New Networks for Nature: Q&A with Amy-Jane Beer

Amy-Jane Beer talking with musician Feargal Sharkey about rivers © Holly Wilkinson

Amy-Jane Beer, a biologist, writer, editor and member of the steering group for New Networks for Nature, kindly took the time to talk with us about the work they do and the importance of their annual event, Nature Matters.

We discuss the role of the creative arts in engaging with the natural world, the political priority of wildlife and how best to get involved.


Firstly, could you tell us about the work that New Networks for Nature does?

Our entire focus is an annual event called Nature Matters: not quite a festival, not a conference, not a symposium, not an exhibition, not a variety show… but with elements of all these. It is two days and one evening of hugely varied dialogues, debates, readings, performances and displays about and in concert with nature. Our contributors are writers, artists, poets, filmmakers, activists, scientists, naturalists, musicians, photographers, conservationists and sometimes politicians and entrepreneurs. Our audiences contain many more of the same, plus publishers, journalists, producers, campaigners, representatives of major NGOs who use the opportunity to make new connections.

Sir John Lister Kaye © Holly Wilkinson

You are a relatively new charity, founded in 2009 and registering in 2016. How did the charity start and what are your hopes for its future?

The first event, held in 2009, was the brainchild of our founders: Jeremy Mynott, Mark Cocker, John Fanshawe and Tim Birkhead – four big thinkers who, in Jeremy’s words ‘shared the conviction that wildlife had a far richer role to play in the human experience than that defined by science or economics alone.’ They decided to try and reach more like-minded, creative souls and rapidly realised that an event offering both inspiration and social connection was a powerful way to build a network. By 2019, pre-COVID, that initial one-day event with 44 attendees had grown to a two and a half-day version with 30–40 contributors and an audience exceeding 250. This is about as big as we can manage on a voluntary basis with a minuscule budget funded purely by ticket sales. It’s rewarding but exhausting for the organisers, and the risk of burnout is very real. So the next phase for us as an organisation has to be sourcing funds that will allow us not only to offer an ever more diverse and accessible event but also to pay for some of the services that currently push us to our limits. It may be we offer a Friends of NNN subscription, seek carefully vetted sponsorship, or grant funding that doesn’t compromise our ethos or creative freedom.

One of your main aims is to challenge the low political priority that is placed on the natural world. Why do you think that there is so little importance placed on wildlife and nature nationally?

As a society we’ve come to take nature for granted, living lives so removed from the true sources of everything that sustains us we forget we’re not only dependent on nature, but part of it. That disconnect means that when we encounter problems, we often come up with solutions that target symptoms rather than the root cause. And the cause, almost every time, is that vast rapacious monster of global capitalism, to which politicians are wedded. Among the most toxic spawn of capitalism is a media that has reduced politics to a frantic minute-by-minute battle over the next headline. How can politicians possibly tackle the big issues when they’re doing that? In the current system, taking time to engage deeply with nature has become an almost subversive act, because it leads, inevitably, in my experience, to a recognition that we need a wildly different path.

Silk demonstration with arachnologist Sara Goodacre © Nick Williams

Your upcoming event, Nature Matters, is an annual creative celebration of nature. How important do you think the creative arts are for exploring and raising awareness about the environment?

The creative arts have a critical role to play in bringing us home to nature. And I say that as a former scientist who ‘jumped the fence’. Creativity was an aspect of my education that was horribly neglected. It’s all well and good to absorb information – to document and analyse and theorise. But in order to know what to do with all that, we need wisdom, emotional intelligence. We need stories, and we need huge amounts of love because love motivates and emboldens us like nothing else. Art makes sense of knowledge. Art asks questions science cannot and is free to go where science cannot see its way. Art lights up some of the dark. And wow, it’s getting dark right now.

This event has a huge varied list of sessions, from nature writing courses to panels on plastics in the environment and a session on nature and spirituality. What are the main goals that you want to achieve through Nature Matters?

Folk singer Sam Lee performing at New Networks for Nature © Nick Williams

New Networks for Nature does what the name suggests. It is mycelial activism. It connects people, with nature and with each other. The events are entertaining but they are not entertainment. Attendees come to listen to and admire amazing people, but also to meet and link to them. We like to think that everyone in the room at a NNN event will go away inspired but also having inspired others. I started attending about 8 years ago, very shyly, but through a few mutual friends was introduced to others and now every year I go along with the express purpose of meeting more people. As the Irish saying goes – a stranger is a friend you haven’t met yet. At NNN, a stranger is a link to many more people, more voices for nature, more opportunities to disseminate, mobilise. Many of my NNN connections have become deep friendships – but they are also highly intentional and purposeful relationships. I cultivate them because, if we can take any lesson from the current political castes, we desperately need a chumocracy for nature.

For any readers interested in your charity and its aims, what are the best ways that people can get involved?

New Networks for Nature audience © Robert Fuller

Come along! The attendees are as much part of the network as those on stage at any event. We bust a gut to keep the cost of attending to a minimum and make it accessible. There are always opportunities to ask questions, to socialise and to connect. As a rule, we don’t invite applications to perform or speak. Each event is organised by a different team and the programmes are themes and very organic. There are always a few big names in the mix but increasingly we tend to feature up-and-coming contributors or less exposed specialists – and to be honest, those more niche sessions are often where the real ‘wow’ moments happen. Unlike other festivals, we’re not really part of the promotion round – no one will get rich or famous or achieve a bestseller by appearing, or achieve social media celebrity. But we hope that everyone will go away with fresh fire in the belly, new light in the mind, and a list of names and allies to add to their personal network for nature.

Nature Matters 2021 will be held in Bath on 19th-21st November and will feature an exciting list of contributors, including ecological activist Satish Kumar, popular ornithologist David Lindo, breakthrough nature writer Nicola Chester, musician and curlew campaigner David Gray and young environmental campaigners Kabir Kaul, Holly Gillibrand and Bella Lack. To see the programme and book a ticket visit https://www.newnetworksfornature.org.uk/2021-event/


You can find out more about New Networks For Nature from their website and by following them on Facebook and Twitter.

 

The NHBS Guide to UK Puffball Identification

Puffballs are a type of fungi in the division Basidiomycota. They are so named due to the dust-like spores that are emitted as clouds when the fruitbody bursts. They are characterised by their lack of an open cap with visible spore-bearing gills. The spores are, instead, produced internally within the gasterothecium, a spheroidal fruitbody. Stalked puffballs have, as the name suggests, a stalk to support this structure, which is tough, woody and made of infertile material, whereas true puffballs have no visible stalk. Some species, such as ones attached to the substrate by mycelial cords, may become unattached and roll with the wind.

Puffballs are saprotrophic, meaning they feed on non-living organic matter, known as detritus. They break down detritus into utilisable nutrients and minerals, which maintains soil health and aids plant growth. Puffball species can be identified by the shape and size of the fruitbody, any surface features and the presence and shape of a stem. Species can also be determined by the examination of spores using a microscope. When cut in half, young puffballs whose spores have not begun to develop will be pure white all the way through. Older species turn yellow or brown on the inside. This can help distinguish them from earthball species, which has a dark interior (or gleba), or other mushroom species, which have visible gills.

