Bats of Britain and Europe: interview with authors Christian Dietz and Andreas Kiefer

Christian Dietz and Andreas Kiefer, authors of Bats of Britain and Europe
Christian Dietz and Andreas Kiefer, authors of Bats of Britain and Europe, in caves with bats…

Bats of Britain and Europe is a new field guide highlighting the remarkable diversity of bat species regularly occurring in Europe. 45 species are described in detail, the pages are full of hundreds of colour photos of bats, and illustrative diagrams and tables, and there is substantial information on bat biology and ecology, tracking and detecting, and identification.

Bats of Britain and Europe

As authors Christian Dietz (long-established teacher, author and bat expert) and Andreas Kiefer (Research Associate at the University of Trier, Germany) say in the Foreword, this book represents the achievement of their “dream of continuing the field guide that introduced us both to bats” – Schober & Grimmberger 1987 /1998.

What is your background in studying and working with bats, and what makes them special for you?

Christian: I am working as a consultant in impact assessment studies mainly focused on bats and as a scientist in bat research. Bats are so special for me since they have evolved so many special adaptations to their nightly way of life and developed such a high biodiversity.

Andreas: I am a researcher in bat ecology and conservation. The diversity of bats is so big and in most species we are just barely scratching the surface on understanding them. And we need to know which species live where and why, otherwise conservation cannot be successful.

Bats of Britain and Europe

What was your first experience of seeing a bat in the wild?

Andreas: I started very late. When I was 20 I helped counting hibernating bats in slate mines, only half a year later I had my first own project. I searched for summer roosts of greater horseshoe bats in my home region but I found only grey long-eared bats. Up to now long-eareds are my favourite study objects.

Christian: As a child I found a brown long-eared bat injured by the neighbour’s cat and tried to care for it. Later I became fascinated with searching their roosts and practical conservation of hibernacula.

What areas of bat research are you currently focusing on?

Christian: As a consultant I am very interested in mitigation and monitoring of populations, and scientifically I am mostly engaged in studying the biodiversity and cryptic species in the Middle East and the Caucasus. Knowledge about the taxonomy and distribution of species is the important base for future conservation work.

Andreas: At the moment I am a researcher at Trier University. In my small bat group we currently work on the impact on wind energy on bat populations, the ecology and conservation of the Sardinian long-eared bat, and new methods for monitoring bat populations.

How are the British and European bat populations doing at the moment?

Andreas: Most of our bats species do fine, but we have signals that the grey long-eared bat is declining not only in Germany. The situation of Mehely’s horseshoe bat is more dramatic when you see it in a European context. Another species, the Sardinian long-eared bat which is endemic for Sardinia has fewer than 400 specimens left. Maybe this species will go extinct in the next years. Other species expand their range and come more to the North.

Christian: Some species like the pipistrelle bat do fine and are common and widespread, and even some rare bats like the lesser horseshoe bat seem to recover from former population crashes and slowly recolonise parts of their lost distribution. On the other hand some species still decline and may even face local extinction of populations. Examples are the grey long-eared bat and Mehely’s horseshoe bat, both specialists for preying on large moths in mosaic-like open habitats with grasslands, orchards and hedges. While the grey long-eared bat is still widely distributed, and the observed negative population trends and local extinctions still do not threaten the species as a whole, the situation with Mehely’s horseshoe bat is much more dramatic. It has already lost big parts of its European distribution and become extinct in some countries, while remaining populations are scattered and isolated. I am much afraid the species will become extinct since I have seen it disappearing in parts of Bulgaria already where I used to study it a decade ago.

If you could implement any policy change that you think would be of benefit to bats, what would it be?

Christian: Since the establishment of the European Natura 2000 network, bats get considerable protection and are taken into consideration in impact assessment and mitigation. However the implementation of these laws differs extremely between countries, and especially in the eastern parts of Europe nature protection is still difficult. There, changes in agriculture and massive habitat loss threaten some of the largest bat populations in Europe – on the other hand very expensive and sometimes ineffective compensation measures are done in western European countries. I think it would help a lot to concentrate some money from compensation to protect wonderful habitats and bats in Eastern Europe.

Andreas: Of course we need more money and projects for bat conservation, especially in Eastern Europe. And we need more sensitivity for useless compensations in Western Europe. But mainly we need a change in European agriculture politics. A better support for EU-subsidies for organic farming, less pesticides and a stop of land consumption would be helpful for bats and nature conservation overall.

The new book is a field guide to the 45 species of bat of Britain and Europe – who is the book aimed at, and what unique information will it provide for the reader?

Bats of Britain and Europe

Andreas: We hope that it is useful for professionals and beginners. For the first time, we give an overview to all European species and we show a key for the species identification of bat hairs from droppings.

Christian: We tried to give an up-to-date overview to the fascinating biodiversity of European bats and to give many ideas for practical conservation work.

You include newly described species – what can you tell us about these?

Christian: Bat taxonomy has seen big changes in the last decades, the biodiversity of European species has been much underestimated. We studied all newly discovered species in Europe from the Iberian Peninsula to Anatolia and on islands like Sardinia and Crete.

Andreas: Many new bat species had been identified in the past two decades, mainly with the help of DNA-sequencing. We tried to cover Europe and neighbouring areas and all European islands in the Mediterranean Sea.

If somebody is curious about studying bats, what advice would you give them to get started – apart from buying a copy of your book!?

Andreas: Join your local bat group! These people know what they do and they are happy when new bat friends will help them. Nothing is better than learning from experts and Britain has a lot of them.

Christian: Great Britain is famous for its many NGOs and local bat groups – so the best is to make contact to people being already engaged in bat research and conservation – they will help you.

Bats of Britain and Europe

Buy a copy of Bats of Britain and Europe

 

Reintroducing the griffon vulture in Bulgaria: an interview with Emilian Stoynov

Emilian Stoynov, vulture conservationistEmilian Stoynov and colleagues created the Fund for Wild Flora and Fauna (FWFF) in Bulgaria in 2000 to support a project to reintroduce griffon vultures in the country.

Emilian has been involved with vultures for many years and in 2007 won the Whitley Award for work with reducing the threat to wolves, bears and vultures from humans and poison in Bulgaria.

