Author Interview: Adele Brand, The Hidden World of the Fox

In The Hidden World of the Fox, Adele Brand shows us how this familiar yet enigmatic animal has thrived in ancient wildwood and adapted to life in the supermarket car parks and busy railway stations of our towns and cities.

 

© Gillian Brand

Ecologist and author, Adele Brand has devoted much of her life to studying foxes and has a wealth of knowledge and first-hand experience to share about these often misunderstood animals.

 

 

© Adele Brand

1. Can you tell us a little about your background and how you got interested in foxes?

The Surrey countryside is an education of its own. I grew up there, learning that the hills I loved were home to more than people. Foxes have always been around me: loping across roads at dusk, hunting for voles near the local horses, and every glimpse into their lives cemented my interest. Their vivid personalities, their incredible adaptability in coping with nearly any habitat, the complexity of their social lives – foxes always provide rich study material. I am now an ecologist who has worked with mammals from Mexican jaguars to Surrey dormice, but I continue to monitor my local foxes and the landscape in which they live.

© Adele Brand

2. People often have polar-opposite opinions of foxes: why do you think foxes evoke such an emotional response?

Foxes touch human emotions. Of all our wild mammals, they are the easiest to get to know as recognisable individuals, and observing the ups and downs of their lives builds strong empathy. Many people who feed and watch garden foxes give them names and feel that they are an important part of their lives. On the other hand, some people have a strong ideological view that foxes (and sometimes wildlife in general) simply doesn’t belong near civilisation. When foxes behave in ways which would be reprehensible in a human – killing multiple chickens, scattering rubbish, etc. – they are often judged as they are indeed human. In my experience, a person’s attitude towards the fox is likely to reflect their general beliefs about nature; someone who has experienced damage but considers wildlife of intrinsic worth is actually likely to be more tolerant than a person who dislikes them on principle but has never experienced harm.

© Adele Brand

3. If anybody wanted to observe foxes, how would they go about it and what equipment, if any, would they need?

To see a fox, to an extent you need to think like a fox: the voles, blackberries and rabbits that it seeks are particularly abundant in woodland edges and rough grassland. Foxes are very much creatures of edge habitats so scanning these places – plus hedgerows – with powerful binoculars (I use 10 x 50) is a good start. While foxes can be active at any hour, they are most frequently crepuscular, so dawn and dusk are good times. Fields that are intensively grazed or have heavy recreational pressure are less promising sites. I would also recommend a good tracking book because being able to identify fox footprints, fur and scat will greatly increase understanding of how they are using the landscape. Additionally, it is worthwhile to keep alert even in unconventional places for wildlife watching. I have often seen rural foxes while travelling by train, for example.

© Adele Brand

4. Do foxes pose any ‘real’ danger to humans and pets?

There is an undercurrent of concern about foxes posing a risk to people. It is worth remembering that they are smaller than they can appear at a distance and in general have no interest in approaching us. A fox that sits down and watches is not ‘bold’ or ‘brazen’; it is assessing the situation and will bolt for a gap under the fence if it feels threatened. That said, trying to ‘tame’ them with hand-feeding or encouraging them indoors can lead to problematic encounters. I would always encourage people to enjoy watching their local foxes, but also to keep them wild.

Pets are a mixed issue. Clearly, rabbits, guinea pigs and chickens need to be kept in secure pens. Cats and foxes typically ignore each other, but kittens and very elderly cats are more vulnerable to everything in the outside world.

© Adele Brand

5. Despite the best efforts of humans, foxes are survivors; however, do you think their future is secure?

Interesting question. The conservation status of red foxes globally is secure, but with caveats. Foxes have become extinct in South Korea due to poaching and habitat loss, while in the USA, the Sierra Nevada subspecies is critically endangered. There is some evidence that the British population is declining, although they remain widespread. They have survived the industrialisation of farming, but they are not unaffected by it. A rural landscape that has thick, species-rich hedgerows, wildlife margins in arable fields, and less fragmentation from development would benefit foxes along with many much rarer species.

© Adele Brand

6.While writing your book and observing foxes; was there one surprising fact or discovery that you didn’t know previously?

The unlikely relationship between foxes and Mediterranean hackberry: seeds from this plant germinate earlier and are much more likely to survive if they pass through the intestinal tract of a fox and are excreted in its droppings.