Most puffballs are not poisonous but can resemble young poisonous mushrooms such as the death cap. True puffballs are edible when immature but any spore can cause digestive upset if consumed and caution should always be taken as some fungi are highly poisonous. This blog is not meant to be used as a guide for foraging. This blog covers the key identification features, distribution, season and habitat preference of some of the puffball species known in the UK.

Common Puffball (Lycoperdon perlatum)

Distribution: Common and widespread in Britain and Ireland
Habitat preference: Deciduous and coniferous woodlands, grasslands and along roadsides.
Season: July to November
What to look for: This species usually has a pear-shaped fruitbody that is 3–6cm tall. Its surface is covered in pearl-like attachments, called pyramidal warts, that are different sizes. These warts begin as a cream colour before turning ochre and falling off to leave an olive-brown surface marked with scars. Older specimens will have a dark area at the apex, where the pore hole develops. The common puffball has a visible stem that resembles an often distorted inverted cone. The spore mass is olive-brown and turns dark brown when fully mature.

Stu’s Images via Flickr
Giant Puffball (Calvatia gigantea)

Distribution: Widespread and fairly common
Habitat preference: Roadside verges, field edges, nettle and other rank vegetation, woodland edges and occasionally found in open woodland or woodland clearings
Season: July to November
What to look for: This species can achieve a massive size, typically 10–80cm across. They are initially white, with a lumpy and leathery appearance, connected to the substrate by a root-like mycelial cord. While the interior of the immature puffball is white, mature specimens have a greenish-brown gleba.
Did you know? This species is known to form fairy rings. The mycelium hyphae spreads horizontally in a radial pattern. The hyphae can then sprout fruitbodies on the surface, forming a circular pattern thought in folklore to be the dwelling places of fairies and other magical beings.

Peter O’Connor aka anemoneprojectors via Flickr
Pestle Puffball (Lycoperdon excipuliforme)

Distribution: Widespread and fairly common
Habitat preference: Woodland and short grassland
Season: August to November
What to look for: The pestle puffball is initially white but turns ochre as it ages, and grows to between 10–20cm tall. The globe-shaped head grows between 4–10cm wide. The stem-like section, called a stipe, is often wrinkled in appearance and usually around half the diameter of the head. It is covered in pointed warts that fall off, leaving a smooth surface.
Did you know? After the head has ruptured and released the spores, the stipe will grow and remain intact throughout winter.

Bjorn S… via Flickr
Dusky Puffball (Lycoperdon nigrescens)

Distribution: Widespread, fairly common
Habitat preference: Variety of habitats, such as woodland, moorland and sand dunes
Season: June to September
What to look for: The dusky puffball is usually between 2-3.5cm tall and 2-4cm across. It is pear-shaped, with a surface that begins pale brown before turning darker. It is covered in dark-brown spines that fall off as the puffball matures. This species has a visible, short stem with shorter spines. The spore mass inside is initially white and firm, before turning yellowish-brown and then dark brown and powdery.

Lukas Large via Flickr
Mosaic Puffball (Lycoperdon utriforme)

Distribution: Widespread but uncommon
Habitat preference: Sandy open pastures or heaths
Season: July to November
What to look for: The common name for this species is derived from the pattern across the head of the fruiting body, which develops as the specimen matures and the outer wall breaks into patches. It is subspherical to pear-shaped, between 6–15cm across and up to 15cm tall. The fruitbody turns grey-brown with age and the scales begin to fall away before the fruitbody eventually ruptures.
Did you know? The base of this species can also persist for several months after the fruitbody has burst. It resembles a blunt-ended inverted cone.
Other synonyms: Calvatia caelata, Calvatia utriformis, Handkea utriformis, Lycoperdon bovista, Lycoperdon caelatum, Lycoperdon sinclairii, Lycoperdon utriforme

Dick Culbert via Flickr
Brown Puffball (Bovista nigrescens)

Distribution: Widely distributed, more frequent in southern counties
Habitat preference: Grassland and pastures, but can also be found in fields, lawns or roadside verges
Season: Late summer to autumn
What to look for: The fruitbody is between 3–6cm across, with a slight point at the bottom. This species lacks a stem and is attached to the substrate by a mycelial cord. The outer wall is initially white but flakes off as the fruitbody matures to expose the dark purple-brown inner wall.

Saxifraga/Peter Meininger via freenatureimages.eu
Stump Puffball (Lycoperdon pyriforme)

Distribution: Widespread and fairly frequent
Habitat preference: Grows mainly on decaying trees and logs
Season: July to early December
What to look for: This species is typically 1.5–4cm across and around 3–4cm tall. It has a pestle- to pear-shaped fruitbody that is initially covered in short pyramidal warts. The originally white surface browns with age, developing a dark area at the apex where the pore will occur. The stump puffball is attached to the substrate by several mycelial filaments. The stem remains white as the head matures.

Katja Schulz via Flickr

 

The NHBS Introduction to Habitats: Urban and Suburban

Pierre Blache via Flickr

The next habitat we will be exploring in our Introduction to Habitats series is urban and suburban habitats. These are extremely diverse, from parks, gardens, cemeteries and bare ground to highrises, bridges, landfills and houses. Due to this wide diversity, urban habitats are often extremely fragmented, with small, isolated patches surrounded by unsuitable areas. These patches are also often highly disturbed, by light, people, pets, cars and other anthropogenic activities. Some species also have to deal with reduced availability of food, due to the limited plant life, and fewer nesting and breeding spaces. Much of the surfaces in the urban environment have been altered, covered in concrete, roofing tiles, and tarmac. This changes the amount of rainwater that can infiltrate the soils underneath, as well as how much heat from the sun is absorbed. The temperatures can be higher in urban areas, particularly when there is little to no tree coverage to provide shade.

To survive in an urban environment, species must be adaptable. Many studies have found key behavioural and physical differences between urban and rural dwellers of the same species. For example, birds have been found to sing higher, longer and louder in cities than in the countryside. Generalist species are more likely to be able to exploit these habitats as they can occupy wider ecological niches. Specialist species can have more restricted diets or need more specific conditions to develop or reproduce, making them less able to adapt to changing environments. Those able to transition from natural to man-made habitats, however, may actually see large fitness benefits, due to fewer predators and, for some species, abundant food supplies.

Gardens and public green spaces can often be a refuge for many urban species, providing food, shelter and protection from other disturbances. But overly manicured gardens and parks do not provide the resources necessary for many species to survive. Wildflowers, hedges, shrubs, trees and other native vegetation are needed to boost insect numbers, along with limiting the use of harmful herbicides and pesticides. Many other species rely on insects for food, and so increasing insect populations benefits other species throughout the food web.

