Sharks are some of the most fascinating, most ecologically important, most threatened, and most misunderstood animals on Earth. In Why Sharks Matter: A Deep Dive with the World’s Most Misunderstood Predator, marine conservation biologist Dr David Shiffman explains why it’s crucial that we overcome our misconceptions and rise above cinematic jump scares to embrace sharks as the critically important species that they are.
Exploring the core tenets of shark conservation science and policy, Shiffman synthesises decades of scientific research and policymaking, weaving it into a narrative full of humour and adventure. Approachable and informative, Why Sharks Matter is perfect for shark enthusiasts, explaining why sharks are in trouble, why we should care and how we can save them.
Dr David Shiffman recently discussed his new book with us, explaining how he became fascinated with sharks, what is being done to change public opinion and why social science research is so important to shark conservation.
Firstly, could you tell us how you became fascinated with sharks and the inspiration behind this book?
I’ve loved sharks for as long as my family can remember, there are pictures of me when I was barely old enough to walk with shark t-shirts and shark toys. I think most kids go through a shark thing or a dinosaur thing, and I never grew out of mine. When I give public talks, inevitably someone will come up to me afterwards and say “I wanted to be a marine biologist when I was a kid”- and I always reply “Me too!”.
In my experience speaking to the public, I’ve realized that lots of people want to help sharks, but don’t necessarily know the most effective ways to do that. And while there are lots of shark books out there, there was nothing that comprehensively lays out the case for having healthy shark populations off our coasts, systematically reviews the different threats to shark species, and thoroughly reviews the different ways that scientists, environmentalists, and the public can help sharks. In short, I wrote the book that I always wished existed, because I know there’s a need for it.
The book does an impressive job of debunking the public image of sharks as dangerous and violent predators. Outside of your own work, what is, if anything, being done to change public opinion about sharks?
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. And I also know that it matters what people do to help, and that there are lots of things that people do while trying to help that are not really helping. I use this book as a chance to bust some myths not only about sharks as mindless killing machines, but also myths about threats to sharks and solutions to these conservation challenges. The subtitle doesn’t call them “the world’s most misunderstood predator” for nothing! In the book, I introduce readers to some of my favourite environmental non-profits who are working to educate the public and persuade policymakers that we need new and stronger laws. If you’re looking for good groups to support, I am happy to recommend them to you.
What do you think is the biggest threat to sharks and what can the average person do to help?
The science is clear on this point: the biggest threat to sharks is unsustainable overfishing, including but not limited to the shark fin trade (which many well-intentioned shark-o-philes wrongly believe is that only threat to sharks). The single most effective thing that an individual consumer can do to help not only sharks but the whole ocean is to not eat unsustainable seafood. Notice that I did not say “give up all seafood and become vegan,” because while that’s a perfectly valid personal choice, the people claiming that we all need to do this or the oceans are doomed are not telling the truth. If you, like me, love seafood, just choose to buy sustainable seafood.
You share a range of scientific tools used to monitor sharks, from eDNA to telemetry tracking, but you also highlight the importance of social science research. Why do you think this approach is important to shark conservation?
A major goal of the conservation movement is passing new laws or regulations to protect endangered species, but notably these laws do not limit what the animals can do, they only control humans. Therefore, we need to understand what humans want, what humans do, and what humans know–and these are questions that the social sciences are designed to answer.
What is your vision for the future of shark conservation? Are you hopeful or pessimistic?
I am cautiously optimistic about the future of the ocean. More people care and want to help than ever before, and if we can channel that energy into something productive, we can move mountains!
And lastly, do you have any current projects or plans for the future that you would like to tell us about?
I’m always on the move, always up to some new project. If anyone would like to follow my adventures, or to ask me anything you want to know about sharks, I invite you to follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @WhySharksMatter.
Swifts, swallows and martins are migratory birds, flying from Africa and spending their summers in the UK. They soar high and feast on the abundance of flying insects over the warmer months, truly marking the end of winter and announcing the arrival of spring and summer. Although swifts, swallows and martins share some characteristics, they are however markedly different. They are roughly similar in size and shape, which makes them difficult to discern between, especially when flying so high up. However, as you begin to look closely at their appearance, flight, nesting behaviour, and a few more key characteristics, you can begin to distinguish between them.
Below we share our top tips so you can discover which bird you have spotted. In this article we have focused on the below species; they are all common and widespread to the UK:
Common swift (Apus apus)
Barn swallow (Hirundo rustica)
Common house martin (Delichon urbicum)
Sand martin (Riparia riparia)
How to identify swifts
Swifts are amazing birds, they are the longest continually-flying bird, spending up to 10 months in the air without landing. They eat, drink, sleep, and mate while flying, only landing to breed. They are almost never seen perching.
Key identification features:
Crescent-shaped, long, curving wings
Forked tail. Much shorter and stouter than the tail of a swallow
Dark brown all over with a small pale patch on their throat, but often appears black against the sky
Screaming piercing call
When to spot them in the UK: April to September
How to identify swallows
Swallows are small colourful birds. They are known for their agility as they feed on insects while on the wing. They can be commonly found flying low to the ground over farmland and open pastures near water where there are lots of insects. In late summer they can be spotted perching together on telephone wires and power lines, readying themselves to migrate to Africa for the winter.
