The NHBS Guide to UK Weevil Identification

Weevils are beetles belonging to the superfamily Curculionoidea. They are generally characterised by their elongated snout, or rostrum, although this is not present in all species. The similarly named Curculionidae family exist within this superfamily and contain the “true” weevils. These true weevils have long snouts and geniculate or sharply hinged antennae that end in small clubs. There are several other families of weevil including Belidae, the primitive weevils, and Anthribidae, the fungus weevils.

As of 2012, over 600 species of weevil had been recorded in Britain. The total number of species worldwide is unknown, but estimates suggest that there are between 40,000–97,000. They can be found in a variety of habitats including gardens, parks, woodland, farmland, heathland and wetlands. They are usually found on plants but they can also be found on the ground. Some weevil species, such as vine weevils and rice weevils, feed on grains and can become an infestation inside pantries and cupboards. They aren’t harmful to humans or pets but they can cause damage to stored foods as their populations grow rapidly once they are inside containers of flour or cereals.

Identification of weevils can be difficult in the field as many species look alike to the naked eye. A hand lens, specimen pots and a good field guide can help. There are several ways to look for specimens, such as using a sweep net or beating tray or simply searching by eye. However, as weevils are very small, often less than 6mm in length, it is important to be careful when surveying.

In this post we will look at some of the most commonly found weevils in the UK, providing some key identifying features and information on similar or confusion species.

Glossary

– Elytra – Protective wing-cases covering the hindwings (singular, elytron)
– Geniculate antennae – Antennae having elbows
– Pronotum – Section of the body directly behind the head
– Rostrum – Snout-like projection extending from the head
– Scutellum – Large triangular shield or plate located on the back
– Setae – Stiff bristle-like hairs (singular, seta)
– Striae – Longitudinally depressed lines or furrows (singular, stria)
– Tarsi – Foot or contact surface of the leg (singular, tarsus)
– Tibia – Fourth segment of the leg (from the body), located between the femur and the tarsus

Common UK Weevils
Vine Weavil by AJC1 via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

VINE WEEVIL (Otiorhynchus sulcatus)

Distribution: Widespread throughout Britain.
What to look for: Black body mottled with small brown patches. Their elytra, the hardened forewings that serve as protective cases for the hindwings, have longitudinal grooves, or striae. Their pronotum is pebbled in texture.
Similar species: There are several dark, grooved species, and the Large Pine Weevil (Hylobius abietis) is visually similar but has orange or creamy-yellow spots resembling bands and their elytra lack defined grooves.

Green Immigrant Leaf Weevil by Tim Worfolk via Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

GREEN IMMIGRANT LEAF WEEVIL (Polydrusus formosus)

Distribution: Widespread, increasing population.
What to look for: A metallic green species with round scales and pale antennae that end in a dark club. Their elytra are longitudinally striated and do not have any setae (stiff structures that resemble bristles). Older specimens may be darker in colour as their scales can wear off, showing their black under-colour. Their legs have some metallic green covering but with an orangey under-colour.
Similar species: There are several visually similar species, therefore specimens need to be examined closely. Identification in the field may be difficult.

Pea Leaf Weevil by Danny Chapman via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

PEA LEAF WEEVIL (Sitona lineatus)

Distribution: Widespread in England and Wales.
What to look for: This is a buff species with dark longitudinal stripes that can appear dark brown or reddish. Its rostrum, or snout, is very short, unlike those of many weevil species.
Similar species: There are several similar Sitona species. Identification in the field may not be possible and dissection is often needed to confirm species.

Acorn Weevil by Lukas Large via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

ACORN WEEVIL (Curculio glandium)

Distribution: Widespread, more common in the south of Britain.
What to look for: The Acorn Weevil is a brownish-rust colour with darker markings on its elytra. It has a long, striking rostrum and a paler scutellum.
Similar species: Very similar to Curculio nucum but can be distinguished by the shape of the antennal club which is more elongated and narrow than that of C. nucum.

Nettle Weevil by Danny Chapman via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

NETTLE WEEVIL (Phyliobius pomaceus)

Distribution: Common in England and Wales, rare in Scotland.
What to look for: A black beetle covered in metallic, bluish-green scales, which are oval. There is a prominent tooth on the front femur.
Similar species: There are multiple similar species in the Phyllobius genus. The Nettle Weevil is the only one with oval scales.

Cabbage Seed Weevil by Gilles San Martin via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

CABBAGE SEED WEEVIL (Ceutorhynchus obstrictus)

Distribution: Fairly widespread in England and Wales.
What to look for: The Cabbage Seed Weevil has a round grey body with grey legs. They are covered in small, white scales. They have a long, curved rostrum and small, bent antennae. If disturbed, this weevil will fold its rostrum and legs against its body, resembling a small pebble.
Similar species: Several other Ceutorhynchus species are very similar to C. obstrictus but they can be distinguished from some by the colour of their tarsi, the last part of the insect leg, which are black to dark-brown rather than reddish-yellow. C. Obstrictus also lacks a tooth on the hind femora.
Synonym: Ceutorhynchus assimilis, Cabbage Seedpod Weevil.

Willow Gall Weavil by Line Sabroe via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

WILLOW GALL WEAVIL (Archarius salicivorus)

Distribution: Widespread in Britain.
What to look for: A short, black weevil with a tapered body and long snout. Its antennae are midway along the rostrum. It has a paler underside and a small pale scutellum, the small section of the exoskeleton in the middle of the back between the pronotum and the abdomen
Similar species: The Strawberry Blossom Weevil (Anthonomus rubi) is visually similar but has a less rounded appearance when viewed from above and a less barrel-shaped pronotum than the Willow Gall Weevil.

Large Pine Weavil by gbohne via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

LARGE PINE WEAVIL (Hyblobius albietis)

Distribution: Widespread.
What to look for: This is a large dark brown weevil with orange to creamy-yellow patches on its elytra, which form bands. They have black or deep red legs with a distinct tooth on the femora and at the end of the tibiae. They also have eyebrow-like patches on their head at the base of their rostrum.
Similar species: The Vine Weevil (O. Sulcatus, see above) is also dark with lighter patches, but these are brown and their elytra have more distinct striations. They also have a more distinctly ‘pebbled’ pronotum.

The NHBS Guide to UK Caterpillar Identification

Caterpillars are part of the life cycle of moths or butterflies which is known as complete metamorphosis. This life cycle includes four stages: egg, caterpillar (also known as the larval or feeding stage), pupa (the transition stage) and adult (the reproductive phase). With over 2,600 species of moth and 60 species of butterfly in the British Isles, there are a large variety of caterpillars present in our countryside.

There are several stages of caterpillar growth called instars, during which the caterpillar sheds its skin as it grows. Colouration, size and patternation can vary between these instars. Additionally, species can have different variations of caterpillars, including different colour forms. Several species are listed below, grouped by key characteristics such as colour, patternation and features.

Hairy caterpillars

Collage of 8 images of hairy caterpillars.

