse-gas-emitting industry and move directly to green economies. ‘Resource mobilisation’ from the developed world will therefore be a central focus of COP 26.

Media commentators have been calling recently for binding quotas to be agreed in Glasgow. While theoretically desirable, this will not happen and it misunderstands the complexities of the global political process. Should there be a World Government at some point, such a prescriptive approach might be achievable – but for now it lives in fantasyland (along with alternative economic systems). The reality is, regrettably, much messier and is here for the foreseeable future.

At COP 26, the UK has a unique responsibility to ensure a successful outcome. Not only does it have to contribute an NDC of significant ambition as one of the world’s largest economies, but as conference chair the UK has a crucial cheerleader role, with an onus to encourage all other countries to deliver ambitiously, too. Decisions at the COP will, as is the norm for such meetings, be taken by consensus, which leaves a real risk of lowest common denominator decision-making because all countries effectively hold a veto. The role of the UK diplomatic services here is critical to build momentum, impetus and pressure (as was that of France ahead of 2015’s COP 21). They also have a vital job in gaining prior intelligence from other countries and working to fix problems and issues ahead of time through face-to-face dialogue in other capitals. As at all intergovernmental COPs, most of the content of decisions is developed well beforehand, while the conference itself is used to finesse the details and formally sign off the final texts. With (we hope) all 197 Contracting Parties attending and just a few days available together in Glasgow, there is no time to do otherwise.

Parties will already have prepared their broad national negotiating positions over the course of the last year, not least because for a meeting of such significance these will typically need to be agreed by the head of government. Many parties work together, giving them greater collective influence. National positions further evolve within regional and other negotiating blocks, including the 27 member states of the EU; the G77 (a coalition of 134 developing countries) and China; the African Group; and the multiple Small Island Developing States which, faced by pressing existential impacts from rising sea levels, have become an increasingly influential political force in climate negotiations.

Yet ultimately, while civil servants can prepare much of the ground, at the COP the tough, final negotiations and trade-offs will be undertaken by heads of government and their ministers. In this, simple peer pressure is important: no national politician likes to be presented as internationally unambitious. And personal relationships, as in any negotiation, are key to success.

Public pressure can also play an essential role by creating a political climate in which it is easier to commit to difficult things when they are presented as ‘the desire of the people’. The last few years of school strikes and other radical actions have demonstrated great public concern, rendering it increasingly difficult, for European leaders at least, not to engage. Hence, the environmental community has an important lobbying role, reminding politicians of what is expected from them, not just ahead of the COP but crucially after it as well, and holding governments globally to account. Commitments are easy to make, but also easy to forget (especially when they involve tough policy changes), and an important agenda item at COP 26 will be the first global stocktake on progress in implementing the measures agreed in Paris.

Beyond governments, contributing to the necessary profound societal change involves all of us. The latest form of climate-change denial is to accept the reality but to make no consequential alterations to one’s lifestyle: ‘business (and life) as usual’. Yet everyone will need to make changes – not least to rediscover the much-anticipated (but so far elusive) ‘new normal’ that was predicted to emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic. This will include switching urgently to more sustainable modes of transport, insulating our homes, changing diet and, critically, reducing consumption and having simpler lifestyles: buy less and live more. In promoting such behavioural changes, the environmental community has an important leadership role within society. Gandhi stressed the need to ‘be the change you want to see in the world’. Exactly.

References
IPCC. 2021. Sixth Assessment Report.
UN. 2021. Secretary-General’s statement on the IPCC Working Group 1 Report on the Physical Science Basis of the Sixth Assessment.

Subscriptions to British Wildlife start from £35 – for more information or to subscribe, visit the website. Individual back issues are available to purchase through the NHBS website.

 

International Treaties in Nature Conservation: A UK Perspective
By David Stroud et al.
Paperback | Published May 2021 | £19.99

Read our interview with the author.

 

 

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

Thermal imaging for ecologists

In the new Summer 2021 issue of Conservation Land Management magazine (CLM) Dan Brown, ecologist and founder of Wild Discovery, provides an overview of thermal imaging technology and how it can be applied in wildlife surveys. Here you can read a summary of the article.

Thermal imaging was originally developed for military purposes but has since been deployed in a variety of fields, including increasingly so in conservation and ecology. It works by using medium- and long-wave infrared radiation to create a heat image called a thermogram – the varying temperatures can be displayed either as different colours, shades or as a monochromatic image. In light of its growing popularity in ecology, this article discusses how this technology can be used in wildlife surveys and what needs to be considered when doing so.