Key identification features:
Glossy blue upperparts, creamy-white underparts
Red throat and dark red forehead, but from a distance their whole head tends to appear just dark
Long forked tail
They tend to nest in barns, lean-tos and other outbuildings, where they build cup-shaped nests of mud
They have a chattering call
Can be seen perching on telephone wires or wire fencing
When to spot them in the UK: March to October
How to identify house martins
House martins are commonly found in towns and villages, as well as in agricultural areas. They are one of the last of our summer migrants to depart in the autumn. They only eat while on the wing, catching insects as they fly. Their mud cup nests are usually spotted below the eaves of buildings.
Key identification features:
Small birds with glossy blue-black upperparts and pure white underparts
Distinctive white rump, short forked tail and white feathers covering its legs and toes
Shorter wings than swifts or swallows
When to spot them in the UK: April to October
How to identify sand martins
Sand martins are the smallest of all the European hirundines and one of the first spring migrants to appear. They are agile fliers, feeding mainly over water and breed in colonies of up to 1000 pairs. Unique to sand martins, these birds burrow holes into sandy, dry vertical banks in sand pits and gravel pits, riverbanks, lakes, streams, railway cuttings, and incredibly in drainpipes in walls and holes in brickwork.
Key identification features:
Dark brown upperparts, with pale tipped feathers. Upper wings, tails and flight feathers are dark brown
Underparts are white with a distinctive brown band across its breast which separates the white throat from the white belly
Breast band on young sand martins is less visible and their necks and chins are a reddish brown.
Short legs and feet which are dark brown or black
Short forked tail
Tend to swirl and flap rather than glide, and can be found mainly over water
Otherlands is the exquisite portrayal of the last 500 million years of life on Earth. Palaeobiologist Thomas Halliday takes readers on an exhilarating journey into deep time, interweaving science and creative writing to bring to life the unimaginably distant worlds of Earth’s past. Each chapter is an immersive voyage into a series of ancient landscapes, throwing up mysterious creatures and the unusual landscapes they inhabit.
Thomas Halliday has kindly taken the time to answer a few questions for us below.
Could you begin by explaining what you mean by ‘otherlands’? How did your fascination with these ‘otherlands’ begin and what drew you to write about this?
The word ‘otherlands’ came about in trying to come up with a title that reflected some level of familiarity and strangeness. It falls somewhere between the idea of something being ‘otherworldly’, but also recalls ‘motherland’ – a safe, familiar home. I think all palaeobiologists, whatever subdiscipline they are part of, have the shared goal of understanding how life used to be. Biomechanists might concentrate on the engineering of a skeleton to understand the behaviours it would have been capable of, and phylogeneticists are interested in how living things are related and changed over time, but all of it adds up into a picture of past life. I’ve always been more interested in big picture, ecological questions rather than the minutiae of anatomy – as important as anatomical knowledge is – and so writing through an ecological lens made most sense to me. In essence, it’s just putting down on paper what we as a community have discovered about life at different points, which is a useful exercise in bringing together science from groups who don’t necessarily read one anothers’ papers. I can’t visit these places except through some creative process – whether that’s a painting, an animation, or text. And I can’t paint or animate.
It is a great feat of work to bring Earth’s deep past to life and to render the unseeable things seeable through prose. How did you approach such an immense task from not only a literary perspective, but a philosophical and scientific perspective too?
Every site in the book has some kind of layout in my mind. It may be known to a fairly high degree of accuracy scientifically – the extent of the playa lake in Moradi, just over 250 million years ago in what is now Niger – is sketched out in papers on that site, so we can get an estimate of how big it was, and which way the water was flowing from. In others, our knowledge is a bit more generic but I have a mental map of where the different beats take place. The line of the story in each place moves through that space, which means that I can be consistent in timing, sights and so on. I think this internal consistency of a place is essential to making it seem immersive. Most of the actual visual descriptions of the animals and plants I use, though in my own words, are no more detailed or evocative than those of other writers, so if I have managed to create a better sense of things being ‘seeable’, as you suggest, then I think that it is everything else around it that make the scene believable. If the scene has been describing the smell of a limestone cave, that colours the subsequent description of the next animal, because mentally you begin to frame it as seen while emerging into the light. We experience an environment through all our senses, and so appealing to those other aspects of reality brings out the realness of an organism.
One of the things I most appreciated about Otherlands was how you focus on landscapes, the settings that are necessary for life to evolve, versus our society’s sensationalised image of the prehistoric world that typically conjures up images of monstrous creatures. What is it that draws us to the dinosaurs compared to the often forgotten plants, fungi, invertebrates and other species?
I blame Gideon Mantell. Well, not really, but the early pioneers of popular geology at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th century drew crowds because of the enormous creatures they could put on display. The first fossil animals to be displayed in sensationalist shows were mastodons – relatives of elephants – and giant ground sloths. You have to remember that this is a pre-Darwinian time, when extinction has only recently been recognised, and when the timescale of the age of the Earth is still very much debated. They drew in the crowds with claims of antediluvian monsters from some barbaric era, and I think a lot of the popular depictions of the past have remained since then. If you think of the most influential European and American artistic works featuring palaeontology over the last – Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth, Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World, Disney’s Fantasia, all the way through the Ray Harryhausen B-movies to Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park, there’s a common thread of violence and peril, which is undoubtedly a crowd-pleasing approach but doesn’t really reflect what biology is typically like.
