The FSC’s range of identification charts are designed to assist nature enthusiasts with identifying and naming the fauna and flora they find. The first fold-out identification chart, The Woodland Name Trail was produced in 1994 and, since then, these guides have become the FSC’s best-selling publications.
In 1976 The ‘AIDGAP’ (Aids to Identification in Difficult Groups of Animals and Plants) project was started, with the aim of producing user-friendly and reliable field guides which would make identification achievable for those with little taxonomic training.
RES Handbooks for the Identification of British Insects
In 2004 the FSC started working with the Royal Entomological Society to publish their Handbook series. The aim of these handbooks is to provide illustrated identification keys to the insects of Britain, together with concise morphological, biological and distributional information. These comprehensive books are primarily aimed at experienced users.
The FSC also publishes Atlases on behalf of the Biological Records Centre (part of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology). Suitable for more experienced users, these atlases map the distribution of records within Great Britain and Ireland for named groups of animals.
Synopses of the British Fauna
In 1991 the FSC formed a partnership with the Linnean Society of London to publish their Synopses of the British Fauna series. The first Synopses FSC published was Woodlice (now out of print) and since then, over 60 additional volumes have been published.
A busy publishing year for the Field Studies Council
Bloomsbury Wildlife is home to many of our most knowledgeable, eloquent and passionate nature writers. Naturalists, ecologists and academics alike are sure to find something engaging among their extensive range of natural history titles. Alongside the excellent and rapidly growing British Wildlife Collection and the beautifully illustrated and meticulously researched Wildlife Guides, they also offer fantastic nature writing and practical advice on how to make a garden more wildlife friendly.
Field Guide to the Caterpillars of Great Britain and Ireland
By: Barry Henwood, Phil Sterling, Richard Lewington
Paperback | March 2020 | £29.99£34.99
This beautifully illustrated addition to the Bloomsbury Wildlife Guides covers caterpillars of the moth and butterfly species most likely to be encountered in the British Isles.
The Brilliant Abyss
By: Helen Scales
Hardback | Due March 2021 | £13.99£16.99
Tells the story of our relationship with the deep sea – how we explore and exploit it. Helen considers humanity’s advancing impacts on the deep, including mining and pollution, and what we can do about them.
The Pocket Book of Bird Anatomy
By: Marianne Taylor
Flexibound | May 2020 | £12.99£15.99
This excellent RSPB guide to bird anatomy looks at the avian body, system by system, and studes how it evolved and how it functions.
The Missing Lynx
By: Ross Barnett
Paperback | July 2020 | £8.99£10.99
Palaeontologist John Russ explores the animals that disappeared from Britain after the last Ice Age, and the potential for reintroduction.
Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britain and Ireland By: Steven Falk and Richard Lewington (Illustrator)
Paperback | Feb 2015 | £29.99£34.99
A beautifully illustrated and comprehensive introduction to bee classification, ecology, field techniques and recording. Includes a full glossary and information on how to separate the sexes and distinguish bees from other insects.
Bats of Britain and Europe
By: Christian Dietz and Andreas Kiefer
Paperback | Sept 2018 | £23.99£29.99
This concise and definitive guide presents all 45 bat species that regularly occur in Europe (of which 17 are known to breed in the British Isles)
The Butterflies of Britain & Ireland
By: Jeremy A Thomas and Richard Lewington
Paperback | June 2014 |£19.99£24.99
Provides comprehensive coverage of all our resident and migratory butterflies, including information on recently discovered species. This definitive book on the subject includes detailed distribution maps.
Field Guide to the Dragonflies of Britain and Europe By: Klaas-Douwe B Dijkstra, Asmus Schröter and Richard Lewington
Paperback | Oct 2020 | £19.99£24.99 Hardback | Oct 2020 | £33.99£39.99 Fully revised, the second edition of this guide features updated taxonomic and distribution information, as well as five new species discovered since the first edition in 2006.
British Moths: A Photographic Guide to the Moths of Britain and Ireland By: Chris Manley
Hardback | Due June 2021 | £37.99£44.99 The most comprehensive collection of photographs of British moths ever published. This third edition has been significantly expanded so that it includes all species on the British list.
Heathlands are so much more than simply purple carpets of heather. They are ancient landscapes found throughout Britain that support a complex network of inter-related species and an immense diversity of habitats. They also possess a unique human history defined by the struggle between pastoralism and the competing demands of those who seek exclusive use of the land.
In this latest addition to the British Wildlife Collection, Clive Chatters introduces us to Britain’s heathlands and has kindly taken some time to answer some questions concerning this important habitat.
Heathland might mean different things to different people; how did you go about defining ‘heathland’?
Heathlands defy ready definition. The diverse places that we call heaths are cultural landscapes which are overlain with the language of ecology. It is unnecessary to reconcile these different perspectives as both traditions offer a path to understanding what makes our heathlands special.
Heathlands are one of a handful of British landscapes that have been recognised by English- speaking people for as long as we have had a written history. Sadly, many of the places that early ecologists were describing had already been depleted of much of their diversity and wonder.
This book seeks to challenge those narrow definitions and to promote an understanding of heathland that would be familiar to our forebears, as well as respecting the experience of modern people whose livelihoods are bound up with the heath.
Literature and historical accounts have addressed heaths: these landscapes can also be found in literary works, in poems and romanticised histories. When did their ecological value start to be recognised?