Field applications

One important benefit of using thermal imaging is that species that are usually difficult to survey, particularly cryptic or nocturnal species, can be readily detected. Ptarmigan, for example, can be tricky to spot in scree and boulder fields, and so the use of thermal imaging can be an efficient way to monitor an elusive species such as this with greater accuracy. Also, as this is a non-invasive surveying technique, the behaviour of wildlife can be observed with little disturbance.

Thermal-imaging technology has already been trialled in surveys of a number of different species. In the Forest of Dean, for example, the Forestry Commission uses thermal imaging to monitor wild boar, and the Mid Wales Squirrel Partnership uses it to monitor active red squirrel dreys. This technology can also complement acoustic monitoring for bat surveys – the species of bat can be determined using a bat detector, while thermal imaging can help to identify potential roost sites and enables the surveyor to count the number of individuals present.

Another advantage of thermal-imaging technology is that it works both during the day and at night. Studies of woodcock and nightjar have put this to good use – researchers have been able to locate day-roosting birds and also monitor their nocturnal activity, such as foraging behaviours and flight patterns, with minimal disturbance to the birds.

Night time image of a woodcock (5x magnification) by Simone Webber

Potential for other uses in the field

But what else can thermal imaging be used for in species monitoring? Elsewhere in the world, thermal-imaging systems have been fitted to farm machinery to help detect ground-nesting bird species, a method that could be applied in the UK to monitor curlew, lapwing and stone-curlew. Similarly, attaching thermal-imaging equipment to drones could provide an opportunity to survey inaccessible species and areas.

And it doesn’t have to be just warm-blooded animals either. There is huge variation in heat signatures across the landscape, even between different tree species, and so using thermal imaging could aid searches for potential locations for roosting owls, for example, or help to identify possible basking spots for invertebrates and reptiles. There is also potential for this technology to be used to search for insects that display a distinct heat signature in low ambient temperatures, such as queen wasps and bumblebees or larger moths.

Night time image of standing deer (5x magnification) by Simone Webber

Considerations and limitations

When planning and designing surveys and fieldwork, there are a number of factors that need to be considered when using thermal imaging. For instance, its effectiveness can differ depending on the season or weather – the heat signatures of birds and mammals can be masked on sunny days, whereas these signatures are more detectable during overcast days when the ambient temperature is lower. In order to use this equipment effectively, adequate practice and training is required and although there are some training courses available, there is not a huge amount of published guidance on using thermal imaging for wildlife surveys. And even before choosing a thermal imaging scope, it is important to consider its intended use, its detection distance (as this varies between different models), and cost.

In the full article Dan Brown describes how thermal technology works, provides more detail on how thermal imaging can be applied to wildlife surveys and the benefits of doing so, and describes the resources and training that are currently available for ecologists using thermal imaging. Other articles that featured in the Summer 2021 issue include:

  • River restoration in the Avon catchment of the Cairngorms National Park
  • The Pirbright Red Deer Project – Surrey’s last ‘wilderness’?
  • Bats in churches: a complex conservation challenge
  • Insecticide-free agriculture – a sustainable approach for nature and farming

In this and every issue you can expect to see Briefing, keeping you up to date on the latest training courses, events and publications, and On the ground which provides helpful tips or updates on products relevant to land management.

CLM is published four times a year in March, June, September and December, and is available by subscription only, delivered straight to your door. Subscriptions start from £18 per year. Previous back issues are also available to purchase individually (subject to availability).

If you are involved in a conservation project and think your experiences could be useful to other practitioners, we would love to hear from you. If you are interested in writing for CLM feel free to contact us – we will be happy to discuss your ideas with you.

 

British Wildlife book reviews

British Wildlife has featured book reviews since the very first magazine back in 1989. These reviews provide in-depth critiques of the most important new titles in natural history publishing, from nature-writing bestsellers to technical identification handbooks. They are all authored by experts in relevant subjects, which ensures an honest and insightful appraisal of each book featured.

It can be helpful to read a review before deciding to buy a new book, and so since 2018 every review included in the magazine is available to read on the British Wildlife website. Here is a selection of books that have featured so far in the current volume of British Wildlife, all with links to take you directly to the full review.

1. Woodland Flowers by Keith Kirby

“In Woodland Flowers Keith Kirby invites us to look at the ‘wood beneath the trees’ and to consider what its flora can tell us. The focus of this, the eighth volume of Bloomsbury’s British Wildlife Collection (which I have contributed to myself), is on the vascular plants of the woodland floor; to this end Kirby embraces ferns as honorary flowers, but for the most part he steps aside from considering other elements of woodland ecosystems (including the ‘lower’ plants, fungi and fauna).”

