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.

Results

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

The RSPB

For more information on UK garden birds, the Big Garden Birdwatch and how you can help them, please visit www.rspb.org.uk. 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 nhbs.com.

 

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.


Activities:

 


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.

 


2022 author interviews, book reviews and field tests

At NHBS we love nothing more than chatting with the authors of our favourite books about their lives, passions and publications. Interested in the authors we talked to in 2022? Here we’ve listed all of the books that we were fortunate to cover this year along with the titles that have been reviewed on our blog and the equipment that we tested in our regular ‘In the Field’ series.


Author Q&As

The Secret Perfume of Birds with Danielle Whittaker

“I started out with simple, clearly defined experiments to test the birds’ reaction to odours from other birds. Then moved on to working with chemists to analyze the information content present in the odours given off by birds. Little by little, the scientists who heard about work in this area started to pay attention…”

 

Otherlands with Thomas Halliday

“We mustn’t fall into the trap of thinking that humans can only be destructive, or that we are separate from the ecosystems we live in…This is the Earth we live in, and we are part of this world, but worlds can change in a moment.”

 

The Secret Life of the Adder with Nicholas Milton

“The book is my attempt to conserve the species using a 10-point adder action plan, and wake up the government, its nature conservation agencies, the media and the public to its plight before it is too late.”

 

Field Guide to Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises with Mark Carwardine

“It’s true to say that our knowledge of cetaceans has grown from virtually nothing to just a little bit – despite decades of wild whale research. They are incredibly difficult animals to study, because they spend most of their lives underwater, often live far out to sea and regularly travel vast distances.”

Why Sharks Matter with David Shiffman

“As a marine conservation biologist who studies sharks and how to protect them, I know that we need the public to not only no longer fear sharks, but to value the role they play in the ecosystem and to want them around.”

 

Wildlife Photography Fieldcraft with Susan Young

“Wildlife photography is hugely important as photographs can convey an emotion or fact better than words, and in particular can illustrate features or situations in a compelling, thought-provoking way, or simply attract by their beauty.”

 

The Fragmented World of the Mongoose Lemur with Michael Stephen Clark

“Perhaps, more alarmingly, the mongoose lemur has unwittingly become a prima-facie example of something disquieting; namely, a growing acceptance that nature will be allowed to persist only in places of our choosing.”

 


Book reviews

Ever Green: Saving Big Forests to Save the Planet by John W. Reid and Thomas E. Lovejoy
Reviewed by Hana Ketley

Birds, Beasts and Bedlam: Turning My Farm into an Ark for Lost Species by Derek Gow
Reviewed by Hana Ketley

Abundance: Nature in Recovery by Karen Lloyd
Reviewed by Hana Ketley

Fen, Bog & Swamp: A Short History of Peatland Destruction and its Role in the Climate Crisis by Annie Proulx
Reviewed by Luanne Wilkes

Goshawk Summer: The Diary of an Extraordinary Season in the Forest by James Aldred
Reviewed by Hana Ketley


‘In the Field’ equipment tests

Elekon Batlogger M2 – tested by Hana Ketley

Kowa TSN-501 Spotting Scope – tested by Joshua Smith

Elekon Batlogger S2 – tested by Alex Jackson

Browning Spec Ops Elite HP5 & Browning Recon Force Elite HP5 – tested by Andrew Molin-Wilkinson

Batbox Baton – tested by Antonia Peacock

Kite APC Stabilised Binoculars – tested by Simon Palmer

NHBS Staff Picks 2022

Welcome to our annual round-up of the books and equipment we have enjoyed reading and using this year, all chosen by members of the NHBS team.

Kite APC Binoculars

My choice this year is a set of image stabilised binoculars from Kite. Having used them, it’s difficult to go back to a standard pair as they really make it very easy to focus on the wildlife and enjoy the behaviours seen instead of having to work at holding the binoculars steady. I spent many days out on boats scanning the sea for cetaceans and wished that I had had these for those trips. This is a great example of where technology is improving the ability to view wildlife accurately.
Simon – Technical Advisor

Otherlands: A World in the Making

Otherlands, the debut of Scottish palaeontologist Thomas Halliday, presents you with a series of past worlds. Though this is a non-fiction book thoroughly grounded in fact, it is the quality of the narrative that stands out. Beyond imaginative metaphors to describe extinct lifeforms, some of his reflections on deep time, taxonomy, and evolution are simply spine-tingling.
Leon – Catalogue Editor