What species can you find here?
Flora:

Cow Parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris)

Miika Silfverberg via Flickr

This species is a member of the carrot family and is commonly found on verges, hedgerows and less intensively-managed green spaces, with a preference for shaded habitats. It is a fast-growing plant, that appears in the summer before dying back, and its white flowers are clustered together in an umbrella-like shape. They are a great food resource for many invertebrate species, as well as for rabbits. There are several similar-looking plants, including the poisonous hemlock (Conium maculatum), although hemlock has distinctive purple blotches on its stem.

Three-cornered Garlic (Allium triquetrum)

Derek Winterburn via Flickr

This is an invasive species, often found along verges, roadside banks, hedgerows and on waste ground. It can form dense colonies and are spread naturally by ants. Its white flowers have a green stripe on each petal and a garlic/oniony smell. They are edible, tasting similarly to spring onion or chives.

Common Chickweed (Stellaria media)

Simon via Flickr

This plant has multiple common names, including chickenwort, maruns, craches and winterweed. They form large mats and are found in many gardens and fields. It has one line of fine hairs on its stem, with oval leaves and small white flowers. Chickweed was used in folk medicine as a remedy for pulmonary disease and several itchy skin conditions. It is even prescribed today by modern herbalists for many other conditions, although not all these uses are supported by scientific evidence.

English Ivy (Hedera helix)

NatureServe via Flickr
hedera.baltica via Flickr

This is a climbing plant that can often be found on walls, buildings, trees and other man-made and natural structures. It is an evergreen species that can also grow as groundcover when there are no vertical surfaces. The flowers are a greenish-yellow colour and the fruits, which ripen in late winter, can vary in colour from purple-black to orangy-yellow. They are an important food source for many insects and birds, particularly in autumn and winter, and their foliage is also browsed by deer.

Fauna:

Feral Pigeon (Columba livia domestica)

alh1 via Flickr

There are several species of pigeon in our urban areas. Feral pigeons, also known as city or street pigeons, are descended from the domestic pigeon, a subspecies derived from the rock dove (Columba livia). They have substituted their natural habitats of sea cliffs with ledges on buildings and other man-made structures. They have a wide variety of colours and patterns compared to the rock dove, but urban pigeons tend to have a darker plumage compared to individuals in rural areas.

Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes)

brett jordan via Flickr

An iconic urban species, the red fox is one of our largest land predators. Usually living in groups or pairs, they feed mainly on small mammals and birds, but also amphibians and fruit. In urban areas, they are very successful scavengers, helped occasionally by people who leave food out for them. They are more common in less dense suburban areas but have been found right in city centres. It is thought that the movement between urban and rural fox populations is quite fluid.

European Hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus)

Tero Laakso via Flickr

Another iconic British species, the hedgehog has seen severe population declines, though true population estimates are difficult, due to the lack of data and their elusive nature. In the 1950s, population estimates put the number of hedgehogs in the UK at 36.5 million (although this is not thought to be accurate), which is now thought to have dropped to 1.55 million by 1995. It is believed that populations are still declining, but there are still no reliable methods for estimating the true numbers. They face several threats, including habitat loss, chemical use in gardens, cars and a drop in invertebrate populations.

Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus)

Paul Wordingham via Flickr

This bird of prey is not only the fastest bird in the world, but also the fastest member of the animal kingdom, clocking up a dive speed of over 320km/h. Their populations suffered after decades of persecution and pesticide use, but their numbers have begun to recover. They nest in tall buildings, bridges and pylons, and prey mainly on pigeons but also collared doves, blackbirds and starlings.

Garden Snail (Cornu aspersum)

J P via Flickr

A wide variety of invertebrates can be found in urban and suburban habitats, particularly gardens and parks. The garden snail is a common visitor to our lawns, plants and vegetable patches. They’re often considered a pest due to the damage they cause to leaves and fruits but they play a vital role in the health of our soils. They help decompose plant matter, allowing for the cycling of nutrients back into the soil. Snails are also an important food and calcium source for many animals, such as birds.

Urban and suburban environments are also home to many garden bird species, as well as bats, butterflies, moths and spiders. For more information on these, check out some of our guides to UK species identification.

Threats

Urban and suburban areas are becoming more and more densely inhabited as more of the UK’s population moved into towns and cities. This increases the levels of disturbance, from more cars on the road, more noise, light, waste, pets and people. Higher disturbances decrease the ability of species to survive, as they are less likely to feed, develop and reproduce successfully. It can also increase the likelihood of direct mortality.

With a rising human population is an increasing need for more housing and infrastructure. Consequently, this reduces the amount of undeveloped and semi-natural areas; fewer green spaces and the over maintenance of gardens and parks are serious threats to biodiversity in urban habitats.

Public opinion can also threaten urban wildlife. Many species that have managed to colonise the urban environment are considered pests and there are often calls to eradicate them. Fox culls are a controversial suggestion, with many people wanting a way to control the populations and reduce the damage they cause, while others are concerned with animal rights. Additionally, there are suggestions that culls are ineffective, as removed foxes are often replaced by another individual, with no change made to urban population numbers.

What can you do to help?

There are several simple steps you can take to help improve urban biodiversity. You could plant more native plants, reduce the chemicals you use and decrease how often you mow your lawn. Placing bird feeders, nests, and other shelters are also ways that can help wildlife. On a bigger scale, you can urge your local council and government to help too. They could increase the areas of green space and tree cover, and manage roadside verges with nature in mind. Another important step is to decrease light and noise pollution. With some simple steps, we can help to increase the suitability of urban habitats for many wildlife species.

The NHBS Guide to UK Goose Identification

Geese are birds in the family Anatidae, comprising mainly of the genera Anser and Branta. They are a common sight in our estuaries and other wetlands, particularly during autumn and winter. Many species are migratory visitors to the UK, arriving in autumn and leaving again in spring to places such as Greenland and Iceland. There are some resident goose species, however, which are present all year round, such as greylag and Canada geese.  

They feed mainly on seeds, grass, other water plants and some small invertebrates. They are primarily grazers and can search for food both on land and underwater. In UK species, males and females rarely differ in colour, though males are usually larger in size. Geese are monogamous and often pair for life, but several studies have noted evidence of extra-pair copulation (mating outside of this pair bond). One study, for example, found evidence of extra-pair copulation in 14% of 42 Canada goose clutches.

Identifying geese can be based on colouration, distribution, calls, time of year and size. Very little equipment is needed for birdwatching, but we recommend a pair of binoculars or a scope, along with a guide to other waterfowl you may see.

Greylag Goose (Anser anser)

Distribution: Resident population is widespread throughout the UK, although less common in Wales and southwest England. Scottish and southwest England populations are boosted by winter migrant numbers.
Birds of Conservation Concern 4 (BoCC4) Status: Amber
Wingspan: 147–180cm
What to look for: The greylag goose has a grey body and a brown back. It has a brown and grey striped neck, an orange to pink bill and pink legs. They have a paler tail and pale secondary feathers that stand out in flight.

Michele Lamberti via Flickr
Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)

Distribution: Resident population, widespread, although less common in Scotland and Ireland. 
BoCC4 Status: Not Assessed
Wingspan: 150–180cm
What to look for: The Canada goose has a black head, neck and bill, with a white patch on its throat. They have a white underside and a brown back, with black tail feathers and black legs.
Did you know? Canada geese are not native to the UK and were introduced from North America in the 17th century. 