A book summarising the griffon vulture reintroduction process from 2010 to 2015 has just been published.

How did you become interested in working with vultures, and how did you come to be a part of this reintroduction project?

When I was a child I was interested to explore nature. At that time there was not much literature to find and to learn about nature. First I wanted to work on plants. Just around 1985 the first edition of the Red Data Book of Bulgaria was published and I tried to buy a copy and start studying the species. But when I had enough money from my parents and relatives around New Year’s Eve, I did not succeed to find the Volume I of the book- plants. I found after checking a lot of book stores in Sofia the Volume II- animals. It was only one copy of the book and part of it was missing (reptiles and amphibians), but the birds were there. I found that some of the rarest birds were the vultures and they were historically found in the area of my father’s birth town – Kotel. Here I started to wish to meet vultures in nature. After some time I became a member of Bulgaria Society for the Protection of Birds (BSPB) – now BirdLife Bulgaria – which was just established and was in charge of the conservation of last colony of griffon vultures in the country in the Eastern Rhodope Mountains. I was first a volunteer and later was working for the project for conservation of vultures in this area. Then I started to think about restoring the population in other sites in Bulgaria. I tried to organize feeding sites in other parts of the country where vultures historically were present, but this was not enough to restore the old colonies. Then I saw what was done in Massif Central in France by Michel Terrasse and his colleagues from FIR/LPO– namely reintroduction of griffon vulture through release of captive bred but also rehabilitated birds from Spain. Thus I decided that this should be done also in other parts of Bulgaria. BSPB were not very willing to work on reintroductions, which is why it was necessary to create a new NGO to work on reintroductions – Fund for Wild Flora and Fauna (FWFF) – created in 2000.  Then I married Nadya Vangelova- and we went to live in her town – Blagoevgrad. The nearest historical place for vultures was Kresna Gorge (only 25 km away from the town) and it appeared it was still suitable for vultures, but they were gone extinct in the 1960s due to a mass and well organized state level poisoning campaign targeting terrestrial predators. Ten years later after the establishment of FWFF we succeed to implement the reintroduction of the species in Kresna Gorge, which is now presented in the current book.

Tell us about the Kresna Gorge in terms of biodiversity – what sort of place is it, and how do vultures fit into the ecosystem?

Reintroduction of Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus in Kresna Gorge, Southwest Bulgaria 2010-2015

The Kresna Gorge is one of the very few places in Bulgaria with Mediterranean climate. This, in combination with steep slopes and rocky outcrops, makes the area very interesting for biodiversity. Some species of Bulgaria’s reptiles are found only here. Autochthonous loose forests of Juniperus excelsa were declared nature reserve and many southern species of birds are found here. In terms of vultures’ suitability, the area still has well preserved extensive livestock breeding and transhumance practice, where the herds are moved in the nearby high mountains Pirin and Rila, home to two of the three national Parks in Bulgaria. So it is the combination between deep valley with mild winters and high mountains with alpine pastures that makes the habitats suitable for vultures. Extensive livestock breeding and the presence of large carnivores like wolf and bear are additional benefits for the vultures. The last also poses a threat for the vultures, because the conflict between livestock breeders and carnivores some times leads to illegal poison baits use, which is the biggest threat for the vultures. We found that providing the feeding sites for vultures make it safer for them. Also, some people are concerned that it may be unnatural to feed vultures but because we dispose mainly of – although not only – food coming from the nearby villages, this makes the process rather natural.

Why was there a need to embark on a reintroduction process – how did the griffon vulture lose its place?

Since the beginning of the twentieth century the situation of the vultures of the Balkans and Europe became worse and worse based on extensive livestock breeding decline but mainly on direct persecution and non-deliberate poisoning. Not least the habitats changed especially in Bulgaria, where vast areas were reforested and thus the vultures no longer were able to search for and find food. In the 1960s nearly every available carcass for the vultures was poisoned and they went extinct from the entire country. In 1970 all large European vultures were considered extinct from the country. Only a small colony of less than 30 birds and 2-3 breeding pairs survived in Eastern Rhodope Mountains on the border with Greece. Although the conservation measures helped this colony to increase from 2-3 pairs to about 80 nowadays, the range of the species did not extend and still is only in Arda River Valley in Eastern Rhodopes. In the 1970s the large vultures were still surviving in Greece, but with time the bearded and griffon vultures have gone extinct from the mainland. The only black vulture colony in the Balkans is found in Dadia National Park in Greece close to the Bulgarian border. So we saw there is now suitable source of vultures where from they may recover naturally and that is why we decided to establish 5 new colonies – 4 to the north along the Balkan Mountain chain where we work in close cooperation with other NGOs such as Green Balkans and Bird of Prey Protection Society, and to the south west, Kresna Gorge. The last is also close to the small and declining population of the griffon vulture in FYR of Macedonia. But with the newly established colonies, it seems the situation gets a bit stabilized now. The summering, wintering and migrating birds on Balkans now have some more safe areas – read the book for the Reintroduction in Kresna Gorge to find how it works.

In short – if we want to have forests, wolves, but also vultures we have to reintroduce and organize feeding sites for them in our modern world dominated by man.

Reintroduction of Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus in Kresna Gorge, Southwest Bulgaria 2010-2015

Reintroductions are quite a hot topic at the moment.  One of the main concerns is finding accord between conservationists, landowners and the public regarding the benefits of such actions. Was this a problem for you in Bulgaria?

This is manageable. Especially with friendly species like the vultures it is a small concern for the local people in the very beginning and then they just appreciate the lovely and gorgeous birds flying high in the sky. The proper communication and involvement with local people is crucial for the success of any such initiative.

What are some of the major challenges the team faced during the years of the project?

The development of the network for receiving in-time information about livestock carcasses was very important and it took quite some time. Establishment of the first nucleus of griffon vultures also was a challenge. We did it twice until we found what the most important thing is. It was the food that should be provided not only in large quantity, but also at the best place for the vultures, and in summer to be provided frequently in small amounts so as not to decompose.  We hardly learned that decomposed carcass is not an appreciated food source for vultures. They prefer fresh carcasses. Or at least not rotten meat. When we found that and made an effort to overcome it we saw the success.