There is a remarkable body of literature surviving from medieval England, with many references to heathlands. Narrative poems that pre-date the Norman conquest give us an indication of how heaths were viewed by Anglo-Scandinavian story-tellers.
Heathlands at the end of the Tudor period were places where people could gather on the margins of settled society and by the seventeenth century there are the beginnings of natural histories that go beyond the enumeration of commonable livestock or illusory wild beasts. The antiquarian John Aubrey gives an account of a lichen heath in his Natural History of Wiltshire. Herbalist, Thomas Johnson published two accounts of the flora of Hampstead Heath, which include over 120 flowering plants. By tabulating a sample of these records, and ordering them by habitat association, we can gain an insight into the character of a Southern Heath in the early seventeenth century.
Throughout history there has been people who have valued heaths as a source of their livelihood. It was not until the early twentieth century that ecologists started to describe heaths and then it took many more decades before their importance to nature conservation has been expressed by conservationists. In the meantime, we have lost so much of the diversity and wonder in British heaths. What my book sets out to do is explore those riches and consider what has sustained them, where they persist.
What are your primary hopes and fears for the long-term future of Britain’s Heathland?
It is not inevitable that the catastrophic losses of the recent past are the destiny of our remaining heaths. Whilst there are still significant challenges to overcome, we know enough about these habitats to secure their place in the countryside of the future, as an integral part of British culture and home to a wealth of species that occupy ecosystems of immense richness.
If we are to rejuvenate heathland as a commonplace element in the British countryside, then we need to be comfortable with knowing what successful rehabilitation looks like. The wildlife of our richest heaths is the fortuitous by-product of millennia of pastoral farming. Over the span of human history, it has been pastoralism that has provided continuity for ecological processes pre-dating agriculture and reaching back into evolutionary time.
If we are to have working heathland landscapes, with all the advantages they bring, then the pastoralists will need to be properly funded and rewarded.
A successful heathland needs to have scale. Heathlands are landscapes that can be remarkably robust in delivering the multiple objectives that we ask of them, but they must be measured in multiples of square kilometres rather than in tens of hectares. We need not be shy about seeking to create a new generation of heaths that are large enough to serve the needs of nature alongside the ambitions of the modern age.
Heathlands are so much more than ‘just’ heathers: could you summarise their importance for a diverse range of fauna and flora?
Heathlands are a great deal more than just carpets of heathers. A heathland landscape can embrace habitats as diverse as rocks and lakes and bogs, even temporary stands of arable and wartime concrete. The component habitats of a large functioning heathland are naturally dynamic, with species dependant on all sorts of habitat formations, from bare ground to the decaying of cowpats. The great antiquity of heathland ecosystems is reflected in the network of interdependent species, many of which are associated with large herbivores, fire and occasional gross disturbance of the soil. Whilst charismatic birds and reptiles have traditionally claimed the limelight, the biological wealth of the heath is better expressed through its invertebrates, lichen and wildflowers.
Until recently, the State implemented conservation initiatives; this is no longer the case and the withdrawal of central government from practical conservation management has placed greater demands on the work of local government. Has this had a significant impact for heathland?
Heathlands are not capable of sustaining ever-intensifying levels of recreational use, no matter how benignly intended. There are numerous examples of habitats that have been degraded and species that have been lost through the complex interactions of wildlife and informal recreation. Our affection for heathlands is no safeguard against them being loved to death.
Dogs, for example, are ecological proxies to natural predators but are present at much higher densities than would occur in the wild. And large heathland ponds are frequently developed for recreation with dire consequence for wildlife.
It is reasonable for people to expect a choice as to where they can go in the countryside; regrettably, in some heathland regions, the heaths are not used for recreation as a matter of choice but because they are the only greenspaces that are available.
This is your second book in the excellent British Wildlife Collection series; the other being Saltmarsh. After all the work researching and writing that and now Heathland what is next for you? Are there plans for further books, or maybe a well-earned rest?
There are germs of ideas for future writing which I hope will take shape in the next few years. Books are daunting ventures; ‘Heathland’ summarises forty years of study and took three years to write, maybe next time I’ll look at something a little simpler.
By: Clive Chatters
Hardback | March 2021 | £29.99£34.99
Most of our heaths are pale shadows of their former selves. However, Chatters argues, it is not inevitable that the catastrophic losses of the recent past are the destiny of our remaining heaths. Should we wish, their place in the countryside as an integral part of British culture can be secured.
All prices correct at the time of this article’s publication.
Throughout November we will have special offers on all WNP titles, giving you the perfect opportunity to explore their books: below we have selected some highlights, or you can browse their whole range here.
Field Guide to Sharks, Rays and Chimaeras of Europe and the Mediterranean
By: David A Ebert and Marc Dando
Paperback | Due Nov 2020 | £21.99£27.99 Illustrated key guides enable the reader to identify down to species and comparison plates of similar species and plates of teeth also aid identification.
The Gull Next Door: A Portrait of a Misunderstood Bird
By: Marianne Taylor
Hardback | October 2020 | £17.99£21.99 Reveals deeper truths to these remarkable birds. They are thinkers and innovators, devoted partners and parents. They lead long lives and often indulge their powerful drive to explore and travel.