Reviewed by Clive Chatters in the October 2020 issue (BW 32.1) – read the review here

2. Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake

“This is Sheldrake’s first book, and, while his expertise means that the readers should feel that they are in safe hands from the off, in truth the experience is more like being whisked down a burrow by a white rabbit, or on a tour of Willy Wonka’s research facility: a trippy, astonishing, and completely exhilarating ride.”

Reviewed by Amy-Jane Beer in the November 2020 issue (BW 32.2) – read the review here

 

3. His Imperial Majesty: A Natural History of the Purple Emperor by Matthew Oates

“Part autecology, part monograph and part impassioned love poem to a species that has captured the author’s heart, the pages offer an enjoyable blend of the Purple Emperor’s recorded history, biology, ecology and conservation.”

 

Reviewed by Simon Breeze in the December 2020 issue (BW 32.3) – read the review here

 

4. Britain’s Habitats: A Field Guide to the Wildlife Habitats of Great Britain and Ireland (second edition) by Sophie Lake, Durwyn Liley, Robert Still and Andy Swash

“But do we really need a field guide to habitats? Possibly not. I certainly will not be taking my copy into the field. Yet this perhaps misses the point. What this book does is remind the users of other field guides that their organisms of interest do not live in isolation – they are nothing without their habitats. So, make this book an essential companion to your species guides.”

Reviewed by Anthony Robinson in the February 2021 issue (BW 32.4) – read the review here

5. Beetles of Britain and Ireland. Volume 3: Geotrupidae to Scraptiidae by Andrew G. Duff

“Anyone interested in identifying and studying beetles simply cannot afford to be without [these books] and any quibbles can only be minor. Andrew cannot be too highly commended for his diligence and hard work to make so much information available to all.”

Reviewed by Richard Wright in the April 2021 issue (BW 32.5) – read the review here

 

6. The Bumblebee Book: A Guide to Britain & Ireland’s Bumblebees by Nick Owen

“This is the latest book to enter the now relatively crowded marketplace of bumblebee guides, which may leave one wondering what it can offer to the more seasoned hymenopterist – read on! The author’s intention is to provide a book at the ‘entry level’ of bee study, Owens stating from the outset that he ‘aims to provide an easily accessible introduction for those with little or no previous knowledge of bumblebees’.”

Reviewed by Adrian Knowles in the April 2021 issue (BW 32.5) – read the review here

7. Bringing Back the Beaver: The Story of One Man’s Quest to Rewild Britain’s Waterways by Derek Gow

“There is no better place from which to view the tragi-comic events which unfold, and no better person to describe it than Derek Gow, a man of action as well as a powerful Beaver advocate. This account is unexpected, oddball, and, despite its serious side, enormously entertaining.”

Reviewed by James Robertson in the May 2021 issue (BW 32.6) – read the review here

 

8. Heathland by Clive Chatters

“He has written an ecological masterpiece, generous in its sympathies, awe-inspiring in its breadth of knowledge, and genuinely enticing in its journey around heathland Britain. This is a book that ought to influence policy.”

Reviewed by Peter Marren in the May 2021 issue (BW 32.6) – read the review here

 


Since its launch in 1989, British Wildlife has established its position as the leading natural history magazine in the UK, providing essential reading for both enthusiasts and professional naturalists and wildlife conservationists. Individual back issues of the magazine are available to buy through the NHBS website, while annual subscriptions start from just £35 – sign up online here.

 

Conservation Land Management: Summer 2021

Conservation Land Management (CLM) magazine is designed for those involved in managing land for conservation, and is an invaluable source of information on good conservation management practice. Here, Assistant Editor Catherine Mitson provides a summary of the range of articles featured in the new Summer issue.

Monitoring and surveying techniques in conservation and ecology are constantly changing and improving. The use of thermal imaging is one example of a non-invasive method that is becoming a popular choice for those involved in wildlife surveys. Dan Brown, ecologist and founder of Wild Discovery, provides an overview of thermal imaging and the potential for its wider application in species monitoring, surveying and ecological consultancy, while still keeping some of its limitations in mind.

Citizen science also plays an important role in species surveys, and Claire Boothby, Training and Surveys Officer for the Bats in Churches project, describes an opportunity for the public to get involved in bat surveys. Bats can often be found roosting in churches, but due to the open roof structure of many of these buildings, the architecture and items housed inside are susceptible to damage from bat droppings and urine, to the despair of church users. The Bats in Churches project is trialling mitigation measures to enable both humans and bats to use churches harmoniously. This article showcases some churches where these mitigation measures have been implemented successfully and describes how the public can take part in the Bats in Churches Study to improve our current knowledge of how bats use churches.