That doesn’t quite explain why many fossil mammals or crocodilians, for instance, are poorly known by the public. Dinosaurs do have the advantage of being typically very large compared with the biggest land animals of today – and indeed the recent past – so if you’re going into a museum it’s a lot harder to miss the big Diplodocus than the display of fossil horsetails. There is something awe-inspiring in size, but I hope that people can take the time here to recognise the wonder in the very small things that are going around. I do of course have dinosaurs in the book, but because they have been covered so extensively, I didn’t want to deal with many of the clichés. There’s a dinosaur hunting for food, sure, but it ends in failure. The big tyrannosaur has a drink and scratches off some dandruff against a tree. There’s more to dinosaurs than violence.
I was struck by the level of detail that is revealed from the fossil record, to the point that we can know the presence of different types of insects based on the distinct ways in which they damage leaves. As you collated such an array of research for the book, were there any particular findings that captivated your imagination the most?
One piece of information that I really enjoyed learning about, just because of the implications throughout, was one that I picked up at a conference talk (and which has since been peer reviewed and published). Oviraptorosaurs are a group of dinosaurs that have been associated with nests for a long time. The name means ‘egg thief reptiles’ because it was initially assumed that they were eating the eggs, but more and more finds have accrued, including of parents sitting on the nests at the time of burial, that show that these are their own nests that they are caring for. We can reconstruct how the nests were built based on the arrangement of eggs and the nest mound – a ring of eggs was laid, and then buried, and another ring later added. But what is wholly remarkable is that we can chemically analyse the eggshells even now, and identify different isotopic ratios of calcium in each layer. The isotopic pattern is a sort of chemical signature that is tied to the individual mother that provided the raw material for the eggshell. What this means is that each nest contains the eggs of more than one mother. There are a couple of possible explanations for this, but the best modern example of communal nesting like this is in ostriches, where a single male builds and guards each nest, and several females lay eggs in the same nest. In ostriches, the males then rear the chicks once hatched – I don’t go so far as to claim this for oviraptorosaurs, as this could only be speculation, but I think the best examples of fossil record detail are those where a preserved detail of chemistry opens up a whole trove of behavioural implication.
Scientist Robert H. Cowie writes: “Humans are the only species capable of manipulating the biosphere on a large scale. We are not just another species evolving in the face of external influences. In contrast, we are the only species that has conscious choice regarding our future and that of Earth’s biodiversity.” Speaking to this, how can our current epoch defined by destructive human influence be compared to these past worlds, and what lessons might be learned?
Our epoch is known as the Holocene, and makes up the last 11,700 years of geological time. Human environmental influence extends past the beginning of the Holocene, but recently it has been both accelerating and fundamentally changing in type. With deep ocean dredging and drilling, we are disturbing ecosystems that had until now never encountered us, plastic is pervading every part of the biosphere, we are altering the atmosphere globally, and our consumption of resources has boomed. When we look to the past, we find a few occasions when some similar traits can be observed. New chemicals in an environment – from oxygen in the single-celled earth of the Proterozoic to wood in the Carboniferous – have disturbed the balance of the world, but ultimately incorporated in fundamental processes. The Great Oxygenation Event is widely suggested to have caused a turnover in microbial communities as those oxygen-intolerant species retreated to environments this new toxic gas could not reach. The delay between the origin of wood and the development of lignin-digesting bacteria has been suggested as a reason for the preponderance of peat forming swamps in the Carboniferous, although this is disputed. Whatever the reason, the laying down of peat – and then coal – changed the atmosphere radically, which led to greater aridity worldwide, ultimately destroying the suitable environment for the very trees that had caused that change. But the biggest effect we are having is that of disturbance, and for that we have to look to mass extinction events for parallels. Earth has existed in all kinds of climatic states over its history, but mass extinctions have occurred during times of sudden transition. From the end-Ordovician, when glaciers rapidly advanced and retreated from the poles, to the end-Permian, when unfathomably large volcanic eruptions deoxygenated the oceans and threw greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, to the end-Cretaceous, when the aftermath of a meteorite impact darkened the skies for years, rapid change is typically bad. Although life eventually returns, it can take millions of years, and the species that thrive afterwards are rarely those that had thrived before.
Our effects are often extreme and rapid, and part of the problem is that they are done with a short-term mindset. Some human modifications – such as the pre-Columbian cultivation of the Amazon rainforest, the development of clam gardens, or well-managed meadowlands – have increased diversity locally, and are sustainable in the long term. 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. But, looking to the past, it is clear what the consequence of destructive behaviours is. This is the Earth we live in, and we are part of this world, but worlds can change in a moment.
This book is a timely reminder of the impermanence of life on Earth, evocatively revealing the fragility of our existence. As a researcher of the past, what do you see for our future?