  1. Knot Grass moth (Acronicta rumicis): Colour can vary between light gingery brown to near black, with patches of rusty brown hair and a broken line of white dorsal patches. They also have a wavy white line on their sides, broken with bright orange/red spots. They grow up to 40mm in length. Can be confused with the caterpillars of Brown-tail and Yellow-tail moths. Foodplants include Knot Grass as well as Broad-leaved Dock, plantains, Bramble, Hawthorn, Common Sorrel, heather, and Purple Loosestrife  [Image by author]
  2. Fox Moth (Macrothylacia rubi): Very hairy, up to 70mm long, dark brown with an orangey stripe down the length of its body. Caterpillars in earlier stages of development may have distinctive orange or yellow bands. Commonly feeds on heathers, Bilberry, Creeping Willow, Bramble, Meadowsweet and Salad Burnet. [Image by Odd Wellies via Flickr]
  3. Garden Tiger moth (Arctia caja): Also known as the woolly bear caterpillar due its very long hairs. Grows up to 55mm long and has a dark red dorsal area with white tipped hairs,an orangey red underside, and small white markings along its sides. Feeds on a variety of herbacious and garden plants including Common Nettle, Broad-leaved Dock, burdocks and Hound’s-tongue. [Image by Dean Morley via Flickr] 
  4. Brown-tail moth (Euproctis chrysorrhoea): Can measure up to 30mm long, black with white markings down its sides and two distinctive orangey red ‘warts’ on its back near its tail. Be aware that its hairs are toxic to humans. Feeds on plants in the Rosaceae family including Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Plum, Cherry, Rose and Bramble. [Image (cropped) by Chris Cooper via Flickr] 
  5. Miller moth (Acronicta leporina): Up to 35mm long with very long white or yellow hairs that swirl to one side. The body is often a pale green to brown depending on the development stage but this can be hard to see under the hairs. Usually found on birch or Alder trees. [Image by janet graham via Flickr 
  6. Pale Tussock moth (Calliteara pudibunda): Greenish yellow hairs with a black body showing through in bands between tufts. The hairs can vary in colour and can be white, brown or pink. They also have a tail tuft that varies in colour but is usually brown, pink or red. This can be absent in some individuals. The four, tussocky tufts on their dorsal are frequently white, brown or yellow. Feeds on a variety of broadleaved trees and shrubs including Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Crab Apple, oaks, birches and Hazel.[Image by gailhampshire via Flickr] 
  7. Sycamore moth (Acronicta aceris): Up to 40mm long with thick hair that is either yellow, brown or orange . They have bold white spots down their back, outlined in black, as well as tufts of dark orange or bright red hair on their back. Foodplants are most commonly Sycamore, Field Maple and Horse-chestnut. [Image by Jon Brinn via Flickr] 
  8. White Ermine moth (Spilosoma lubricipeda): Approximately 40mm long with a red, orange or pale dorsal line. Caterpillars at later development stages are covered in spines that can be reddish brown, dark brown or even black. [Image (cropped) by Odd Wellies via Flickr 

There are many ecological functions of hair-like structures on caterpillars including defence and camouflage. These hairs, called setea, can be almost invisible to the naked eye, while others make them easier to see. Two types of caterpillar hair can cause harm to humans and pets: urticating, which are itchy, non-venomous hairs that can irritate the skin, and stinging hairs, which are hollow spines that have poison-secreting cells that can cause a range of health issues if they enter the skin.  

Brown caterpillars

Collage of 4 images of brown caterpillars.

  1. Elephant Hawk-moth (Deilephila elpenor): Thick bodies that grow up to 8cm in length, usually dark brown but bright green forms also occur. The name derives from their smaller, trunk-like head that extends from its more bulbous neck. They feature a spiked tail and four eyespots, although the second pair can be less visible on darker individuals. Most frequently found on Rosebay Willowherb, Great Willowherb, other willowherbs and bedstraws. [Image by Aah-Yeah via Flickr] 
  2. Square-spot Rustic moth (Xestia xanthographa): Greenish ochre in colour, with pale lines on its back and edged with dark, long, slanted markings on its sides in a row. Mainly feeds on grasses, plantains and Cleavers. [Image (brightness adjusted and cropped) by David Short via Flickr] 
  3. Large Yellow Underwing moth (Noctua pronuba): Grows to a length of 45–50mm. Its body can be various shades of brown and green, with three lines down its back and dark patches on the inner side of the outer two lines – similar to the Square-spot Rustic. They also have darker sides with a lighter stripe above the legs. Feeds on a wide range of herbaceous plants and grasses including docks, brassicas, marigolds and Foxglove. [Image by rhonddawildlifediary via Flickr] 
  4. Dot Moth (Melanchra persicariae): These caterpillars can reach up to 45mm in length and can be different shades of brown and green. They have three pale, distinctive lines on the dark prothoracic plate behind their head, as well as dark and light chevrons along a pale dorsal line down their backs. Feeds on a wide range of herbaceous and woody plants including Common Nettle, White Clover, Ivy, Hazel, Elder and willows. [Image (cropped) by Martin Cooper via Flickr].  

Many of these caterpillars can also have a green form.   

Black and yellow/orange patterned caterpillars

Collage of 6 images of black and yellow/orange caterpillars climbing along leaves.

  1. Large White butterfly (Pieris brassicae): Pale green-yellow in colour with black spots along its body. Visibly hairy. Also known as a Cabbage White due to its preference for cabbages as a food plant. [Image by S. Rae via Flickr]
  2. Buff-tip moth (Phalera bucephala): Distinctive caterpillar with a trellised black and yellow patterning and covering of pale hairs. The face is black and has an inverted yellow V. When fully grown this caterpillar measures up to 75mm in length. Most frequently found on sallows, birches, oaks and Hazel. [Image by Tristram Brelstaff via Flickr]
  3. Six-spot Burnet moth (Zygaena filipendulae): Caterpillars feature a series of yellow and black dots on a green or greenish-yellow body. Feeds on Common Bird’s-foot-trefoil or occasionally Greater Bird’s-foot-trefoil. [Image by Peter O’Connor via Flickr]
  4. Small Tortoiseshell butterfly (Aglais urticae): Caterpillars are initially black but show increasing variation in colour, with many developing pale yellow lines down their back and sides (some, however, may remain pure black). They have small clusters of short yellow spines and are fully grown at 30mm. Usually found on Common Nettle leaves. [Image by Gilles San Martin via Flickr]
  5. Mullein moth (Curcullia verbasci): One of the most striking and distinctive caterpillars to be found in Britain, they have a mixture of repeating black and yellow markings on a pale bluish-grey body. When fully grown they measure almost 50mm in length. Foodplants include mulleins, Common Figwort, Water Figwort and buddleias.[Image by Amanda Slater via Flickr]
  6. Box Tree moth (Cydalima perspectalis): Box Tree moths were introduced accidentally from south-east Asia and are a pest of Box trees. Caterpillars have green and black stripes running the length of the body, and the head is shiny black. Each of the body segments has white hairs and eyelike markings. [Image by hedera.baltica via Flickr]
 Black and spiky caterpillars

Collage of 4 images of Black and Spikey caterpillars climbing on leaves.

  1. Peacock butterfly (Aglais io): Unlike the brightly coloured adult Peacock butterfly, the Peacock caterpillar has a velvety black body with small white spots and short spines on each segment. Most commonly feeds on Common Nettle and Hops. [Image by Peter O’Connor via Flickr]
  2. Painted Lady butterfly (Vanessa cardui): Often found on thistles, Painted Lady caterpillars live for 5-10 days in a loosely woven silk nest inside which they feed continuously. They have dark bodies with pale narrow yellow-cream stripes. Particularly on younger larvae, spines can be alternating light and dark. [Image (cropped) by ahh-yeah via Flickr]
  3. Marsh Fritillary butterfly (Euphydryas aurinia): Caterpillars are black and hairy and initially live in groups on a larval web which is woven on the bottom-most leaves of Devil’s Bit Scabious plants. Prior to pupation, at the end of April, caterpillars will finally disperse to live independently. [Image by Gilles San Martin via Flickr]
  4. Red Admiral butterfly (Vanessa atalanta): Caterpillars are black and spiny with a yellow stripe down each side and fine hairs along the body. They can be tricky to spot as they use silk to bind nettle leaves together to make a protective tent inside which they feed. [Image by Benny Mazur via Flickr]
Green caterpillars

Collage of 8 images of green caterpillars on leaves and rocks.