Vlad Litvinov via Flickr
Egyptian Goose (Alopochen aegyptiaca)

Distribution: Resident population in East Anglia and southern coastal areas, with winter migrants in southeast England. The largest population is along the Norfolk coast.
BoCC4 Status: Not Assessed
Wingspan: 110–130cm
What to look for: This is a distinctive species, with a pale, dappled grey underside and darker grey to reddish-brown back and wings. They have a reddish-brown and white head with dark patches around their orange-yellow eyes. Their tail and primary feathers are black, and their secondary feathers are green. They have pink legs and feet, and a pale pink bill with a black tip and black basal knob, a prominent bump at the base of the bill.
Did you know? The Egyptian goose was first introduced to the UK as an ornamental bird that then escaped and now successfully breeds in the wild.

Alan Schmierer via Flickr
Barnacle Goose (Branta leucopsis)

Distribution: Throughout coastal areas in the UK during winter, with a resident breeding population in southern England.
BoCC4 Status: Amber
Wingspan: 132–145cm
What to look for: This species has a black head, neck and breast, with a white face and a black patch running from its eye to its black bill. It has a white underside, black and grey barred back, a black tail and black legs.

ianpreston via Flickr
White-fronted Goose (Anser albifrons)

Distribution: Winter migrants are found in coastal areas throughout the UK, particularly near estuaries.
BoCC4 Status: Red
Wingspan: 130–165cm
What to look for: There are two subspecies of white-fronted goose in the UK, the Greenland white-fronted goose (A. a. flavirostris) and the European white-fronted goose (A. a. albifrons). The white-fronted goose is greyish-brown with a large white patch around the bill and orange legs. They have black bars on the front of their underside, white feathers under the tail and have a white line between their wings and body. The two subspecies differ in a number of ways but most notably the Greenland white-fronted goose has an orange-yellow bill and a darker, ‘oily’ appearance, whereas the European white-fronted goose has a pink bill and a lighter plumage.

European white-fronted goose by Ian Watson-Loyd
Brent Goose (Branta bernicla)

Distribution: Found around estuaries and saltmarshes throughout most of the UK coastal areas in winter.
BoCC4 Status: Amber
Wingspan: 110–120cm
What to look for: This is a darker species, with a black head, neck and primary feathers. Their body is grey-black in colour, with either a dark or pale underside and a white tail. They have a white patch on their neck, a black bill and black legs.

Kev Chapman via Flickr
Bean Goose (Anser fabilis)

Distribution: Two subspecies in the UK, taiga bean goose (A. f. fabilis) (Falkirk, Scotland and Norfolk, England) and tundra bean goose (A. f. rossicus) (erratic appearances in winter but most common in eastern and south-eastern England).
BoCC4 Status: Amber
Wingspan: Taiga: 147–175cm, Tundra: 118–140cm
What to look for: The taiga bean goose is darker and browner than other grey geese, with a darker head and neck and orange legs. It has an orange patch on its bill. The tundra bean goose has a similar appearance but is smaller, with a slightly darker plumage and a stockier body. It has the same orange patch on its bill but it is smaller, covering less than half of the bill.

Rickard Holgersson via Flickr
Pink-footed Goose (Anser brachyrhynchus)

Distribution: Winter migrants are most common in coastal areas near large estuaries and central England.
BoCC4 Status: Amber
Wingspan: 135–160cm
What to look for: A medium-sized goose, this species is grey with a darker back and head, pink legs and feet, and a pink and black bill. It has white feathers under its tail and a striped pattern on its neck.

Stefan Berndtsson via Flickr
Snow Goose (Anser caerulescens)

Distribution: Migrant species are more likely to be spotted in Scotland and Ireland. There is also a feral breeding population in Scotland.
BoCC4 Status: Not Assessed
Wingspan: 132–165cm
What to look for: This species has two colour forms, an all-white body with black wing feathers (pictured) and a white-headed form with a blue-grey body and wings. In both forms, it has an orangy-pink bill and pink legs.

U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service Southwest Region via Flickr

 

 

The NHBS Guide to UK Duck Identification

Ducks are waterfowl from the family Anatidae, which also contains geese and swans. They are mostly aquatic birds and there are several resident, breeding and migrant species in the UK. Ducks are split into multiple families, or ‘tribes’, such as dabbling ducks (Anatini), diving ducks (Aythyini) and sea ducks (Mergini). All ducks are generally elongated and broad, with long necks. They have bills and strong, well-developed legs for swimming. The males often have more elaborate plumage than the females, and often similar-looking females of different species can be confused.

Ducks eat a wide variety of food, including vegetation, fish, invertebrates and small amphibians. They have multiple predators including foxes and birds of prey, such as hawks or owls. Ducklings are particularly vulnerable and can also be taken by herons, pike, rats, mink and weasels.

Winter is a great time to birdwatch for ducks in the UK: some species occur in much higher numbers compared to the summer months, and 3 of the 22 species that occur in the UK can only be seen in the winter. The best places to see ducks are lakes, marshlands, estuaries, coastal bays and other wetland areas.

The best equipment for birdwatching is a pair of binoculars or a scope, a notebook and pen to record your sightings, and a guide for more information on other species of duck.

Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna)

Distribution: Present in almost all coastal areas in the UK year-round, as well as some inland waters such as reservoirs.
Size: Length (L): 55–65cm, wingspan (WS): 100–120 cm
Birds of Conservation Concern 4 (BoCC4) Status: Amber
What to look for: Shelducks are a large, boldly-patterned and colourful duck with a white body, dark-green head and red bill, a chestnut band around their chest and pink legs. They can be spotted along estuaries and on the coast.

Andy Morffew via Flickr
Eider (Somateria mollissima)

Distribution: During the breeding season, they’re most common northwards from the Northumberland coast and off the west coast of Scotland. During the winter, their range expands to include areas along the east and south coasts, parts of the southwest coast and some areas of the Welsh coast.
Size: L: 60–70cm, WS: 95–105 cm
BoCC4 Status: Amber
What to look for: Eiders are large and impressive sea ducks (rarely seen away from the coast) with distinctive wedge-shaped heads. The males are boldly marked in black and white with subtle green and yellow markings on their head and neck. The females are a dark mottled brown colour all over, providing camouflage during nesting.

Putneypics via Flickr
Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula)

Distribution: Mainly restricted to the highlands of Scotland during the summer, their winter range includes most coastal areas, lakes, large rivers and other inland water bodies. They are particularly best looked for in north and west Britain.
Size: L: 40–48cm, WS: 77–83cm
BoCC4 Status: Amber
What to look for: Goldeneyes are diving ducks, found mostly in larger lakes and reservoirs. The males are black and white, with a large, dome-shaped head that has a green sheen to it. As its name suggests, it has a distinctive, bright yellow-gold eye, as well as a white spot between its eye and bill. The female is grey with a brown head.