People often assume that I might answer this question in terms of biology of life after humanity, or of the evolutionary direction humans are heading in. Although speculation can be fun, I don’t think that’s a useful way of thinking, because as Earth history shows us, the broad strokes of biology will remain the same. There will always be the same patterns of energy flow through ecosystems, and amazing adaptations to environments so complex that to form any predictions of the truly long term is futile. But we must think ahead to our immediate future. Nobody is suggesting that humankind will become extinct any time soon – we are too generalist, too adaptable to any environment to suffer that kind of loss. But that doesn’t mean that people, societies, cultures will not suffer under the environmental change that is already underway. And of course, portraying climate change as something that is future is itself untrue; we have been feeling the effects of climate change for decades already, especially those of us in low-lying island nations, those prone to storms, or dependent on seasonal ice. The effects will continue to accrue and to spread, but I remain optimistic that we will do what needs to be done – cease extraction of fossil fuels, move to a less all-consuming society, and support less wealthy countries in improving quality of life through renewable energy rather than repeat the errors we have repeatedly made. I am optimistic, and hopeful, but it is not something that will just happen. I see hard work, and that it will be entirely worth it.
In The Secret Perfume of Birds, evolutionary biologist Danielle Whittaker reveals how she came to dispel the widespread myth that birds cannot smell. Mixing science, history and memoir writing, Whittaker offers a humorous and compelling narrative to describe how birds smell and how scent is important for all animals. The book offers readers a rare opportunity to witness the unfolding journey of scientific research and the surprising discoveries it can make.
Danielle kindly agreed to answer some of our questions below.
How did you find yourself studying the science of avian scent?
I was originally studying how birds might choose their mates on the basis of certain immune genes, following the idea that animals could prefer mates with different genes than their own, leading to offspring with stronger immune systems. I was struggling to sequence these genes, and I complained to a colleague who happened to be studying bird brains. He said, “I don’t know why you’d study that in birds – information about those genes is sensed by smell, and birds don’t have much of a sense of smell.” I had never heard that before, and the idea that a whole group of animals would lack such an important sense seemed absurd to me. So, I started investigating.
The idea that birds lack a sense of smell has persisted for more than a century despite being disproved by yourself and others. How did you navigate tackling long-held assumptions in the scientific community?
I conducted rather slow, incremental research, following where the questions led me. 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, and soon more people started researching bird smells!
I found the most fascinating part of your research to be the discovery that bird scents are linked to their microbiomes. How did you come to look into bacteria and could you expand on their important role?
When I first talked about my research with my now-collaborator Kevin Theis, he looked at the list of compounds I had found in bird odours and said, “those types of compounds are by-products of microbial metabolism. Have you looked at whether symbiotic bacteria are producing these odours?” I had never thought about that possibility before! Kevin studied the bacteria in hyena scent glands and how they produce the odours used by hyenas when they scent mark. Kevin and I teamed up to study the question in birds and we found out that he was right.
In this book, you demonstrated the importance of scent in bird reproduction. I wonder if human-related impacts on our environment are influencing changes to the unique scents of different species, with consequences for their reproductive success – is there any current research being done on this?
I am hoping to look at whether adapting to living in urban environments has affected the microbiome, and thus the scent, of bird populations compared to their non-urban counterparts. It’s very interesting to think about the long term consequences of such changes, but I don’t think there is much research about that yet in any animal.
Your work focuses on the dark-eyed junco, a bird commonly seen in North America. Is there a particular reason why you chose to study this species and do you have any plans to study other birds in this way?
I was a postdoc in Dr. Ellen Ketterson’s lab at Indiana University, and she has maintained a long-term study of dark-eyed juncos for many years. I quickly found that juncos were very easy to work with, and I appreciate that, in many ways, their biology and behavior makes them ‘typical’ northern hemisphere songbirds – which means they are a good model for understanding lots of bird species. I have studied odours in other species as well, in particular the lance-tailed manakin in Panamá. I am always interested in new birds!
Where will your research take you next? Do you have any plans for further books?
Right now, I’m interested in how social behavior changes animal microbiomes through bacteria sharing, and how that might affect odours. I’m also interested in looking at how microbiomes and odours have changed in urban populations of juncos. Beyond my junco research, my professional life has taken yet another unexpected turn, and I am transitioning to a new job as managing director of the Centre for Oldest Ice Exploration (COLDEX) at Oregon State University, where they study Antarctic ice cores to learn about ancient climate change. Maybe I’ll get to visit Antarctica and write about my new adventures!
We are delighted to announce Helm as our Publisher of the Month for February 2022. Helm has published some of the most loved and authoritative bird books in the world in the last 30 years. Starting with Seabirds in 1983, the Helm imprint has expanded the Helm Identification Guides series into a hallmark of ground-breaking identification guides to the birds of the world. Their works also include the Helm Field Guides, Helm Photographic Guides, and the growing Where to Watch Birds series.
This guide to the feathers of Europe’s birds covers more than 400 species, with an innovative key allowing for exceptionally precise identification by colour as well as feather structure and shape. Collection and conservation methods, locations of feathers on the bird, and identification and description of the feathers of species are clearly explained and richly illustrated.