Beak, Tooth and Claw: Why We Must Live with Predators

Beak, Tooth & Claw is my choice for this year’s staff picks as it’s an informative and thought-provoking analysis of our relationship with predators in the UK. This controversial and often highly charged debate is skillfully handled, with tales of Mary Colwell’s face to face encounters with predators as well as conversations with scientists who study them, wildlife lovers who want to protect them and the people who want to control them. I highly recommend this book for anyone who loves our predator species and wants to know more about one of the greatest challenges facing conservation today – how, when and where to control predators.
Hana – Marketing Manager

BeePot Mini Bee Hotel

The BeePot Bee Hotel has been a perfect addition to our little urban garden! The flowering plants and nesting place have encouraged solitary bees. Loss of suitable habitat is one of the main causes of pollinator decline and Green & Blue design many products that are centered around providing a home for wildlife. Not only is the BeePot beautifully and sustainably made, but it also helps support pollinators and makes a lovely gift for anyone who loves insects or gardening!
Alex – Wildlife Equipment Specialist

Dinosaur Monopoly

I bought this for my son as a present, he is obsessed with Monopoly and Dinosaurs. It is a great alternative to the traditional Monopoly and we loved the dinosaur pieces and the way you place tents and jeeps instead of houses and hotels.
Mark – Product & Purchasing Manager

Cornerstones: Wild Forces That Can Change Our World

As a biologist, I was already familiar with the theory of keystone species and the important role they have in shaping their local habitat and wider ecosystems. However, Benedict Macdonald really brings this to life in Cornerstones, offering us a beautifully descriptive view of how our country could look, should we choose to reintroduce those species that are so vital for its health and diversity. His writing perfectly blends scientific theory with visceral imagery to both inspire the mind and capture the imagination. This book left me feeling tentatively hopeful for what our small green island could once again become.
Luanne – Senior Editor

National Trust Apex Insect House

We love our National Trust Apex Insect House! About eight months ago, we installed it slap bang in the sunny middle of our orchard among trees and shrubs, and have since seen a great buzz around it. The variety of bamboo and wooden tubes in this house-shaped box, as well as the pine cones in its attic, create all kinds of dwelling for insects big and small. Here’s a tip: perseverance is key. Pop it in a nice, sheltered spot in the midst of greenery, then give it a little time and your residents will come.
Sabine – Customer Services Advisor

The Bumper Dinosaur Activity Book

This activity book was a huge hit with my son on his birthday. It’s bursting full of a range of activities that kept him occupied for ages. It’s great value for money and really good quality.
Jess – Purchasing Coordinator

Climate Challenges: COP27: A brief summary of key outcomes

The UN Climate Conference COP27 took place in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, from 6th to 18th November. Bringing together over 45,000 people from around the world, the list of delegates included indigenous peoples, local communities, civil society and world leaders, with the aim of delivering solidarity between countries and following through on commitments made in the landmark Paris Agreement.

In this post we’ll take a brief look at some of the outcomes of the conference.

Breakthrough agreement on “Loss and Damage” fund

In negotiations that went up to and beyond the official closing date of the conference, an agreement was finally made to establish a “loss and damage” fund to help those nations most at risk due to the climate crisis. Although many of the details to do with the fund have yet to be ironed out, the money is expected to go to the most vulnerable countries to assist with problems arising from droughts, flooding and other situations caused by climate change.

Commitment to limiting global temperature rise

Although the final agreement of COP27 stated “the urgent need for deep, rapid and sustained reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions” and a renewed commitment to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels as stated in the Paris Agreement, there were widespread concerns that there have been no concrete plans to cut fossil fuel emissions since COP26.

The global transformation to a low carbon economy has been estimated to require investments of USD 4–6 trillion per year. This amount would require a complete transformation of financial systems, and concerns were raised that developed countries are not yet showing signs of working together to achieve this.

World Leaders Summit

The World Leaders Summit took place over two days and involved 112 world leaders in six round table discussions. Under the general title “Together for Implementation”, these discussions were intended to break down the steps required to translate commitments into concrete and achievable action. Topics covered by these discussions included:

  • Just transition
  • Innovative finance
  • Investing in the future of energy
  • Food security
  • Water security
  • Climate change and the sustainability of vulnerable communities
The voice of youth at COP27

Children and young people were given much greater prominence at COP27, with governments being encouraged to listen to their thoughts and opinions, and incorporate their ideas in solutions and policies.

