Author interview with Isabella Tree: The Book of Wilding

In the hotly anticipated The Book of Wilding, Isabella Tree and Charlie Burrell share some of the many lessons they have learned from their pioneering rewilding project at the Knepp Estate in Sussex. Explaining in detail why rewilding is important and how we can all play a part, this inspiring book is packed with practical solutions for rewilding on a range of scales, from farms and estates to allotments and gardens.


Charlie and Isabella. Image by Anthony Cullen.


In our recent conversation with Isabella, she talks about some of the things she has learned through her years managing Knepp alongside husband and co-author Charlie Burrell. We also discuss ways of coping with eco-anxiety and how we can all make a difference to the future of the planet, even if we aren’t large landowners or farmers.

The story of Knepp Estate and its transformation from a struggling farm to a prosperous and famous rewilding project is incredibly inspiring. Looking back over your journey and knowing all the things that you know now, what would you say to the younger you who was just beginning on this path?

I would tell her that this is going to be the most exciting adventure of her life and rewards will come in spades. And not to worry about the occasional Exocet missile from disgruntled neighbours or a Twitter storm. The results will speak for themselves. It may feel like you’re swimming against the current, but soon the tide will turn. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of people out there in the UK who will soon be inspired to make the leap into rewilding too.

In relation to the first question, with the benefit of hindsight, are there things that you would have done differently, or were the challenges and potential mistakes a necessary part of the process?

The wonderful thing about rewilding is that there isn’t a detailed management plan, no specific goals or targets. Initially, you may need to put in some drivers (such as free-roaming grazing animals and restoring dynamic natural water systems) to kick-start natural processes again – especially if your land, like ours, has been ploughed and soaked in chemicals for decades. But then you’re stepping back and letting nature take over. That’s a huge relief in terms of lifting the burden of responsibility from your shoulders. Nature itself takes over the driving seat. So, in a way, there are no mistakes. It’s all about nature revealing itself, evolving in the way it wants to, anew. Often these outcomes are completely unpredictable.

The only management we do at Knepp is controlling the number of animals – neither too few, or too many – so their influence maximises the potential for diversity and abundance of life. And that is simply by observation. So, if we go too far in one direction, we simply – at some point – change the strategy. But we try never to respond with knee-jerk reactions. It’s a totally new way of thinking, very liberating.

The Book of Wilding, while being a hugely practical guide to rewilding on all scales, is also a beacon of hope. In an age when eco-anxiety can lead even the most optimistic and determined of us to feel despondent, do you feel broadly hopeful that humans can do the necessary work to restore balance to our planet?

Yes, we absolutely can. If we work together, and realise our potential to bring about huge, transformative change. But you’re right to identify how the enormity of the environmental crisis we’re facing can make most of us feel despondent and impotent. The only cure for eco-anxiety, that I’ve been able to find, is to actually do something positive oneself. Even if it’s just establishing a window box and filling it with plants for pollinating insects – that small gesture can be hugely galvanising. It is part of a much bigger picture, contributing to restoring the web of nature – our life-support system – across the planet. Seeing butterflies and bees and night-flying moths arriving, on flowers that you’ve planted yourself, is balm for the soul. It gives you the kind of encouragement that allows you to lift your head above the parapet and think ‘what else can I do?’

The case you make for rewilding, both through the book and your decades of work at Knepp, are extremely compelling. What do you think are the main barriers to a more widespread adoption of this approach? Do you think that cultural and traditional values are more of an issue than the practical concerns of funding and knowledge transfer/availability?

Yes, in a way, I do. We’re seeing new streams of funding for rewilding and nature restoration all the time. Governments are at last making the move to pay for ecosystem services – improvements to the land that bring benefits to the public like clean water, clean air, soil restoration, healthy food, carbon storage, and flood protection, as well as wild spaces for human health and wellbeing. And the private sector (businesses concerned about their image, and now legally required to account for their carbon footprint and environmental impact) is beginning to make colossal investments in nature restoration – this is likely to be the most positive influence of all. So, the financial incentives are happening. But a major drag on action is down to public perception, and aesthetics.

We’ve grown up to believe the countryside should look a certain way, that rivers should be canalised, hedges clipped within an inch of their life, gardens should be tidy, lawns manicured. Insects are pests. Barren, overgrazed hillsides are natural. Apex predators are dangerous. Often, the biggest obstacle of all is changing our own mindset, questioning received wisdom, really asking ourselves ‘can I consider this landscape to be beautiful if I know it’s not functioning, if it’s actually harmful to wildlife and to ourselves?’ Ultimately, it’s about letting go of cultural values we may have accepted unquestioningly, understanding what makes an ecosystem function, to stop being a control-freak, allow ourselves to get messy, to let go – to rewild ourselves.

Do you think that there are some misconceptions as to what constitutes rewilding? Particularly on a smaller scale where a more hands-on approach might be required to mimic the natural processes of herbivores, for instance – to the untrained eye this might seem more like conventional conservation management than rewilding.

Yes, indeed, small-scale rewilding (where there isn’t the space to use free-roaming animals, and there may not be dynamic natural water systems) has a lot in common with conventional conservation, and often the managers of ancient woodland or nature reserves may not be aware that they’re also acting like rewilders, being proxies, themselves, and mimicking the disturbance of wild herbivores – by doing things such as coppicing and pollarding, or putting woody debris blockages into rivers and streams (like a beaver) to create different flows and depths of water.

Where I think the rewilding approach brings something different, and more dynamic, is in varying the timing of interventions – so you might randomise when you cut a wildflower meadow, for example, and the intensity of cutting, so as to mimic the different factors that might affect herbivore grazing pressure in the wild. This will favour different suites of plants, maximising plant and insect diversity. Or try the passive-active-passive approach – doing nothing for a while, then going in with interventions, then leaving the area alone again for maybe several years. Basically, mixing it up, rather than applying steady, even, predictable management. Get rid of the level playing field!

I liked that you included a chapter on rewilding gardens, as this feels like an achievable project that any open-minded gardener could attempt. If done well, rewilding a small garden will have obvious benefits for the local plants and animals but, if done collectively, do you think it can also have a wider impact?

That’s one of the big themes of rewilding – connectivity. A friend of mine has created wonderful habitat in his back garden for insects, frogs, toads and grass snakes. But he’s also persuaded his neighbours to either replace their fences with hedges (great for nesting birds, especially if using thorny species such as blackthorn and hawthorn) or cut holes in the fence for hedgehogs. They’ve discussed the different habitats they can collectively provide for nature. One garden has a beetle bank and a pile of dead wood for stag beetles, another has a pond; some mow their lawns monthly, others only at the end of the summer; some have put up window boxes or planted ivy to climb their walls; others leave a pile of leaves or nettles and brambles in a discreet corner. Between them, they’ve created a whole string of different habitats that are connected, so they’ve become a wildlife corridor that also provides for species that have different demands at different stages in their life cycle. The next step is to connect with a nearby park by persuading the council to manage the roadside verges like wildflower meadows, and by planting an avenue of trees in the street. Their gardens already back onto a railway embankment, so ultimately they could be instrumental in creating a flow of life between open countryside and inner city.

Finally – what steps would you recommend to the ‘average’ citizen who isn’t a large landowner or farmer and wants to go beyond simply rewilding their own small garden?