Vagrancy, the appearance of birds outside their normal home range, has fascinated naturalists for centuries. This monograph explores what drives this phenomenon and charts its occurrence across bird families.
The legendary Moult and Ageing of European Passerines returns in a completely revised second edition. Next to updates and improvements, 16 new species records have been added for a total of 74. This is the must-have reference for bird ringers and ornithologists, and a sublime book for readers interested in feathers.
In the making for some twenty years, this English-language guide to Argentina includes coverage of offshore islands. With 1075 species fully illustrated and described, this spectacular book includes 199 superb colour plates by some of the world’s foremost artists, with concise identification text on facing pages. There are also detailed maps for every species included with the main text. The coverage includes the islands of the South Atlantic, such as the Falklands.
This unique and spectacular handbook set is the most complete and comprehensive photographic guide to the passerines of the Western Palearctic. It contains the most up-to-date information available on bird identification covering all aspects of plumage, moult, ageing and sexing, with sections on voice and other identification criteria, and detailed taxonomic notes, backed up by a remarkable collection of more than 5,000 photographs.
This latest addition to the Helm Wildlife Guides series provides photographic coverage of more than 300 species regularly seen in this region, with concise text for each species including identification, calls, behaviour, distribution and habitat. This pocket-sized guide also contains 400 carefully selected colour photos.
This is the ultimate flight-identification guide to Western Palearctic raptors. It covers 60+ species, and goes to subspecific level wherever needed. It includes stunning images, most of which have never been published before, as well as thorough text covering every plumage and age in breathtaking detail.
This comprehensive field guide covers all of the species recorded in Chile, including vagrants. Concise species accounts describe key identification features, status, range, habitat and voice, supported by accurate distribution maps and 88 colour illustrations in superb detail.
All prices correct at the time of this article’s publication.
This festive season, why not consider giving a gift that will also support your local wildlife. Wildlife populations in the UK are facing serious threats and many species are in decline, however there are ways in which we can protect and help at-risk species by creating havens for wildlife in our own gardens. At NHBS we sell a range of products, from bird feeders to hedgehog houses, that can both bring joy to the recipient and benefit wildlife at the same time. We’ve put together a selection of some of our favourite items for you to browse below.
Many bird species are struggling to find enough suitable natural nesting sites in the modern environment, but a bird box will provide a warm, sheltered substitute, with protection from most types of predators, helping to improve the chances of breeding success.
The National Trust Apex Insect House is an ideal addition to any wildlife friendly garden. With a variety of shelter types, it offers a perfect habitat for important invertebrates such as lacewings, ladybirds, and even some butterflies.
Bee Bricks are made in Cornwall in England using the waste material from the Cornish China clay industry. They provide much needed nesting space for solitary bee species such as red mason bees and leafcutter bees, both of which are non-aggressive.
The Defender Feeder’s metal construction is tough, long lasting and offers excellent protection from squirrel damage. The feeder is available with two, four or six feeding ports, each with a perching ring that allows birds to feed in a natural, forward facing position.
Pelagic Publishing was founded in 2010 to fill the publishing gap in practical books available on ecology and conservation, aiming to encourage best-practice in research techniques and highlight the use of technology in wildlife exploration. They publish books for scientists, conservationists, ecologists, wildlife enthusiasts – anyone with a passion for understanding and exploring the natural world. Their books cover ecological survey and evolutionary biology to natural history dictionaries and environmental statistics. We are delighted to announce Pelagic Publishing as our Publisher of the Month for November and December 2021.
Wild Mull guides the reader through the world of the Isle of Mull in its glory, considering every facet of the island’s natural history, diverse species and stories of past, present and future. With superb illustrations and illuminating text, Wild Mull is testimony to the power of wild places and the duty we have to protect and learn from them.
Providing an identification guide to bat echolocation calls for all 44 European bat species, Jon Russ has collaborated with over 40 contributors to make this book the definitive resource for bat conservationists and enthusiasts around Europe.
This comprehensive photographic field guide is the first complete guide to identifying Harlequin ladybirds found in Britain and Ireland. It also covers all the other 25 conspicuous ladybird species that occur. This clear, user-friendly field guide is ideal for anyone interested in learning how to identify a Harlequin ladybird.
An essential guide to those surveying for water voles, this guide is chock-full of practical advice and field photos. This guide provides detailed descriptions of all the habitats used by water voles, including less typical habitats, with annotated photos to help the surveyor home in on just the right areas to look.
Written by one of the world’s leading pollination ecologists, Pollinators & Pollination provides an introduction to what pollinators are, how their interactions with flowers have evolved, and the fundamental ecology of these relationships. The author also provides practical advice on how individuals and organisations can study, and support, pollinators.
Ian Carter, lifelong naturalist and a former bird specialist at Natural England, sets out to uncover the intricacies of the relationship between humans and nature. In a direct, down-to-earth style he explains some of the key practical, ethical and philosophical problems we must navigate as we seek to reconnect with nature.
Winner of the 2020 Wainwright Prize for Writing on Global Conservation, Rebirding was written as the first book with actual solutions for how beautiful and profitable the UK’s countryside could one day look. Rebirding describes why the impending extinction of our cuckoos, turtle doves and honey-bees is entirely avoidable – Britain has all the space it needs for an epic wildlife recovery.