Would you say that the process has been a success, then?

Yes, this is a success story. Of course we would like to see some more achievements in successful breeding and increase of the number of the breeding pairs of griffon vultures, as well as the return of the black and Egyptian vultures as breeders in the area. And one day also the return of the bearded vulture too.

Are there any lessons learned from this project that might have application for reintroduction practice in general?

Reintroduction of Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus in Kresna Gorge, Southwest Bulgaria 2010-2015

There are two things: the vultures will not survive in the modern world without managing the carcass disposal. We could not have forests and wolves and also to have vultures just on their own. The last should be supported through feeding sites, at which the carcasses from the local villages and farms would be disposed and made accessible to vultures.

We developed a good method for individual identification of the vultures through so-called visual marking. We use cameras with long lenses and take pictures of every bird seen in flight. Then we compare the characteristics of the plumage. This way, even birds not marked with rings or wing-tags could be distinguished. The method is well described in the book.

If you could make one change to policy in Bulgaria, or beyond, that would be of benefit for vulture conservation, what would it be?

Reintroduction of Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus in Kresna Gorge, Southwest Bulgaria 2010-2015

In the vultures’ range (either historical or current), where suitable habitats are still found, every natural or national park authority should be involved in maintenance of feeding site(s) for vultures. This should be one of the basic management practices for all protected areas that have an administration body. This way a large network (e.g  Natura 2000 sites) of vulture safe areas will be established and the coherence of the habitat and space restored.

Some adaptations of the legislation concerning poisoning of wildlife and domestic cats and dogs should be done especially in Bulgaria. The use of poison baits in natural environment should be treated as an act of hunting. Nowadays the Bulgarian legislation does not treat the poison bait setting for dogs and cats. Only if a game species and/or protected species is affected the law could be applied.

How are the vultures doing today, and what are the next steps, for the project, and your own work with the Fund for Wild Flora and Fauna?

The vultures are preparing for the new breeding season. They are now making the very attractive simultaneous flights as breeding displays and seem very much enthusiastic especially in warm and windy days.

The next step is the reintroduction of the Eurasian black vulture, within the frame of the new Bright Future for Black Vulture in Bulgaria project LIFE14 NAT/BG/649, in cooperation with Green Balkans, Vulture Conservation Foundation, EuroNatur and the regional Government of Extremadura. I hope in future a similar story and a book will be issued for the black vulture in Kresna Gorge and Balkan Mountain in Bulgaria, where the species is now extinct for more than half a century.

I would like to mention here my colleagues and friends that work hard for all this to happen – Hristo Peshev, Lachezar Bonchev, Atanas Grozdanov, Nadya Vangelova and Yavor Iliev.

Buy the book here

Reintroduction of Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus in Kresna Gorge, Southwest Bulgaria 2010-2015 [English / Bulgarian]

Staff Picks 2015

As usual at this time of year, we like to have a look back at what we’ve been enjoying over the last twelve months – see our selection of staff picks below. We wish all our customers a happy new year – and look forward to working with you again in 2016.

Haeckel's Embryos: Images, Evolution, and FraudHaeckel’s Embryos: Images, Evolution, and Fraud

Haeckel’s drawings of developing embryos are some of the most iconic images in biology, and surely everyone who has studied biology will recognize them. Most people will also know that these images are notorious, and that charges of fraud have been levelled at Haeckel. But are these charges justified? And how much was lost in translation as these images were reproduced and disseminated in the 19th century? This richly illustrated book is the definitive account of these images and their history, going all the way back to the source material in the Haeckel archives in Germany, and hopefully will put the speculation and controversy surrounding these images to rest. A must-read for those interested in the history of science.
Leon – Catalogue Editor

The Vital Question: Why is Life the Way it is?The Vital Question: Why is Life the Way it is?

This book stood out for me this year, as it ticks all the boxes: Lane is right at the cutting edge of science, he provides plausible and well-reasoned solutions to a whole host of fascinating questions. The Vital Question is very well written and I might even read it again!
Anneli – Senior Manager

 

African Wild Dogs: On the Front LineAfrican Wild Dogs: On the Front Line

Having spent most of my life obsessed with African wild dogs and having focused the majority of my degree studies on them, I jump at the chance to read any new book about these amazing creatures. This book* does not disappoint; it is part witty memoir, part serious exploration of African wild dog conservation practise. I promise you won’t be able to put it down.
Natt – Customer Service Supervisor

*Please note, African Wild Dogs is temporarily out of stock and is supplied from South Africa. We expect more stock in Spring 2016.

The Antelope of AfricaThe Antelope of Africa

The Antelope of Africa is a fantastic new field guide, and perfect for the armchair wildlife traveller. Not having visited the continent, Africa’s diverse landscapes and nature retain their mystery, and this appealing full-colour photographic guide evokes the desire to roam the grassy plains in the company of hirola, gazelle, and topi. However, I’m probably not the target audience for this book! It contains a substantial amount of scientific information and will be an essential tool for conservationists and policy makers striving to solve the challenges facing antelope populations in Africa’s stressed ecosystems.
Katherine – Marketing

Few and Far Between: On the Trail of Britain's Rarest AnimalsFew and Far Between: On the Trail of Britain’s Rarest Animals

Charlie Elder makes a memorable quest to the front line of British conservation in his search for some of our most iconic endangered species, and some of our more understated gems. He handles the potentially sombre topic of scarcity with true passion and optimism and writes with equal bounces of humour and thumps of heart. Few and Far Between celebrates the rich diversity of wildlife sharing our home, and is enlightening in how we can help to secure its place in the future.
Oli – Customer Service

 

SteriPEN Aqua Water PurifierSteriPEN Aqua Water Purifier

If you love camping, travelling and generally stomping around outdoors then the SteriPen Aqua is a great bit of kit. It uses UV light to sterilise water in less than a minute and doesn’t leave the nasty taste that you can get with iodine tablets (and it’s much quicker!). The SteriPen is small enough to fit into my rucksack and is always a reassuring component of my outdoor gear. I’m looking forward to taking it on lots more adventures in 2016.
Luanne – Equipment Specialist

 

The HuntThe Hunt

I watched the entire series of The Hunt, brought to us from the BBC’s highly acclaimed Natural History Unit in Bristol. With every new major production they release, the standard in wildlife film-making is raised yet again. The style of filming is consistently innovative and unique in places, such as attaching a camera onto the side of an elephant to get close up shots of hunting tigers. I guarantee you’ll be amazed. Here is the accompanying book, full of stunning photography and insightful text.
James – Equipment Specialist

 

Nature Classics Library: an interview with Jon from Little Toller Books

Jon Woolcott of Little Toller
Jon Woolcott of Little Toller at the publisher’s office in Dorset

Little Toller Books was established in 2008 as an imprint of Dovecote Press with the aim to revive lost classics of nature writing and British rural history. The success of their Nature Classics Library, has allowed them the independence to follow their inspiration in terms of the projects they pursue and they are now a leading voice in nature publishing. We asked Jon Woolcott of Little Toller Books about the Nature Classics Library.