  1. Lime Hawk-moth (Mimas tiliae): Caterpillars are distinctive having a large green body with pale yellow streaks on each segment and a bluish ‘horn’ at the tail end. Turns purple a short time before pupation. Foodplants include Limes, elms, Downy Birch, Silver Birch and Elder. [Image by Odd Wellies via Flickr]
  2. Poplar Hawk-moth (Laothoe populi): A thick and chunky, bright green caterpillar with faint yellow lines running diagonally along the body. The tail end has a yellow ‘horn’ and some individuals have small, dark spots. Food plants include poplars, sallows and willows. [Image by Patrick Clement via Flickr]
  3. Privet Hawk-moth (Sphinx ligustri): Bright, lime-green caterpillar with white and purple stripes and a pale yellow spot on each segment. The tail end has a black curved hook. Usually found on Wild and Garden Privets, Ash, Lilac and Guelder-rose. [Image by Jo Garbutt via Flickr]
  4. Eyed Hawk-moth (Smerinthus ocellata): Closely resembles the Poplar Hawk-moth caterpillar in that it is bright green with diagonal yellow lines. When mature it can be distinguished by its bluish tail horn. Foodplants include Apple, willows and sallows. [Image by Julian Smith via Flickr]
  5. Speckled Wood butterfly (Pararge aegeria): Bright green with faint dark green and yellow stripes running longitudinally along the length of the body. Feeds on False Brome, Cock’s-foot, Yorkshire-fog and Common Couch. [Image by Dean Morley via Flickr]
  6. Pine Hawk-moth (Sphinx pinastri): Dark green caterpillar with a brown stripe along the centre of its back and cream dashes that run either side of this. It has a brown head and a black tail horn. Feeds mainly on Scots Pine.[Image by Aah-Yeah via Flickr]
  7. Bright-line Brown-eye moth (Lacanobia oleracea): Green caterpillar with a bright yellow line along its sides and tiny black spots. Found on a variety of herbacious and woody plants such as Common Nettle, Fat-hen, willowherbs, Hazel and Hop. Sometimes a pest of cultivated Tomatoes. [Image by Ben Sale via Flickr]
  8. Hummingbird Hawk-moth (Macroglossum stellatarum): Caterpillars are mainly green and have a thick, cream-yellow stripe running along the sides with a white line above. The tail horn is black with a yellow tip when mature. Feeds on Lady’s Bedstraw, Hedge Bedstraw and Wild Madder. [Image by liesvanrompaey via Flickr]Collage of 5 caterpillars.
  9. Straw Dot moth (Rivula sericealis): Green caterpillar with two cream stripes running along the back creating a repeating hourglass pattern between them. Covered in long fine hairs. Not often seen, the caterpillars feed on a variety of grass species. [Image by Mick Talbot] 
  10. Silver Y moth (Autographa gamma): Relatively easy to identify as it has only two sets of prolegs (small fleshy stubs beneath the body) and a rear clasper which means it walks with an arched body. It has a green body with a series of white wavy lines which may be broken by pale circles in later instars. Feeds on a range of low-lying herbacious plants including bedstraws, clovers, Common Nettle, Garden Pea and Cabbage. [Image by Artur Rydzewski via Flickr] 
  11. Kentish Glory moth (Endromis versicolora): Large green caterpillar with diagonal pale stripes on each segment. Usually found on Silver Birch and less often on Downy Birch and Alder. [Image by Harald Supfle] 
  12. Emperor Moth (Saturnia pavonia): Green with black hoops containing yellow wartlike spots. Common in scrubby places whether they often feed on heathers, Meadowsweet, Bramble, Hawthorn and Blackthorn, amongst others. [Image by Odd Wellies via Flickr] 
  13. Angle Shades moth (Phlogophora meticulosa): Usually green but can be mixed with shades of brown and/or yellow. A fine pale line runs down the back and a pale band runs down the sides of the body. Foodplants include a range of herbaceous and woody plants such as Common Nettle, Hop, Red Valerian, Bramble and Broad-leaved Dock. [Image by author] 
 Others

Collage of 8 caterpillars of other species.

  1. Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio machaon): Striking bright green caterpillar with black bands and orange spots. British Swallowtail caterpillars feed solely on Milk-parsley. [Image by Frank Vassen via Flickr]
  2. Cinnabar moth (Tyria jacobaeae): Easy to identify having bold gold and black stripes. Most commonly feeds on the leaves and flowers of Common Ragwort where they can be found in their hundreds. [Image by Smudge 9000 via Flickr]
  3. High Brown Fritillary butterfly (Argynnis adippe): Black caterpillar with a checkered pale pattern and yellow/buff spines. Covered in fine black bristles. Feeds on Common Dog-violet and Hairy Violet. [Image by Darius Bauzys via Flickr]
  4. Magpie moth (Abraxas grossulariata): Distinctive caterpillar with a creamy-white body, rows of black and white spots and an orange stripe that runs along the length of the body on the lower sides. Feeds on a range of deciduous trees such as Blackthorn, Hawthorn and Hazel as well as currant and gooseberry bushes. [Image by Conall via Flickr]
  5. Small Copper butterfly (Lycaena phlaeas): Slug-shaped caterpillar covered in tiny white hairs. Exists in two forms: a purely green form and a green and pink striped form. Main foodplants are Common Sorrel and Sheep’s Sorrel. [Image by Gilles San Martin via Flickr]
  6. Comma butterfly (Polygonia c-album): Mainly coloured brown and black with a large white mark towards the rear end of its back. Preferred foodplant is Common Nettle. [Image by Gilles San Martin via Flickr]
  7. Yellow-tail moth (Euproctis similis): Black caterpillar with a small hump behind its head. Two red/orange lines run along the back with a row of white markings wither side of them. They are covered in long black hairs and shorter white ones. Feeds on a wide selection of broadleaf trees and shrubs including Hawthorn, Blackthorn, oaks, roses, Hazel and willows. [Image by gailhampshire via Flickr]
  8. Lackey moth (Malacosoma neustria): Large orange, blue and white striped caterpillars that are covered with fine orange hairs. Often feed in large groups on broadleaved trees and shrubs including Blackthorn, Hawthorn, cherries, Plum and Apple. [Image by gailhampshire via Flickr]

Phenology Series: Spring

Springtime is often synonymous with rebirth, renewal and regrowth. As the Earth’s axis tilts towards the sun, our days become warmer and the snow starts to melt. The rivers and streams swell, air and ground temperatures rise, and we start to see new plant growth.

There are no fixed calendar dates for the beginning of spring. Ecologically, the start of this season relates to biological indicators, such as the start of certain animal activities and the blossoming of particular plant species. Phenology is the study of the timing of natural events from year to year, like the budburst of trees, the arrival of summer migrant species, the breeding bird season and the emergence of hibernating wildlife. You can find out more about the study of phenology in our previous blog post.

This is the first in our four part seasonal phenology series where you can explore a collection of ID blogs, books, equipment and events to make the most of the spring season.


Identification guides

Over the years, we’ve made a number of identification guides for UK species, many of which are active during spring. Here’s a selection that we think are particularly useful for this season:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


What you might see:

  • You will likely start to notice the first flowering of many plant species, including Cuckoo Flower (Cardamine pratensis), Meadow Foxtail (Alopecurus pratensis), Bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) and Wood Anemone (Anemondoides nemorosa).
  • The budburst of trees, including Alder (Alnus glutinosa), Horse Chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum), Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia) and Sycamore (Acerpseudoplatanus), with many also having their first leaves appear in March or early April.
  • Trees such as Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa), Hazel (Corylus avellana) and Field Maple (Acer campestre) begin to produce blossoms and catkins. Spring blossom can start as early as February and last through to early summer.

  • The emergence of several insect species, such as Seven-spot Ladybirds (Coccinella septempunctata), Orange Tip butterflies (Anthocharis cardamines), Green Tiger Beetles (Cicindela campestris) and Dark-edged Bee-flies (Bombylius major).
  • The beginning of the nesting season for most European bird species, including Great Tits (Parus major), Tawny Owls (Strix aluco), Long-eared Owls (Asio otus) and Wrens (Troglodytes troglodytes). Great Crested Grebes (Podiceps cristatus) start their courtship rituals in early spring, with their elaborate dances, synchronised swimming, preening and ‘mewing’.
  • Many migratory birds also begin to arrive during spring, such as Chiffchaffs (Phylloscopus collybita), Swallows (Hirundo rustica) and Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe).

  • Reptiles and amphibians become more active during spring and into summer, coming out of hibernation and venturing to find food and breeding sites. Frogspawn, toadspawn and tadpoles also begin to appear during early spring and onwards.
  • A number of mammal species give birth during this time so that their young are born when resources are most plentiful. Badger cubs (Meles meles), which are mainly born in February, will begin to gradually emerge from their setts during spring.


Activities:


Upcoming events:

Earth Day – 22nd April
International Dawn Chorus Day – 5th May
Hedgehog Awareness Week – 5th to 11th May
World Bee Day – 20th May
International Day for Biological Diversity – 22nd May
World Environment Day – 5th June
World Ocean Day – 8th June
Insect Week – 24th to 30th June


Essential equipment and books:

An Identification Guide to Garden Insects of Britain and North-West Europe

 

 

 

 

Wild Flower Flowcharts: Species ID the Easy Way

 

 

 

Great British Marine Animals

 

 

 

 

 

Opticron Hand Lens: 15x 23mm

Check out our guide to hand lenses and our full range.

 

Educational Rock Pooling Kit

 

 

 

Wireless Nest Box Camera.

Wireless Nest Box Camera

 

 

 

 

 

Browse our full collection for more spring books and equipment highlights.