Seaweeds of Britain and Ireland
By: Frances StP D Bunker, Juliet A Brodie, Christine A Maggs and Anne R Bunker
Paperback | June 2017 | £15.50£19.50
British and Irish shallow seas contain an astonishing 6% of the world’s seaweed species, more than 600 different seaweeds: this books enables divers, snorkelers and rock-poolers to identify them.
The Essential Guide to Rockpooling
By: Julie Hatcher and Steve Trewhella
Paperback | May 2019 | £12.75£16.99
Whether you are an individual or family visiting the seaside, or a naturalist wishing to expand your knowledge, this guide shows you how to discover the astonishing diversity of coastal wildlife with nothing more than a net and a bucket.
Sea Squirts and Sponges of Britain and Ireland
By: Sarah Bowen, Claire Goodwin, David Kipling and Bernard E Picton
Paperback | July 2018 | £13.50£17.99
Includes sea squirts found in Britain and Ireland’s shallow waters and most recognised sponges. Whether you are a student, a diver, a rock-pooler or simply an enthusiast, this is an essential companion.
Sharks of the World: A Fully Illustrated Guide
By: David A Ebert, Sarah Fowler and Marc Dando
Hardback | Due Feb 2021 | £34.99£41.99
Packed with unique colour illustrations, line drawings and photographs that are well-presented and easy to use, Sharks of the World is the only single guide to cover over 500 of the world’s shark species
Vultures are a crucial part of many of the world’s ecosystems, and without these specialist environmental cleansers many ecosystems wouldn’t function. In A Vulture Landscapewe share a calendar year in the lives of these gargantuan raptors as they live, breed, feed and fly with effortless ease across the skies of the vulture landscape that is Extremadura in central Spain.
Author, Ian Parsons visited us at NHBS to answer some questions about these often maligned birds and also *signed a limited amount of copies of his new book.
*All signed copies have now sold
Could you tell us a little about your background?
I was born and grew up in Devon in south west England, as I grew up I became more and more interested in the natural world, I can remember becoming fascinated by slow worms when I was around seven years old, although I also remember my mum’s slightly horrified reaction when I happily brought one into the house to show her. I wanted to be a Ranger from an early age and after a countryside management course at college I became one for twenty years. When the time was right for a change, myself and my wife moved to Extremadura in Spain where we set up Griffon Holidays, running specialist bird tours in this amazing region that I had first discovered almost twenty years before.
Why did you chose to write about vultures?
Because they are brilliant! I am a massive natural history fan and geek and I’m passionate about all types of wildlife, I would say that trees and birds are my two main interests and when it comes to birds there is nothing like a vulture. Watching birds with a nigh on three metre wingspan gliding right past you is an amazing experience, they are masters of the air and take flight efficiency to the extreme, they can read the air and its movements and to watch them is mesmerising. In the book I mention several times how my favourite past time is Vulture Gazing, just sitting back and watching them drift across the blue sky above you, it is a great way to declutter your mind, everyone should vulture gaze!
What’s special about Extremadura and its fauna and flora?
Extremadura is a region in western Spain, it is roughly twice the size of Wales, but with only one third of the human population, it is relatively empty of people and full of amazing wildlife. It has long been known as a bit of a destination for birders and rightly so. There are Great and Little Bustards, two species of Sandgrouse, colourful stars such as the Blue Rock Thrush, Roller and Bee-eater, NHBS’s very own Hoopoe is abundant and then there are the birds of prey, five species of eagle, three species of kite, falcons, harriers etc. And of course there are the vultures, the Griffon Vulture, Black Vulture and Egyptian Vulture, the skies always have something interesting in them.
Spending time on the flower rich plains in the spring listening to the wall to wall surround sound song track of abundant larks whilst raptors drift by overhead is one of life’s pleasures.
What were the major challenges you faced while writing your book?
I think the biggest difficulty is knowing when to stop! When you are passionate about something it is very easy to get carried away.
What impact has Covid had and will continue to have on eco-tourism?
It has had a massive impact. I had to cancel the tours for 2020 which were fully booked, personally it is heart breaking to have to tell people that their trip which they had been really looking forward to is off. But everybody knew why the decision had to be made. I always put the clients up in a lovely Spanish town in a local family run hotel, they are lovely people and they are having to endure a really bad situation. As to the future? Who knows, the situation is so unclear at the moment, it is impossible to make any real plans.
Is it fair to say that vultures have a bit of an unfair reputation?
Vultures are associated with death, it’s what they do, they are scavengers and they eat dead things. We humans don’t like the subject of death, we actively avoid it and therefore anything that is associated with it tends to be seen in a negative light. But vultures need to be seen in a positive light, many of the world’s vulture species are critically endangered, the last category before extinction, they are in that position because of us. Vultures do an incredible job, they are nature’s environmental cleansers and they help keep ecosystems healthy and functioning, they can deal with diseases like bovine TB, rabies and even anthrax, they remove these diseases before they can become a threat to us, they help keep people safe. We should celebrate them and most certainly enjoy them, I hope my book will go some way to helping improve the image of these brilliant birds.
Recently a Bearded Vulture has had an extended stay in Britain, is this normal?