The books are beautifully designed – what was the original inspiration behind the Nature Classics Library?

Thank you, that’s nice to hear – we work really hard at the design of the books, it strikes us that a book should be a beautiful object, and reflect the quality of the writing. The founders and co-owners of Little Toller, Adrian and Gracie Cooper, moved to Dorset but when they wanted to explore more about the country around their new home they found many of the books they wanted to read were no longer available. That inspired them to republish the great classics of nature writing – books like The Making of the English Landscape by W G Hoskins and The South Country by Edward Thomas. So Little Toller Books was born. The list has grown from there.

The Making of the English Landscape - W G Hoskins

With introductions by big name authors giving them great general appeal, are you hoping to bring these classics to a new audience?

Indeed – we’re not the first generation to rediscover these great books – and bringing authors like William Boyd, Robert Macfarlane and Carol Klein to them makes a big difference. We also use artists to complement the writing – the obvious example is Ravilious on our edition of The Natural History of Selborne by Gilbert White, but we use artists to illustrate our monograph series.

Eric Ravilious illustration fromThe Natural History of Selborne
Eric Ravilious illustration fromThe Natural History of Selborne

How do you choose the books that end up on the list?

We’re a tiny team (there are just four of us at Little Toller) so we work together but ultimately Adrian chooses the books – it’s based on his taste and a sense of what readers are looking for, but always with the goal of exploring nature and our relationship with landscape.

If you could gain rights to publish any book from the history of nature writing, what would it be, and why?

We’ve always got a wish-list on the go! We’d love to publish Tarka the Otter of course (we already publish Williamson’s Salar the Salmon) but a really exciting project would be to publish an anthology of Darwin’s letters recounting his explorations into his local area, and his relationship with his family. As yet, this remains in the pipeline though!

Salar the Salmon - Henry Williamson

Do you remember the first natural history book that you enjoyed?

At Little Toller we all have our favourites, books that made an enormous difference to the way we felt or thought about nature. Speaking just for me I would highlight a book we don’t (yet!) publish – Bevis by Richard Jefferies. It’s not really a natural history book – ostensibly it’s a children’s book in the Swallows and Amazons tradition but written earlier. Jefferies brilliantly articulates the feelings of a boy as he explores the landscape. Jefferies was an early exponent of what we now call nature writing and I remember being captivated by his style. Adrian would choose On the Origin of Species because it’s so important, but for pure enjoyment he would have to go for Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals (editorial note: available as part of The Corfu Trilogy).

What do you think characterises great nature writing?

Oh, that’s a difficult question – each writer brings something new – but it’s characterised by a deep understanding of the subject combined with wonderful writing. A sense of the personal reaction to the natural world is imperative – we don’t publish text books but instead those which bring the reader close to the subject.

Little Toller also publishes new writing, with Horatio Clare’s Orison for a Curlew just out. What are you looking for in potential new publications like this?

We look for originality, for subjects which readers will love, and for wonderful writing. It’s led us to publish Oliver Rackham, Iain Sinclair and Richard Skelton this year alone.

The Ash Tree - Oliver Rackham

What does the future have in store for Little Toller and the Nature Classics Library – any secrets you can let us in on?

We’re always looking to expand what we do – for instance we have two short films on our website about two of our books made by the authors – Iain Sinclair’s Black Apples of Gower and Richard Skelton’s Beyond the Fell Wall –  and Andrew Kotting made Iain’s film with him. We’re tiny so we can be really flexible in what we publish but we’re especially excited by In Pursuit of Spring by Edward Thomas – which will have Thomas’ photographs from 1913 taken along the journey, published for the very first time – coming in March next year. We’re also looking forward to Cheryl Tipp’s book on the sounds of the sea. Many of NHBS’s fans will know her – she’s the Wildlife Sounds Curator at the British Library. And we have new books in the pipeline from Tim Dee, Dexter Petley and Horatio Clare, as well as new Nature Classics from R M Lockley and others. We’re also continuing to put our monographs into paperback as we have just done with The Ash Tree. We’re very busy! But we’re enormously heartened by the reaction to our books.

Browse the full list of books in Little Toller’s Nature Classics Library at NHBS

Naturalist, artist and author Steven Falk on his new field guide to bees

Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britain and IrelandNaturalist and wildlife artist Steven Falk has had a diverse career with wildlife and conservation, including working as an entomologist with Nature Conservancy Council, and as natural history keeper for major museums. He is now Entomologist and Invertebrate Specialist at UK invertebrate conservation organisation Buglife. His new Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britain and Ireland will be published by British Wildlife Publishing next month.

Tell us about your role at Buglife.
At Buglife, I have quite a diverse role. I provide information and advice to colleagues, external enquirers and a plethora of external organisations. I’ve been particularly involved with overseeing the production of new red lists for assorted invertebrate groups, also providing feedback to the various national pollinator strategies, new agri-environment schemes, plus helping to develop projects for some of our most endangered invertebrate species. We also have a consultancy now, Buglife Services, which carries out and coordinates invertebrate surveys all over Britain. We’ve just done an exciting survey of the A30 and A38 in Devon and Cornwall. We need more understanding of road verge invertebrates, especially pollinators.