The NHBS Guide to UK Snail Identification

Snails are a common feature in our gardens and parks. You may have particularly noticed them if you have a vegetable or plant patch, as they feed on the leaves, flowers and fruits of many of our food plants. There are over 40,000 species of land snail, although only around 120 occur in Britain.  

There are several useful features for identifying the correct species. The overall shape, in terms of the ratio of height to breadth, is important, as species can vary between a wide, round, flattened shape to tall and thin. The shape, colouration and thickness of the mouth of the shell can often be used to discern between visually similar species. Shell colour and pattern of the shell can help. However, this can be varied between individuals of the same species. Empty shells can also have a different appearance than those with the snail inside. Other useful features can include the direction and number of whorls, shell thickness, surface sheen and texture. 

Very little equipment is needed for identifying snails, but a hand lens can help for smaller specimens, particularly when counting whorls or looking at shell textures. Specimen pots or trays can help you to safely store species while you study them, and forceps are useful for collecting and moving smaller, more delicate species.   

Garden Snail (Cornu aspersum)

Garden Snail on a leaf in a garden.
Snail in our garden by Les Pounder, via flickr.

Distribution: Common throughout lowland Britain. 

What to look for: This is a well-known species that most people will have seen in their gardens or local green spaces. The garden snail has a thick shell, with a mottled brown, red, and yellow colouration. Its shell aperture is large and has a thickened white lip. It has around 4.5–5 whorls and its thick shell has a rough, wrinkled surface. The umbilicus, the depression or hole at the centre of shell whorls, often on the underside, is completely sealed by the lip. 

White-lipped Snail (Cepaea hortensis)

White-lipped snail on concrete by hedera.baltica.
White-lipped snail by hedera.baltica, via flickr.

Distribution: Widespread across Britain, but mainly found in coastal areas in Scotland. 

What to look for: This species has a glossy, smooth shell that is usually a yellow colour. However, individuals can be pink, brown or red. The number and presence of dark spiral bands can vary but there is no more than five. This species most often has an obvious white lip around the shell aperture.  

Brown-lipped Snail (Cepaea nemoralis) 

Brown-lipped snail travelling across a concrete pavement.
Brown-lipped snail by hedera.baltica, via flickr.

Distribution: Widespread across Britain apart from the northern parts of Scotland. 

What to look for: The colouration of this snail is widely variable and can be yellow, brown or pink. The presence of the banded patterning is also variable and they can have up to five bands across their shells. Their shells have between 4.5–5.5 whorls, with a semi-glossy surface. There is usually a dark rim to the lip of the shell aperture.   

Hairy Snail (Trochulus hispidus) 

Trochulus hispidus - Hairy Snail climbing up a branch.
Trochulus hispidus – Hairy Snail by Nikk, via flickr.

Distribution: Widespread throughout Britain. 

What to look for: This snail can vary in colour from cream to brown. It sometimes has a light band around the shell aperture. The shell is quite flat and densely covered in short hairs, which can be worn away over time. These hairs have been found to help the snail to adhere better to wet surfaces.  

Copse Snail (Arianta arbustorum) 

Heesterslak - Arianta arbustorum snail on concrete.
Heesterslak – Arianta arbustorum by Gertjan van Noord, via flickr.

Distribution: Widespread. 

What to look for: This species can grow up to 19mm. Its shell is a mottled brown with a thin band around the circumference, although its colour pattern can be highly variable. Its body is very dark and the shell aperture is a ‘C’ shape, often with a paler inside lip that can be bone-white. The shell has between 5–6 whorls and the umbilicus is a small crescent-shaped slit.  

Kentish Snail (Monacha cantiana) 

Kentish Snail (Monacha cantiana) on a green leaf.
Kentish Snail (Monacha cantiana) by Peter O’Connor, via flickr.

Distribution: Widespread across England, less common in Wales and Scotland. 

What to look for: This non-native species has a creamy shell with dark mottling. It often has a pale band around its circumference and a relatively small umbilicus. The body of the snail is a pale brown, with a darker skirting and sometimes darker tentacles.  

Striped Snail (Cernuella virgata) 

Snail at Walkley, Sheffield, crawling across stones.
Snail at Walkley, Sheffield by Tim Parkinson, via flickr.

Distribution: Widespread.  

What to look for: Also known as the vineyard snail, this snail has a pale shell, usually with dark spiral bands. The shell colouration and the number of markings are variable. It is an uncommon species, usually found in calcareous grassland, sand dunes and coastal grasslands.  

Pointed Snail (Cochlicella acuta) 

Pointed Snail attached to a tree.
Pointed Snail by Katja Schulz, via flickr.

Distribution: Found mainly in Wales, Ireland, and south and west England, it also occurs on some islands off of Scotland. 

What to look for: It has an elongated conical shell that tapers to a blunt tip. This shell varies in colour and markings but is usually a pale cream or off-white. It may have several bands of dark brown or black or be streaked with brown. 

Amber Snail (Succinea putris) 

Succinea putris, large Amber Snail, on the fold of a green leaf.
Succinea putris. Large Amber Snail by gailhampshire, via flickr.

Distribution: Widespread throughout England and Wales, less common in Scotland. 

What to look for: Between 15–22mm tall and 7–12mm wide, the shell of this species can range from very light amber to a darker orange-brown in colour. Its shell also has a very large final whorl. The body of this snail is a pale colour with two dark lines running along the top of its head, extending along its tentacles to its eyes. 

 

The NHBS Guide to UK Slug Identification

Slug is the common name for gastropod molluscs that have little to no shell. Descended from snails, they usually have a vestigial shell that is internalised, but some have either none at all or a very reduced one, such as the shelled slug (Testacella scutulum), which has a fingernail-like shell over its rear end. There are over 30 species of slug in the UK. 

As they do not have full-sized shells, they’re prone to desiccation, so many species are most active during and after wet weather and spend drier times hidden in damp places such as under man-made structures, tree bark, leaf litter and rocks. They play an essential role in the ecosystem, similarly to snails, by eating decaying matter such as plant material and fungi, aiding nutrient cycling.  

A small number of slugs are considered serious pests to agriculture and horticulture, eating foliage, fruits, and vegetables. This gave rise to the widespread use of toxic slug killing chemicals, which often impacted other non-target species. Recently, however, the use of iron phosphate baits has emerged, as they are less harmful to other wildlife.  

Black Slug (Arion ater) 

Arion ater. Large Black Slug, on grass.
Arion ater, Large Black Slug by gailhampshire, via flickr.

Distribution: Extremely common and widespread throughout Britain. 

What to look for: These species are large and vary widely in colour, including black, brown, grey, orange, reddish and green. It has long, coarse tubercles, the raised areas between the grooves on its skin, found on its side and back. Black slugs also have a pneumostome, a breathing hole, on the right side of their mantle, a protective structure of calcareous granules, through which they breathe.  

Common Garden slug (Arion distinctus) 

Arion distinctus on a rock.
Arion distinctus by Donald Hobern, via flickr.

Distribution: Widespread.  

What to look for: A dark or bluish-grey with dark lateral stripes and a pale yellow or orange sole (underside), with a characteristic yellow-orange mucus and no keel. This species also has tiny gold speckles on its tubercles, which are best seen through a hand lens. 

Netted slug (Deroceras reticulatum) 

Netted Slug - Deroceras reticulatum sliding down a leaf.
Netted Slug – Deroceras reticulatum by AJC1, via flickr.

Distribution: Widespread. 

What to look for: This may be the most common slug across the UK. It is a pale, off-white colour, with a keel at the tip of its tail and a mantle that is roughly half the length of its body. It has a chunky build and the tubercles are pale than the rest of its skin, giving it a netted appearance.  

Western Dusky slug (Arion subfuscus) 

Slug sliding across a leaf from left to right.
Slug by Rob Mitchell, via flickr.

Distribution: Widespread, but less common in East Anglia. 

What to look for: The dusky slug has various colour forms of yellow and brown. An important feature is the orange body mucus which stains on contact with your skin. It also usually has two dark lateral stripes and a pale sole with a fringe that blends in with the body.  

Hedgehog slug (Arion intermedius) 

Hedgehog Slug (Arion intermedius) crawling along some mud.
Hedgehog Slug (Arion intermedius) by Richard Ash, via flickr.

Distribution: Widespread but not common. 