Also in this issue, James Adler and Steve Proud describe the Pirbright Red Deer Project. The Pirbright Range Danger Area (RDA) in Surrey is one of the most extensive and least disturbed tracts of heathland in southern Britain but as this is an active firing range, traditional means of heathland management are not practical. Instead, red deer have been used for conservation grazing to keep vegetation in check, to the benefit of the rarities found at Pirbright. This article discusses the importance of Pirbright and the development, rationale, and results to date of the Red Deer Project.

Jos Milner takes us north to the Cairngorms National Park where the Our Water Environment project, delivered by the Tomintoul & Glenlivet Landscape Partnership, has set out to restore and enhance the river Avon catchment. Here the river bank has suffered from bank erosion and sedimentation as a result of overgrazing and loss of riparian tree cover. This article explains how green engineering techniques, which use natural materials such as logs or coir matting as a form of bank protection, have been implemented on the River Avon, and how these could provide an opportunity for landscape-scale river restoration.

The final article in the Summer issue looks at how one farmer changed the way he farms to benefit wildlife. Martin Lines is a third-generation farmer and contractor, and with the advice provided by Farm Wildlife, he no longer uses insecticides on his land and has instead shifted to an Integrated Pest Management approach. Kathryn Smith and Martin Lines discuss what this has meant for practical farming operations, and the impact this has had on both crop yields and wildlife.

In this and every issue you can expect to see Briefing, keeping you up to date on the latest training courses, events and publications, and On the ground which provides helpful tips or updates on products relevant to land management.

Other features that regularly appear in CLM include Viewpoint, a similar length to our main articles, but here authors can voice their own views on various conservation issues, and Review, which can include letters from readers or updates from our authors.

CLM is published four times a year in March, June, September and December, and is available by subscription only, delivered straight to your door. Subscriptions start from £18 per year. Previous back issues are also available to purchase individually (subject to availability).

If you are involved in a conservation project and think your experiences could be useful to other practitioners, we would love to hear from you. If you are interested in writing for CLM feel free to contact us – we will be happy to discuss your ideas with you.

Author Interview with David Stroud: International Treaties in Nature Conservation: A UK Perspective

To the casual observer, global summits and the resolutions they produce can seem frustratingly ineffective – repeating cycles of targets set, missed and reset, with no obvious progress. Yet despite the apparent inertia, when used to good effect these processes can be powerful tools for positive change. International Treaties in Nature Conservation: A UK Perspective provides a unique insight into the inner mechanisms of international treaties – their history, development, successes and failures – from those who have spent their lives working with them.

All of the authors involved in this book bring a huge wealth of expertise from their past and current positions within both statutory and non-government nature conservation organisations and academia. One of the authors, David Stroud, kindly agreed to answer a few of our questions.

International treaties are directly responsible for some of the greatest environmental success stories in modern history. But despite their importance, their role in nature conservation is not one many of us are familiar with. How important do you think it is that the mechanisms of these treaties are more widely understood?

It’s hugely important. Not only do these treaties establish some of the most important conservation objectives, but they provide a means of learning from other experience. Typically, international treaties set a broad goal – such as ‘the wise use of wetlands’ in the case of the Ramsar Convention – but are much less prescriptive as to exactly how this will be delivered nationally. Accordingly, there is much to learn from the broad diversity of other national conservation experience in implementing treaty obligations. Such comparative experiences make these treaties fascinating and their study valuable.

They also provide important drivers of national conservation policy. Thus, for example, it was the obligation under the African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement to phase out the use of lead gunshot in wetlands by 2000 that created the policy incentive resulting in legislation across the UK to that effect from 1999.

There has been a great deal of uncertainty surrounding the departure of the UK from the European Union, and what this means for conservation. In terms of environmental protection and influence during the development of international treaties, what are the implications of leaving the EU?

Lots of issues here! As we explain, there are also serious risks to standards of environmental protection, especially the removal of strong compliance mechanisms that hold government to the environmental obligations it has assumed, and for which proposed domestic replacements look far from sufficient and have yet to be introduced. That said, some aspects of EU policy, most notably the Common Agricultural Policy, have driven significant harm to nature and to natural systems, and here the promise (as yet unrealised) of a new domestic approach which confines the payment of public money to the delivery of public goods, could mark a significant improvement in the state of nature in the farmed environment.