How did you come to write this landmark identification guide to all the bees of Britain and Ireland?
I was approached by Andrew Branson in 2012 and was initially quite reluctant, because you cannot use a traditional field guide approach for bees, as many cannot be identified to species level in the field (they require the taking of a specimen for critical examination under a microscope) and it is crucial that we keep the national dataset (run by BWARS) clean and reliable by being honest about where the limits of field identification lie. So I agreed to write it on the basis that it covered all 275 species, had reliable keys, and could appeal to both hardcore recorders and general naturalists. I knew this was feasible, because we had faced the same challenge with the seminal book British Hoverflies (Stubbs & Falk, 1983, 2002). So it is a field guide in the loose sense – it will help you to recognise much of what you see in the field, but also indicate at which point you need to take specimens and put them under a microscope. But you don’t need to collect bees or have a microscope to enjoy the book – we made sure of that.

Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britain and IrelandThere is growing concern about the conservation status of bees – how are our bees getting on, and how might the publication of this book help them?
Yes, we need to be concerned about bees. We have already lost 25 species and several more are teetering on the edge of extinction. Good bee habitat continues to be lost. Brownfield land came to the rescue last century, but most of that has now been developed or lost its flowery early successional stages, which is what so many bees need. The research being carried out on pesticides such as neonicotinioids is also pretty disturbing – check out the work by Prof. Dave Goulson at Sussex University. It seems to be affecting bee numbers in many parts of the country. The national pollinator strategies being published by UK member states are a call to arms – let’s get monitoring bees. But the emphasis is on developing citizen science to achieve some of this, because there is little funding. High quality amateur recording is part of this plan, and Britain’s strong tradition of this makes it a realistic proposition. But the last comprehensive coverage of British bees was Saunders, 1896, and it has been the lack of modern ID literature that has held bee recording back. Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britain and Ireland, and the supporting web feature (embedded in my Flickr site) will hopefully fix this!

Your career as a wildlife artist began early – you worked on the colour plates for Alan Stubb’s guide to British Hoverflies when you were just a teenager. How did this collaboration come about?
I pinned some bumblebees I had caught near my home in North London when I was 12. Half of them turned out to be bee-like hoverflies, and that started a fascination with hoverflies. The following summer holiday, I went out with a net almost every day, and seemed to find a new type of hoverfly daily. I was totally hooked on them, and I painted things that fascinated me, including those hoverflies. I exhibited some hoverfly artwork at the 1976 AES Exhibition in Hampstead, and met Alan Stubbs who told me he was writing a new guide to hoverflies. I said I wanted to do the artwork (I was only 14), and the rest is history. It took 3 years of evenings, and I think I was 17 when I finished it. I’m very proud of those plates, and you can see how my style develops (plate 8 was the first and plate 7 was the last – you can see a lampshade reflection in the early ones!).

Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britain and IrelandDo we see any of your artwork in this book?
Sadly not, my eyesight is not great these days and I do very little drawing and painting now. But the British Wildlife Publishing ‘house artist’ is the great Richard Lewington, and he’s done a magnificent job. The bumblebee plates in particular, are just stunning, the best ever produced.

What sort of techniques do you use to produce your artwork – which is strikingly realistic and very detailed?
I painted birds a lot as a young child and was very aware of the bird artists of the time and their styles, people like Basil Ede, Charles Tunnicliffe and Robert Gillmor. I particularly liked the detail and photo-realism of Basil Ede’s work and became aware that he used gouache. So I started to use gouache and preferred it to watercolour. I’d often start with a black silhouette and build up the colour and texture on top of this, which is the opposite of watercolour painting. But others, like Denys Ovendon and Richard Lewington, show what can be done with watercolour, so it’s just a taste thing. For really intense or subtle colours, I’d need to use watercolours, because they produce a much larger colour pallete than gouache. Richard knows his watercolours – you need to if you want to tackle butterflies like blues, coppers and purple emperors. I’m possibly more proud of my black and white illustrations than my colour work. Here I was most influenced by the likes A. J. E. Terzi and Arthur Smith, house artists for the Natural History Museum. Their use of cross-hatching and stippling is so skillful, and I’ve tried to emulate this in my pen and ink artwork. Never use parallel lines in cross hatching!

Any future interesting projects coming up that you can tell us about – artistic, or conservation-based?
There are many more books I’d like to write, especially for wasps and assorted fly groups. It’s not just the subject, it’s the approach. I like getting into the mindset of the beginner and finding the right language and approach. We need to get more people recording invertebrates. I like the double-pronged approach of books plus web resources, and I have a popular and ever-expanding Flickr site that greatly facilitates the identification of many invertebrate groups. On the conservation front, I’m keen to continue promoting understanding of pollinators and to increase the effectiveness of agri-environment schemes. Invertebrate conservation is in my blood and I’ll be pursuing it to the very end in one form or another. I might even try illustrating again one day if I can find the right glasses!

Order your copy of the Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britain and Ireland
Visit Steven Falk’s website

Interview with botanist James Byng, author of The Gymnosperms Handbook

James Byng
James Byng in Zambia looking for Syzygium

James Byng is the author of the new Gymnosperms Handbook and a founding member of Plant Gateway, the botany organisation that published this, and his previous book, The Flowering Plants Handbook (out of print – new edition pending). In this interview he tells us about his work with Plant Gateway, raising the profile and accessibility of plant research, his own work with the genus Syzygium, and a day in the life of a working botanist.

You are a founding member of the Plant Gateway team. What is the vision for this botany organisation?

Taxonomic research is an underfunded and underappreciated branch of science and so few plant taxonomists are employed today in universities, and most national botanical institutions are cutting staff. However, the need to document the world’s species diversity has never been greater with as many as a fifth of all known plant species estimated to be threatened with extinction.

We believe at Plant Gateway an important step in slowing the biodiversity crisis is making plants more relevant and more accessible to people. It sounds simple but plant research in general is never quite appreciated as much as research on animals or in other scientific disciplines. But plants are fundamental for our own existence and continued survival on this planet, and we still barely know anything about most of them. Plant Gateway was founded for passionate like-minded taxonomists to make sense of the complicated botanical literature by publishing practical literature, running affordable and engaging identification courses, and undertaking taxonomic research with the aim of bringing it to a wider audience and making significant strides in our knowledge.

Who are the Plant Gateway courses for and how can they get involved?