All prices correct at the time of this article’s publication.
We love looking back at our bestsellers from the month before and are very excited to share our Top 10 list for October.
This month we have a range of exciting new bestsellers to share with you, including Wild Mull and the recently published Nests, as well as several popular titles you may recognise from previous Top 10s, such as Seabirds and Silent Earth.
Wild Mull: A Natural History of the Island and its people | stephen littlewood Paperback | October 2021
In top place this month is Wild Mull, Stephen Littlewood’s stunning portrayal of the island’s natural history. Now a resident of the Isle of Mull, Littlewood takes the reader on a journey, exploring every facet of the island’s natural history, rich biodiversity and stories of past, present and future. With superb illustrations and illuminating text, Wild Mull is testimony to the power of wild places and the duty we have to protect and learn from them.
Europe’s Birds: an identification guide | rob hume et al. Flexibound | October 2021
From the highly acclaimed WILDGuides team comes Europe’s Birds, the most comprehensive, authoritative and ambitious single-volume photographic guide to Europe’s birds ever produced. Birdwatchers of any ability will benefit from the clear text, details on range, status and habitat and an unrivalled selection of photographs. Chosen to be as naturalistic and informative as possible, the images are also stunning to look at, making this a beautiful book to enjoy, as well as an up-to-date and essential source of identification knowledge.
NESTS| susan ogilvy
Hardback | October 2021
Nests by Susan Ogilvy is an exquisite collection of live-size watercolour paintings that gives one a renewed appreciation of the humble bird’s nest. Her life-size paintings brings to life the various common materials used, including twigs, roots, grasses, reeds, leaves, moss, lichen, hair, feathers and even cobwebs. Few modern books exist specifically on the subject of bird nests, making Ogilvy’s work all the more precious.
Entangled life: how fungi make our worlds, change our minds and shape our futures | merlin sheldrake Paperback | September 2021
Winner of the 2021 Wainwright Prize for Writing on Global Conservation, Entangled Life is a truly mind-altering and perspective-shifting book on fungi. In this insightful book, biologist and writer Merlin Sheldrake introduces the spectacular world of fungi and how it has shaped and continues to influence the world we live in.
British moths: a gateway guide | James Lowen Spiralbound| September 2021
British Moths: A Gateway Guide is a wonderful introduction to 350 species of the most common and eye-catching adult moths that you may encounter in the UK. Rather than being grouped in taxonomic order, species are organised by season, and similar-looking moths are placed alongside one another for ease of identification. This is the perfect companion for anyone wanting to learn more about these beautiful and remarkable insects.
A Field Guide to the plants of armenia | tamar galstyan Hardback | July 2021
A Field Guide to the Plants of Armeniais a remarkable and significant contribution to the literature of the region. After travelling the length and breadth of her diverse native country, Tamar Galstyan brings together more than 1000 plants in this essential companion. Spectacular photos bring the plants vividly to life, and each entry includes a full plant description to aid identification and an accompanying distribution map.
seabirds: the new identification guide | Peter harrison et al. Hardback | June 2021
Seabirds: The New Identification Guide, a 600-page treatment to all known seabird species, including recently rediscovered and rarely seen species. It is the first comprehensive guide to the world’s seabirds to be published since Harrison’s Seabirds in 1983. This guide contains 239 brilliant, full-colour plates, along with detailed text covering status, conservation, geographic range and more.
Silent Earth: Averting the Insect Apocalypse | Dave Goulson Hardback | August 2021
Silent Earthis part love letter to the insect world, part elegy, and part rousing manifesto for a greener planet. Drawing on the latest ground-breaking research and a lifetime of study, Silent Earth reveals the shocking decline of insect populations that has taken place in recent decades, with potentially catastrophic consequences.
British Craneflies | alan stubbs Hardback| July 2021
British Cranefliesis a guide to the identification and natural history of 250 species in six families of cranefly. It describes the distribution and habitat of each one, with 128 pages of identification keys illustrated with thumbnail drawings and colour plates showing the markings and wing venation of 180 species. This guide also contains photographic examples of some distinctive and common craneflies, illustrations of the male genitalia for all species of Tipulidae and for most genera of other families, as well as introductory chapters including a full account of the enemies of craneflies.
Secrets of a devon wood: my nature journal | jo brown Hardback | October 2021
Secrets of a Devon Wood is a hymn to the intricate beauty of the natural world. Artist and illustrator Jo Brown started keeping her nature diary in a bid to document the small wonders of the wood behind her home in Devon. This book is an exact replica of her original black Moleskin journal, a rich illustrated memory of Jo’s discoveries in the order in which she found them.
The Species Recovery Trust is devoted to preventing the loss of some of the rarest plant, insect and animal species in the UK, with their primary aim being to remove 50 species from the edge of extinction by 2050. With a team of highly skilled conservationists and passionate volunteers, the Species Recovery Trust has been doing targeted recovery work for the past 10 years, and many species are now showing an increase in their population numbers for the first time in decades.
We spoke to Dominic Price at the Species Recovery Trust about how the trust is working to save some of the most endangered species in the UK, some of their success stories, the challenges they face as a charity with COVID-19 and how you can get involved and support their work.