The first ever Pavilion for Children and Youth featured a lively programme of discussions, panel events, creative workshops, talks and networking, and provided a dedicated space where the voices of young activists could be heard.

Also new at COP27 was the youth-led climate forum which brought together policymakers with young representatives from the Conference of the Youth (COY17), who presented the Global Youth Statement and highlighted the topics that they wanted raising during COP27 discussions.

Other key outcomes

• The second technical dialogue of the Global Stocktake took place. The Global Stocktake aims to assess collective progress on the implementation of the Paris Agreement. The UN Secretary-General will convene a ‘climate ambition summit’ in 2023, ahead of the conclusion of the stocktake at COP28 next year.

• The Forest and Climate Leaders’ Partnership was launched, which aims to half forest loss and degradation by 2030 by uniting action by governments, business and other community leaders.

• A USD 3.1 billion plan was announced by the UN Secretary-General which would ensure that everyone on the planet is covered by early warning systems by 2027. This is particularly important for the most vulnerable communities who often have no idea that hazardous weather is on its way until it is too late.

• A 12-month masterplan was drawn up to help make cleaner energies more accessible. Involving 25 collaborative actions to be delivered in time for COP28, the plan aims to speed up decarbonisation within five key areas: power, road transport, steel, hydrogen and agriculture.


For information about last year’s COP26, check out our series of blogs on its importance, the first week update and a round up of all the major outcomes from that event and how they could affect our efforts to combat climate change, if countries and businessess stay committed. We also have a series of blogs that look at some of the toughest global climate challenges that we are currently facing.

However, climate change isn’t the only challenge the natural world is facing. Despite world-wide and on-going efforts, biodiversity is deteriorating on a global scale, with the decline projected to worsen if nothing changes. COP15, the UN Biodiversity Conference, is currently underway (7th to 19th December 2022) and aims to agree a new set of goals for nature over the next decade through the Convention on Biological Diversity post-2020 framework process. For more information on this, please check out the dedicated UN webpage.

A Short History of the Collins Bird Guide

The third edition of the popular Collins Bird Guide has arrived! With this newly published edition, we decided to take a brief look at how this highly regarded field guide came about.


Illustrated bird guides have been around in one form or another since the turn of the 20th century. It wasn’t until the post-war years, however, that they began to gain popularity, and birdwatching as a pastime became increasingly common both in the UK and farther afield. At this point, illustrated identification guides became much more available on the mass market and were no longer affordable only to the wealthier classes. 

Between the 1960s and 1990s, three field guides dominated the scene in Britain and Europe: Fitter and Richardson’s Collins Pocket Guide to British Birds, Lars Jonsson’s Birds of Europe with Africa and the Middle East and Peterson, Mountford and Hollom’s A Field Guide to the Birds of Britain and Europe. But although these books were widely used, there was an appetite among publishers for the creation of a new, definitive field guide.

In 1986, well respected identification experts Peter Grant and Lars Svensson came together to begin working on just such a thing. To illustrate the book they recruited artist Killian Mullarney from Ireland, whose painstakingly detailed work was conducted from first-hand field experience, lending it a lively and lifelike quality. Creating artwork in this way, however, proved to be a slow process, and even with the addition of another illustrator- Dan Zetterström – the book was 13 years in the making. Unfortunately, Peter Grant died in 1990, some time before its eventual publication in 1999, so he never got to see the final result.

The quality of the artwork in the Collins Bird Guide is widely regarded as the best that has ever been seen. Even with contributions from two artists, there is an unparalleled uniformity in style, and the ‘jizz’ of the birds are captured beautifully alongside their more objective characteristics. Including illustrations of the birds featured in their natural habitats in order to assist with identification was another brilliant feature. 

The book also differed from previous field guides in the clever and user-friendly layout of the pages. For the first time, all of the images and text for a species were arranged on a single spread – an obvious benefit when using the book in the field. Species were also arranged taxonomically, unlike many earlier books in which birds were grouped together based on their appearance.

The second edition of the Collins Bird Guide was published in 2010 to reflect new and revised taxonomy, and included both expanded text and additional illustrations. The third and most recent edition has now been published in hardback, with the paperback to follow in 2023. It is the opinion of many that ornithological field guides to Britain and Europe will never surpass the Collins Bird Guide in quality and scope – indeed, more than 20 years after its initial publication, it remains a stalwart member of most birdwatchers’ bookshelves. 