What to look for: This is a small slug, at only 1522mm when extended, and is usually pale brown with a darker lateral stripe along its body to the mantle. Its sole is pale yellow and it has coarse tubercles that can contract to ragged points, giving it the reason for its name.  

Leopard slug (Limax maximus) 

Leopard slug on a marble stone.
Leopard slug by David J, via flickr.

Distribution: Widespread. 

What to look for: The appearance of the leopard slug is quite variable but it usually has a pale background and distinctive dark spots and markings that resemble leopard spots. The markings on its back are usually arranged in three longitudinal bands and it has a pale sole.   

Yellow slug (Limax flavus) 

Yellow Slug (Limax flavus) in a back garden.
Yellow Slug (Limax flavus) by Peter O’Connor, via flickr.

Distribution: Found mainly in England and Wales. 

What to look for: The yellow slug is usually a bright, lemon yellow with darker markings, with blue tentacles and a yellow line along the keel which extends from the tail to approximately halfway along its body. This central line can sometimes be broken into dashes.  

Green Cellar Slug / Irish Yellow Slug (Limacus maculatus) 

Irish Yellow Slug (Limacus maculatus).
Irish Yellow Slug (Limacus maculatus) with slug mites by Peter O’Connor aka anemoneprojectors, via Wikimedia Commons.

Distribution: Introduced population with a spreading range across the UK, less common in Scotland. 

What to look for: This species can vary from green to dull yellow with dark markings, grey tentacles and a colourless to orange slime. It can also occasionally have a yellow stripe at the tail end that doesn’t reach more than halfway along its body.  

Author interview with Graham Tucker: Nature Conservation in Europe

This informative and wide-ranging book examines the nature conservation responses of the UK and twenty-five EU Member States, analysing their achievements and failures and providing notable case studies from which comparisons and lessons can be obtained. Covering topics such as biodiversity pressure, legislation and governance, biodiversity strategies, species protection, protected areas, habitat management and funding, the book provides an incredibly in-depth appraisal of our management of European ecosystems and species and how this has contributed to the current concerning state of nature in these regions.

Editor Graham Tucker is an ecologist and a leading authority on European nature conservation policy, with a particular interest in its achievements and failures. He currently works as an independent consultant and proprietor of Nature Conservation Consulting. Prior to this he worked for Birdlife International and as Head of the Biodiversity Programme for the Institute for European Environmental Policy.

We recently chatted with Graham about the book and about the necessity for international co-operation in conservation, the importance of funding, stakeholder engagement and societal support in the creation and maintenance of protected areas, plus his plans for the future.


This is an impressive endeavour into covering the enormous topic of conservation across Europe. What inspired you to create this book?

Several things drove me to prepare the book. Firstly, like many others, I am concerned by the ongoing decline in many species and degradation of habitats in Europe, and that nature conservation has not been able to halt, let alone reverse most losses. Whilst there have been successes for some species, they have been insufficient, and consequently biodiversity targets have been repeatedly missed. Secondly, having had the privilege to work over the last few decades with many nature conservation experts across Europe, I realised the reasons for these failures varied between countries. Whilst the broad approaches to nature conservation have been similar, there have been significant differences, especially in their implementation and outcomes. Comparing national experiences could therefore provide valuable lessons in terms of which nature conservation measures have, and have not worked, and why. However, nature conservationists have tended to mainly draw lessons from national experiences, in part because of language barriers and the other difficulties with finding relevant key information.

Therefore, there seemed to be a need for a book that describes and critically examines the nature conservation objectives and actions that have been taken in Europe, primarily through individual country chapters written by national experts with a deep knowledge of what has really happened. Having discussed the idea with some nature conservationists I found that there was considerable enthusiasm for the book and many willing to contribute, despite the huge amount of work it would involve. This was also inspiring and persuaded me to go ahead as its preparation has depended on the hard work, generosity and patience of many people; of which I am especially indebted to the 52 co-authors.

Chapter 3 discusses the international drivers of nature conservation and their impacts on policies in Europe. How important is international co-operation and coherency in policy to nature conservation? Do you think there is enough large-scale international conservation?

International cooperation and coherence are vital for effective nature conservation. This is most obviously the case for migratory species, as well as rivers, seas and ecosystems that cross national borders, and transboundary protected areas. This has been widely recognised, so there is now a reasonably complete nature conservation framework in Europe, including the global UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (Bern Convention) and, of most influence, the legally binding EU Birds and Habitats Directives. These agreements have aided cooperation such as through sharing programmes of work, knowledge and funding. Most importantly, they have helped raise ambitions by creating a level playing field – which gives countries the confidence to act, knowing that they would not be alone.

Unfortunately, the UK’s departure from the EU has undermined this cooperation and alignment, resulting in potential divergence in ambitions, policies and legislation, both between the UK and EU and between the UK nations. So far there has been little divergence in UK practices and standards are being maintained. But this could change with time, especially in England as a result of the Retained EU Law Bill.

Chapter 5, ‘Conclusions, Lessons Learnt and Implications for the Future’, mentions that, while nature conservation has likely slowed the rate of decline, many habitats such as wetlands and semi-natural grasslands forests have continued to be lost or degraded. Do you think large-scale commitments such as the one to increase the UK’s and EU’s protected area network to 30% of both land and sea by 2030 will generate the right amount of funding, stakeholder engagement and societal support to create effective, large-scale conservation?

I am sure there is wide public support for the improvement and expansion of the protected area network, both on land and sea, in the UK and elsewhere in Europe. This is because the potential nature and wider related social and economic benefits of protected areas are increasingly appreciated. However, in most countries it is more important to improve the effectiveness of the existing network, in particular with stronger nature conservation objectives and better practical management. This requires more funding and stronger regulation, which I am doubtful that most governments are currently committed to.

This chapter also mentions that nature conservation is dependent on enforced legislation, funding and motivated people. Which do you believe is the hardest to obtain and therefore is the biggest threat to current and future conservation efforts?

All three are needed, and they are to some extent interrelated and dependent upon each other. However, the lack of funding, which is in part due to insufficiently motivated politicians, is currently the main constraint in most countries. This hampers the enforcement of legislation, as well as limiting practical nature conservation and restoration actions in protected areas and the wider environment.

Whilst public support for nature conservation is substantial in many countries, especially the UK, it varies greatly. Political support also tends to lag behind public support, in part due to the influence of powerful lobbying groups. Wider and deeper societal engagement is therefore essential to stimulate stronger political support, funding and regulations. It is therefore encouraging that support for nature conservation is growing. This is needed now to counter recent calls from some politicians in the UK and EU to weaken some environmental ambitions and slow down actions.

What impact do you hope that this book will have?

I hope that the book will clearly show that nature conservation works when it is properly implemented – such that it can halt biodiversity declines and even restore ecosystems. Therefore, the ongoing biodiversity crisis is not because we are doing the wrong thing. On the contrary, we need to massively scale up what we are doing already. As said, we know what we need: strong and enforced regulations, more and better targeted funding, and more deeply motivated people to call for and help conserve nature. We should still seek to improve the effectiveness of nature conservation measures, basing policy and practical decisions on evidence, but be wary of calls for radical changes in approach.

Of all the countries discussed within this book, which do you believe are leading the way in nature conservation?

Unfortunately, this is not easy to answer as it is often difficult to reliably compare data across the countries. For example, some countries have large protected area networks (e.g. Croatia, Slovakia and Slovenia) in contrast to others (e.g. Belgium, Finland, Ireland and Sweden). However, the statistics are not always reliable as some countries, such as Bulgaria, Denmark and UK include areas that do not meet internationally recognised protected area definitions. Furthermore, the effectiveness of protected area network is not necessarily closely related to their size, but more their conservation objectives and the effectiveness of their practical management. Similarly, comparing the adequacy of funding is difficult because needs vary and it is not always clear how much goes towards species and habitat conservation priorities, and what it actually achieves.

As described in some detail in the conclusion chapter, all countries have both strengths and weaknesses, so it is difficult to identify overall leaders. As regards the UK, we have been leaders in some respects in particular in relation to science and the strong role of NGOs, and producing a wealth of strategies, including the first Biodiversity Action Plan in the world in response to the CBD. However, the UK has underperformed overall, primarily due to poor implementation of its strategies and other initiatives, largely as a result of limited political support and therefore weak regulations and inadequate funding.

Do you have any future plans that you’re able to share with us?