It’s not normal, it is only the second time that one of these majestic birds has been recorded in Britain (in 2016 one briefly visited Devon and South Wales). Vultures are not native to Britain, the climate for one thing is not conducive to them and it is noticeable that after an extended stay in the Peak District the bird has started moving south and east again now that the seasons are changing. Their appearance is the result of some fantastic conservation work carried out in the Alps where the bird has been successfully reintroduced after being persecuted to extinction over one hundred years ago. The new population is absolutely booming, and wild born young are being born in good numbers each year, in 2019 39 young successfully fledged. Vultures like the Bearded don’t breed until they are around five years old and after they become independent the young birds like to wander. For a vulture, distance is rather irrelevant, they often fly several hundred kilometres in a day’s foraging, and it is one of these young birds that has turned up in Britain this year, but the bird is just an avian sightseer and hopefully it will return safely to its natural range before very long. Whilst it will remain unusual for these birds to turn up in Britain on their travels, the continued success of the conservation work in the Alps means that there will be a chance that other wandering young will follow in the future.
After a well-earned rest, are there any plans or works-in-progress that you can tell us about?
I am currently involved in a great new project that aims to rewild your inbox! Purple Crow sends out a mixture of great photography and great writing to your inbox throughout the week, the idea is to inspire people with stunning images and inspiring words, see purplecrow.co.uk for more details. Book wise I am working on a book looking at the wildlife of Britain through the seasons.
A Vulture Landscape: Twelve Months in Extremadura
By: Ian Parsons
Paperback | October 2020| £15.99£17.99
Readers can enter the world of the vulture, get to know these amazing birds and learn how they control diseases that threaten us, why some species have bald necks, as well as how they have mastered the art of flying without expending any energy.
All prices correct at the time of this article’s publication.
Wiley Blackwell is the international scientific publishing business of John Wiley & Sons. They aim to partner the research community and authors to enable access to the scientific and scholarly insights that are helping to solve some of the world’s biggest challenges. Wiley Blackwell are our Publisher of the Month for October.
Wiley Blackwell publish internationally across a diverse range of academic and professional fields, including biology, medicine, environmental & social studies, evolutionary biology, ecology and the natural science.
Throughout October we will have special offers on many Wiley Blackwell titles, giving you an opportunity to explore their varied and authoritative range of titles and we have selected some highlights below:
Population Ecology in Practice
Edited by: Dennis L Murray, Brett K Sandercock
Paperback| Feb 2020| £37.99£44.99
This textbook covers all the analytical methods commonly used by population ecologists. The use of empirical examples and real datasets makes this particular relevant to students and practising ecologists.
Practical Field Ecology: A Project Guide
By: Charles Philip Wheater, Penny A Cook, James R Bell
Paperback | Second Edition | July 2020| £37.99£44.99
A hands-on guide full of practical advice, a must-read for anyone embarking on a career as a field ecologist.
Avian Evolution: The Fossil Record of Birds and its Paleobiological Significance
By: Gerald Mayr
Hardback | November 2016| £57.50£67.50
Gives an overview of the avian fossil record and its paleobiological significance. Covers both Mesozoic and more modern-type Cenozoic birds in some detail.
Cowen’s History of Life
Edited by: Michael J Benton
Paperback | Sixth Edition | Oct 2019| £47.99£54.99
For anyone with an interest in the history of life on our planet, the new edition of this classic text describes the biological evolution of Earth’s organisms and reconstructs their adaptations and their ecology.
Freshwater Algae: Identification, Enumeration and Use as Bioindicators
By: Edward G Bellinger, David C Sigee
Hardback | Second Edition | Feb 2016| £62.75£72.75
A comprehensive guide to temperate freshwater algae, with additional information on key species in relation to environmental characteristics and implications for aquatic management.
The Royal Entomological Society Book of British Insects
By: Peter C Barnard
Hardback | Oct 2011| £47.50£51.50
A key reference work for entomologists, and for all professionals who need a comprehensive source of information about the insect groups of the British Isles.
The Braconid and Ichneumonid Parasitoid Wasps: Biology, Systematics, Evolution and Ecology
By: Donald LJ Quicke
Hardback | Jan 2015 | £119.50£142.50
The Ichneumonoidea is a vast and important superfamily of parasitic wasps, with some 60, 000 described species.
Handbook of Road Ecology
Edited by: Rodney van der Ree, Daniel J Smith, Clara Grilo.
Hardback | June 2015 | £82.75£98.75
Offers a comprehensive summary of approximately 30 years of global efforts to quantify the impacts of roads and traffic and implement effective mitigation.
Paleoclimatology: From Snowball Earth to the Anthropocene By: Colin Peter Summerhayes
Paperback | August 2020 | £54.99£64.99
An invaluable course reference for undergraduate and postgraduate students in geology, climatology, oceanography and the history of science
Ecological Methods By: Peter A Henderson, Thomas RE Southwood
Paperback | Forth Edition | Mar 2016 | £47.50£54.50 The first edition of Ecological Methods was published in 1966 and became an instant classic text. While still relevant to experienced researchers, the 4th edition has text which is accessible and useful to students.
Once a familiar sight motionless above road verges, the population of kestrels has sharply declined, a decline which continues as the intensification of agriculture and the populations of other raptors increases.
Richard Sales comprehensive new study investigates the decline, after first exploring all aspects of the kestrels’ life, from plumage and diet through breeding to survival.
The book includes data from Richard’s recently completed four-year study in which video cameras were installed to watch breeding behaviour in a barn in southern England.
Richard visited us to sign copies of his new book and answer our questions about how his expertise in physics and engineering have been used to find out more about this illustrious falcon.