Raed Mansour via Flickr
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)

Distribution: Widespread
Size: L: 55–62cm, WS: 81–98cm
BoCC4 Status: Amber
What to look for: A common species, the male has a bright green, shiny head, yellow bill, and a brown chest. They have a paler underside and maroon and pale wings with a bright blue patch outlined in white and black, called a speculum. The female is a mottled brown, with a brown and yellow bill.

hedera.baltica via Flickr
Mandarin Duck (Aix galericulata)

Distribution: An introduced species, the main population is in the south, central and eastern areas of England, but there are small numbers in northern England, Wales and Scotland.
Size: L: 45cm, WS: 65–75cm
BoCC4 Status: Not Assessed
What to look for: The mandarin is an unmistakable bird. The males have a very elaborate plumage of orange, green, blue, white, and brown, with a bright pinkish-red bill. They have plumes on their cheeks, sail-like feathers on their backs and longer feathers down the back of their head. The female is grey and brown, with a white eye stripe and green feathers at the ends of their wings.

Holger Wirth via Flickr
Pochard (Aythya ferina)

Distribution: During the summer, pochards are most likely found along the east coast of England but in the winter they can be seen along almost all of the UK coastline, as well as on large lakes and estuaries inland.
Size: L: 44–48cm, WS: 77cm
BoCC4 Status: Red
What to look for: The male pochard has a grey body, black chest and tail, and a reddish-brown head. They have a bright red eye and a black and grey bill. The female is a darker brown, with dark eyes. They also have a black and grey bill, but with less grey than the males. This species was once common but populations are rapidly declining.

Male pochard by Koshy Koshy via Flickr
Female pochard by Koshy Koshy via Flickr
Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula)

Distribution: Widespread across England, parts of Scotland and Northern Ireland. Less common in Wales and south-west England but they can be seen here as their range expands during the winter.
Size: L: 41–45cm, WS: 70cm
BoCC4 Status: Green
What to look for: The male tufted duck is black with white flanks, and a long ‘tuft’ at the black of their head. They have bright yellow eyes and a grey bill with a black spot at the end. The female has brown feathers and no white flanks. The females’ tufts are shorter or sometimes not present.

Male tufted duck by ianpreston via Flickr
Female tufted duck by Noel Reynolds via Flickr
Gadwall (Anas strepera)

Distribution: Mainly found in the Midlands, south-east of England, parts of Scotland’s east coast, eastern Northern Ireland and along the south and north coasts of Wales. Their range expands during winter to include Cornwall and North Devon, parts of Scotland’s west coast and larger areas of Northern Ireland.
Size: L: 48–54cm, WS: 78–90cm
BoCC4 Status: Amber
What to look for: Male gadwalls are grey-brown in colour, with black and white tail feathers. They have a paler head with a black bill and black eyes. Females are mottled brown, with a black bill edged with orange. They have a white and black speculum that also contains reddish-brown on the males. 

Yankech Gary via Flickr
Shoveler (Spatula clypeata)

Distribution: Widespread in England and along the Welsh coast during winter but more restricted to east and north-east England and the Midlands during summer, with some populations in parts of Scotland, Northern Ireland and the south coast of England.
Size: L: 47–53cm, WS: 77cm
BoCC4 Status: Amber
What to look for: The shoveler has a large, broad shovel-like bill. The male has a dark green head, white chest, reddish-orange flanks, and a black and green back and tail. The males also have yellow eyes and a black bill. The female is a mottled brown, with a yellow-orange bill.

Dan McCullough via Flickr
Pintail (Anas acuta)

Distribution: Restricted to scattered areas of Scotland and the east of England in summer in only small numbers. Their significant winter population has an expanded range that includes much of the English coastline and parts of Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.
Size: L: 55–65cm, WS: 80–95cm
BoCC4 Status: Amber
What to look for: This is an uncommon species in the UK, but it is easily distinguishable by its long tail feathers. The male has a dark chestnut head, a white chest with black feathers on the back of its neck, and a grey body. They have black feathers along their back and a black tail, dark eyes, and a grey and black bill. The female has shorter tail feathers, a mottled brown colouration and a grey bill. 

Northwest Power and Conservation Council via Flickr

 

 

 

 

 

Useful Resources

RSPB ID Spotlight: Ducks, Geese and Swans Unbound | June 2022

This guide is a reliable fold-out chart with illustrations of 30 of the UK’s most familiar wildfowl by renowned artist Stephen Message. Species are grouped by family to assist with identification and artworks are shown side-by-side for quick comparison. The reverse of the chart details the habitats, behaviour, life cycles and diets of the group, as well as the conservation issues they are facing and how the RSPB is working to support them.

 

ID guide to ducks showing 16 illustrations in male and female formGuide to Ducks, Geese and Swans Unbound | January 2019

This fold-out chart from the Field Studies Council (FSC) shows 32 species of ducks, geese and swans you are likely to see in Great Britain and Ireland. Not included are domestic ducks and geese descended from respectively the mallard (1 species) and the greylag (30 species).

 

 

Front cover of RSPB spotlight on ducks and geese, shows two geese on the cover. One is in flight and one is on the water.RSPB Spotlight: Ducks and Geese Paperback | May 2020

This detailed ‘biography’ of ducks and geese in the UK covers 30 species in total. It includes chapters on their evolution, anatomy, courtship displays and breeding behaviour. The author reveals their migrations and examines their social interactions with their own and other species, including humans, and discusses their presence in historical folklore and literature.

 

 

 

 

 

August Top 10

NHBS’s Top 10 bestsellers August 2021

We love looking back at our bestsellers from the month before and are very excited to share our Top 10 list, featuring the best of August.

This month, highlights include recent works such as Silent Earth and Collins Birds of the World, as well as several you may recognise from last month’s Top 10, such as All the Birds of the World and the consistently popular Britain’s Insects.

 

Silent Earth: Averting the Insect Apocalypse | Dave Goulson
Hardback | August 2021

In top place this month is Silent Earth: Averting the Insect Apocalypse, part love letter to the insect world, part elegy, and part rousing manifesto for a greener planet. Drawing on the latest ground-breaking research and a lifetime of study, Silent Earth reveals the shocking decline of insect populations that has taken place in recent decades, with potentially catastrophic consequences.

Read our extended review.

 

Collins Birds of the World: All 10,711 Species Illustrated | Norman Arlott et al
Hardback | September 2021

Collins Birds of the World: All 10,711 Species Illustrated is the complete collection of the Collins Field Guide’s incredibly detailed, accurate and beautiful bird paintings brought together for the first time in one comprehensive volume. All 10,711 of the world’s bird species are covered – this is the ultimate reference book for birdwatchers and bird enthusiasts.

Read our interview with Norman Arlott.

 

Britain’s insects: A Field guide to the insects of Great Britain and Ireland | Paul D. brock
Flexibound | May 2021

Britain’s Insects is even more popular this month! This field guide is an innovative, up-to-date, carefully designed and beautifully illustrated field guide to Britain and Ireland’s 25 insect orders, concentrating on popular groups and species that can be identified in the field.

 

Featuring superb photographs of live insects, Britain’s Insects covers the key aspects of identification and provides information on status, distribution, seasonality, habitat, food plants and behaviour.