There are lots of groups and NGOs working for nature restoration in imaginative and exciting ways and many of them welcome volunteers, such as the Vincent Wildlife Trust which focuses on recovery programmes for bats and mustelids. Citizen Zoo is a community-focused rewilding organisation involved in reintroduction programmes such as water voles, beavers and large marsh grasshoppers. Derek Gow Consultancy runs courses on practical rewilding in Devon ( as do we, at Knepp in West Sussex ( Caring for God’s Acre is a conservation charity which advises on restoring nature in graveyards and cemeteries. Become a member of your local Wildlife Trust (London has one, too). You could petition your local council to stop mowing verges, leave thorny scrub in unmanaged areas, rewild urban parks, plant more street trees and encourage green walls and roofs. And, perhaps most important of all, campaign to make your village, town or city pesticide-free.

The Book of Wilding by Isabella Tree and Charlie Burrell is published by Bloomsbury. Hardback RRP £35.00.

Author Interview with Gabriel Hemery: The Forest Guide Scotland

The Forest Guide Scotland is an invaluable guide to 365 of Scotland’s most beautiful, historic and nature-filled woodlands. Ranging from tiny urban copses to sprawling forests, each site is listed by name and location and includes detailed access information and a description of its main features. An essential guide for anyone living in or visiting Scotland, the book is illustrated throughout with the author’s stunning photographs which document the huge variety of plants and animals that can be found within Scotland’s forests.

Gabriel Hemery is an author, photographer and biologist whose life’s passion is the study of trees, forests and silviculture practices. He is the author of several books including two novels, two short story collections and a poetry anthology. His first non-fiction book, The New Silva, was inspired by horticulturist and diarist John Evelyn’s Sylva, which was published in 1664 and provided readers with the first comprehensive study of British trees.

His latest book, The Forest Guide Scotland, is the first of a three part series focusing on the beauty, purpose, history, wildlife and ownership of some of the most extraordinary woodland sites in Britain.

It is clear you have an incredible passion for trees, woods and forests, and they have been the focus of much of your life’s work. Your latest book, The Forest Guide Scotland, is very much aimed at getting the public out into the forests of Scotland. What made you want to write this book in particular?

I’ve wanted to write a guide to the forests of Britain for some time. At a basic level, I felt this would work well alongside my previous work The New Sylva which concentrated more on how to care for trees and forests than their character and location. More deeply, I am concerned by the increasing disconnection between modern society and the natural world. Only through seeing and experiencing, can we hope to inspire understanding and ultimately caring. As a proud forester, I was also keen on dispelling some of the myths about modern forest management, which plays so many crucial roles today in promoting wildlife, improving landscapes, cleaning our air and protecting us from floods, and of course producing timber to replace manmade materials which are harming our environment.

Scotland is a wonderfully diverse place with a beautiful language and cultural history. As someone who embodies the role of artist as well as scientist, did you enjoy the process of finding out about the history, names and traditions of each location throughout your research for this book?

I have loved the landscape and culture of Scotland ever since I first visited as a young boy (when I was so disappointed not to spot an osprey). Researching and conducting fieldwork for this guidebook in so many incredible locations across the country was simply a huge privilege. I learnt a lot about the Gaelic language and the names of trees and landscape features, which I began to recognise as I studied maps. I can’t say my pronunciation of some of them improved however, but everyone I met was very understanding!

Scotland differs from both England and Wales in that it offers its public the ‘right to roam’. Do you feel that restrictions on roaming affect how people perceive and appreciate the wild spaces within their country?

Definitely. Most people probably fear that they may not be allowed to roam in forests, or are unclear of the difference between a public right of way and other forms of access. This undoubtedly means that some people may be put off from exploring woods or forests on their doorstep, let alone when travelling to areas they know less well. While they explore a forest, they may also be nervous that they may be doing something wrong, which will certainly affect their enjoyment.

Writing the guide for Scotland was certainly relatively easy when it came to describing access to forests, while of course explaining responsible behaviour, for example how to avoid disturbing wildlife, being safe during the hunting season, or being a responsible dog owner. In the next guides, which will cover Wales and England, I have a much more difficult task. Many potentially interesting sites are simply beyond reach to the public unless there is a public right of way (e.g. a footpath) or it is part of the public forest estate.

Climate change is a huge issue for every habitat and ecosystem on the planet. What do you think are the main challenges that Scotland’s forests are likely to face in the coming decades? And how well equipped are we to cope with or mitigate these?

Thanks for raising this topic which is personally very important to me, and of course to life on Earth. As a scientist, I have conducted international research on the topic of trees and climate change, and currently I chair a partnership of 16 organisations which seeks to address the urgency of adapting our forests to a changing climate.

Across Britain, our climate will change dramatically, generally becoming wetter and milder in winter, and drier and hotter in summer. Naturally, trees species and associated wildlife will want to migrate northwards to stay within their ideal conditions. Not only does human land use make this very difficult (e.g. competition with agriculture and urban areas) for many species of mammals and plants, but the rate of change is too fast for trees. Trees are individually immobile but do ‘move’ between generations by producing seeds which are dispersed a short distance by wind and other means. If you consider that most trees don’t produce seeds until they are several decades old, it can take a century or more for a tree to move even one kilometre., This is far too slow to keep pace with our changing climate. Scientists believe that our climate zones are moving at up to 5km every year.

There is also a more immediate concern for our trees with increasing threats from pests and diseases. Climate change is making conditions more favourable for many new and invasive bugs and pathogens which affect our trees.

It’s not all doom and gloom. A warming climate will help some trees become more effective at reproducing, provide more suitable conditions for some species which have struggled in the past, and even improve timber yields.

Do you have a favourite forest or woodland from those featured in this book? Or do any stand out particularly in your memory?

Having to choose a favourite forest site from 365 is no easy task! I have so many wonderful memories from my fieldwork for the guidebook. If I were to pick any, I suppose they reflect my own interests in nature and my love of remote places. The Caledonian pinewoods at Glen Quoich near Inverey were stunning and it was encouraging to see so much natural tree regeneration thanks to the effective control of red deer. I was humbled by the passion and dedication of the many community woodland groups across Scotland.

Visiting Berriedale Wood on Orkney was an unforgettable experience, where the trees literally cling to life above the dramatic sea cliffs. I would also have to give a special mention to Inchie Wood near the Port of Mentieth where I had some of the best viewing experiences of my life watching ospreys hunting and nesting.

In 2009 you founded the Sylva Foundation charity, which aims to promote the good stewardship of woodlands through training, knowledge transfer and advocacy. Can you tell us a little bit more about the charity and the work it does?

Sylva Foundation is a charity active across Britain, supporting landowners in managing woods and forests to the best of their ability. We have developed innovative software called myForest which helps them map their woodlands, and complete plans and inventories. Some exciting developments are in the making which will enable landowners to collaborate with scientists to help study environmental change in the woods and forests under their care. Our headquarters is in Oxfordshire where we have a Wood Centre dedicated to supporting people who work in wood to establish thriving businesses. We also run a Wood School helping train a future generation of skilled craftspeople. Readers can find out more at

Finally, as an already well-published author I presume you might have plans for further books? Are there any projects that you are able to tell us about that you’re looking forward to at the moment?

The Forest Guide Scotland is the first of a tryptic, so I am working currently on the guide for Wales (to be published in 2024/5) while the England guide is due out the year after that (all titles with Bloomsbury Wildlife). I am always on the lookout for forest sites to include, and I even have a book patron scheme, so I am keen to hear from potential supporters. Readers can find out more at:

I am also working on a new book titled The Tree Almanac 2024: A Seasonal Guide to the Woodland World which will be published by Robinson Books this November.

The Forest Guide Scotland was published by Bloomsbury Publishing in April 2023 and is available from

International Day of Forests 2023

21st March marks the 12th annual International Day of Forests. On this day, the UN encourages countries around the world to celebrate and raise awareness of the importance of forests, through events, activities and campaigns large and small.