Could you tell us a little about your background?
I am from Somerset and have maintained my West Country accent all my life, though I haven’t lived there for many years. I did physics as an undergraduate, then did an MSc in theoretical physics (studying energy loss from general relativistic stars), then a PhD in astrophysics flying a large (50kg) gamma-ray telescope suspended under a 3 million cubic foot balloon filled with hydrogen. The telescope flew at 105,000ft and discovered the first-ever gammar-ray pulsar. I then worked as a glaciologist in Switzerland for a while, and then took a job in the UK power industry.
When did you develop an interest in birds?
My father was bird lover and tailored our family holidays around the breeding season, so we went to Exmoor to watch buzzards and so on, rarely going anywhere near a beach and more often than not learning how to survive in poor weather. Both my brother and myself believe we owe our interest in birds to those trips. My father taught us how to watch birds, not just to learn their names so we could impress other people, but to really watch them. That has stayed with me ever since. I was more academic than my brother (who is a chemist – not a pharmacist, a chemist) and Dad wanted me to study zoology, but I chose physics. I also chose climbing as a primary hobby when I was teenager, first rock faces, then mountains, which is why I finished up in Switzerland when I was offered a post that allowed me to live at the Jungfraujoch and climb every weekend.
We lost our grant money in Switzerland, so I had to find another job. But as the years went by birds became more and more important to me. The dual love of birds, and snow and ice drew me to the Arctic and eventually I took very early retirement – I was only in my 40s – so I could spend more time travelling in the Arctic, supporting myself by starting a physics consultancy and writing books. One of the first Arctic-based books was a Poyser on Gyrfalcons which I co-authored with a Russian friend, Eugene Potapov. For that book I was watching gyrs in the Canadian Arctic. There was breeding pair and I watched the male hunting Arctic Ground Squirrels. He was coming from very high and a long way off and I noticed that he was not travelling in a straight line and couldn’t understand why not since the shortest route is the quickest. That lead me to investigate the eyes of falcons and also to build my own Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) so I could track hunting falconry birds.
Has data from the Inertial Measurement Units (IMUs) you have developed been used in your books?
I flew my first generation IMUs on all four UK breeding falcons – each time on falconry birds. The unit I flew used the satellites to give me track position and had a barometer for height data (as height from satellites is only accurate if there are a lot of satellites in view, which is sometimes not the case on Scottish moors where I was flying on peregrines). The IMU also had a tri-axial accelerometer, gyro and magnetometer. All the data was stored on a flash drive on the bird so I crossed my fingers each time I flew one that the bird would come back.
In 2018 I co-authored a monograph on Steller’s Sea Eagles, the world’s largest eagle, with two Russian colleagues, and was lucky enough to find a captive Steller’s in this country which I could fly the unit on. That was a seriously interesting time. Steller’s are huge. I remember seeing them for the first time in the wild – in Kamchatka – which was awesome, but the size only became apparent when I saw them above sea ice over the Sea of Okhotsk when they flew with White-tailed Eagles. The White-tailed Eagles are the biggest raptors we see over here, but they were dwarfed by the Steller’s.
I also flew the unit on Merlins for the book published earlier this year. By then I was flying second generation units. These are much smaller, weighing only 3g, and much faster, tracking at 13Hz and collecting tri-axial data at up 1.6kHz. How much I can reduce the weight is important because every additional gram affects the bird in some way, and so particularly for Merlins getting the weight down is vital. Speed of data acquisition is also important because Hobbies, for instance, are incredibly agile and so the unit has to be fast to follow every twist and turn. Flying on a hunting Merlin was a strange experience. On the first flight we put the IMU on, released the bird and it flew 60m and attacked a Blackbird in a hedge. After a short fight the Blackbird escaped. For the rest of that day and several other days, the Merlin didn’t catch anything.
Why did you choose Kestrels as the subject for your latest book?
The UK is very lucky in the four falcons we have as breeding species. Peregrines are renowned for their high-speed stoops, Merlins for their fast chases and ringing flights, Hobbies for their agile flights after dragonflies and Kestrels for their ‘hovering’ search for mammals. A different hunting technique for each. I was particularly interested in Kestrels as in hovering – the official term for the technique is now ‘flight-hunting’ – the head must be held stationary for successful hunting so the body has to absorb the phenomenal forces caused by gravity, beating wings and the drag of gusting wind. I was anxious to investigate how they did it.
Did you encounter any challenges collecting data for your new book: Kestrel?
It required a lot of very sensitive equipment and some skilled operators. We borrowed two hi-speed cameras insured for £250,000 and set them up head-on and side-on to a flight-hunting falconry male Kestrel which carried the IMU. The cameras were running at 800fps and were filming 4k images, vast amounts of data were being collected and stored. The unit on the bird was collecting tri-axial data at 800Hz. It was also collecting satellite timing data, so to align wing, eye and head position we had to have a special time code generator which took a signal from the same satellites and stamped each frame of the film with a time measured in microseconds. The results are impressive in terms of how stable the head and eye position are. We are now preparing a paper for the scientific literature of body orientation relative to head position. It would have been good to have had that in the book as well, but the maths is so complex it is hard to make it easily accessible.
Your book features a four-year study to observe breeding behaviour; can you tell us anything about the methods and findings?