 

 

A Comprehensive Guide to Insects of Britain & Ireland | Paul  D. Brock
Flexibound | October 2019

A Comprehensive Guide to Insects of Britain & Ireland has moved up from the 9th spot on last month’s list. It is a complete, photographic field guide to over 2,300 species of insects in Britain and Ireland – including beetles, flies, ants, bees and wasps. The clear photographs will assist in the identification of the majority of insects likely to be encountered.

This guide also contains concise text on behaviour, present-day conservation status and pointers on species of similar appearance. Serious naturalists will welcome notes on areas to look for rarities and further resources that provide additional information on particular insect groups.

 

British Craneflies | Alan Stubbs
Hardback | July 2021  

British Craneflies is a guide to the identification and natural history of 250 species in six families of cranefly. It describes the distribution and habitat of each one, with 128 pages of identification keys illustrated with thumbnail drawings and colour plates showing markings and venation of the wings of 180 species. This guide also contains photograph examples of some distinctive and some common craneflies, illustrations of the male genitalia for all species of Tipulidae and for most genera of other families, and introductory chapters including a full account of the enemies of craneflies.

 

All the Birds of the World | Josep Del Hoyo          
Hardback | August 2020

This all-encompassing new guide lists all the birds of the world, allowing readers to browse and compare Earth’s amazing avian diversity between the covers of one volume. All the Birds of the World presents over 11,524 species, accompanied by 11,558 distribution maps and 20,865 illustrations detailing sexual dimorphism, morphs and distinctive subspecies.

 

Britain’s Butterflies: A Field Guide to the Butterflies of Great Britain and Ireland | David Newland et al.
Flexibound | August 2020

This photographic field guide to all of Britain’s butterflies returns in a fourth edition, produced in association with Butterfly Conservation. Britain’s Butterflies is a comprehensive and beautifully designed photographic guide, containing hundreds of stunning colour photographs and providing the latest information on every species ever recorded. It covers all 59 butterfly species that breed regularly, four former breeders, 10 rare migrants and one species of unknown status.

 

Plants and Habitats: An Introduction to Common Plants and Their Habitats in Britain and Ireland |Ben Averis
Paperback | June 2013

Plants and Habitats combines the species and habitat approaches to plants and vegetation. It is an identification guide to 700 of the most common, conspicuous or useful ecological indicator plant species that make up most of Britain and Ireland’s vegetation. It also contains a separate habitats section describing the flora, ecology and management of habitats. This illustrated guide aims to help people understand our vegetation at all scales, from individual plants to whole landscapes.

 

A Field Guide to Grasses, Sedges and Rushes | Dominic Price
Hardback | September 2021

A Field Guide to Grasses, Sedges and Rushes is another repeat occurrence from last month’s Top 10 and is a consistent bestseller for NHBS. This guide aims to simplify the identification of this fascinating group of plants, using characters that are both easy to spot in the field and simple to remember. Over 100 species are described, focusing on key features of both their genus and species.

Read our interview with Dominic Price.

 

Field Guide to the Moths of Great Britain and Ireland | Paul Waring Et al.
Paperback |  November 2018

Still popular this month, the third edition of the Field Guide to the Moths of Great Britain and Ireland is a fully revised and updated version.

This field guide includes beautiful illustrations displaying key features to help with identification. It covers flight season, life cycle, larval foodplants, habitat and more, along with maps presenting distribution information.

The revised edition also contains an introduction explaining how the methods of identifying and recording moths have evolved over recent years.

 

Trees for Life: Q&A with Alan McDonnell

Alan McDonnell, Conservation Manager for Trees for Life, kindly took the time to answer some questions on the important work they do in the Scottish Highlands and their ambitious East West Wild project. The Caledonian Forest has been under threat for thousands of years and, by the 1950s, only 1% of the original forest remained. Since its creation in 1993, Trees for Life has worked tirelessly to restore this forest and its ecosystem.

Alan McDonnell

In this captivating conversation, we discuss the importance of working in collaboration with landowners and local communities, how the Covid pandemic has affected them as a charity, and share different ways to get involved in helping Trees for Life achieve their goals.


Could you begin by introducing us to the goals of Trees for Life and the work that you do?

We are a rewilding charity working in the Scottish Highlands. For us, rewilding is about allowing natural processes to work on a large scale. It’s about creating potential for communities to thrive as a result of the health of the natural environment around them.

Our work has therefore increasingly focused on involving people close to where we operate. Our volunteering programme places an emphasis on nature connection. This includes practical action like planting trees, restoring peatlands, and working in the tree nursery at our Dundreggan conservation estate. In recent years, we’ve been increasing our partnerships with others interested in using nature to benefit people’s mental health. We find this hugely rewarding for everyone involved.

Our practical rewilding work includes restoring red squirrel populations to parts of their original range in north and west Scotland and communities play an important role in supporting that. We’ve also just completed an assessment of the health and resilience of Scotland’s ancient pinewoods, which we hope will be just the start of a journey to secure and expand these iconic woodlands in partnership with land managers. Finally, we continue the work Trees for Life started with, restoring native woodlands to appropriate parts of the landscape.

Dundreggan Nursery © Chris Aldridge

On your website, you state that you believe you can always achieve more through teamwork. Why do you think it is so important for Trees for Life to collaborate with landowners and local communities?

One way or another, we all have a stake in the land and an influence on its future, but people’s priorities are different. If we focus too much on our own interests in isolation, we end up in conflict. This tendency has dogged the land management debate for decades, to the detriment of everyone. We want to help change the focus to one where landowners, communities, and environmental interests look at what they have in common and what they can achieve together. We’ve already seen how this can create new possibilities for sustainable progress, and at a larger scale, for nature, people’s wellbeing, and the local economies that communities depend on.

You have several major projects in the works, including your very ambitious East West Wild project. This project aims to form a coalition of landowners and communities to create a nature-based economy, could you tell us a bit more about what this entails?

The initiative is founded on the precept that nature, communities, and the economy need each other – if one fails, sooner or later it will take the others with it. East West Wild looks at it the other way round: progress in restoring the health of nature in a large landscape can be a catalyst for both social and economic regeneration. We already know that given time and a little help, nature can surge back, so our focus now is how that could create opportunities for people and local businesses. A scoping study has identified nature-friendly forestry, farming, private investment in ecosystem services and small-scale renewable energy as some of the ways in which we can help nature to recover. Such an approach could also create jobs, and sequester carbon through sustainable land use. We’re under no illusions about the challenges involved in attracting the investment to turn these ideas into reality. But we’re also really excited about having the chance to go for such big gains as part of such a diverse partnership of interests.

Birch tree being planted © Trees for Life

The project area stretches from the west coast of Scotland to Loch Ness, encompassing multiple Glens including Glen Affric, Cannich, and Moriston. What was the process behind selecting this area for this project?