As the book has taken over five years to prepare, I am having a bit of a break from writing for the moment. But I am continuing to work on EU and UK nature conservation issues, especially in relation to climate change.

The impacts of climate change on nature are of growing concern to me, as I think they will be much worse than many people realise. In addition to the increasing disruption to ecosystems, there is the likelihood of huge impacts from climate change mitigation measures and adaptation actions over the next 30 years. Whilst it is essential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, many proposed responses can be highly damaging for nature, including widescale inappropriate afforestation, use of bioenergy, solar farms and hydro-energy. Damaging climate change adaptation measures are also likely to increase, such as increased water abstraction from wetlands, as is already affecting the Coto Donana in Spain. At the same time, well designed ecosystem-based measures can contribute substantially to mitigation and adaptation, whilst being beneficial for nature – but these are being underused. Maybe, in time, I will prepare a book on this.


Nature Conservation in Europe: Approaches and Lessons was published in May 2023 by Cambridge University Press and is available from nhbs.com

Author interview with Fiona Mathews and Tim Kendall: Black Ops & Beaver Bombing

Black Ops & Beaver Bombing: Adventures with Britain’s Wild Mammals is a captivating and entertaining deep dive into many of the mammals of Britain. Fiona Mathews and Tim Kendall explore mines inhabited by great horseshoe bats, go on overnight stakeouts in search of pine martens and travel from Scotland to the Isles of Scilly in search of their elusive subjects. This book puts animals at the heart of the story, revelling in their peculiarities and exploring the threats to their survival and the struggles that plague their conservation in Britain. The depth of knowledge, witty commentary and obvious enthusiam creates a beautifully written book that is difficult to put down.

Each chapter focuses on a different UK mammal, from wild boars and beavers to red squirrels and grey seals. Fiona and Tim explore the history, ecology and current conservation of these species, focusing on what is threatening them and what should or is being done to protect them. They do not shy away from giving criticism and sharing their frustration when the attitudes of policy makers stand against environmental protection and restoration. In search of answers to the problems that beset our wildlife, the authors reveal the wonder of creatures that are worth fighting for.

Fiona Mathews is a professor of environmental biology at the University of Sussex and the founding chair of Mammal Conservation Europe. Tim Kendall is a professor of English Literature at the University of Exeter and edited Britain’s Mammals 2018. They have kindly agreed to an extended interview with us, where we discuss the role of public education in conservation projects, how climate change may be impacting population recruitment in bats and seals, whether there is hope for the reintroduction of top mammalian predators, and much much more.


Could you tell us how you both became interested in mammals and what inspired you to create this deep dive into the mammals of Britain?

Tim: I grew up right next door to Devonport Dockyard in Plymouth. I was obsessed with spotting mammals as a child, but the only ones I ever saw were grey squirrels. When I was 8 or 9, I wrote a poem for school about seeing a badger, describing the joy and excitement I felt. It was all made up: I didn’t see a live badger until after I left for university. Luckily, I had the good sense to marry a mammal biologist and carry out fieldwork with her, which means that I’ve now seen all but three of our native mammal species.

Fiona: I’ve been interested in mammals for as long as I can remember, but I decided it should become my career after I went on my first bat walk. Black Ops and Beaver Bombing was partly inspired by my work reviewing the population status of Britain’s mammals and drawing up the Red List with the Mammal Society.

The preface, I-Spy, makes an interesting point about the interconnectedness of species as well as the focus of conservation: “If you want to save the barn owl, start by saving the field vole”. Do you believe the focus on ‘charismatic’ species, which are often higher up in the food chain, more often aids the conservation of prey species (such as by increasing or improving habitats) or harms these species by increasing the population of their predators? Should more conservation projects take a more ‘grassroots’ focus, by helping species lower down on the food chain?

We ignore the small species at our peril, and the fact that they’re almost all in decline is deeply worrying. Of course, wolves and wild cats grab the headlines, but if we don’t pay attention to the bioabundant species, everything across the food web is affected. We talk a lot in the book about the Scilly shrew, and if we’d thought anyone would read it, we’d have included a chapter on field voles.

In Chapter 3 ‘On the Trail of the Lonesome Pine Marten’, you discuss the extensive work done to win over the local people before the ‘recovery’ project began. Do you believe the public will become more and more open to these types of projects or will public education always need to play such an extensive role?

The general public is already becoming more welcoming, but the people who control landscapes are a small subset of the population, and they often have their own priorities that they believe (rightly or wrongly) will be damaged by reintroduction and recovery projects. One of the unfortunate things about rewilding is that it’s becoming as divisive as Brexit. We should all be working together to reverse the biodiversity crisis.

Wild mammals only make up between 2–4% of the world’s mammal biomass, decreasing by more than 85% since the rise of humans. In contrast, livestock makes up more than 63% of mammal biomass. How has this drop in wild mammal biomass impacted ecosystems and do you think we’ll be able to repair this?

High intensity livestock production is undoubtedly a massive contributor to biodiversity loss, but we mustn’t perceive farmers as the enemy. We need good farmers producing good food and getting rewarded for sustainable and wildlife-friendly production. Progress towards reforming agricultural subsidies has moved at glacial speed. Our government, like most across the globe, is much too heavily influenced by the lobbying of large agribusinesses which want to preserve the status quo.

In Chapter 5 ‘Hanging Out with Greater Horseshoe Bats’, you mention that Fiona is working on a long-term plan to re-establish the British population of the greater mouse-eared bat. Could you tell us a little bit more about how this process would work?

Fiona: Historically, the greater mouse-eared bat has been found in Dorset and Sussex, but with climate change we would expect its range to shift northwards. There are large and thriving colonies in Brittany and Normandy at the moment. We have to work out whether they will arrive in England under their own steam, or whether we need to give them a helping hand. Translocating bats isn’t easy. I’ve set up a working group at Eurobats to bring together experts looking at the best way forward.

You mention that the greater horseshoe bat population has stabilised and is now increasing in Britain. Why do you think this is happening?

The species is struggling across mainland Europe but it has responded well to a series of mild winters in England and Wales. Organisations like the Vincent Wildlife Trust have done a fantastic job to protect and improve roosts. We should remember, though, that greater horseshoes once had a range that extended to the east of England, and it’s estimated that there was a population of 300,000 at the end of the nineteenth century. The current population is about 4% of that total, which is a remarkable recovery from their lowest levels, but we need to be aware of shifting baseline syndrome before we celebrate the good news too enthusiastically.

Chapter 5 also mentions a new system for monitoring bats, which monitors the flight paths using radio receivers. Do you think that, by highlighting important flight paths, this system will be able to be used to reduce the impacts of new developments?

Although legislative protection means that we now know a lot about bat roosts in buildings, there’s not much point protecting a roost if the animals lack places to forage or mate. New techniques such as static radio tracking allow us to identify important sites and protect them for the future.

As cool weather in spring can have an impact on the growth and development of young bats, has climate change impacted juvenile survival rates and population recruitment?

We know that baby bats grow less well, with short- and long-term consequences, when weather conditions are poor in the breeding season. We would expect to see negative effects from climate change, and this is something we are currently looking at in a European-wide project. The challenge is that few researchers have datasets that span at least 20 years, which is the timeframe you need for analysing these long-term trends. So we’re also conducting other research on shorter timescales to assess whether mother bats are moving around their roosts to select different temperatures.

Chapter 6 ‘Tiggywinkle Goes Rogue’, mentions how ‘tidiness’ harms biodiversity. Do you think the growth in recent campaigns such as No Mow May will help to reduce society’s obsession with garden ‘neatness’?

Yes! It also requires us to hassle our local councils until we outnumber those strange people who complain about overgrown verges. Councils will take the path of least resistance, which should be to do as little ‘tidying’ as possible.

A common threat for several of the species you cover in Black Ops & Beaver Bombing is light pollution. Is there momentum at the moment that would see light pollution effectively combated in the coming years?

No, and the problem is worsened by the fact that lighting is getting cheaper and more intense. It’s frustrating because light is one of the few pollutants that simply disappears as soon as you flick a switch.

In chapter 7, ‘Who Cares What Colour the Squirrels Are?’, you mention that certain conservation strategies, such as the culling of grey squirrels to protect red squirrels, are unlikely to receive funding due to fears of adverse publicity. How much do you think conservation strategies are affected by how palatable they are to the public? Do you think this impacts the effectiveness of some conservation projects?