For four successive years we set up an array of video cameras filming breeding Kestrels in a barn in Hampshire. We had one camera filming the comings and goings of the adults and, later the fledglings, and two cameras in the nest box watching egg laying, incubation, hatching and chick growth. We filmed 24 hours every day, turning on IR lights to film at night. We measured egg laying intervals to the nearest minute, found accurate hatch times and watched every prey delivery. We also set up live traps where we knew the male hunted so we could weigh the local voles and mice and estimate how many kgs of rodent it takes to make 1kg of Kestrel. The filming was interesting – over the years the adults brought in slow worms, lizards, frogs and moths, as well as voles, mice and shrews. One male also brought in a weasel. This has long been suspected, but never-before filmed.
Can you tell us about any projects you are currently working on?
Because of COVID there is less money about, and writing books also takes lots of time and hard work. I have already decided I will not do a Peregrine book as there are already enough on the market (though none of them cover flight dynamics the way I would). I had planned to do a Hobby book because their flight is so fascinating, but if 2021 is another COVID year l might not be able to.
The Common Kestrel
By: Richard Sale
Hardback | September 2020| £49.99
Investigates all aspects of the Kestrels’ life, from plumage and diet through breeding to survival: also includes a four-year study in which video cameras capture breeding behaviour. Further studies also investigated the flight using the modern technology of inertial measurement units allied to excellent photography.
Derek Gow has written an inspirational and often riotously funny firsthand account of how the movement to rewild the British landscape with beavers has arguably become the single most dramatic and subversive nature conservation act of the modern era.
Derek has taken time to answer a few questions about his new book and the role beavers can have in restoring nature.
Could you tell us a little about your background and where the motivation for this book comes from?
I was born in Dundee in a council house. My grandfather’s generation had been farmers but my parents were not. I have always had a huge interest in nature which developed as I grew older. In time I began a career in farming and while aspects of this life were appealing, I became less enamoured with the impact of farming on the natural world and the savage repercussions of its consequence. I read all Gerald Durrell’s books when small, attended his field course on Jersey in 2000 and from that point on, initially as a manger for several wildlife centres focused on native wildlife and then ultimately, on my own farm, began to pioneer opportunities for wildlife restoration.
You have a clear affection for beavers; will a more emotive dialogue help spread the idea of restoring nature to a broader base, or do you think the science will win hearts and minds?
I think it’s a combination of both. You need science to back a case for their sentient restoration on the back of all the credible good they do, but you also need people to feel emotionally linked. They are the most wonderful of creature’s – creators of landscapes which are brim-full of life. They are caring for their offspring and while savagely territorial with other beavers, are commonly as individuals, largely benign. We did appalling things to them in the past and in effort to forge a better future I see no harm in explaining to people just how critical it is that we consider other species as individuals of worth and importance with characters as well.
There are so many organisations involved; some still going, some now inoperative: DEFRA, IUCN, SNH, EN, NCC, CLA etc. How do you manage to reach a consensus across all those organisations, and do you think the voice for restoring nature needs streamlining?
Yes it needs streamlining, but we need to be much bolder and much less deferential. In the commercial world if individuals or organisations perform poorly then they are dismissed or they disappear as entities. In nature conservation we are way too good at ignoring duffers and making excuses for their mistakes. This situation however uncomfortable is simply no good and at a time of ecological crisis potentially fatal. We must be bullish in our approach to progress while still retaining what reasonable allies there are. The pace of restoration should be swift rather than slow. There is no reason whatsoever for delay.
The activities of beavers such as: felling trees and potentially flooding arable land sound quite alarming to a lot of people. How are those issues addressed when proposing to reintroduce beavers?
Simple. We published a management handbook in 2016 which you chaps help sell and promote. Beavers are a very well understood species in both continental Europe and North America all we need to do is co-opt the sensible programmes of management and understanding which have been applied there to here, stop gibbering and making up excuses and move on. There is nothing they do which we can’t counteract if we wish to do so. A wider programme of education to promote better understanding is an essential first step.
Beavers seem to be a benchmark to define our future relationship with wild creatures. Does your campaign stop at beavers, or would you like to see other ‘lost’ species reintroduced to Britain?
I think that lynx should be restored with reasonable haste if living space which is suitably large with an adequate abundance of prey sufficient to maintain a viable population exists. I think wildcats must be restored in England and in Wales. Other candidates would be species like the great bustard, wild boar, golden, white tailed eagles and common crane; in a wider range, the burbot, black stork/more whites, vultures and many other amphibians, reptiles and insects. I think a dialogue should begin about learning to relive with the wolf now. If we want to have future forests which the deer can’t destroy we will need this predator very much.
Does Brexit and the eventual demise of the Common Agricultural Policy offer any hope for a more nature sensitive approach to farming in the UK?
Yes it does. We can do it our way now but we must recognise that very much good has come from the EU habitats directive and that our way should seek to exceed and surmount this legislation and not just become a tawdry box ticking exercise in excuse manufacturing and prevarication.
With beavers now established in Devon on the River Otter, how do you see that project developing in the next five years?
The beaver population there will expand for sure to number many 100’s over time. Many other rivers should become the focus of further reintroductions as a result of the excellent field work and research carried out on the Otter by a broad range of partnership bodies. The project and its results demonstrate quite graphically that beavers are entirely tolerable in a modern cultural English landscape with a degree of low level intervention and that their engineering activities enable an abundance of other wildlife to flourish.