The theme of this year’s International Day of Forests is ‘Forests and Health‘. This topic aims to bring attention to the myriad of ways in which forests are linked with human health – through provision of foods and medicines, by improving our physical and mental health, and by helping to keep global warming in check.

Key messages of International Day of Forests 2023

Forests are a vital source of food and nutrition
Nearly one billion people globally depend on harvesting wild food such as herbs, fruits, nuts, meat and insects for nutritious diets. In some remote tropical areas, the consumption of wild meat is estimated to cover between 60 – 80 percent of daily protein needs.

Forests are natural pharmacies
Around 50 000 plant species – many of which grow in forests – have medicinal value. Local communities use forest-derived medicines for a wide array of ailments and many common pharmaceutical medicines are derived from forest plants, including cancer-treating drugs from the Madagascar periwinkle and malaria medication quinine from cinchona trees.

Healthy forests protect us from diseases
Forests have traditionally served as a natural barrier to disease transmission between animals and humans, but as deforestation continues, the risk of diseases spilling over from animals to people is rising. More than 30 percent of new diseases reported since 1960 are attributed to land-use change, including deforestation.

Forests boost our mental and physical health
Spending time in forests increases positive emotions and decreases stress, blood pressure, depression, fatigue, anxiety and tension. Trees in cities also absorb pollutant gases from traffic and industry and filter fine particulates such as dust, dirt and smoke, which help shield urban populations from respiratory diseases.

Forests play a central role in combating the biggest health threat facing humanity: climate change
Healthy forests help keep global warming in check: forests contain 662 billion tonnes of carbon, which is more than half the global carbon stock in soils and vegetation. Forests and trees also help buffer exposure to heat and extreme weather events caused by climate change, which pose a major global health challenge. For example, trees properly placed around buildings cool the air and can cut air conditioning needs by up to 30 percent, also saving energy.

Forests are under threat and need our help
Ten million hectares – roughly the equivalent of 14 million football pitches – of forest were lost per year to deforestation between 2015 and 2020. Forest insects damage around 35 million hectares of forest annually. Fire affected approximately 98 million hectares of forest globally in 2015. Through forest-friendly policies and increased investment in forests and trees we can protect our planet and our health.

How to get involved

• Organise or join an existing event to celebrate and promote the role of forests in maintaining human health. Great ideas include forest walks, tree planting gatherings, forest-related art exhibitions and public talks or debates.

• Let the UN know about what you’ve been up to by emailing If you send them your photos, they can also add them to this year’s gallery.

• Download the logo, banner or poster and share these to help get the word out about the 2023 International Day of Forests.

• Share your experiences on social media using the hashtag #IntlForestDay

Associated UN publications

Forests for human health and well-being: Strengthening the forest-health-nutrition nexus

This publication examines the many linkages of forests and human health and offers recommendations for creating an enabling environment in which people can benefit from them. Designed for practitioners and policy-makers in a range of fields.


Further reading on forests

Finding the Mother Tree: Uncovering the Wisdom and Intelligence of the Forest

No one has done more to transform our understanding of trees than the world-renowned scientist Suzanne Simard. Now she shares the secrets of a lifetime spent uncovering startling truths about trees: their cooperation, healing capacity, memory, wisdom and sentience.


The World Atlas of Trees and Forests

The earth’s forests are havens of nature supporting a diversity of life. Shaped by climate and geography, these vast and dynamic wooded spaces offer unique ecosystems that shelter interdependent webs of organisms. This book offers a beautiful introduction to what forests are.


Ancient Woods, Trees & Forests: Ecology, History and Management

From ancient times until today, trees and woods have inspired artists, writers and scientists. This inspiring book helps us to understand the web of connections relating to ancient trees and woodlands, and to offer techniques to ensure effective conservation and sustainability of this precious resource.


A Forest Journey: The Role of Trees in the Fate of Civilization

Now in its third edition, this classic book provides comprehensive coverage of the major role forests have played in human life – told with grace, fluency, imagination, and humour. It has been named one of Harvard’s “One Hundred Great Books”.

Author Interview with Peter Holden and Geoffrey Abbott: RSPB Handbook of Garden Wildlife

Now in its third edition, the RSPB Handbook of Garden Wildlife is a comprehensive and inspiring guide to making the most of your garden for wildlife. Full of practical tips, the book provides information on what plants to grow and how to structure your outside space to make it as attractive as possible for garden species, including mammals, birds, insects, invertebrates, reptiles and amphibians. A DIY chapter includes lots of projects such as nest box building and making your own pond.

There is also a comprehensive species account section which includes information and colour photographs of almost 400 garden species, helping you to take stock of the wildlife that is present in your garden, and to monitor how this changes over time. The third edition of the RSPB Handbook of Garden Wildlife also features new material on climate change, recycling and encouraging wild spaces in gardens.

Peter Holden

Peter Holden is the author of the bestselling RSPB Handbook of British Birds. He held senior positions at the RSPB for over 30 years and is the author of several books. Geoffrey Abbott formerly worked for the RSPB and now lectures part-time for the Field Studies Council. He is responsible for the book’s plants and insects sections.

Geoffrey Abbott

In this Q&A we chatted with Peter and Geoffrey about the book, about the importance and benefits of keeping our gardens ‘wild’ and their recommendations for small but impactful changes we can make in our outdoor spaces.


Now in its third edition, it has been 14 years since the first Handbook of Garden Wildlife was published. Do you think there have been significant changes in terms of types/styles of gardens and the wildlife they support during this time?

Geoffrey: there is now even more pressure on natural habitats and wildlife, and a continuing decline in many species such as bees, Starling and House Sparrow. This means that gardens are of even more value for conservation. At the same time there are more new houses, with smaller, or no gardens, and a continuing trend (as David Lindo so graphically points out in his foreword) to cover gardens with concrete or paving. There are also changes in our gardens due to the arrival of new species, some perhaps due to climate change. We have included some of the species (like Ivy Bee and Tree Bumblebee) that you are most likely to see in your garden.

Peter: Gardens will also be affected by changes in climate, especially if we have drier summers so we have introduced a new chapter on dry gardens.

In the book, you recommend keeping a log of the wildlife observed in a garden over the year. Do you think that this has become something of a lost art – taking the time and having the patience to observe the same bit of land over time and enjoying the process of noting the changes?

Peter: Yes, I see fewer people using a notebook and pencil when out birding and they don’t seem to be recording on mobiles either, even though there are excellent Apps like the BTO’s Birdnet. It should be easier than ever to keep notes at home using electronic spreadsheets and diaries. With programmes such as iRecord you can input photos and sightings and have the satisfaction of knowing these records are added to local and national databases – helping to build up a picture of changing wildlife populations.

In the introduction, you mention how important our gardens became to us during the Covid-19 lockdowns of 2020 and 2021. Improving them for the local wildlife has obvious benefits for conservation, but do you think there are also benefits from making these changes for ourselves and for our children?

Peter: There is more and more evidence showing environmental benefits on wellbeing and general health. There are also the additional benefits of exercise that comes from gardening and opportunities for relaxation. However, best of all, I see gardens being the ideal place for small children to start to learn about nature. It might be watching an ant’s trail, planting wildflowers, feeding the birds or helping to prepare a small pond, making pitfall traps for bugs or doing the Big Garden Birdwatch. And it’s not just parents – grandparents are often the ideal teachers for the next generation – with more time to share their own knowledge and experience.