The biggest issue is the insatiable appetite for novelty over longevity. Nobody wants to fund routine maintenance. You may get grant money to reintroduce water voles, but will you still be funded to cull American mink a decade later?

As storms often lead to the deaths of many seal pups, will the increased occurrence of extreme weather due to climate change have a significant effect on population recruitment for seals on our shores?

We don’t know. In our seal chapter, we call the recovery of grey seals the great mammal conservation story of the twentieth century. Their numbers increased from about 500 during the First World War to well over 100,000, which makes up around 40% of the global population for the species. Storms and tidal surges can wipe out entire colonies of pups in any given season, but thankfully so far that doesn’t seem to have dented their population growth. Shout out to the amazing volunteers who rescue and raise pups for 6 months before they’re strong enough to be released!

The government recently released England’s first Marine and Coastal Wildlife Code, do you think this guidance will significantly help to protect wildlife such as grey and harbour seals from the impacts of visitors? 

Yes. It was long overdue, and it’s vital. Some people will remember seeing the footage of a runner deliberately chasing a colony of seals into the sea in Yorkshire. If that happens to a moulting seal or a pup, they can die. We’re all tempted to take selfies next to wildlife, but it’s rarely a good idea.

This book ends by asking why Britain cannot seem to accept mammalian predators in the way that European countries have. Do you think there is hope for change in attitudes that could see the re-introduction of species such as lynx, wolves and bears within the coming decades?

We end the book in the Abruzzo National Park, 90 minutes drive from Rome, where there are now about 11 active wolf packs and 50 bears. The Cairngorms is ten times bigger, and has roughly the same human population. So much for the argument that we’re a crowded island! So we could and should reintroduce these apex predators, but we have to deal with misinformation from (for example) the current President of the National Farmers’ Union, who claims that lynx would pose a threat to ramblers. No wild lynx has ever attacked a human. Cattle, on the other hand, kill 8-10 people a year in Britain.

Do you have any future plans that you could tell us about?

We’ve just started a podcast, ‘Mammals R Us’ (https://rss.com/podcasts/mammalsrus/). We have very different working habits, so our big question is: can we finish another book without getting divorced?


Black Ops & Beaver Bombing by Fiona Mathews and Tim Kendall was published by Oneworld Publications in April 2023 and is available from nhbs.com.

Author interview with Lee Raye: The Atlas of Early Modern Wildlife

The Atlas of Early Modern Wildlife is a ground-breaking volume compiling the observations of early modern amateur naturalists, travellers and local historians for the first time. Drawing on over 10,000 records, this book looks at the early modern state of wildlife in Britain and Ireland, the era before climate change, before the intensification of agriculture, before even the Industrial Revolution. The book presents maps and notes on the former distribution of 153 species, providing a new baseline against which to discuss subsequent declines and extinctions, expansions and introductions. This remarkable resource will be of great value to conservationists, archaeologists, historians and anyone with an interest in the natural heritage of Britain and Ireland.

Lee Raye is an associate lecturer at the Open University and a Fellow of the Linnaean Society, specialising in the history of wild animals and plants in pre-industrial Britan and Ireland. We were lucky enough to have the opportunity to speak with them about what inspired them to write this atlas, what the most difficult aspect of creating this book was, what their future plans were and much more.


What inspired you to write this atlas?  

Several years ago I worked for the RSPB. I went on a weekend induction to The Lodge in Sandy, Bedfordshire, and had a walk around with the reserve archaeologist. He explained that, although it was simple enough to know which animals had declined and gone extinct in the historical period, there was a lack of clarity about how and when this happened. I realised that I already had some of the answers he needed. Around that same time, as a research project, I was translating and analysing the records of wild animals and plants from a single 17th-century natural history book, Robert Sibbald’s Scotia Illustrata (1684). That source is really valuable because it was contributed to by so many people and contains so many important records. For example, there are records of the Great Auk, the Bustard and the Angel Shark amongst the animals and Darnel, Shepherd’s Needle, and Greater Water-parsnip amongst the plants. While doing this project, I started making a list of other comparable texts from the same time period, and to my surprise I realised there was a whole understudied genre of them! I realised that if I combined all of these sources together I could give a decent estimate of the distribution of species in the 16th-18th centuries. 

Greater Water-Parsnip by Jeremy Halls via Flickr

Do you think it’s possible for us to restore our wildlife to the condition it was in early modern Britain or has our landscape changed too drastically? 

When we are doing conservation work it’s really important that we have a strong baseline to work against, otherwise we don’t know when we are restoring biodiversity and when we are just adding species to an environment. I think the early modern period is a good choice of baseline for two reasons. First, it comes before some of the most alarming declines in biodiversity which followed trends like the industrial revolution, the 20th century agricultural revolution, and the gamekeeper culls of raptors and mammalian predators of the nineteenth and early 20th century. But it was still a period when all of Britain and Ireland was managed for human needs, including some big cities. Secondly, there are a lot of sources available from the time period, so the Atlas of Early Modern Wildlife could reconstruct the fauna found at the time. But we are never going to be able to perfectly return to that baseline. The islands of Britain and Ireland are even more intensively managed and exploited now, and we need to keep that up to provide for the human population. The early modern period was also a time when there was a temporary climate change, the Little Ice Age, which meant that the so-called ‘northern species’ were doing really well, and the ‘southern species’ had a more restricted range. Modern global heating is going to become much more severe than the Little Ice Age was, and is likely to magnify the differences so that Britain and Ireland in the 21st century is going to have significant differences in its flora and fauna to the 17th century, no matter what we do. 

The distribution trend for the majority of species mentioned in this book was either uncertain or unchanged, compared to 24 increases and 26 decreases. Did this surprise you? 

I knew that there would be lots of uncertainty in the data from the time period, but I was a bit surprised that so few species showed a decline in distribution. We know that we are in a biodiversity crisis now, but the declines in abundance we are currently facing are going to take some time to result in declines in distribution at a regional level, which is the rather crude metric I was able to track in the Atlas of Early Modern Wildlife. It’s also true that there have been official and unofficial reintroductions in the modern period, which have restored species like Beaver, Otter and Greylag Goose across much of their early modern range, meaning that comparing early modern and present distribution hides what happened to these species in between. 

Greylag goose by ianpreston via Flickr

You mention that there was a bias towards recording exploitable species in the early modern period and a bias towards recording birds now. Did this affect which species you were able to include in this book? 

Yes, with the exception of a few species of conservation concern, I included only the best-recorded species in my Atlas of Early Modern Wildlife. That means that there is a bias towards certain groups of species. For example, I was able to map the past distribution of 18 freshwater fishes but only five small songbirds. Don’t ask me about the distribution of the Sparrow or the Great Tit in the early modern period, because my sources don’t offer much data about them! 

What was the most difficult aspect of creating this book? 

The most complicated part of the Atlas of Early Modern Wildlife has been trying to solve the recorder-effort problem. I needed to be able to tell when species were not recorded because they were absent (like the Wolf, which seems to have been extinct in England and Wales already by this time period), and when animals were not recorded simply because not enough effort had been put into recording them (like those Sparrows and Great Tits which no-one really cared about). My solution was to statistically compare how many records I had for each species from different regions of Britain and Ireland with a figure of how well-recorded each different region was in the early modern period. I also used some habitat suitability modelling to try and establish patterns behind absences, but this has been complicated, speculative work! 

Do you have any future plans that you can tell us about? 

I think I could take this project further in the future. It should be possible to map the distribution of wild plants 250-500 years ago, or to join up the distribution of Britain and Ireland’s wildlife with the distribution of wildlife in other parts of Europe from the same time period. But I also want to work a bit more on poetry from the early modern period. There are a few very strange poems written c.1580-1650 that protest environmental destruction and are told from the perspective of animals which I think deserve to be much more widely known. 


The Atlas of Early Modern Wildlife by Lee Raye is due to be published by Pelagic Publishing in July 2023 and is available for pre-order from nhbs.com.

This Week in Biodiversity News – 3rd July 2023

Research

A new study indicates that megalodon, the extinct shark species, were warm-blooded. The researchers found that Otodus megalodon may have had a body temperature that was significantly higher than other sharks, more consistent with having a degree of internal heat production similar to that of modern warm blooded animals. The higher metabolic costs associated with this may have contributed to its vulnerability to extinction.