Have you any projects you are currently involved in, or planning that you can tell us about?
Together with a range of other organisations I am working to form a wood cat project which will culminate in the reintroduction of the wildcat in Devon. The old English name was the wood cat and those of us involved think therefore that this is a more appropriate escutcheon. Next year I will be releasing white storks on my farm and rewilding over 150 acres of land which I own. In March 2021 I will complete work on a new book for Chelsea Green titled The Hunt for the Iron Wolf which will detail the history of this species in the UK.
Bringing Back the Beaver: The Story of One Man’s Quest to Rewild Britain’s Waterways
By: Derek Gow
Hardback | September 2020| £19.99
Derek Gow’s inspirational first-hand account of beaver reintroduction across England and Scotland.
Derek Gow is a farmer and nature conservationist. Born in Dundee in 1965, he left school when he was 17 and worked in agriculture for five years. Inspired by the writing of Gerald Durrell, all of whose books he has read – thoroughly – he jumped at the chance to manage a European wildlife park in central Scotland in the late 1990s before moving on to develop two nature centres in England. He now lives with his children, Maysie and Kyle, on a 300-acre farm on the Devon/Cornwall border which he is in the process of rewilding. Derek has played a significant role in the reintroduction of the Eurasian beaver, the water vole and the white stork in England. He is currently working on a reintroduction project for the wildcat.
Merlin Sheldrake is a biologist and a writer with a background in plant sciences, microbiology and ecology. He received a Ph.D. in tropical ecology from Cambridge University for his work on underground fungal networks in tropical forests in Panama.
Merlin’s just published book, Entangled Life explores the incredible world of fungi and how it has shaped and continues to influence the world we live in
Merlin kindly agreed to answer our questions about his book and these incredible organisms.
Could you tell us a little about your background?
As an undergraduate I studied plant and microbial sciences. I then moved over into the humanities for my masters degree in the history and philosophy of science, where I focused on the history of Amazonian ethnobotany – the study of the relationships between humans and plants. I then shifted back into the sciences for my PhD, conducting research into the ecology of mycorrhizal fungi in tropical forests in Panama. There’s a strange disciplinary barrier between the sciences and the humanities which I’ve long found frustrating – and artificial – and for much of my education I’ve tried to find the places where it is less well-maintained and has become more porous.
Where did the motivation for this book come from?
Mycorrhizal fungi form symbiotic relationships with plants and can link plants together in shared networks sometimes known as the ‘wood wide web’. These fungi allowed the ancestors of plants to move out of freshwater and onto land, some 500 million years ago, and without them the planet would be unrecognisable. At school I had been taught to think of plants as autonomous individuals, but they turned out to be the product of a complex tangle of relationships: mycorrhizal fungi are a more ancient part of planthood than wood, leaves, flowers, or even roots. What we call plants are really algae that have evolved to farm fungi, and fungi that have evolved to farm algae – and this ancient relationship lies at the base of the food chains that sustain nearly all life on land. The more I studied these organisms and their intimate relationships, the more I realised that thinking about fungi makes the world look different. Entangled Life arose from this enquiry, and my sense of vertigo at the realisation that we’re only just beginning to understand this mind-bending kingdom of life.
Fungi appear to make decisions but has no ‘mind’ in the way we would understand. How can you best explain how ‘mycelial minds’ make sense of their environment?
Mushrooms are only the fruiting bodies of fungi: for the most part fungi live their lives as branching, fusing networks of tubular cells known as mycelium. Mycelial co-ordination is difficult to understand because there is no centre of control. If we cut off our head or stop our heart, we’re finished. A mycelial network has no head and no brain. Fungi, like plants, are decentralised organisms. Control is dispersed: mycelial co-ordination takes place both everywhere at once and nowhere in particular. These networks can sprawl over tens or even hundreds of metres and are subject to an unceasing flood of sensory information. And somehow, without a brain, fungi are able to integrate these many data streams, make decisions, and determine suitable courses of action. How they coordinate themselves remains a puzzle. There are a few options. Some researchers suggest that mycelial networks might transmit developmental cues using changes in pressure or flow – because mycelium is a continuous hydraulic network like a car’s braking system, a sudden change in pressure in one part could, in principle, be felt rapidly everywhere else. Some have observed that metabolic activity – such as the accumulation and release of compounds within hyphal compartments – can take place in regular pulses that could help to synchronise behaviour across a network. Others have found that the mycelium of some fungal species is electrically excitable and conducts spikes of electrical activity along hyphae, analogous to the electrical impulses in animal nerve cells, which could allow different parts of a network to stay in touch with themselves.
A common or shared mycorrhizal network seems to be a model for all ecology, yet outside of a few specialists is relatively under-researched and tends to be plant-centrist; why do you think is that is the case?
If you show someone a picture of a forest containing a jaguar and ask people to describe the image, most would describe the jaguar and say nothing about the bustle of plant life that makes up most of the scene. Our tendency to overlook plants in favour of animals has been termed ‘plant-blindness’. I think a similar phenomenon – fungus-blindness – sometimes plays out when we think about shared mycorrhizal networks. Plants are larger and easier for us to see and so our attention is naturally drawn to them. Plants are also more familiar units of life, which makes it easier for us to tell stories featuring them. Fungal networks are intuitively and conceptually slippery, and more difficult for us to make sense of.