But there is also a risk that there may be an appetite to replace well-established processes and priorities, developed in partnership with EU states, with unique UK approaches, without reference to their efficacy. Whilst there is always room for improvement, including of existing EU processes, it is important that any such improvements build on existing systems and lessons learnt, and avoid causing delays and disruption that would take time we do not have, given the urgency of the environmental challenges we face.

Many aspects of environmental protection are inherently international in nature, with neither species, habitats nor many of the factors which drive their decline respecting national boundaries. As such there is a clear and ongoing imperative for international cooperation and alignment. The UK, outside of the EU, could take this opportunity to drive up ambition, but risks having less influence on environmental policy development, and becoming increasingly remote from wider thinking and ideas both within the EU and beyond, unless UK governments take pro-active steps to rebuild lines of communication and forums for engagement.

Chapter 8 ‘The impact of UK actions on an international scale’ goes into detail about the UK’s contributions to nature conservation beyond its borders, whether these be, for example, monetary, scientific research, or the role of UK non-governmental organisations (NGOs). In your opinion, do you think the UK is doing enough?

The UK is doing a lot, but by no means enough. Formal financial inputs to international treaties (which we estimate as £2,001,000 in 2019/20) are frankly trivial compared to either the size of the UK government budget in the same year (£842,000,000,000) or indeed the immensity of the issues to be addressed. Whilst both climate change and biodiversity loss have been recognised as ‘crises’ or ‘emergencies’, yet to date, it is hard to see responses from the UK, let alone the wider international community reflecting this, or being much more than complacent ‘business as usual’. And these will have no realistic chance of success.

Following on from the previous question, this book highlights the role and importance of NGOs (and a number of the authors themselves have been or are currently involved with NGOs). Do you think NGOs should have more involvement in environmental policy, both within the UK and on a global scale?

NGOs have a critical role to play in international conservation, both representing ‘civil society’ and also – in many cases – holding considerable technical expertise and knowledge, essential to the effective conservation delivery. Yet the dynamic of relations with governments is interesting! NGOs are not uninterested parties being driven by their own organisational priorities, responsive to their memberships, and typically having developed country perspectives. Their interests can sometimes be limited to a single species (witness the many NGOs concerned with charismatic megafauna such as lions and elephants). In contrast, and especially in democracies, governments have wider responsibilities such as the need to maintain economies, create infrastructure, or alleviate poverty.

The role of NGOs in pushing governments to deliver strong outcomes for the environment is critical and they have a key role, working with government, in practical implementation ‘on the ground’. In the UK, there are typically good relationships between government and NGOs, yet we outline considerable scope for improvement. However, within the UK governments, there can be an attitude that sees environmental NGOs as the problem rather than an essential part of the solution. Which is unnecessary and regrettable.

This book delves into the history of international instruments (such as Agreements, Conventions and legislation), and it is pointed out that fewer new treaties have been made since the early 2000s. Why do you think this is the case?

There are probably two issues at work here. An international landscape of ever proliferating treaties may not be particularly efficient means of engaging the attention of governments. Indeed, one would hope that at some point we see treaties retired following fulfilment of their objectives. Unfortunately, the state of the world is such that we seem far from this eventuality.

It is possible that we already have treaties covering all the relevant issues. However, whilst the ‘big stuff’ (climate change, migratory species, wetlands, trading endangered species) is indeed covered, there are certainly other ‘gaps’ – for example effective regulatory systems for sustainable harvesting of marine resources (to replace the very many completely ineffective fisheries treaties).

Additionally there seems to be an ever-growing culture of legal risk aversion within governments. This, and a retreat to more nationalistic political outlooks in many countries, is not supportive of new treaty-building.

In November, the UK will host the next UN climate change conference COP26 in Glasgow. What do you envisage, or hope, will be the outcome of the conference?

Hoping and envisaging are two very different things! I’ll stick to hoping for now…

It’s human nature to defer difficult decisions: why do today what one can put off till tomorrow? This is especially the case for governments faced with decisions that have difficult political consequences. Essentially the challenge at COP 26 will be to deliver on the aspiration agreed in Paris to hold the global temperature increase to less than 1.5 oC above pre-industrial levels. Unlike the quota-based approach of the earlier Kyoto Protocol, the Paris Agreement aims to build to necessary levels of global emissions reductions from bottom-up – through collective ‘Nationally Determined Contributions’ (NDC). After years of deferral of the difficult issue of how to do this, now is finally the time to deliver. Already, there is much diplomatic peer pressure – led especially by UK and USA – to encourage ambitious NDCs. But whether we get to levels that will deliver the Paris Agreement objective remains to be seen. It’s critical that we do as time is running out!