In the section of your book on wilding, you describe the ideal garden as ‘organised chaos’. Do you think that the current trend for neatness and tidiness in a garden can be problematic in terms of attracting wildlife?

Geoffrey: Absolutely. Just one example is clearing all the dead heads from the borders which removes important food sources in the form of seeds, for birds and small mammals. Hollow dead stalks are also important sites for many hibernating insects. Tidying beds of leaf litter removes a whole community of invertebrates, and important feeding sites for thrushes, Blackbirds and Robins. Colonies of House Sparrows love scruffy corners and dense shrubs, while a pile of prunings and dead leaves can even provide a hibernation site for hedgehogs and a home for beetles and other invertebrates. Converting part of the garden to concrete or paving, or even replacing a lawn with Astroturf for easier management, will make whole areas sterile of wildlife.

One part of the book that I found particularly useful was the section on seasonal management, which also includes a handy monthly guide to the wildlife you might see and the tasks that need to be undertaken. How much would you say that maintaining a garden for wildlife differs from more ‘conventional’ gardening techniques?

Peter: That is an interesting question as there is not really a right or wrong way of doing things. It’s really about empathy – understanding your garden environment and gradually moving it from a homocentric place to one where wildlife is the focus. Every action will have nature in mind, while still keeping the garden as our own special place – it’s a delicate balance…and its fun…and over time our knowledge will grow as well.

For any readers with an average sized urban or suburban garden who wants a quick and affordable change that they can make, what would you recommend as something impactful but achievable that they could begin with?

We are both agreed that by far the best single improvement is to create a pond.

Geoffrey: This will greatly encourage garden wildlife by providing a source of water (for animals such as bees, birds and hedgehogs), mud for nesting birds, and a variety of extra insects as food. The pond will also add a whole new community of creatures, many of which leave the water at the adult stage. You may encourage frogs, toads or newts, as well as insects such as dragonflies and damselflies. These can give a whole new dimension to the summer garden.

Peter: A pond need not be large or complicated to make. A simple moulded plastic or flexible liner will suffice. It needs to be deep enough not to dry out but have some shelving edges to allow birds or hedgehogs to drink. However, avoid introducing fish – they are incompatible with most other wildlife in a garden pond.

Finally, what are you working on now? Do you have plans for further books?

Geoffrey: I will be writing wildlife notes for local magazines.

Peter: I will continue to work on updates for future editions of this Handbook and also for the RSPB Handbook of British Birds. I will continue with lectures for RSPB local members’ groups and hope to meet some of you there!

RSPB Handbook of Garden Garden Wildlife by Peter Holden and Geoffrey Abbott was published in February 2023. It is published by Bloomsbury Publishing and available from


Author Interview with George Peterken: Trees and Woodlands

Written by one of the UK’s most highly regarded forest ecologists, Trees and Woodlands weaves together personal stories and scientific research in a thorough exploration of our woodlands, their ecology and how we as humans have interacted with them over the course of history. The 12th installment in the popular British Wildlife Collection, Trees and Woodlands will appeal to anyone who is fascinated by the stories told by our native woodlands and who is invested in their future.

George Peterken worked with the Nature Conservancy to start the ancient woodland inventory and later worked as nature conservation adviser at the Forestry Commission. His research interests, which have centred on nature conservation, natural woodland and long-term and large-scale aspects of woodland ecology, benefited from a Bullard Fellowship at Harvard University. He is the author of a large number of books on both woodlands and meadows and was awarded an OBE for services to forestry in 1994.

In this Q&A we chatted with George about the book, about his life and career as a woodland ecologist and about his hopes for the future of woodlands in the UK.

Firstly, can you tell us a bit about yourself? How did you get into working with and researching woodlands?

All my childhood holidays were visits to my Mother’s family on the edge of the New Forest and the woods at Ruislip and the Chilterns were my targets as a teenage cyclist, but woods became fully imprinted with 6th form natural history camps at Beaulieu Road in the New Forest, led by my charismatic teacher, Barry Goater. I gained an entry to woodlands research when Palmer Newbould at University College, London, accepted me as a PhD student to study New Forest woodlands on a Nature Conservancy grant. Then I had the luck to be offered my ideal job as a woodland ecologist at the Nature Conservancy’s Monks Wood Experimental Station. This was a madly exciting and committed place to work where, as you will see from the book’s dedication, we thrived on the freedom we were allowed. Thereafter it was necessary to ride out the constant reorganisations thrust upon us by our paymasters, the Government.

Trees & Woodlands is a wonderfully wide-ranging book. I particularly enjoyed the frequent stories and anecdotes from your own life and career, as well as the well-researched snippets of history, culture and language. Does the human-landscape interaction interest you?

Certainly. Its much more entertaining to explain what I find in a wood in terms of human actions and unforeseen consequences than in terms of soils, climate or some other natural factor. It was Colin Tubbs who taught me this when I was a research student and he was the Nature Conservancy’s warden-naturalist for the New Forest. We would notice some feature of the vegetation distribution or woodland structure and find, more often than not, that we could understand it best as, say, an abandoned extension of agriculture or an unexpected consequence of an Act of Parliament regarding deer. Then at Monks Wood, I found that Max Hooper and John Sheail in particular were just as keen as myself to study ecology in a county record office as we were in the fields and woods. Then, of course, we all came across Oliver Rackham who had seized on the same links between history and habitats. He more than anyone has demonstrated that it’s the human element that generates most interest in the natural world. This interest also had direct benefits for my main work in woodland nature conservation: it was much easier to negotiate management that benefited nature with a woodland owner who had a keen interest in the history of his/her wood.

Your book in large part looks at the interaction between humans and woodlands over the course of history, both ancient and recent, and you state that we would have to go a long way back in time to find a woodland which was not modified by the presence of man. Where in the UK would you say is closest to a ‘natural’ or ‘unmodified’ woodland, ie one that has been affected the least by humans?

This is the subject of one of the chapters. Spending my career working with semi-natural woodlands, I spent a lot of time wondering what natural woodland looked like, then, as you can read in my contribution to Arboreal (Little Toller, 2016), came to the conclusion that natural woodland takes many different forms, but that no woodland existing since the last Ice Age could be entirely unaffected by people. We can witness approximations by allowing an ancient, semi-natural woodland to grow without direct management intervention – which is what we have studied at Lady Park Wood – or by ‘shutting the field gate’ and watching what happens as shrubs and trees invade. Whether the results look like pre-Neolithic woodland, which harboured large herbivores, is a subject that has animated woodland ecologists in recent years: some would say that the New Forest is natural in that sense, even though it has been used and managed for centuries. ‘Natural woodland’ to the general public means ‘woodland of native trees not obviously managed’ and I think ecologists should get close to that.

Extreme weather events such as storms and flooding are likely to occur at an increased frequency due to the effects of climate change. Coupled with the anthropogenic impacts of deforestation, land use change and overgrazing, this might seem to paint a dim picture for the woodlands of the future. Moving forwards, what do you think are going to be the main challenges in the UK when it comes to preserving and improving our native woodlands?

The immediate threats come from novel diseases and pests, uncontrolled deer populations and our limited ability to sustain low intensity management, which leads to neglected woods becoming less stable and losing some elements of their biodiversity. Pervasive eutrophication via rain seems to reinforce the biodiversity losses from unmanaged woods.

Deforestation is not really a problem here; storms would have less impact if woods were managed and thus stand ages were younger; trees and woods are part of the solution to flooding; and the main immediate danger from climate change may be a form of self-fulfilling prophesy when, say, beech stands are felled and replaced by introduced species that we think will better withstand future climates. Ancient woods seem reasonably well protected by public opinion, the Woodland Trust and official organisations, but we could easily drop our guard if we again believe – as we did around 1970 – that all these new woodlands will form an adequate replacement.