The third edition of the Collins Bird Guide has now been published (hardback only, paperback to follow in 2023). 

This Week in Biodiversity News – 14th November 2022

Conservation

Between 2003 and 2019, almost a quarter of Sweden’s remaining unprotected old-growth forest was logged. These rare and ecologically valuable forests are rich in biodiversity and are some of the last remaining areas where we can see how northern landscapes may have looked before humans began altering them. If logging continues at the same rate, all of these old-growth forests will be lost within the next 50 years.

Pollinators, such as bumblebees, are much less likely to land on flowers that have been sprayed with fertilisers and pesticides, as they can detect changes in the electric field around the flower. It was previously thought that the chemicals may affect the insects’ vision and sense of smell, but recent research has now proven that this is not the case. Spraying the plants with chemicals significantly reduces the amount of feeding that the bees undertake.

New discoveries

A tiny species of clam has been found at Naples Point, in southern California, that has never before been encountered in the wild. Prior to this discovery, our only knowledge of this species was from fossil records, and it was presumed to be extinct. This diminutive mollusc, described in 1937 from fossil remains as Bornia cooki, has a shell which is only 10mm wide and a bright, white-striped foot which is used for burrowing.

Climate change

A new review, published in Ecological Monographs, has warned that the effects of climate change on insects is likely to ‘drastically reduce our ability to build a sustainable future based on healthy-functional ecosystems’. Compiled by a team of 70 scientists from 19 countries, the report describes both the short- and long-term prognosis for insects as bleak, and stresses that urgent action at both a personal and policy level is required.

A new analysis from the groups Global Witness, Corporate Europe Observatory and Corporate Accountability reported that 636 fossil fuel lobbyists are registered to attend the COP27 climate talks – a figure that is up 25% from last year. This shows a worrying rise in the influence of the fossil fuel industry at these critical climate talks.

There is increasing concern that the Arctic ocean is becoming warmer and saltier due to climate change. Referred to by oceanographers as ‘spicy’ water, these increases in temperature and salinity are a problem, as they create a layer of water that tends to sit on the surface and not mix with the cooler, less salty (or ‘minty’) water below. This then impacts the formation and maintenance of sea ice.

Citizen science

Keen citizen scientists in the UK are being asked to contribute to a huge study looking at changes in mammal activity in response to climate change. The MammalWeb network, which was founded in 2013 at Durham University, will utilise images from camera traps deployed by members of the public around the country to build a comprehensive picture of the UK’s mammal populations. In doing so they hope to gain better insights into the policies and interventions that are needed the most to conserve these populations.

Research

A new technique developed at the Université de Montréal (UdeM) and the University of Minnesota will allow scientists to gain insights into how species of plant that have been preserved as dried specimens in herbaria interacted with their environment when they were living. By learning more about traits such as leaf structure, chemical composition and water content, it is hoped that more information can be gained about how plant communities have changed over time, and how we might help them to thrive in the future.

 

The NHBS Guide to UK Mosses

Mosses belong to a group of plants called bryophytes. Comprising the mosses, liverworts and hornworts, there are over 1000 species of bryophyte in Britain and Ireland, which is around 58% of the species found in the whole of Europe.

Although often overlooked, mosses are fascinating to study and are structurally both complex and elegant. When seen through a hand lens or microscope they have details that easily compare in beauty with those of their larger plant cousins.

In this article we’ll introduce you to a handful of some of the commonest and easiest to identify mosses that you will find in the UK. If you’re interested in learning more, we’ve also provided a list of excellent field guides and books at the bottom of the guide, along with some helpful links to other online resources.

Why are mosses important?

Mosses are one of the first plants to colonise bare ground. They provide important habitat for invertebrates, particularly those fond of a damp environment such as slugs and woodlice. A healthy mossy environment will also be attractive to larger animals who feed on these invertebrates, such as frogs and toads, and will provide shelter to a diverse range of microscopic organisms, including nemotodes, rotifers and tardigrades.

Mosses can hold a huge amount of water and so play a crucial role in mitigating flooding during periods of intense rainfall. Sphagnum moss in particular can absorb up to 20 times its weight in water, and is instrumental in slowing the flow of rainwater from the hills and moors and reducing the risk of flooding in downstream towns and cities.