  1. Do you have any new projects in the pipeline that you’d like to tell us about?

At the moment, I’m continuing to study how foxes are affected by the changing land uses in the Surrey Hills. I’m particularly interested in how the intensity of grazing from livestock and horses changes their habitat use.

The Hidden World of the Fox
Hardback,  Oct 2019,  £9.99 £12.99

Adele Brand shines a light on one of Britain’s most familiar yet enigmatic animals, showing us how the astonishing senses, intelligence and behaviour that allowed foxes to thrive in the ancient wildwood now help them survive in our cities and towns.

Browse all our books covering Foxes, Wolves, Dogs and other Canids

 

 

 

 

Marjorie Blamey

Marjorie Blamey 1918 – 2019

We recently received the sad news that the prolific and talented botanical artist, Marjorie Blamey had died, aged 101.

Author and naturalist Peter Marren, looks back her achievements and her invaluable contribution to botany.

 

Marjorie Blamey, who died in September, aged 101, will be well-known to many as the artist of distinguished botanical field guides. Her paintings of wild flowers, trees and ferns are not only scientifically accurate but a joy to see in their fresh colours and lifelike arrangements. Her main aim, she once said, was to make plants look alive, and she achieved it by painting freshly gathered specimens, not, as many botanical artists did, by trying to breathe life into pressed ones.

Locating and painting around 2,000 different species for each field guide was quite a task. Marjorie and her husband Philip used to tour Europe in a motorised caravan, getting up at dawn to begin painting specimens gathered the previous afternoon, kept fresh in boxes lined with damp paper (at home she used the fridge or even the bath). In her prime she could get through a dozen watercolour paintings by lunch. Few botanical artists have worked so fast, and yet maintained such consistent quality.

Her big break was the Collins Guide to Wild Flowers of Britain and Northern Europe (1974) – known as ‘Fitter and Blamey’ – which was translated into many European languages and sold a million copies. It was followed by field guides to alpine flowers and Mediterranean flowers, vital identification guides to green tours ever since, and the large-format Illustrated Flora of Britain and Northern Europe (1989) which she wrote with her friend and mentor Christopher Grey-Wilson, and considered her best work. Her last field guide was the ambitious Wild Flowers of Britain and Ireland (2003) – or ‘Fitter, Fitter and Blamey’ –  whose 4,000-odd colour illustrations she completed at the age of 85 (adding yet more paintings to the revised edition ten years later).

Despite her extraordinary output, Marjorie came to botanical painting surprisingly late. Although she had shown obvious talent in her youth – where she also became an accomplished actress, photographer and, after the outbreak of the Second World War, nurse and ambulance driver – she had largely given up painting to run a dairy farm in Cornwall with her husband, by whom she had four children. She was in her 40s when she began to paint local wild flowers. A friend persuaded her to exhibit, and one thing led to another: a book of magnolias, followed by the first of her field guides.

Marjorie Blamey was modest about her talent. She seems to have loved the life of botanical travel, working all hours to complete her assignments. When you consider that the latest Collins Flower Guide took four artists a number of years to complete, and it took Keble Martin a whole lifetime to finish The Concise British Flora, her total of around 12,000 flower paintings for five major field guides, plus other work, begun in her 50s and ending in her 90s, is a record that will, I suspect, never be exceeded.

Marjorie Blamey 1918 – 2019

Peter Marren, 26th September 2019

Handbook of the Mammals of the World, an interview with the series creators

The final volume in the Handbook of the Mammals of the World series will be published in October 2019.

The first volume was published over a decade ago and Volume 9: Bats completes this hugely important reference series to the mammals of the world.

 

We asked publishers Josep del Hoyo and Albert Martinez to share their thoughts about the conception, production and fruition of this and the earlier Handbook of the Birds of the World series.