In terms of woodland management and the policies which govern this, what changes would you like to see in the UK over the coming years?

I’m now way out of the loop of forestry politics, but I can answer in more general terms. Throughout my career foresters have been itching to bring the now neglected former coppices back into management. Most of these are ancient woods and therefore important for nature conservation, so I took the view through the 1970s that they should be left alone, or coppiced, since their likely fate under forest management would have been planted conifers. But from 1982, when what became the Broadleaves Policy was under discussion, I advocated management based on site-native tree species, and I have not changed since. We must find or generate markets for native tree timber and wood, like Coed Cymru did and does, that would benefit wildlife and give more people a stake in the future of ancient woodlands. I like the idea of more community involvement, but in practice this usually comes down to one or two individuals. I am all in favour of leaving a representative selection of woods to grow naturally – limited intervention, or none – partly because they will act as a constant reminder of the benefits of management.

Since you began working in and researching woodlands, have there been any major technological advances that have had a signification impact on the type and quality of research that you do?

Linking my name with technological advances will elicit hollow laughter in some quarters. For years, my fieldwork has involved pencil, paper, girthing tape and metal plot markers. I have tried GPS to mark plots, but in the woods I’ve studied the errors are too large to find small plots. I do use a spreadsheet to analyse the records, though. My research started when statistical analyses were undertaken long-hand on an electric machine that whirred and juddered for ever while it did long divisions, so the arrival of computers, the internet and digital cameras is obviously the key technical advance. This has enabled astonishingly intricate analyses of huge volumes of fieldwork data, but it has also led to papers in, say, the Journal of Ecology becoming unreadable. The need now is to present and explain research results and their implications to as wide an audience as one can summon in a form that can be appreciated by a general readership. Technical advances are important and often amazing, though nothing like as important as developing the skills to write clear, accurate, non-technical, substantial and readable text. I like to think that British Wildlife magazine and the derivative Collection of books have shown the way.

Finally, what’s next for you? Do you have plans for further books?

I’m reaching the age when plans are futile, but I still like to have an on-going project. On books, I am helping Stefan Buczacki write about Churchyard Natural History. One of the most rewarding of recent projects was my collaboration with a group of professional artists, The Arborealists, in Lady Park Wood (Art meets Ecology, Sansom, 2020) and we have plans for a sequel in Staverton Park, a Suffolk wood-pasture I knew well in the late 1960s. For several years I gave up woodlands and took a close interest in meadows, which led to an earlier book in the British Wildlife Collection and gave me an enthusiasm for wood-meadows, so I’m doing what I can from a distance to help the Woodmeadow Trust.

Trees and Woodlands by George Peterken was published in February 2023. It is published by Bloomsbury Publishing and available from


Author Interview with Mark Carwardine: RSPB How to Photograph Garden Birds

RSPB How to Photograph Garden Birds is an inspirational and practical guide to photographing birds in your own garden. Packed full of tips and tricks, the book covers equipment, composition, light and weather, as well as providing guidance on feeding birds to make your garden as attractive as possible to feathered visitors.

The second half of the book contains a range of different projects, each with details on the equipment required and the techniques you will need to use to obtain the desired shot. From using reflecting pools and catching birds in flight, there is plenty here to help you hone your skills and start capturing professional quality images.

Mark Carwardine is a zoologist and an award-winning writer, a TV and radio presenter and a bestselling author of more than 50 books. Well known for his skills as a wildlife photographer, he was selected as one of ‘The World’s 40 Most Influential Nature Photographers’ in the US’s Outdoor Photography magazine and is currently presenting and producing the BBC Wildlife Photography Masterclass on YouTube. He also runs wildlife photography holidays and workshops worldwide.

In this Q&A, we chatted with Mark about the book, about his life and journey as a photographer, and discuss some tips on making photography affordable.

You have been described as one of ‘The World’s 40 Most Influential Nature Photographers’, have chaired the judging panel of the prestigious Wildlife Competition of the Year for seven years, and are presenter and producer of the BBC’s Wildlife Photography Masterclass. With all this experience, variety and skill under your belt, what made you turn your attention to garden birds as the subject of your latest book?

It was a lockdown thing. I’ve been feeding birds in the garden for as long as I can remember (as we should all be doing – there is a lot of evidence that feeding garden birds year-round really does give them a better chance of survival). I loved watching them, and they gave me an inordinate amount of pleasure, but it was only during lockdown that I really started to photograph them. And then I got completely hooked. Garden birds make fantastic photographic subjects. Many of them are strikingly beautiful; they are readily accessible (you can even capture frame-filling images from your kitchen window); they tend to be tamer and more relaxed around people than most ‘wild’ birds out in the countryside; and they are impressively adaptable (you can move the feeders around, change the perches or add a new prop and they will often return within a few minutes). The other great advantage, of course, is there is no need for flights or hotel rooms: you barely have to leave the house.

Image by Mark Carwardine

What came first to you as a youngster, a love of nature or a love of photography? Or did they develop simultaneously?

Definitely a love of nature. I’ve been obsessed with wildlife since before I could walk and talk. The photography came in my teens. My father was a keen photographer and taught me how to print black-and-white prints in his darkroom in the loft etc, so he was the initial inspiration. I still remember saving for my first ‘proper’ camera in my mid-teens – it took me two years, working every Saturday and all school holidays in a camera shop. I’ve been very lucky to be able to make photography a big part of my work – to illustrate books, articles and lectures etc.

You mention in the book that you started out by shooting film. Do you prefer the flexibility of digital photography or are there things you miss about using older techniques and equipment?

I don’t miss anything about shooting film at all! How anyone managed to take great wildlife pictures with a 36-exposure roll of 25 or 64 ASA film – let alone with a separate light meter and a manual-focus lens – I will never know. I’m very grateful to have learnt photography using film, because you had to understand how everything worked and you had to work slowly and carefully, but my photography has certainly improved since the advent of digital. In fact, I was Chairing the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition during the transition from film to digital and watched the standard of wildlife photography grow exponentially.

Image by Mark Carwardine

I imagine a large part of being a good photographer is slowing down and really paying attention, not only to your chosen subject, but to the surroundings, weather, light and other variables. As someone who is evidently extremely productive and busy in your professional life, do you find this aspect of photography enjoyable? Or is it a necessary chore?

It’s the only time I slow down! The funny thing is that I am naturally impatient – I can’t bear wasting time. I hate sitting in traffic, waiting for a late train, being trapped in a meeting that is dragging on unnecessarily. But I can happily sit quietly for hours – no, days – waiting for an animal to appear or do something interesting. That’s a pleasure and in no way a chore. I can sit perfectly still in a hide, without moving, let alone talking, with no problem at all. Every sense is alert, your mind clears and, of course, there is always something to look at. The other thing I love is the sense of anticipation. You could wait all day and nothing happens; or, without warning, you could be surprised by one of your best wildlife sightings ever. And, of course, you do need to be patient in wildlife photography, waiting for the best light, the best pose, or whatever.

Do you think that art and photography have an important role to play in inspiring people to value or get involved with wildlife and the natural world?