Could you introduce the Species Recovery Trust to us and summarise your main goals as a charity?
The Species Recovery Trust was founded in 2012 with the goal of saving some of the UK’s most endangered species. We cover a small number of species but base our work on a 30-year workplan, allowing us to plan work decades ahead, and start these species on the long and often slow road to full recovery. Our broader goal has been to develop the most cost effective way of doing this long term work, generating as much of our funds as possible through our own commercial activities (training and consultancy) which would allow us to de-couple from the larger funding streams and sustain the work, however bleak the funding climate may become.
One of your main aims is to remove 50 species from the edge of extinction in the UK by the year 2050. How did you choose which of the 900+ UK species that are currently under threat were the most critical to focus on?
With some difficulty! In essence we started with the IUCN red list and worked our way down from the top. It soon became clear that with certain species, like Atlantic Halibut, we were unlikely to be able to do much from our bases in the English countryside, so we started to focus in on terrestrial species with a limited distribution, and by researching the ecology for those we could see which species were likely to respond well to the sort of onsite habitat restoration work we specialise in. There was obviously a fairly significant political element, in not wanting to tread on any toes of people who were already carrying out established work. So there was much dialogue with other small NGOs and from there discovering the main species that have fallen through the gaps of others work. We currently work on 22 species and have three in development, so still have vacancies for another 25!
There were times when it can be deeply depressing looking at the Red List, with the sheer amount on there, but we knew we would always be a small player and it was just a case of picking a handful and then making sure we did the best possible job to save them, while trying not to feel too despondent about the current mass extinction and the number of species likely to be caught up in that.
What key environmental policy changes do you think would have the biggest impact on preventing species extinctions in the UK?
After 20 years of working in the sector I’m not the biggest fan on policy changes. When I started, the Biodiversity Action Plan (UKBAP) was the big driver. Borne out of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit it was an ambitious and hugely exciting bit of work to be involved in. It then started to become clear that the vast majority of targets would be missed, but instead of examining why this happened and putting more resources into it, it was left to quietly die a death, and over the years has been replaced by a whole new raft of policies and goals. I know there’s people doing amazing work in Whitehall to keep lobbying and campaigning for better policies, but I feel for us as a charity the most meaningful work we do tends to be out in the field, with either a quadrat or a pair of loppers. It’s important to keep your eye on the bigger picture, but sometimes the best place to be is very much on the coalface in the exact location where these species are dying out. This has been also been a personal decision for the members of the team, as we all feel we’re at our best doing fieldwork and not stuck behind a computer!
The work of the Species Recovery Trust is obviously ongoing, but what would you consider to be your biggest success story so far?
When we started working on Starved Wood-sedge there were just 32 plants at two sites left in the wild. I had previously been involved with this species through Plantlife’s Back from the Brink programme and knew how perilously close we were to losing this plant from the UK (it went extinct in Ireland in the 1990s and is not faring too well in Europe). After eight years we now have four sites, and over 330 plants – it is still not ‘saved’ but it’s well away from the brink of extinction. Another great moment was when we took on the management of the last known site in Hampshire for Heath Lobelia. We spent three days with work groups clearing scrub off the site, thinking the most likely scenario was to repair the habitat with a view of one day re-introducing plants, and the following summer 660 plants came up where the seedbank had been regenerated. Sadly, following this disturbance the population has dropped back down to 40, reminding us that a species conservationist’s work is rarely done!
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected individuals, communities and organisations in a myriad of unforeseen ways. How have you been challenged this year and how have you coped with these challenges?
One of our strengths as a charity has been that we draw over half our funding from running training courses. It’s the best money as we can spend it on what we want when we want with no deadlines or funding reports, and if you book onto one of our courses your booking fee could be put to use within a week hiring contractors to manage a site, or paying the mileage for a volunteer to monitor a network of sites. We did have a contingency fund in case one year we couldn’t run as many courses, but never predicated a scenario where we had to cancel every single one of them, so this has obviously hit us hard. However, we are extremely lucky in that when we set the charity up we always tried to keep our running costs to virtually zero; we already all work from home and all of us do other jobs alongside our work for the trust, so in 2020 we were able to effectively batten down the hatches and with the additional help of the amazing furlough scheme we have managed to stay afloat. We’ve also had some incredible support from charitable trusts like the Halpin Trust and Hennock Law Trust, which has been a lifeline in these difficult times. But at this time no one is sure if training courses will be able to happen in 2021, and there are now so many charities desperately competing for the remaining funding sources, so uncertain times lie ahead.
Are there different ways that people can get involved with and support the Species Recovery Trust? (e.g. options for those with spare money but little time and vice versa).
We are always looking for species monitors – people who take on a site, preferably close to where they live or go on holiday and can do species counts for us each year, and lots of people gain a huge amount of satisfaction of being the person to keep these sites going. If you purchase a copy of the Field Guide to Grasses, Sedges and Rushes (and the hopefully forthcoming Field Guide to Bryophytes) 100% of the profit goes directly to our work. Alternatively, if you’re feeling generous you can sign up as a paid supporter (there’s a free option too) and you’ll get updates of all our work, as well as knowing your money is going straight to saving some of our rarest plants and animals.