One of the earliest aspirations of Trees for Life was to realise the potential for Glen Affric to act as a coast-to-coast habitat corridor, noted I believe by George Peterken in the 1980s. However, as the idea grew in our minds, we knew we wanted to try for a big area to get the ecological multiplier effects that come from genuine landscape-scale change. We also know that the potential here is massive, with a diverse range of woodlands, peatlands, freshwater, montane, riparian, and coastal habitats all capable of restoring themselves. If we can increase the ecological connectivity at this scale, potentially 2000 sq km, the wildlife response that follows will be tremendous and importantly, resilient over the longer term.

Of course, all of that is little more than a daydream if we fail to bring the communities and landowners with us. Our key priority at this stage is to show people that a high level of ambition for the natural environment can positively impact their ways of life.

Trees for Life volunteers in Glen Affric © Trees for Life

Have you found the Covid-19 pandemic has affected the development of this project? How have you coped with the challenges of the current situation?

It’s been both good and bad. It has caused us problems as we’ve been trying to reach out and build new relationships without the spontaneity and informality of face-to-face conversations. However, as we all got our heads around online meetings, we’ve benefited from the speed at which we can meet people and reduced the need to spend time travelling. Hopefully, as we get to the point of starting the initiative in earnest this autumn, we’ll have the scope to meet people in person, which will undoubtedly help the partnership to become genuinely co-creative.

For anyone who is inspired by the vision of Trees for Life and wishes to help, how would you recommend they get involved?

You can learn more about Trees for Life and our vision for a rewilded Scotland by visiting our website.

We hope that our volunteer programme will restart in spring 2022. This includes our popular Conservation Weeks. People should keep an eye out for updates on our website and social media channels.

We have a Cycle for the Climate initiative, where people can raise money for rewilding through bike challenges – both big and small. And of course, we are forever grateful to people who choose to make regular and one-off donations to the charity. This is what we depend on to plan future projects and keep building towards a rewilded Highlands where people and nature enjoy a better relationship.

Trees for Life volunteers © Stephen Couling, Trees for Life

You can find out more about Trees for Life from their website and by following them on Facebook and Twitter.

 

Author Interview: Collins Birds of the World

Collins Birds of the World is the complete collection of Norman Arlott’s beautifully detailed and accurate bird paintings, brought together for the first time. Accompanied by text detailing characteristics and appearances for each species, this comprehensive new field guide is the ultimate reference book for birdwatchers and bird lovers.

Norman Arlott is a wildlife artist and has illustrated over 200 books. He has kindly answered some of our questions on his experiences and the process of creating this all-encompassing work.

Could you tell us about your background and what inspired you to become a wildlife artist?

I originally trained as a mechanical engineer but ‘jumped ship’ in the 70s to take up my real love as a wildlife artist, with a focus on birds. I made this leap with much encouragement from my wife Marie and a great deal of help and inspiration from well-known bird artist Robert Gillmor, bird photographer Eric Hosking and the great East African ornithologist John Williams. I had no intention of working on book illustrations, but I got caught up in it, really liked it and I have enjoyed it ever since.

In the intervening years, I have contributed illustrations to over 200 books, including some classics such as Birds of the Western Palearctic, Handbook to the Birds of the World and the SASOL Birds of South Africa.  Many postage stamps feature my artwork from places such as Jamaica and The Bahamas in the Caribbean, Liberia in Africa and Fiji in the Pacific Ocean.

Over the last 15 years, I have concentrated mainly on writing and illustrating a series of bird guides (more coloured checklists really) covering the Palearctic, India, The West Indies, North America, South East Asia and the Philippines – many of these illustrations and accompanying text feature in the forthcoming Birds of the World.

You’ve been a part of creating bird guides for areas as broad as the Palearctic to more specific locations such as the Indonesian Archipelago and Armenia. What have you enjoyed most about your travels?

During the last 40 years or so, I have had the good fortune to travel to various parts of the globe, most notably East and South Africa. I led safaris to Kenya and Tanzania for many years, which led to many adventures and meetings. On one of my first visits, I was fortunate to form a friendship with two people: author and broadcaster Roger A Caras and zoo director Steve Graham, enabling me to visit North America. Whilst in America, I was introduced to many of my bird-artist ‘heroes’, all of which passed on great encouragement and useful tips – one snippet passed to me by the great Arthur Singer was always to remember ‘white areas are equally as important as the illustrated areas in the look of a plate’.

When illustrating Antpittas for the Handbook of the Birds of the World, you were integral in the realisation that a specimen in the Natural History Museum was misidentified. Could you tell us more about this experience? 

The Antpitta discovery came about after a research visit to the British Museum at Tring. Needing to find a reference for the Yellow-breasted Antpitta, a bird I was about to illustrate for the Handbook to the Birds of the World, I was able to photograph and make notes from the one and only skin in the museum. Before embarking on the illustration I checked the text notes provided by the authors only to discover that the text and the bird I had photograph did not correspond. My initial thought was I had photographed the wrong specimen so I called Robert Prys-Jones at the British Museum and asked him to check the skin – Robert, along with Peter Salaman, then followed up my query and came to the conclusion that the specimen in the British Museum was in fact a new subspecies of the Brown-banded Antpitta. All the relevant details of this new bird can be found in the Bulletin of the British Ornitholgists’ Club (Vol 129-1). I have made many visits to the British Museum to do research for various books and this is the only time I have known a skin to be completely misidentified, especially a skin with a label annotated by P. L. Sclater, an expert on the family.

Collins Birds of the World is a huge, comprehensive collection of over 25,000 illustrations of 10,711 species. Could you tell us a little bit about the process of creating this guide?

I was asked to consider putting together a complete coloured checklist to the Birds of the World using the vast Harper Collins artwork archive. There were a few areas that Harper Collins did not have suitable artwork, such as Australia, New Guinea and some small island groups, so I painted all of these in readiness for putting together the Birds of the World plates.

I decided that to even start this project, a standard ‘list’ was needed – it was decided that the International Ornithological Congress (IOC) world list as of January 2019 was the one I would rigidly follow. Using mainly mine and Ber Van Perlo’s artwork, I promised Harper Collins that I was able to put together the 301 plates and hopefully make a really satisfying (to look at) book, even though some of the plates may contain a great number of species.

Although told by many that I was an ‘idiot’ to take on such a project, and I admit at times I had to agree, overall I genuinely enjoyed the experience of working ‘electronically’ to produce plates. Hopefully, I fulfilled the promise I made to the publisher to produce an attractive and practical book to the Birds of the World!

After my work designing the plates, David Price Goodfellow and his team went on to produce the high-resolution scans and add any missing pieces of text, so all in all a great team effort.

After such a mammoth publication, do you have any more projects lined up for the future?

I have recently been given the opportunity by Harper Collins to produce a large-format book of my ‘proper’ paintings of British birds – what a difference from the past couple of years.

Princeton University Press: Publisher of the Month

Princeton University Press was founded in 1905 as a nonprofit publisher with close connections to Princeton University. Originally publishing university documents and newspapers, such as the Princeton Alumni Weekly, Princeton University Press didn’t publish its first book until 1912. Since then, they have published over 21,000 works, including many award-winning titles. Princeton University Press publishes well-known series such as WILDguides, the high-quality, practical guides to many wildlife regions around the world, and Princeton Illustrated Checklists, which contain illustrations and concise text of all species in specific regions. They also publish and distribute Wild Nature Press, a natural history publisher that specialises in books on marine life.