But even if those pledges are made, it will be essential for UK to work with, and support developing countries in particular, in their transition to zero carbon futures – given all the societal issues and political stresses that will arise.

International treaties are sometimes criticised for being ineffective, and this book describes some of their flaws. How valuable have treaties been in nature conservation?

Well, for those involved in any human endeavour, it’s always easy to see how things could be improved, or work better, and international treaties are no different. But despite imperfections, these treaties are critically important in shaping how we do conservation – in particular in establishing collective long-term objectives – goals that stretch beyond the short-termism of national politics.

Yet whilst the legal treaties specify those things that need to be done to deliver their objectives, as important in the long-term is the community of practitioners that gather around a treaty, regularly meeting and working together in order to drive forward its implementation. This includes counter-part government officials in the signatory governments, relevant NGOs, interested academics, and representatives of different but related treaties. All bring something to the table, and it is through their collective support for, say wetland conservation in the case of the Ramsar Convention, that is so important.

This is the first title from NHBS’s new publishing imprint, Biodiversity Press.

International Treaties in Nature Conservation:
A UK Perspective

By: David A Stroud et al.
Paperback | May 2021 | £19.99

 

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

The New Environmental Land Management scheme

The UK’s departure from the EU offers a number of opportunities for the environment, and in particular for the future of farming in the UK. And so, agricultural policy is undergoing a reform and a new payment scheme, Environmental Land Management (ELM), has been introduced in England. In the latest issue of Conservation Land Management (CLM) Alice Groom, RSPB’s senior policy officer, provides an up to date overview of what we know about ELM so far and the proposed timeline of the seven-year agricultural transition period, and, importantly, highlights the pitfalls and challenges that need to be addressed in order for ELM to be a success. Here you can read a summary of the article.

What is ELM?

Agricultural policy in the UK has previously meant that farmers and landowners receive payments based on the size of farmed land. While agri-environmental schemes have existed, these alone have not been enough to meet their environmental objectives. And so, following the UK’s departure from the EU, the government has introduced the Environmental Land Management scheme (ELM) in England.

This new payment scheme instead pays farmers for delivering public goods – these are ecosystem services that will benefit us all, such as natural flood management and habitat restoration. Defra has said that ELM is a means to meet six of the government’s 25 Year Environment Plan goals, including clean air and water, climate change mitigation, and protection from environmental hazards.

Three-component design

ELM will have three components, and although this design has received support, the finer details are currently lacking. The first, Sustainable Farming Incentive, is envisaged to be the most popular and will provide payments based on environmentally sustainable farming and land management, such as tree and woodland management, integrated pest management and promoting wildlife and biodiversity.

The Local Nature Recovery component is more focused on local-scale nature recovery with the aim to encourage farmers to create and enhance semi-natural habitats, and to use farming methods that keep chemical inputs low. Activities that are likely to receive funding under this component include natural flood management, habitat restoration and species management.

The third component, Landscape Recovery, could provide a means to achieve landscape-scale recovery using wilder approaches to farming. If successful, large expanses of habitat, such as woodland and wetlands, could be restored and large-scale activities such as peatland restoration will help contribute to net-zero emissions targets. Collaboration between landowners is key, and it is still unclear if this component can be achieved across smaller land holdings, or if this is limited to large estates.

Agricultural transition

‘The Agricultural Transition’ is a seven-year transition period in which the previous area-based subsidies will be phased out, and the first ELM National Pilot will begin. The transition begins this year, and the current intention is that ELM will be rolled out in 2024.

Although ELM has great potential to support farmers in a shift towards nature-friendly farming and land management, there is still much that remains a mystery. For instance, Defra is yet to provide information on future regulatory standards, details on how payments will operate, the application process, or what the overall annual budget for ELM will be.

The full version of this article can be found in the Spring 2021 issue, and here Alice Groom takes a closer look at each component to discuss its potential in delivering their environmental goals. Other articles featured in this issue include:

  • Introducing… Beaver Trust
  • Using location-based evidence to prioritise catchment-wide land management
  • St George’s flower bank Local Nature Reserve: thirty years of road verge management by a local community
  • Wet farming in the Great Fen

CLM is published four times a year in March, June, September and December, and is available by subscription only, delivered straight to your door. Subscriptions start from £18 per year. Back issues are also available to purchase individually (subject to availability).

If you are involved in a conservation project and think your experiences could be useful to other practitioners, we would love to hear from you. If you are interested in writing for CLM feel free to contact us – we will be happy to discuss your ideas with you.