Whilst training to be a plant taxonomist I witnessed over the years that plant identification skills were rarely being taught at universities anymore despite there still being a huge demand. Even though several courses exist which teach these skills, many of the courses are very expensive and/or taught too much from the specialist’s point of view which scares people off. Our courses are designed for everybody and anybody whatever a participant’s botanical background – all you need is an interest and love for plants! On past courses we have had undergraduate and postgraduate students, university professors and lecturers, horticulturalists, ecologists, Friends of Botanical Gardens and gardeners. We run several 1-day identification courses all over the UK in May and June, and a week long course in Tenerife around Easter time in 2016. Places on these courses can be reserved on our website.

The Gymnosperms Handbook: A Practical Guide to Extant Families and Genera of the World

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Gymnosperms Handbook is the second publication from Plant Gateway. Who is this book aimed at?

The Gymnosperms Handbook is a concise introduction to identifying extant gymnosperms of the world. It is aimed at both specialists and non-specialists; ranging from experienced botanists, ecologists, horticulturalists, biologists and gardeners to students and those people who are learning about and interested in conifers, cypresses and other gymnosperms because they see them in their local parks and forests. So the handbook is aimed for everybody whatever their background.

Part of your own research is focused on the systematics of Syzygium (Myrtaceae). What led you to this particular genus?

In 2007 I was an undergraduate at the University of Aberdeen when I first encountered the genus Syzygium in Zambia while undertaking ecological fieldwork. Since then I have been intrigued by the genus as most botanists seem scared by the sheer number of (known and unknown) species and the difficulty in identifying them due to the seemingly poor diagnostic characters which separate species. The genus is famous for containing the commercial clove (Syzygium aromaticum) and is now the largest tree genus in the world with over 1,200 species. I am now leading a project, with collaborators in the USA, Australia, Africa and Asia, to unravel evolutionary relationships of Syzygium and to document all species in a global monograph.

What does a working day as a botanical researcher look like for you?

A typical working day for a plant taxonomist in the twenty first century varies from week to week. Most of my time is spent with dried plant collections, housed in herbaria, where I sort through specimens collected from past and present field expeditions and document and describe species diversity. I also spend time collecting new data and plants in the field, usually in the tropics, and undertaking lab work where I extract and amplify DNA to understand evolutionary histories. Lastly, but perhaps most importantly(!), I spend time in front of the computer writing up my findings in the form of scientific papers, reports and books. It can be a combination of enjoyment and stress but once I finish a piece of work it makes it all feel worthwhile.

What’s next in line for publication from Plant Gateway?

One of the next titles in our practical handbook series will be a revised second edition of The Flowering Plants Handbook which will include notes on all flowering plant genera, more images, and will follow the soon to be published Angiosperm Phylogeny Group (APG) IV classification system. Also, there will be a practical handbook on ferns and their allies co-authored with my Plant Gateway colleague, and leading fern specialist, Dr Maarten Christenhusz.

Find our more about the Gymnosperms Handbook

John Wilkinson, Science Programme Manager with ARC Trust, on amphibian conservation

john-wilkinsonThe Amphibian Survey and Monitoring Handbook is the latest volume in the Conservation Handbooks series, tackling all aspects of amphibian survey. Author John Wilkinson is Science Programme Manager with The Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust (ARC Trust).

What is your background in herpetology and what have been some of the highlights of your work?

After university, where my undergraduate dissertation was on amphibian diversity in Northern Italy, I worked on some short-term academic contracts before getting a job coordinating the international response to global amphibian declines with the IUCN SSC Declining Amphibian Populations Task Force (now the Amphibian Specialist Group). I learnt a lot there about the complexities of amphibian declines and the importance of systematic surveys.

A recent highlight of my conservation work was the discovery, building on my PhD research, that toads on the Channel Island of Jersey are a completely different species than those in mainland Britain – they’re actually Bufo spinosus, a species that evolved in Iberia millions of years ago whilst English toads were spreading out of the Balkans. Most importantly, their ecology is very different and they therefore require different conservation measures!

Could you tell us about any major trends that have been discovered by the monitoring schemes you have been involved with?

Part of my work is coordinating the UK National Amphibian and Reptile Recording Scheme (NARRS), which has so far highlighted the serious declines of British adders and changes in the relative abundance of our smaller newts (palmate newts seem relatively more widespread than in former national surveys, possibly indicating a change in quality in Britain’s ponds).

How does a decline in amphibian and reptile biodiversity affect ecosystems?

These creatures are hugely important for many ecosystems as they occupy key niches in the middle of the food chain: as well as being important prey for a wide range of species from otters to marsh harriers, they are themselves important predators, consuming millions of pest invertebrates every year. Healthy amphibian populations in particular are therefore important to human food production and population losses have economic implications as well as resulting in more pesticide use.

What can be done to reverse this decline which is pervasive worldwide?

Though numerous factors cause declines, habitat loss and fragmentation is still the most significant problem. Local planning must take into account the need to keep breeding and foraging habitats connected to boost population resilience – as well as incorporating habitat into landscape-level schemes. At ARC, we’re leading the way on using predictive modelling and GIS techniques to model the effects of development and produce the best outcomes for amphibians (and other species).

If you were given the chance to implement one policy, today, in support of amphibian & reptile conservation, anywhere in the world, what would it be?

It would be easiest to come up with a list! I will, however, highlight a problem in the UK: our widespread amphibians have NO real protection under the law – though the NERC act outlines a “duty to consider” declining species like toads in development. ALL our amphibians and reptiles need full legal protection which is enforced, and which includes their habitats – otherwise developers can continue to fill in ponds and disconnect populations at will. Our widespread species are really a lot more threatened than the most highly-protected ones (the effects of this can already be seen with recent declines in the adder and toad)!

How can the general public get involved with projects to help their local herpetofauna?

  • Join a local Amphibian and Reptile Group (ARG) and ask them if they can participate in NARRS, as a group, to ensure their local information is considered nationally.
  • Build a pond and make a compost heap.
  • Volunteer to help create and manage habitats through ARC and/or other bodies such as local wildlife trusts.
  • Always report sightings of amphibians and reptiles (see www.recordpool.org.uk) – this will help their conservation.
  • Take local councils, conservation bodies (or anyone else!) to task when any local sites are planned for development or disconnection!