I have mixed feelings about this. I do think photography can play a critically important role in inspiring people and promotion conservation. The old adage ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ is often true – meaning that complex ideas can be conveyed in a single image. There are many examples of one picture spurring a massive campaign and, ultimately, inspiring significant change. On the wall behind me in my office is a signed photograph by Commander Frank Borman, taken during Apollo 8, the first manned mission to the moon. It’s called ‘Earthrise’ and shows our tiny blue planet hanging in space, as viewed across the surface of the moon. It’s credited with kick-starting the environmental movement in the late 1960s. There are some inspiring examples in nature photography, too. Ansel Adams famously used his photographs to help create Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. And look at the work of the International League of Conservation Photographers. But I have mixed feelings because many photographers these days claim to be ‘helping conservation’ simply by taking pictures of wildlife and wild places. It doesn’t work like that – you have to do something as well.

Image by Mark Carwardine

In the current financial climate, the cost of equipment might put many people off taking up photography as a hobby. I liked that you covered the use of smartphones in your book, as this is something that almost everybody has access to. What would be your top recommendation for an inexpensive accessory that could be used with a Smartphone for photographing garden birds?

Yes, it’s true. Some of the best long lenses these days cost as much as a small family car! There’s a whole chapter in the book about photographing garden birds with a smartphone. One of the challenges with smartphone photography is shooting frame-filling pictures – getting close enough to your subjects. I’d recommend buying a really inexpensive little gadget called a shutter release, or shutter remote. This communicates with your phone via Bluetooth. Once you’ve paired it, you simply tap the button on the remote to take a picture. Then all you do is place the phone near your carefully positioned photographic perch – or wherever you think the birds might land. Sit in the kitchen with a coffee or a beer, using binoculars to see the back of the phone clearly enough to judge when a bird comes into view, and fire away to your heart’s content. It works amazingly well.

What’s in store for you next? Do you have plans for further books?

Actually, I’m working on another photographic book. For the past 30 years, I’ve spent a month or two most winters in Baja California, on the Pacific coast of Mexico, running whale watching tours, doing research and filming. It’s arguably the best place in the world for whale watching. So I am compiling a book of my favourite photographs from those 30 years, called ‘Baja California: Realm of the Great Whales’. I just have a few hundred thousand more images to go through, and I’ll be ready to make the final selection!

RSPB How to Photograph Garden Birds by Mark Carwardine was published in January 2023. It is published by Bloomsbury Publishing and available from


The Big Garden Birdwatch: NHBS Staff Results 2023

Blackbird by Oli Haines

We have reached the end of the 44th Big Garden Birdwatch, which took place between 27th and 29th January. Run by the RSPB, this is one of the largest citizen science surveys in the UK and encourages the public to observe and record the birds in their garden over a period of one hour. In 2022, more than 700,000 people took part recording over 11 million birds. This huge amount of data allows the RSPB to create a comprehensive picture of how our local birds are faring, and to examine changes in both abundance and distribution over time.

If you took part over the weekend, there’s still time to submit your results on the RSPB website. The final date to let them know what you saw is 19th February. Don’t forget, even if you didn’t see anything, it’s still useful information. (If you can’t submit your results online, you can print off the form from the free guide and send it by post).

Even though the Big Garden Birdwatch is over this year, there are still lots of important things you can do to make your garden attractive to birds and other wildlife. Private and public green spaces in the UK cover an area three times bigger than all of the RSPB nature reserves combined, so making these spaces wildlife-friendly is hugely important and significant. Remember to keep putting out fresh food and water for your garden birds, and always remember to keep your feeders, bird tables and bird baths free from disease by cleaning them weekly. See the RSPB website for some helpful information on preventing disease, and check out this great guide from the Wildlife Trusts on cleaning bird feeders and nest boxes.

As always, many of our staff got involved with the Big Garden Birdwatch this year. Scroll down to see what we found and to see some of our pictures. We’d also love to see what you’ve spotted if you took part – let us know in the comments below.


Sabine saw:

Woodpigeon: 2
Robin: 2
Great Tit: 1
Chaffinch: 2
House Sparrow: 1
Magpie: 1
Common Pheasant (male): 1

Woodpigeons by Sabine Lang

Catherine saw:

Starlings: 6
Blackbird: 1

Starlings by Catherine Mitson

Elle saw:

Woodpigeon: 1
Robin: 1
Blackbird: 1

Blackbird by Catherine Mitson

Oliver saw:

Woodpigeon: 2
Blackbird: 3
Dunnock: 1
Long-tailed tit: 1
Jackdaw: 1

Woodpigeon by Catherine Mitson

Luanne saw:

House Sparrow: 5
Robin: 1
Blackbird: 2
Magpie: 2
Woodpigeon: 3

Woodpigeon by Oli Haines


For more information on UK garden birds, the Big Garden Birdwatch and how you can help them, please visit Here you will find a wealth of information to help you find and identify UK bird species.

Author Interview with Alick Simmons: Treated Like Animals

Treated Like Animals, by Alick Simmons, provides an incisive look at the way we treat animals and highlights the many ways in which we are complicit in their exploitation – whether that is via the food we eat, the pets we keep as companions, the medicines we take that rely on animal research, or the wildlife that is ‘managed’ on our behalf.

Although many laws are in place that protect the rights of certain animals in certain situations, many of these do not take into account the science behind the animal’s ability to suffer, nor the humaneness of the methods used. In this book, Simmons calls on us to face the facts about how animals are exploited and to form our own, educated opinions about these issues.

Alick Simmons is a veterinarian and a naturalist. During a career spanning 35 years he held the position of the UK Government’s Deputy Chief Veterinary Officer (2007-2016) and the UK Food Standards Agency’s Veterinary Director (2004-2007). In 2015 he began conservation volunteering, and has been involved in survey projects for both waders and cranes. He is currently chair of the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare and the Humane Slaughter Association. He also serves as a Trustee of the Dorset Wildlife Trust and chairs the EPIC disease control steering group on behalf of the Scottish Government.

In this Q&A, we chatted with Alick about the book and about how our opinions on animal welfare and ethics can and should be a priority.

Our attitudes to animal welfare are heavily influenced by our culture, and our opinions and values often reflect those of our families, peers and country/region rather than being based on objective facts (for example, you mention early on in the book the difference in our reactions to eating a lamb compared to a puppy). Do you think this is a significant barrier to people creating an objectively valid personal code of ethics?

Culture influences our attitudes to animals, without a doubt. It varies between countries: most Brits loathe the idea of bull fighting but it has been an important part of popular culture in Spain for centuries. However, attitudes are not fixed and can change over time: 93 per cent of 16- to 24-year-old Spaniards now say they don’t support bullfighting.

Culture also drives differences in attitudes towards certain species: the horse enjoys an exalted status in Britain with several very well-heeled charities dedicated to their support. Nothing similar exists for cattle and sheep. And the idea of eating a horse is simply abhorrent to most people. The law protecting horses in transport, on farm, etc is much tighter than it is for farmed animals. There is no logical explanation for this.

When it comes to research animals, the majority of us reluctantly accept the need to use mice and rats, but are opposed to the use of dogs, cats and primates despite the better data they yield in some fields of research. Yet, the capacity to suffer for these species is very likely to be similar.

So, yes, culture is a barrier to the scientifically and ethically sound treatment of animals. We need to ignore cultural norms and prejudices, give animals the benefit of the doubt and assume that all vertebrates (and a growing number invertebrate species), regardless of their ‘use’ or circumstances, have the capacity to suffer.

In writing this book and considering the issues discussed within, did you find it hard to separate emotion from fact? Or do you think that it is important to not separate the two, since emotion is an important prerequisite to having compassion and empathy for the experience and lives of other species?