NHBS is delighted to announce Princeton University Press as our Publisher of the Month for September.

Throughout September we will have special offers on a selection of titles, giving you the opportunity to explore their books. Browse a selection of highlights below, or Princeton University Press’s entire range.

 

Peter Adriaens et al.
Paperback | £24.99 £29.99

The most up-to-date guide for gull identification, with a direct and visual approach and an abundance of beautiful colour photographs. This guide also has sections comparing similar taxa, identifying hybrids, gull watching, migration and sonograms

 

Beetles of Western North America
Arthur V Evans
Paperback | £29.99 £34.99

A landmark book illustrated with more than 1,500 photographs, covering 1,428 species from all 131 families that occur in the West. An extensive introduction provides information on beetle anatomy, natural history, behaviour, conservation and more.

 

Habitats of the World: A Field Guide for Birders, Naturalists, and Ecologists
Iain D Campbell et al.
Paperback | £24.99 £27.99

The first field guide to the world’s major land habitats – 189 in all. This compact, accessible, and comprehensive book features concise identification descriptions and is richly illustrated.

 

Sharks of the World: A Complete Guide
David A Ebert et al.
Hardback | £34.99 £39.99

The essential book for everyone interested in sharks, packed with colour illustrations, line drawings and photographs. Well-presented and easy to use, this is currently the only single guide to cover over 500 of the world’s shark species.

 

Ant Architecture: The Wonder, Beauty, and Science of Underground Nests
Walter R Tschinkel
Hardback | £19.99 £24.99

This wonderfully illustrated book takes you inside an unseen world where thousands of ants build intricate homes in the soil beneath our feet. Ant Architecture charts new directions for tomorrow’s research and reflects on the role of beauty in nature and the joys of shoestring science.

 

Wasps: The Astonishing Diversity of a Misunderstood Insect
Eric R Eaton
Hardback | £19.99 £24.99

This richly illustrated book introduces you to some of the most spectacular members of the wasp realm. Written by a leading authority on these remarkable insects, Wasps reveals a world of staggering variety and endless fascination.


Plant Galls of the Western United States

Ronald A Russo
Flexibound | £18.99 £24.99

Describing 536 species of galls and their causative agents, this guide explores this unique realm with stunning photos and fascinating information about the life cycles of the organisms involved.

 

 

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

The NHBS Guide to UK Owl Identification

There are six owl species in the UK, although only four are native (barn, tawny, long-eared and short-eared owl). We also get occasional visitors, such as the snowy owl (Nyctea scandiaca).

Owls are mainly nocturnal and feed on predominantly small mammals such as the field vole (Microtus agrestis), but also some small birds, invertebrates, amphibians and fish. All these species are listed as ‘least concern’ by the IUCN red list but face serious threats in the UK, such as habitat loss, declining prey populations and a decrease in nesting sites, as well as direct deaths such as from car collisions or poisoning. Owls can be used as an indicator species for the health of the food chain: their decline may indicate that other wildlife that also depend on the same habitats are also under threat. 

Identification of owl species usually relies on colouration and eye colour, as well as their call. This is particularly important as owls are often active at night and therefore are hard to identify by sight. 

There are several types of equipment that can be useful when searching for owls, such as binoculars, night vision monoculars, a headlamp or flashlight and a guide to owl pellet identification. If you wish to encourage owls onto your land, there are a variety of nest boxes available, depending on the species you wish to attract. 

Little Owl (Athene noctua)

Distribution: Widespread throughout England and parts of Wales. Rare in southern Scotland
What to look for: The little owl is a small species, with brown and white feathers in a dappled appearance. It has a short tail and bright yellow eyes. Usually out at night, it is most likely to be seen perched on structures such as trees, telegraph poles and fences.
Did you know? The little owl is non-native in the UK and was introduced in the late 1800s. It is not thought to cause any detrimental impacts on any other species.

Little Owl by Andy Morffew via Flickr
Barn Owl (Tyto alba alba)

Distribution: Widespread across England and Wales, with decreasing density towards north Scotland and scattered distribution in Ireland
What to look for: An iconic species, the barn owl is instantly recognisable. Its silver and golden-brown back and pure white underside and face are distinctive, along with its heart-shaped face and black eyes. Its face shape plays an important function for hunting, as it directs high-frequency sound to their ear openings, such as those produced by mice and voles. This helps the barn owl to perform precision hunting in tall vegetation. Another subspecies, Tyto alba guttata, which has a darker coloured underside, also occurs in the UK.
Did you know? Owing to their large wing size compared to their body mass, and the structure of their feathers, barn owls fly almost completely silently.

Barn Owl by Portable Portraits via Flickr
Tawny Owl (Strix aluco)

Distribution: Widely distributed in England, Wales, and parts of Scotland, but not in Northern Ireland
What to look for: The tawny owl has mottled brown feathers with flecks of white and more reddish-brown. Its colouration can vary from brown to grey. This species has a paler underside and a round head, with large black eyes and a dark ring pattern around its face.

Tawny Owl by Nick Jewell via Flickr
Long-Eared Owl (Asio otus)

Distribution: Widespread across the UK, although fewer individuals in Wales and south west England.
What to look for: This mottled brown species has bright orange-red eyes and long tufts that resemble ears, hence the common name. The long-eared owl is a shy, nocturnal species that can be found in communal roosts in densely covered woodland and forests. The population is boosted in winter due to numbers of migrating individuals from other parts of Europe.

Long-eared Owl by vil.sandi via Flickr
Short-Eared Owl (Asio flammeus)

Distribution: Migratory species, found across Scotland and northern England in summer before moving further south during winter.
What to look for: Often confused with the long-eared owl, this species is slightly slimmer, with a paler colour and yellow eyes rather than the long-eared owl’s orange. It has brown feathers on its back and a pale belly, with darker feathers framing its eyes. They also rarely display their ‘ear’ tufts.

Short-eared Owl by Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife via Flickr
Eurasian Eagle-Owl (Bubo bubo)

Distribution: Very rare, scattered around the north of the UK, including Lancashire, Greater Manchester, Galloway, and Inverness-shire.
What to look for: The Eurasian eagle-owl has tufts similar to the long-eared owl. It is a large bird, weighing up to 4.6kg compared to the barn owl at 500g. This species is mottled, but there is a high variation in plumage colouration for this species, from browny-black to a pale grey. There is often a dark band running from the eye to the ends of the ‘ear’ tufts. It may have pale sections around the eyes and beak, with a darker, splotched forehead.
Did you know? There is serious debate surrounding this owl species and its place in the UK countryside. While there is fossil evidence that suggests this species inhabited the UK before becoming extinct, many don’t believe it is a native species. Therefore, the conservation of this species and the safety of the individuals present in the UK is under threat.

Eurasian Eagle-owl by Jenny Laird via Flickr