Author interview with Roy Dennis: Restoring the Wild

Reintroducing lost species has had a huge part to play in restoring natural processes and enriching biodiversity in Britain. In Restoring the Wild, Roy Dennis MBE documents the painstaking journey to reintroduce some of Britain’s lost apex predators, and the subsequent enormous benefits to our ecosystem.

Leading up to the book’s publication, Roy kindly agreed to answer some questions.


As is made clear from the title of your book, you have a long and amazing history of involvement with conservation projects. Could you begin by sharing what inspired you to pursue a career as a field ornithologist and wildlife consultant?

It really started as a youngster keen on wildlife and living in the Hampshire countryside. Becoming really good at birds and bird ringing which led to a summer job as an assistant warden at Lundy Bird Observatory, instead of going to work at Harwell Atomic Research Station. The following year I was a field ornithologist at the prestigious Fair Isle Bird Observatory, which was fantastic training. There I met George Waterston, the famous Scottish ornithologist, who persuaded me to join him the following year wardening the ospreys at Loch Garten. There I made so many friends in wildlife conservation and became totally convinced that my life was going to be about birds and conservation, restoring species and subsequently ecological restoration.

Of course the obvious aim of a reintroduction project is to bring back a species that has been lost. But in your experience what subsequent benefits are there to reintroductions?

I think in a very damaged world reintroduction projects show there is a chance to bring species back and give people hope. Some species are more important than others from an ecological point of view with beavers being the ecosystem engineer par excellence. My book explains the many advantages of restoring beavers. Other species such as red kites and white-tailed eagle are iconic species, which demonstrate that rare birds can live in the general countryside, not only in nature reserves. Then people can see and enjoy them on the way to work, school or the shops. My whole ethos has been to make rare birds more common and secure for the future.

According to the latest 2019 State of Nature report, about 162 species have thought to have become extinct since the 1500s. How is it decided what species should be prioritised for reintroduction?

It’s more a question of our ability to successfully restore a species, is there enough habitat and food, can we find birds to translocate and what is the likelihood of success. I think the most important action is to take action and not be bogged down by procedures.

You spoke in your book about the opposition to reintroduction projects – what would your response be to address these concerns and opposing views?

The opposition can come from many quarters but the most important thing is to listen to all the concerns and address them. It’s essential to know the species on its home patch and to be able to present a clear message. Usually people’s concerns can be allayed; for example I write in my book about making a special recce to the Netherlands to speak to the experts about white-tailed eagles and agriculture, so that we could give considered views before starting the Isle of Wight project. We have had complaints from some birders that the translocated ospreys at Rutland Water or the sea eagles are not ‘real’ birds and they cannot count them on their lists. But they forget capercaillies were brought back from Scandinavia long ago. But the recent sea eagles flying in southern England have shown that birders just love to know they are back, and hopefully will breed in England again.

In the final chapter of your book you look forward to focus on newer projects, such as White-tailed Eagle reintroductions on the Isle of Wight and the South Coast Osprey Project. But what else would you like to see reintroduced to Britain in the near future?

In my last chapter of the book I’m really talking about handing over the baton to others to take projects forward. I’m very fortunate that Tim Mackrill joined me a few years ago and I love working with our small team. We are always assessing possible projects but would rather do it in a quiet way, really get to know the species on mainland Europe and talk to all the people that are likely to be involved before we go public with an idea.

White-tailed Eagles, Ospreys, Red Kites and Goldeneyes are a few of the species you have helped to successfully restore to Britain. What has been your personal highlight and why?

“What is your favourite?” is a question I’ve been asked all my life. But I do not have one – or rather it is the one we are working with at the time. I can recall personal highlights like the first osprey breeding pair at Rutland Water, seeing the young white-tailed eagles fly free on the Isle of Wight was exciting just like when I released the first young sea eagle on Fair Isle in 1968. Seeing red kites, the length and breadth of Scotland and England has been special, made more so when you see them soaring over motorways. During lockdown it’s been marvellous to hear from so many people who have seen a sea eagle fly high over them as they sit in their garden. Bringing wonder back.

The Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation has achieved a great deal over the years since it was formed in 1995, not just in the UK but across Europe too. Can you share what the Foundation has planned for the future?

We want to carry on with our work with wildlife conservation, there are still many things to do and the return of the Lynx is high in my thoughts. We have others in mind for the future so keep an eye on our website and see what’s coming next. You will get a great insight to how these projects evolve and work in Restoring the Wild.