We are emotional beings, capable of empathy. Although we can’t directly experience the pain and suffering of other people, it doesn’t stop us wanting to help, to relieve that suffering. Indeed, our emotions, our empathy, it can be argued, are part of the bedrock of our society and why we exhibit altruism.

However, separating emotion from fact is difficult, perhaps impossible. Which is why most of us behave inconsistently when it comes to animals. We appear to care more about the fate of a kitten than that of a rat. Instead of concentrating on the differences, real or imagined, between the two – one is cute, the other carries disease – remember that the nervous systems of both are very similar – if the kitten has a sophisticated brain, has defined pain pathways and the cognitive capacity to suffer, then so does the rat. That doesn’t mean we can’t intervene against the rat if it threatens our health. But it does mean we should strive to reduce the need to intervene and do it humanely when all else fails.

How much of a problem do you consider it to be that we are increasingly reliant on social media as our main source of news and information – much of which may be incorrect, misleading or extremist in nature?

I use Twitter but no other social media. Twitter is, like fire, a great servant but a poor master. A substantial number of the lovely reviews of Treated Like Animals came from people I’ve been interacting with on Twitter. It is unlikely that we would have ‘met’ otherwise. But social media is useless for discussing complex and controversial matters – like animal welfare – because nuance, uncertainty and subtlety are difficult to convey in 280 characters. I try to avoid getting into convoluted interplays because it rarely concludes well. I’m not always successful. However, despite these drawbacks, Twitter is great for signposting to new publications, blog posts and for advertising conferences and even jobs. Use it wisely and be wary of getting drawn into over-simplified arguments. Difficult, complex issues rarely have simple solutions.

Author Alick Simmons has been involved in conservation projects such as crane ringing. Image by A Simmons.

Do you have any concerns that the current pressures in people’s lives, such as the cost of living crisis, the Covid-19 pandemic, war in Ukraine, climate crisis etc., are impacting people so much that they don’t feel as though they have the time, energy or money to prioritise animal rights and ethics? For example, if someone is struggling to make their food budget last the month, then purchasing cheap meat with poor welfare standards may be the most feasible option at that time.

It has been said that a concern for animal welfare is a luxury indulged in by the affluent. I disagree. Society has set animal welfare norms much of which are coded in legislation – which should be observed no matter how straitened our circumstances. The first few of these norms were set when living standards were much lower than they are today. That said, we live in difficult times and with less buying power, people have difficult choices to make. The cheapest meat is chicken and it’s also the world’s favourite. The meat chicken (known as the broiler) may have won the post-WWII race to produce the most abundant animal protein but at what cost? As Chapter 5 of Treated Like Animals details, broiler welfare is generally poor and alternative, less intensive rearing systems meet the birds’ needs better. However, the meat is more expensive. I argue that it is better for you (and the birds) to eat smaller amounts of better quality, slower grown meat than to eat larger amount of cheaper meat where standards are generally poorer. The difference can be made up with proteins from plant-based foods.

In terms of your own personal code of ethics, what troubles you the most? Or, to put it another way, what issue have you found the most difficult to reach a satisfactory position or opinion on?

There are two: First, while I still eat animal products, albeit less and less, the colossal scale of some farming systems used to rear pigs, fish, dairy cows and chickens does bother me. No matter how cleverly designed the buildings, how good the system, these animals cannot be cared for in the way that smaller operations allow. It’s simply not possible. Add to that, given the barren environments which hinder normal behaviour, one has to question whether these systems are acceptable. However, after a lifetime of eating cheese I am finding it difficult to switch to the alternatives.

The second is research. I find it difficult to justify the use of primates for basic neuroscience research (that is, research with no immediate practical benefit) because of its protracted and invasive nature. On the other hand, it is argued, without a comprehensive understanding of the architecture and function of the brain, our ability to eventually tackle degenerative nervous conditions like Alzheimer’s disease will be hindered. I find I can’t reach a position on this.

Simmons dedicates an entire chapter of his book to the ethics surrounding the ‘management’ of wildlife. Image by A Simmons

If, upon reading your book, people would like to take a more active role in promoting positive animal welfare in the UK, what might be the most important and impactful steps for them to consider?

There are two main ways where you can make a difference: First, vote with your feet. Avoid the products which, based on your own ethical position, you object to. Chapter 11 includes my own ethical framework and this can be adapted to your own position. Better still, get engaged and active. For example, join an organisation that campaigns for better animal welfare, get better informed, lobby your MP, etc. Voting with your feet, particularly if it snowballs, does make a difference – you only need to look at how supermarkets change their offer – to free range eggs and a growing range of vegan products, for example. But avoiding certain products won’t be effective against other welfare concerns where consumer-led action has little or no impact. Take for example, the killing of wildlife. Most are killed using methods which are demonstrably inhumane: spring traps, snares, live capture traps, glue traps and poisons. Very few of us see what goes on but take it from me – this is largely unregulated, poorly scrutinised and involves perhaps millions of animals dying in a way that we would not tolerate for research animals, farmed animals or our pets. There are no products to boycott here (except perhaps ‘game’ birds), but you could do a lot worse than getting involved with organisations which lobby government and research alternatives such as the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare, OneKind and Humane Society International.

Finally, what’s in store for you next? Do you have any more books planned?

I’d like to see how much of a success this book is first but I am keen to investigate the interface between animal welfare and conservation (and other types of land management). Chapter 7 of Treated Like Animals goes into this relationship but there is a great deal more to explore – for example, how our attitudes to abundant species differ from scarce ones, the demonisation of some species to justify the routine killing of others, and the apparent indifference that society shows to wild rodents. I’ve got a collaborator in mind but he doesn’t know it yet!



Treated Like Animals by Alick Simmons is due for publication in February 2023. It is published by Pelagic Publishing and available from


The RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch 2023

Long-tailed tit on peanut feeder. Image by Conall via Flickr.

For the past 44 years the RSPB has been running one of the largest citizen science projects in the world, the Big Garden Birdwatch. Each year in January, more than half a million people take to their gardens, parks and balconies to count the birds they see. This huge dataset has allowed the RSPB to create a comprehensive picture of how our local birds are faring, and to examine changes in both abundance and distribution over this time.

Anyone can sign up to take part, and you don’t need to be a member of the RSPB. All it takes is an hour of your time. This year’s Big Garden Birdwatch will take place from 27th to 29th January, with results expected to be published in April.

How to take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch
  1. Sign up on the RSPB website and download the free guide and ID chart.
  2. Find a good spot to watch the birds in your garden or a local park and choose an hour between between Saturday 27th and Monday 29th January.
  3. Have fun identifying the species visiting your garden during that hour and count the maximum number of each species you see at any one time. For example, if you see a group of three house sparrows together and after that another one, the number to submit is three. This method means it is less likely you will count the same birds more than once and makes data analysis easier. Make a note of any other wildlife that you spot as well.
  4. Submit your results on the Big Garden Birdwatch website. Even if you don’t see anything, that’s still useful information. (If you can’t submit your results online, you can print off the form from the free guide and send it by post).
  5. Join in the conversation on RSPB social channels throughout the weekend to see what other nature lovers are spotting across the UK and upload your own pictures and comments using #BigGardenBirdWatch
  6. Look out for the results in April and take pride in having contributed data from your patch.

What did we learn in the 2022 Big Garden Birdwatch?

In 2022, almost 700 thousand people took part in the Big Garden Birdwatch, submitting records of more than 11 million birds. The most frequently reported species was the house sparrow which received 1.7 million sightings. The second and third spots were held by blue tits and starlings respectively.