Amphibian Survey and Monitoring Handbook

Find out more about the Amphibian Survey and Monitoring Handbook

Sweden’s first regional dragonfly atlas – interview with author Tommy Karlsson

Tommy Karlsson, author of Östergötlands Trollsländor [Dragonflies in Östergötland]
Tommy Karlsson, author of Östergötlands Trollsländor [Dragonflies in Östergötland]
Congratulations on the book and on publishing the first regional distribution atlas for dragonflies in Sweden. What is your background in natural history? Have you always been interested in dragonflies?
Thank you very much! I am a biologist and work since 2005 at the department of Nature Conservation at the County Administrative Board of Östergötland, mainly with action plans for threatened species. I have always been interested by natural history, and as a kid I liked to collect larvae of dragonflies, stoneflies, mayflies and other limnic insects. However, my interest for imago dragonflies and identification of species started during my biology studies, about 2002-2003.

For those who may not be familiar with the natural history of Sweden, what sort of place is Östergötland in terms of biodiversity and landscape?
Östergötland is situated in south east Sweden and covers 14,500 km sq. It is situated in the boreonemoral vegetation zone and can be divided into four natural geographic regions: the southern woodlands, the plains, the archipelago, and the northern woodlands. The woodlands and the archipelago mainly consist of coniferous forests, while the plains mainly consists of intensively cultivated agricultural land. The woodlands have great numbers of lakes and mires, while the plains are very poor in water. The main part of Östergötland is lowlands, but in the southern woodlands there are considerable areas above 200 m.a.s.l. The bedrock in the county is mainly acid but in the western part of the plains there is an area of Cambro-silurian calcareous rock. During the last glaciation, calcareous material was dispersed southwards, resulting in calcareous soils in some parts of the southern woodlands with granite bedrock. As a consequence of bedrock and soils you find mainly oligotrophic and dystrophic waters in the northern woodlands, eutrophic waters in the plains, and a mix of oligotrophic, dystrophic and mesotrophic in the southern woodlands. Östergötland, along with other southeastern regions, is one of the most species-rich regions in Sweden considering invertebrates due to its relatively warm and dry summers. It is well known for its considerable areas with hollow oaks and the saprolyxic fauna and flora associated with them.

Onychogomphus foripatus description and distribution map from Östergötlands Trollsländor [Dragonflies in Östergötland]
Onychogomphus foripatus description and distribution map from Östergötlands Trollsländor [Dragonflies in Östergötland]
How do you co-ordinate a project like this, with 150 volunteers over the course of five years (2008-2012), and what were some of the highs and lows?
It worked out very well since all was based on voluntarism. After getting initial information about surveying and identifying dragonflies, the participants could work quite independently. Most of the communication with the participants was made through e-mail. In addition, several activities were organized: kick-offs every spring, survey courses and excursions during summer, and reporting courses during fall. Many of the participants had no experience of surveying dragonflies before, and the fact that we managed to get so many volunteer amateurs out surveying dragonflies was one of the highlights of the project. Furthermore, the participants were a heterogenous group in terms of age and gender, and not only older men which is common in entomological contexts.

In the study you make comparisons with 10 other regions in Europe. What conclusions have you been able to draw through these comparisons?
Yes, I compare Östergötland with some other European regions where dragonfly surveys have been performed. Most of the regions have more species than Östergötland because they are situated south of Östergötland. On the other hand, Östergötland has two species which generally are missing in the other regions: Coenagrion johanssoni and Aeshna serrata. When comparing the species the regions have in common, the frequency for some species differs a lot between Östergötland and the other regions. Östergötland is distinguished by the fact that species classified as red-listed and/or decreasing in Europe occur more frequently in Östergötland than in most of the other regions. Particularly Coenagrion armatum and Leucorrhinia caudalis can be pointed out as much more common in Östergötland. Thus, Östergötland has both a national and international responsibility for these species, together with A. serrata, Aeshna viridis and Nehalennia speciosa. The reason for this is that important habitats for these species, such as bog ponds and mesotrophic lakes are naturally more common in Sweden, and that the exploitation of waters in Sweden has not been as severe as in central Europe.

Östergötlands Trollsländor [Dragonflies in Östergötland]
Östergötlands Trollsländor [Dragonflies in Östergötland]
What were some of the other significant findings of the project?
Probably because of global warming there is an ongoing change in the European dragonfly fauna where several southern species have expanded rapidly northwards and some northern species have retreated. In Östergötland the establishment of Lestes virens and Ischnura pumilio has been documented during the survey. L. virens was observed for the first time in the county in 2005 and, during the period 2008-2012, was found at several new localities every year. I. pumilio was first noted for the Östergötland in 2012.

And what is next for you and for the Östergötlands Entomological Society?
This year I have got the assignment to co-ordinate Sweden’s monitoring of the dragonflies species listed in the EU’s habitat directive. It will be very nice to work professionally with dragonflies and I have learned a lot about these species and dragonfly monitoring during the survey in Östergötland. I started this work last week with a field study of Ophiogomphus cecilia, a species only occurring in some few unregulated rivers in the very far north of Sweden. Concerning the Entomological Society in Östergötland, we have discussed the possibility of starting up another voluntary survey of some other easy identified insect group, e.g. shield bugs or grasshoppers, but nothing is ready to start yet.

Östergötlands Trollsländor [Dragonflies in Östergötland] is available now from NHBS

Ecologist Derek Gow on beaver reintroductions in the UK

Ecologist Derek Gow (The Derek Gow Consultancy) is the co-author of The Eurasian Beaver, published in January 2015. His involvement with Devon Wildlife Trust’s trial reintroduction and the Tayside beaver reintroduction makes him uniquely placed to discuss the topic of beaver reintroductions in the UK.

The Eurasian BeaverHow would the presence of healthy beaver populations enhance the UK’s landscape and biodiversity?

In Eurasia and North America beavers are the keystone species around which all other wetland life revolves. Their simple dam building and tree felling activities trigger a whole range of complex changes in their surrounding environments which clearly result in greatly enhanced levels of biodiversity and biomass. In landscapes which are semi-natural the cascade of dynamic changes they produce harbours the potential for breathtakingly spectacular results, such as the return of the black stork. While in highly manipulated, human engineered environments they can literally breathe life back into the land.