You can find out more about the Species Recovery Trust from their website and by following them on Facebook and Twitter.
Buglife is the only organisation in Europe devoted to the conservation of all invertebrates. Invertebrates are currently facing an extinction crisis.
Today, thousands of invertebrate species are declining and many are heading towards extinction. Worldwide 150,000 species could be gone by 2050 if we do nothing. We spoke to Paul Hetherington at Buglife about the work they are doing to stop the extinction of invertebrates.
Can you tell us a little bit about the history of Buglife and what you consider to be your main goals?
The conservation movement grew during the 1990s, but there was no organisation specialising in invertebrates. This was brought sharply into focus by the creation of the UK Biodiversity Action Plan in 1994, when no organisation existed to fly the flag for invertebrates – to make sure their conservation needs were being looked after. A Feasibility Committee was established to look at the details of setting up an invertebrate conservation body, and ‘A Statement of Need for a New Organisation’ was produced. Twenty of the leading conservation organisations (including the RSPB and Wildlife Trusts) acknowledged that the conservation movement lacked a major spokesman for invertebrate conservation, and welcomed the establishment of one. The result was the foundation of Buglife in 2000, the only organisation in Europe devoted to the conservation of all invertebrates.
Buglife’s aim is to halt the extinction of invertebrate species and to achieve sustainable populations of invertebrates.
We are working hard to achieve this through:
– Promoting the environmental importance of invertebrates and raising awareness about the challenges to their survival.
– Assisting in the development of legislation and policy that will ensure the conservation of invertebrates.
– Developing and disseminating knowledge about how to conserve invertebrates.
– Encouraging and supporting invertebrate conservation initiatives by other organisations in the UK, Europe and worldwide.
– Undertaking practical conservation projects that will contribute to achieving our aim.
In an ideal world where funding for conservation was limitless, what would be your top priorities for ensuring the survival of invertebrates and rectifying the damage that has been done to their populations and habitats?
Putting connectivity back into the landscape. Invertebrates are suffering from a plethora of issues: habitat loss, pesticides and herbicides, climate change, isolation of habitat. Connecting up the remaining good habitat is the single most important change for invertebrates as they can escape natural or human made disaster where they live and can migrate to avoid extreme climate change. This is the principle behind Buglife’s B-Lines project that has plotted a route for connectivity between the best remaining invertebrate habitats across the UK.
On your website you feature the famous quote by David Attenborough that concludes with the terrifying line: “…if the invertebrates were to disappear, the world’s ecosystems would collapse.” Do you think that in general we still place too much emphasis on saving what is often referred to as the ‘charismatic megafauna’ and do not value the smaller animals and plants that are the backbone and life support of our world?
A look at how money is invested in saving species reveals that larger mammals are by far the biggest beneficiaries at over £60 per species whilst invertebrates the worst funded at under 6 pence per species. A sad reflection on how humans fail to understand that if we don’t look after the small creatures the big ones will disappear too, bottom-up conservation has far more likelihood of long term sustainability. Yes, tigers and similar have cute cuddly eyes but without invertebrates the food chains that they depend on would collapse and with them the megafauna would go too. Too often we take the invertebrates for granted as something that is just there, small and ‘insignificant’ forgetting that in reality they are small but irreplaceable foundations for the whole web of life that supports the megafauna and people too.
2020 has been an extremely challenging year for most individuals and organisations. How has the pandemic affected Buglife and the work that you are doing?
The Covid pandemic has had a massive impact upon all of us and Buglife have had to be extremely careful with project organisation and financial controls, to ensure that vital conservation work has been delivered safely and that our staff resource has been retained in gainful employment. Ways of working have changed with the closure of offices and a shift to home working for all made possible through recent investment in new IT systems. Most engagement activities have shifted from face to face to online platforms as have meetings to influence policy and media. Some of these enforced changes are likely to have a long term beneficial outcome in reducing our organisational carbon footprint and finding new ways of delivering training and engagement that can reach larger audiences. A few of the impacts have meant works being delayed a year such as surveys for specific invertebrates that are only around for short periods. It should also be recognised that new ways of working can place extra burden on staffing resources as meetings flow on without breaks so we have also looked to bring in external supports for staff when needed. The biggest negative impact has been the closure of most project funders to new applications over the pandemic, making it impossible to establish all the new projects hoped for in 2021.
What would you consider to be your greatest success as a charity?
This is a really tough question as over the last 20 years Buglife has achieved saving many sites for invertebrates from developments, banning extremely harmful chemicals, persuading governments to adopt pollinator strategies, but for sheer scale, B-Lines mapping completed across the entire UK has got to be the number one achievement, as there is now a route map for future interventions to ensure the long term survival of the small things that run the planet.
Finally, for anyone inspired to get involved in invertebrate conservation, how would you recommend that they do this?
Practical experience of conservation work is as important as qualifications, a sound knowledge of a few groups of invertebrates is a great extra to have but equally important is experience of public engagement, volunteer leadership and above all else an ability to multitask.
You can find out more about Buglife and the work they do from their website and by following them on Facebook and on Twitter