Other notable changes include a huge increase in jay sightings, up 73% from 2021. This increase was potentially due to an increase in food availability as 2021 was a notoriously poor year for acorns. A small increase in greenfinch numbers also provided cause for hope. This species has declined by 62% since 1993 due to an outbreak of trichomonosis which is spread through contaminated food and water. It is hoped that this increase in numbers represents the first signs of a recovering population. Results from this year’s Birdwatch will help to give a better picture of how they are faring.

How can I encourage more birds and other wildlife to my garden?

Participating in the Big Garden Birdwatch is the perfect opportunity to observe how wildlife is using your garden and to give you some insights into how you could make your outdoor space even more attractive to wildlife.

Improving your garden for wildlife can be as simple as leaving a patch of long grass; providing native trees or plants that are good for pollinators such as lavender, buddleja and verbena; or leaving a woodpile for insects to shelter in. You can also supply nest boxes for birds, bat boxes for summer roosting bats, access panels and shelters for hedgehogs, shelter for frogs and toads, and of course bird feeders, which will bring a multitude of species to your garden.

Recommended books

Collins Bird Guide: The Most Complete Guide to the Birds of Britain and Europe

With expanded text and additional colour illustrations, the third edition of the hugely successful Collins Bird Guide is a must for every birdwatcher. The combination of definitive text, up-to-date distribution maps and superb illustrations makes this book the ultimate field guide, essential for every birdwatcher and field trip.

Europe’s Birds: An Identification Guide

Covering more than 900 species, and illustrated with over 4,700 photographs, this is the most comprehensive, authoritative and ambitious single-volume photographic guide to Europe’s birds ever produced. The images are stunning to look at, making this a beautiful book to enjoy, as well as an up-to-date and essential source of identification knowledge.


Britain’s Birds: An Identification Guide to the Birds of Great Britain and Ireland

A bestselling guide since it was first published, Britain’s Birds has quickly established itself as the go-to photographic identification guide to the birds of Great Britain and Ireland – the most comprehensive, up-to-date, practical and user-friendly book of its kind. Acclaimed by birdwatchers of all kinds, from the beginner to the most experienced.

Park and Garden Birds

This newly updated fold-out guide covers the top 50 birds of gardens and parks, including ponds and rivers. Designed for speedy bird identification with living birds in the garden, the guide features beautiful colour paintings by Chris Shields. Accompanying text on the reverse side covers body size, food, key identification notes and conservation status.


RSPB Guide to Birdsong

Birdsong is one of the greatest and most accessible wildlife pleasures that people can experience, even in urban areas. This beautiful, full-colour book and narrated CD of brand new recordings will help people to learn about the sounds and calls of the commonest birds in Britain, and reveal when and why birds make these sounds.


Phenology Series: Winter

Winter is the toughest time of year for wildlife – cold temperatures and short days mean that finding enough food to keep warm and survive becomes a challenging job. Some animals use this time to enter a period of hibernation or torpor to preserve energy for when conditions improve, while others rely on stashes of food or body fat, stored away during the previous seasons.

Much of our vegetation has entered a period of dormancy, with growth slowing down and most trees and shrubs remaining bare until the spring. It would be easy to assume that nothing much is happening in the wild, but there are still amazing sights to be seen for the intrepid wildlife watcher who isn’t afraid to venture outside.

This is the fourth and final installment in our seasonal phenology series where you can explore a carefully chosen collection of ID blogs, books, equipment and events, all designed to help you make the most of a winter outside. Check out our springsummer and autumn blogs for inspiration during the rest of the year.

Identification guides:









What you might see:

• During the winter, mountain hares turn white to blend in with the snow that would historically have been much more common and persistent during this time of year. For keen wildlife watchers, this makes November to April the best time to see them, as they stand out clearly from a snow-free landscape. Also known as the blue hare, they are present in Scotland and the north of England and Wales, and are most commonly found on heathland where they can be seen bounding across the landscape.

• As wild food sources become scarce throughout the colder months, elusive red squirrels may be increasingly tempted by garden peanut feeders, providing us with a perfect chance for a close-up viewing. Where they are present in the wild, bare trees can make winter a great time to spot these delightful mammals.

• Tawny owls breed very early in the year, meaning that their loud mating calls can be heard from late autumn and through the winter months. Their territorial calls are very easy to recognise and provide a wonderful accompaniment to an early morning winter walk.

• Ducks and other wildfowl flock together in huge numbers during the winter for their nesting season, and are often responsible for a cacophony of sound around lakes and ponds. The appearance of winter plumage in male ducks also makes them a spectacular sight, and it is now that the differences between male and female birds become most apparent.

• At the same time as we say goodbye to many of our summer migrants, we also welcome to our shores a number of species which arrive to spend the winter away from colder regions. Geese, swans and ducks flock here from as far away as Canada, Russia and Iceland. The numbers of some of our resident species, such as starlings, chaffinches and robins, may also be boosted by additional migrants.



Upcoming events:

Big Schools Birdwatch – 6th January – 20th February
Big Garden Birdwatch – 27th to 29th January
World Wetlands Day – 2nd February
Global Recycling Day – 18th March
First Day of Spring – 20th March

Essential books and equipment:

The Field Key to Winter Twigs

The Field Key to Winter Twigs offers a striking new approach to the identification of over 400 wild or planted trees, shrubs and woody climbers found in the British Isles. It allows any diligent enthusiast to reliably name a woody plant, normally within three turns of a page.

Guide to Winter Coastal Birds

This laminated fold-out chart features 44 of the birds you can see along the coastline of the UK in the winter. From long-legged waders to gulls, geese and shore ducks, all birds are shown in the adult winter plumage with separate images for males, females and juveniles.


Guide to the Seasons

This fold-out FSC chart aids with the identification of different species of flora and fauna through each season, including winter. From catkins in spring to redwings in winter, this portable guide is essential for exploring wildlife and nature throughout the year. This is especially suitable for younger children.


Wild Winter

John D. Burns sets out to rediscover Scotland’s mountains, remote places and wildlife in the darkest and stormiest months. In Wild Winter, he traverses the country from the mouth of the River Ness to the Isle of Mull, from remote Sutherland to the Caingorns, in search of rutting red deer, pupping seals, minke whales, beavers, pine martens, mountain hares and otters.

A Field Guide to Bryophytes

This field guide covers 133 species of moss and liverwort encountered in most UK habitats, using non-specialist terms to help identify them. Twelve ‘flow-charts’ help identify species by the habitat they occur in. All proceeds from the sales go to The Species Recovery Trust.

Winter Birds

In this stunning book, Lars Jonsson celebrates and explores the beauty of the birds that surround him during the Swedish winter months. Inspired by the desolate, wintry landscapes, the dazzling light and the stark contrast of colours he observes against the snow, Jonsson has created an unparalleled collection.

Kite Lynx HD+ Binoculars

Lynx HD+ binoculars have unique, class-leading optical characteristics in an exceptionally lightweight and compact body. They are perfect for surveying as it is easy to locate even fast moving animals and features in large landscapes.

Hawke Optics Nature-Trek Spotting Scope

A high quality yet economical choice for the keen wildlife watcher. Housed in a tough polycarbonate body, fully multi-coated optics help to produce sharp images whilst BAK-4 porro prisms ensure intense colour and contrast.

Petzl Actik Core Headtorch

The Petzl Actik Core is a carefully designed professional headtorch with both white and red light options.


Guardian Seed Feeder

This feeder includes a plastic seed feeder and an exterior cage designed to keep out squirrels and larger birds. The feeder is constructed from plastic with a metal lid and has plastic perching rings, which enable birds to feed in a natural forward facing position.