Mycroremediation; the use of fungi to restore the biological health of soil has long been understood, but rarely used in large-scale applications. Do you think that will change in the future?
I hope so! Fungi are metabolic wizards with astonishing talents for breaking down stubborn substances, from lignin, wood’s toughest component, to rock, crude oil, polyurethane plastics and the explosive TNT. Despite its promise, however, mycoremediation is no simple fix. Just because a given fungal strain behaves in a certain way in a dish doesn’t mean it will do the same thing when introduced to the rumpus of a contaminated ecosystem. Fungi have needs – such as oxygen or additional food sources – that must be taken into account. Moreover, decomposition takes place in stages, achieved by a succession of fungi and bacteria, each able to pick up where the previous ones left off. It is naive to imagine that a lab-trained fungal strain will be able to hustle effectively in a new environment and remediate a site by itself. Some of the most promising applications of mycoremediation under development involve redirecting our waste streams so that material can be processed in fungal facilities before it hits the landfill. These approaches strike me as the most promising because they involve a larger scale re-evaluation of our dysfunctional philosophy of waste. By building systems in which fungi intercept pollutants before they spill into the environment we can start to deal with the causes of pollution rather than just the symptoms.
Some radical mycologists declare that ‘fungi can save the world!’ How credible do you think some of their claims are?
Fungi have been shaping the planet and its biospheres for over a billion years and will no doubt continue to do so. And there are certainly many ways that we might partner with fungi to help us to adapt to life on a damaged planet. As in any field that holds great promise there’s hype and some big claims floating around, some more credible than others. Then again, we don’t know nearly enough about fungi as we should. Their lives are endlessly surprising, and even many of their well-established behaviours and characteristics can seem incredible at first hearing.
Entangled Life has taken years of research and investigation. Allowing for a well-earned rest, have you any future projects you can tell us about?
I have plenty of studies to write up, and a number of research questions I’m exploring. I have yet to emerge from this tangled enquiry and don’t imagine that I will any time soon. Fungi have received a tiny fraction of the attention given to animals or plants and there are wide open questions whichever way one looks.
Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds and Shape Our Futures
By: Merlin Sheldrake
Hardback | September 2020
An immersive trip into the largely unknown world of fungi, showing just how otherworldly and amazing this neglected group of organisms is.
Oxford University Press are NHBS’s Publisher of the Month for September.
Founded in the mid-17th Century, Oxford University Press (OUP) have published some of the most influential environmental books. Nearly 400 years later, OUP continue to release important works as the largest university press in the world.
Oxford University Press, highlights and forthcoming in 2020
We have great prices on selected bestselling professional and academic titles from OUP until 31st September and have showcased our top ten below:
Handbook of the Marine Fauna of North-West Europe
Edited by: Peter Joseph Hayward and John S Ryland
Paperback| Feb 2017| £42.99£52.99
Authoritative guide to the accurate identification of the common components of the inshore benthic invertebrates of the British Isles and adjacent European coasts.
By: Graham Scott
Paperback | September 2020| £27.99£34.99
This concise introduction to ornithology returns in a second edition, highlighting new developments in the avian fossil record, urban ecology, and climate change.
The Biology of Soil: A Community and Ecosystem Approach
By: Richard D Bardgett
Paperback | September 2005| £34.99£43.99
Part of the excellent Biology of Habitats Series which provides information on the habitat, its biodiversity and the types of organisms present
The Sensory Ecology of Birds
By: Graham R Martin
Paperback | Feb 2017| £33.99£36.99
Ranges widely across species, environments, and behaviours to present a synthesis that challenges previous assumptions about the information that controls the behaviour of birds.
Biology and Conservation of Musteloids
Edited by: David W Macdonald and Christopher Newman
Paperback | Oct 2017| £37.99£47.49
Suitable for graduate level students as well as professional researchers in musteloid and carnivore ecology and conservation biology.
Wildlife Conservation on Farmland (2-Volume Set)
Edited by: David W Macdonald and Ruth E Feber
Hardback | July 2015| £85.99£107.50
Examines the most important challenges facing farmers, conservationists, and policy makers, using examples of real-life, linked studies from a farmed landscape
The Agricultural Revolution in Prehistory: Why Did Foragers Become Farmers?
By: Graeme Barker
Paperback | Jan 2009 | £44.99£54.99
Addresses one of the most debated and least understood revolutions in the history of our species, the change from hunting and gathering to farming.
Bumblebees: Behaviour, Ecology, and Conservation
By: Dave Goulson
Paperback | Sept 2009 | £39.99£50.99
An excellent review of bumble bee biology and behaviour by leading bumblebee biologist, Dave Goulson
Birds in the Ancient World: Winged Words By: Jeremy Mynott
Paperback | April 2020 | £13.99£16.99
The many different roles birds played in culture: as indicators of weather; for hunting, eating and medicine; as pets and entertainments; and as omens and intermediaries between the gods and humankind.
Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past By: David Reich
Paperback | Feb 2019 | £8.99£10.99 Ancient DNA is rewriting most of what we thought we knew about human history. David Reich explains what the genetics is telling us about ourselves and our complex and often surprising ancestry.
The Gratis Books Scheme
One of our most rewarding collaborations with OUP has been the Gratis Books Scheme. Since 1999, with support and assistance from the British Ecological Society, this scheme has been sending free copies of books to conservationists in developing countries who would otherwise be unable to obtain them.