You are involved with the Devon Beaver Project, which has created a test environment to see how reintroduced beavers would affect their local ecosystem. Can you tell us more about this project, and what results it has produced so far?

The initial stage of the Devon Beaver Trial was designed to evaluate from ground zero the impact of a beaver family in an enclosed area of wet-woodland of approximately 3ha. Between 2011 and 2015 the beavers created a series of approximately 14 major dam systems on a 200 metre length of a seasonally flowing water course at the northern end of the site. They maintain long dams in the winter when water is abundant and short dams in the summer when water is scarce. At the time of writing their impoundments are capable of retaining approximately 1000 tonnes of water, none of which would have seasonally remained on site without them. The return of the beaver has been accompanied by a proliferation of wildlife. Flowering and other vascular plant communities now abound on site. On warm sunny days meadow browns, marbled whites and a host of other butterflies flit through its open woodlands. Dragonflies and damselflies occur in ever greater numbers while amphibians such as common frogs have increased in numbers fiftyfold. Juvenile common lizards hunt through the deadwood understory while marsh tits, spotted flycatchers, greater spotted woodpeckers, tree creepers and redpolls hunt insects in the trees. Water fowl have moved into occupy environments which formerly did not exist. Red and roe deer jump the perimeter fence to drink in its pools.

It is an absolutely amazing project and a brilliant site.

What does a reintroduction look like in practical terms? Can you break down the logistics of species reintroduction?

Well if you ask the Germans its simple: you get lots of beavers – 40 plus per release, drive along the road, spot a likely location, and let them go. A crude system which works! Reintroductions in Britain are often subject to a large degree of politics, which can be frustrating as this is a species well understood throughout its natural range which simply offers so much. We could do much better. To date, beaver reintroduction has been a haphazard affair with major public spats between those that wish them to remain and those that are opposed – the history of the Tayside and Devon beavers demonstrate this well. Given that this species was last present in Britain outside of our living memory, it is assumed that licensed releases require a scientific demonstration of how this animal will impact a British landscape – as though it will be any different from what our European and American counterparts have already demonstrated. In realistic terms, in Britain an official reintroduction would involve a small number of animals, released into a specific site, with thorough scientific monitoring of impact and public opinion. Though we may take heart that beavers are now back in our landscape, the process to full restoration is likely to be slow and cautious.

What precedent does the approval of the River Otter beaver population set for reintroductions as a wider concept? Are we likely to see lynx roaming wild any time soon?

We need to learn to live with and tolerate beavers before I think we can accomplish anything more adventurous in Britain. If we can’t move forward with reintroducing this charismatic rodent that has such significant impacts on its environment, and can single-handedly do so much to restore our wetlands, then we need to be seriously realistic about our collective ability to accept top predators on this island – no matter how nostalgic or headline grabbing the notion of lynx may be.

What would you say to people who consider reintroduction to be somehow against the natural order of things?

When you consider our contemporary British landscapes and their land-use practices, which are entirely dictated by human activity, they represent little in the way of natural order. In truth they are not ecosystems and we are probably grasping at straws to even describe what’s left as tattered fragments blowing in the wind. Instead we have a wealth of isolated areas of biological richness, generally produced as a result of relict human activities which are difficult to maintain and increasingly vulnerable and fragile. Do we accept that these nature zoos are it, or do we try to foster and encourage a process whereby we change the pattern of the landscape we have made to make it better for people and wildlife alike? Reintroductions, where human activities have caused the past extinction or diminution of a species in Britain, are simply a tool we should employ with competent ease where the circumstances justify its use.

We recently heard the news about the successful litter of kits produced by the River Otter beavers. What did this news mean to you personally? 

Brilliant!! It’s been a long time coming. Let’s move on now from these vital but small and isolated pockets of beavers and see the full restoration of this incredible species.


 

Also available now

Nature's Architect: The Beaver's Return to Our Wild LandscapesNature’s Architect: The Beaver’s Return to Our Wild Landscapes is the latest book from leading nature writer Jim Crumley. The book explores the natural history of the beaver, and Crumley makes his case in favour of beaver reintroduction.

 

 

Supplier interview: Volker Runkel of ecoObs

Volker Runkel of ecoObs

ecoObs are a small German company at the forefront of full spectrum bat call recording and identification. They produce the Batcorder 3, a highly optimised bat detector (each new microphone arrives with its own calibration factor to ensure that comparisons between units are valid) designed to consistently record bat calls of sufficiently high quality to make auto-identification possible. Calls can then be processed using ecoObs software bcAdmin 3.0, bcAnalyse 2.0 and batIdent. These enable the rapid and accurate identification of common bat species, speeding up the identification process by up to 70% and allowing users to focus more time on rare or interesting bat species. We asked ecoObs co-founder and managing director Volker Runkel to introduce the company.

Tell us a little about your company and how you got started

For my PhD thesis I developed a quite basic and rather well working solution for passive monitoring of bats. Already then I saw that automation in data collection as well as analysis was one of the keys to focus on, instead of all raw analysis work. We quickly realized there is a huge demand for such a solution. We then were lucky and found an engineer who partnered up with us and redesigned the hardware so it was power efficient, small and easy to use. The batcorder system was born.

ecoObs Batcorder 3
ecoObs Batcorder 3

What challenges do you face as a company in the ecology/natural history sector?

The sector is rather small and as a hardware producer we for example often have problems acquiring small quantities of parts. In electro-engineering small companies still require some hundred thousand parts while we ask for a mere thousand. Also the demand for devices is highly seasonal – 90% of orders arrive within a few weeks in spring when the bat season starts. On the other end, we have a very vivid and heterogeneous bat worker scene.

What do you consider the most important achievement of your company in recent years?

I think getting the batcorder and the analysis software out in the wild and thus pushing the whole field of passive monitoring and automated bat call identification to where it is now. When we started in 2004 no one believed it would be ever working, and now a rising number of devices and software exists.

What is your most memorable wildlife/natural history encounter?

Spotting and touching an Echidna in the wild!

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