Did you know?
  • Mosses have stems and leaves but no true roots or advanced vascular systems. This is why we only have small mosses and not ones that are the size of trees!
  • There are around 20,000 species of moss worldwide and they are found everywhere except for in the sea – even in Antarctica!
  • Unlike flowering plants, mosses produce spores rather than seeds and flowers. Spores are produced in a small capsule which grows on a long stem called a seta.
  • Mosses require damp conditions for reproduction – this is because the male cells require a film of water in order to reach the female cells and fertilise them.
Common UK mosses

Rough-stalked feather moss (Brachythecium rutabulum)

Brachythecium rutabulum. Image via Wikipedia Commons.

Also known as ‘ordinary moss’, rough-stalked feather moss is one of our most common moss species, and can be found growing widely in woodlands, lawns and at the base of hedges. It is yellow-green in colour and has branching stems with pointed oval leaves. Shoot tips are generally pale and glossy. Curved, egg-shaped capsules are frequently produced.

Common haircap (Polytrichum commune)

Polytrichum commune. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Also known as marsh hair moss, common haircap is one of our tallest species of moss and can form clumps up to 40cm in height. Found in damp, acidic areas such as heaths, bogs and moorland, it can also be found near to streams and rivers within woodland. Plants are bright green, fading to brown with age, and often grow in compact clumps. The stems are tough and wiry, and its leaves are narrow and spear-shaped. When viewed from above, each individual stem looks star-like. In the summer it produces brown, box-shaped capsules.

Swan’s-neck thyme-moss (Mnium hornum)

Mnium hornum. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Swan’s-neck thyme-moss is abundant in acidic woodland on logs, rocks and soil. It has upright stems which are 2–4cm tall, and leaves which are approximately 4mm in length with a toothed border. Frequently produces capsules on the end of 2.5–5cm long stalks. Capsules have a pointed tip.

Common tamarisk moss (Thuidium tamariscinum)

Thuidium tamariscinum. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Common tamarisk moss is very distinctive and forms loose mats of fern-like shoots which range from yellow-green to dark green. Individual leaves are triangular or heart shaped, and the stems can be green or red-brown. It forms capsules only occasionally in the autumn and winter. It commonly grows on neutral soil in woodland, hedges and damp grass.

Sphagnum moss (Sphagnum spp.)

Sphagnum capillifolium. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

There are more than 30 species of sphagnum moss in the UK and they can be very difficult to tell apart. Although each plant is small, they often grow together in dense mats to form large areas of spongy carpet. Sometimes referred to as ‘bog-mosses’, they can be beautifully multi-coloured and thrive on peat bogs, marshland, heath and moorland. They also have an important role in the formation of peat bogs.

Common striated feather-moss (Eurhynchium striatum)

Eurhynchium striatum. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Common striated feather-moss is common in lowland woodland, particularly those with a high clay soil. It often forms cushions or mats that can cover large areas. Leaves are triangular or heart-shaped with finely toothed margins and have wrinkles that run down the length of the leaf (you may need a hand lens to observe this identifying feature). Spore capsules are only occasionally present, but have a beak-shaped tip.

Recommended reading

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 on over 100 full-colour pages. Twelve flow-charts help identify species by the habitat they occur in. All proceeds from the sale of this book go directly to the conservation program of The Species Recovery Trust.

 

Mosses and Liverworts of Britain and Ireland: A Field Guide

This invaluable guide features hundreds of colour photographs and black and white drawings, both of whole plants and with distinguishing features magnified. It also includes notes on how to identify and distinguish plants from similar species, alongside distribution maps and habitat notes.

 

 

Guide to Mosses and Liverworts of Woodlands

Mosses and liverworts can form quite an extensive part of the woodland flora, carpeting the ground and covering tree trunks and branches. This guide covers seven liverworts and 16 mosses commonly found in woodlands. Photographs of plants in the wild and brief identification notes are provided to aid identification.

 

 

Moss: From Forest to Garden: A Guide to the Hidden World of Moss

In Moss you’ll discover the key moss varieties and where they can be found, as well as the cultural history of moss both as a garden plant and its uses in traditional handicrafts. Take a tour of the best moss gardens in Japan, the UK and the US, and meet people who share their passion for these plants.

 

Useful links

British Bryological Society (BBS) – The BBS supports anyone interested in the study and conservation of mosses, from the absolute beginner to the experienced researcher. They host field meetings, organise recording and research projects, and publish an academic journal as well as a popular membership magazine.

Mosses and Liverworts of Town and Garden (pdf) – This downloadable leaflet will help you to identify some of the most common species of moss and liverwort with the use of a hand lens.