Restoring the Wild: Sixty Years of Rewilding Our Skies, Woods and Waterways
By: Roy Dennis
Hardback | Due April 2021 | £16.99 £18.99

 

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

Conservation Land Management: Spring 2021

The cover of the CLM Spring 2021 issue

The magazine that went on to become Conservation Land Management (CLM) first went to print in the spring of 1993. At this time it was named enact, and was published by English Nature (the predecessor of Natural England). The aim then was to promote land management for nature conservation and provide easy-to-understand advice on useful techniques – an objective that CLM still stands by today, but now covering a much wider variety of conservation issues. Here, Assistant Editor Catherine Mitson highlights the key articles of the latest Spring 2021 issue.

The UK’s departure from the EU offers a number of opportunities for the environment, and in particular for the future of farming in the UK. And so, agricultural policy is undergoing a reform and a new payment scheme, the Environmental Land Management scheme (ELM), has been introduced to England.

ELM will pay farmers based on the public goods they provide, such as habitat restoration or flood management, as a means of contributing to the government’s 25 Year Environment Plan. But is ELM up to the task of delivering its aim? In this issue Alice Groom, RSPB’s senior policy officer, provides an up to date overview of what we know about ELM so far, the proposed timeline of the seven-year agricultural transition period, and, importantly, highlights the pitfalls and challenges that need to be addressed in order for ELM to be a success.

Staying within the theme of farming, exciting new approaches are being trialled in the The Great Fen, which stretches between Huntingdon and Peterborough, and is undergoing landscape-wide restoration to improve the sustainability of the fens for both people and wildlife. Within this vision, the Great Fen team are in the midst of the three-year Water Works project that is focused on a ‘wet farming’ approach. Wet farming is a type of agriculture on wetter soils, a much more suited approach for the natural conditions of the fens; this will help to protect peat, lock in carbon, support wildlife and provide local farmers with new economic opportunities.

Novel crops, such as gypsywort, bulrush, sphagnum moss and watercress, chosen for their potential uses for food, flavourings and medicine, are currently being trailed in specially prepared planting beds. Data is simultaneously being collected to measure the rate of carbon capture and loss in these trial plots – it is hoped that not only will carbon loss be reduced within the Great Fen, but also that these changes in fenland agriculture will help sequester carbon too.

Ribble Rivers Trust (RRT) also seeks to improve the condition of existing habitats, and uses an evidence-based approach to target land management where it will have the biggest benefits for wildlife, people, and the environment. Focused in the Ribble catchment in north-west England, Ellie Brown, GIS data and evidence officer at RRT, demonstrates how the use of mapping and data analysis has helped the charity to identify key areas for conservation projects.

One example of this has been along Bashall Brook. Using solar radiation maps RRT identified a particular stretch of the watercourse that was at risk of overheating. The main reason behind the increase in water temperature in this area was a lack of surrounding vegetation providing enough shade, and so it was decided to create a woodland running along either side of the bank. RRT is conscious to only ever plant trees where it is appropriate, and the resulting vegetation has helped to create much-needed shade along the brook.

In some circumstances all it takes is just a handful of people in a local community with a shared passion to come together to make a difference. In 1970 the Bristol section of the M5 motorway was opened and, during this work, a particular stretch of St George’s Hill had the topsoil removed from the roadside verge. Giles Morris, a conservation volunteer with St. George’s Flower Bank, describes how a dedicated team of volunteers from the local villages worked together to clear the encroaching scrub on this verge, and how this led to the establishment of a species-rich grassland. This on-going management project has been a huge success, and the site has since been declared a Local Nature Reserve.

Conservation success stories, such as that of St George’s Flower Bank, make for an inspirational read. And staying on a positive note, beavers are certainly grabbing the attention of many in recent years and have been reintroduced to a number of different sites across the UK. For our Introducing feature it was a delight to have Eva Bishop discuss how the Beaver Trust came to be, what it is trying to achieve, and the exciting projects it has been involved in.

In every issue you can expect to see Briefing and On the ground, but other features that regularly appear include Viewpoint, a similar length to our main articles, but here authors can voice their own views on various conservation issues; Introducing, a feature focused on organisations involved in conservation, and here they can discuss their aim and describe specific conservation projects they are involved in; and Review, which can include letters from readers or updates from our authors.

CLM is published four times a year in March, June, September and December, and is available by subscription only, delivered straight to your door. Subscriptions start from £18 per year. Previous back issues are also available to purchase individually (subject to availability).

If you are involved in a conservation project and think your experiences could be useful to other practitioners, we would love to hear from you. If you are interested in writing for CLM feel free to contact us – we will be happy to discuss your ideas with you.