Climate crisis

Heat waves are occurring across North America, leaving millions without power and under heat and air quality alerts. Much of the south and southwest of the US are experiencing temperatures into the triple digits (Fahrenheit), with at least 13 deaths in Texas due to heat-related illnesses. A record-breaking heat dome is covering Mexico and Texas, with some states in Mexico seeing temperatures exceeding 113F. At least 112 heat-related deaths have been recorded in the country so far this year.

Conservation

Joshua trees are officially protected in California, after the passing of the Western Joshua Tree Conservation Act. This law bans the removal of Joshua trees without a permit, creates a fund to protect the species and mandates consultation on the rule’s implementation with Native American tribes. According to scientists, by 2100 just 0.02% of the tree’s habitat in Joshua Tree National Park will remain viable without mitigating climate change.

A new study has found that bats thrive in restored wetlands. Researchers from the University of Turku measured the impact of wetland restoration on bats. The Hydrology LIFE project has successfully restored more than 5,000 hectares of wetlands across more than 100 locations. The study, which is part of this project, showed that wetland restoration can significantly increase the activity of bats. By monitoring bat activity in 21 sites across Finland over four summers between 2018-2022, the researchers were able to attribute this notable increase in activity to the improved abundance of insects in these areas.

Natural England has designated a Cornish moorland as a nature conservation area. The 59 blocks of land in Penwrith Moors in Cornwall are now sites of specific scientific interest, a move aiming to preserve precious flora and fauna. There has been criticism from farmers, as this would mean further restrictions. Natural England decided this area, which covers around 3,000 hectares, should be designated an SSSI because it is an important habitat for rare birds, plants and insects.

A new funding partnership between Beaver Trust and the Ecological Restoration Fund will help to support the restoration of and co-existence with beavers across Britain. This £150,000 grant will be used to support two key areas of Beaver Trust’s work: releasing beavers into new sites and providing their team with the equipment and resources they need to carry out mitigation and trapping.

Extinction risk

Reef sharks are facing a heightened extinction risk. A new study has revealed that overfishing is pushing reef sharks towards extinction, with a global decline of 63% on average in five of the main shark species living on coral reefs. After studying 22,000 hours of footage from stations across 391 reefs in 67 nations and territories, the researchers found that grey reef, blacktip reef, white tip reef, nurse and Caribbean reef sharks are all in decline.

Rainforest loss accelerated last year compared to 2021, despite the pledge signed by 100 international leaders to end deforestation by 2030. Brazil led in rainforest loss, with a 15% increase over the prior year. The Democratic Republic of the Congo, the country with the second-most rainforest, also had major losses last year, much of which was agriculture related.

Brazilian authorities have announced the seizure of almost 29 tons of shark fins, coming from an estimated 10,000 blue and shortfin mako sharks. It is believed that the vessels used fishing gear specifically for targeted shark fishing, which is prohibited. Shortfin mako sharks were placed on the country’s endangered species list in May and blue sharks are under consideration for inclusion.

New discoveries

The Victorian grassland earless dragon has been rediscovered, having been thought to have been extinct in the wild since 1969. This species was once widespread in the native grasslands west of Melbourne but the population declined due to habitat loss and predation. Zoos Victoria had been actively searching for the dragon since 2017 and, now a surviving population has been found, are working to establish a plan to ensure the species’ survival.

African-painted dogs have been spotted in Uganda after four decades.  The species had become extinct in Uganda in the 1980s but were spotted in the far northeast of the country. In 2020, the population of African-painted dogs was estimated at around 6,000 adults.

Author interview: An Identification Guide to Garden Birds of Britain and North-West Europe

An Identification Guide to Garden Birds of Britain and North-West Europe is a photographic guide to 75 species of bird most commonly found in or over the gardens of Britain and North-West Europe. The text combines scientific facts with affectionate descriptions of the birds’ identifying features, including sex and age differences, habits, nest types, eggs and calls. The introduction contains tips on how to identify birds, how to look after garden birds, which species can be seen throughout the year, a glossary and anatomy details. For each species, there are two or three photographs labelled with distinguishing features where appropriate, a calendar showing the time of year when the adult can be seen and star facts that give further proof of the birds’ fascinating features.

Dominic Couzens

Dominic Couzens is an award-winning nature writer with 40 books and hundreds of published articles to his name. His best-known books include An Identification Guide to Garden Insects of Britain and North-West Europe, The Secret Lives of Garden Birds, Britain’s Mammals (WildGuides) and Save Our Species. Carl Bovis is a nature photographer with a particular passion for birds. The advent of digital photography has given him the opportunity to capture the birds he sees and share them with the world.

We were lucky enough to ask both Dominic and Carl a few questions about what inspired them to produce this guide, what the process was like to assemble it and the importance of providing habitats for birds in our gardens.


What inspired you to produce this introductory guide to garden birds?

Dominic: As a regular Twitter follower I quickly became aware of Carl’s work. What stood out for me was his wonderfully giving attitude, really helping “ordinary” people connect with birds and birdwatching with the use of clever and funny bird photos, as well as wondrous ones. He encourages everyone to get involved and to enjoy nature, and he does it in a unique way.

So from my (Dominic’s) point of view, it was a no-brainer to cooperate with Carl on an entry-level guide to garden birds, with his own special take.

This book follows on from a book on garden insects published with another first-time author, Gail Ashton, last year. In both guides we have used light-hearted introductions and mentioned star facts about each species, to helve delve into the subject’s life.

Blue tit by Carl Bovis

How did you choose which species to include in this guide?

Our subject was garden birds, and since we wanted to cover northern Europe we had a good range to choose from. Most species pick themselves, but the guide will stand or fall on what we include.

This guide is full of many wonderful and illustrative photographs. What was the process like to assemble these? Where there any species that were particularly difficult to attain clear photos of?

Carl Bovis

Carl: I’m known for taking photos of the common birds, a lot of which many serious bird photographers turn their noses up at! So a book about garden birds was perfect for me, as I have taken many photos of them over the last few years and had many to choose from. I also have a passion for catching birds in flight, the shape and angles of their wings and tail fascinate me. Obviously this is an ID book, so perched birds are essential, but we’ve included lots of flight shots too.

It’s very rewarding for me to have my photos in this guide. A couple of years ago I was talking to a serious birder at Steart Marshes and he said to me; ‘your photos of birds are very engaging, but they’d never be in a mainstream bird book’. I didn’t take offence, I like that many of my photos are different to the norm, but at the same time, I’m happy now to have proved him wrong!

It’s also an honour to collaborate with Dominic on this, as before I even knew him personally, I had bought and enjoyed many of his previous books, and had attended one of his fascinating talks on bird behaviour. He is nature-writing ‘royalty’ as far as I’m concerned.

The shy and rarer garden birds were obviously toughest to get clear photos of, especially ones that don’t visit my own little Somerset garden where many of the photos were taken. So birds like Bullfinch, Treecreeper and Redstart were a challenge. If you get them in your garden, consider yourself lucky!

Included with this interview are a few of my favourite photos from the book.

Given the many pressures facing our garden birds, are there any species in this guide that you think won’t be so common in coming years?

Dominic: We have included a number that are declining, such as Marsh and Willow Tits, Chaffinches and Greenfinches. The Lesser Spotted Woodpecker is in serious trouble, and both House Martins and Swifts are on the wane. There are others, too.

Swift by Carl Bovis

But I do think it’s very important to let people just discover and enjoy birds. I hope the book inspires first and foremost.

This guide includes a section on looking after garden birds, giving tips as to how people with gardens can help. How important is it that people make their gardens into good habitats for birds?

Dominic: Gardens are incredibly important for two reasons. They are the best place for people and birds to meet, and for people to get excited about birds and love them.

Secondly, gardens are where everybody can be a conservationist. The overall fortunes of birds and other wildlife often feel as though they are outside our control, but in gardens we can make decisions that directly affect wildlife. If enough people realised how important their backyard decisions were to wildlife, they might be inspired to do more.

House sparrow by Carl Bovis

Are there any plans to continue this series and, if so, which other species groups that you would like to make an identification guide about?

Dominic: Yes, a book on Trees is already well in production. Any others in the series may require us to get John Beaufoy, our publisher, drunk so that we can persuade him to do some more.


An Identification Guide to Garden Birds of Britain and North-West Europe by Dominic Couzens and Carl Bovis is published by John Beaufoy Publishing in June 2023 and is available from nhbs.com.