1. What inspired you to embark on the Handbook of the Mammals of the World series?
JOSEP: Well, in this case, our inspiration was very clearly the series’ predecessor: the Handbook of the Birds of the World (HBW). When we started on the Handbook of the Mammals of the World (HMW), we had already published 12 volumes of HBW and the results were encouraging, both in terms of enthusiastic reviews and commercial success. So, we thought it would be worthwhile to try to produce a sort of “sister series” covering all the mammals of the world. We saw it as natural that there should be a Handbook to properly treat all the animals forming part of the same Class to which we, as humans, belong. We were aware that while the number of professionals dedicated to mammals were high, that the number of amateur people interested in the group would be much lower than the equivalent public in birdwatching, so the series would be commercially riskier. But we were convinced of the project’s importance for science and conservation, so we decided to look for some support to make it happen.
We were extremely fortunate to find this support in the form of two Chief Editors for the series that were essential for its success. On one hand, celebrated primatologist Russ Mittermeier joined the project, bringing his own knowledge to the series, as well as achieving important funding, most notably from Conservation International, to get the project off its feet. Russ also enlisted the involvement of IUCN, International Union for Conservation of Nature, further emphasising the importance of conservation in the series, and drawing from the expertise of many of the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC) Specialist Groups.
On the other hand, Don Wilson, at the time Chairman of the Department of Vertebrate Zoology and Curator of the Division of Mammals at the National Museum of Natural History of the Smithsonian Institution, generously volunteered his time and effort to help the project, and this continued throughout the series in many different facets. For example, Don’s help was especially useful for finding and contacting the specialists to author the chapters, as well as for providing a strong taxonomic base with his book Wilson & Reeder (2005), Mammal Species of the World. A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference (3rd ed).
We are very grateful to both Russ and Don, and to the other Chief Editors and external supporters who made the project possible.

2. Volume 1 was Carnivores, a very charismatic order of mammals; when this was published in 2009, did you already know how many volumes the series would contain, and in what order they would be published?

ALBERT: We proposed Carnivores as an exploratory volume to study the viability of the project as we felt that it could be one of the volumes with the greatest interest for the readers.
When the first volume was published and once it was proven that the series was viable, we agreed shortly after with the Chief Editors, Don Wilson and Russ Mittermeier, on the total number of volumes in the series—eight—and their order. In the first preparatory meetings it was quickly decided not to follow a strictly phylogenetic sequence, and so, for instance, walruses, seals, and sea lions were treated along with the rest of sea mammals and not in the Carnivores volume.
The most important departure from the original plan was the need to split rodents into two volumes: Volume 6 and Volumes 7, in order to maintain the level of detail that had characterised the previous volumes. This decision was made after direct consultation with HMW subscribers (of 1840 respondents, 92% favoured two volumes). So, the series was extended from eight to nine volumes.

3. Could you provide a rough idea about how much hard work goes into publishing a single volume in the series?
ALBERT: The work is immense and summary numbers for the series are impressive (c.8000 pages, 443 colour plates, 5300 photos, 6400 range maps, 10,000s of references), as is the number of the people involved: 312 authors of texts, 10 artists, and more than a thousand photographers from all over the World.
The editing process for a single volume lasts between one-and-half and two years, it begins with the commission of the different families to the authors of texts and the plates to the artists. The in-house editing phase has lasted about a year in the last volumes. The first three volumes appeared with a cadence of two years, but from HMW4 on we have managed to publish a volume per year without fail.

4. Is there a certain family or order of mammals you are particularly fascinated by?
ALBERT: It is difficult to choose, but maybe Carnivores, Hoofed Mammals, or Primates. Also Marsupials as they are really exotic and give us a very clear idea of the big conservation threats that face island species or species with reduced ranges. Looking at the distribution maps you become very aware of the high number of species with tiny distributions and those that only survive thanks to strict conservation measures.

5. What challenges did you face along the road to completion of this series?
ALBERT: During the 11 years of editing the HMW series (2009–2019) and with so many people involved, we have faced all kinds of difficulties with authors, artists, and editors (illnesses, accidents… and even Brexit at the end!). Especially complicated has been the instability in the taxonomy with habitual last-minute changes in the final stages of the editing process (e.g. new species described, rearrangements in the sequence of the species due to improvements in the knowledge of phylogenies, etc), which have forced us to completely redo already laid-out families many times. Despite such challenges, I want to highlight the impressive enthusiasm and dedication which all the participants have shown for this project.
It is very rewarding to see the commitment and effort that many experts have put into the project, having themselves seen in the HMW series an important achievement in their field of work. The selfless collaboration that we have received from a multitude of specialists not directly involved in the project has helped us in many ways, like providing material to allow the artists to draw rare species.

6. What do you hope will be the legacy of the Handbook of the Birds of the World and the Handbook of the Mammals of the World series?
JOSEP: Since we finished the HBW series some years ago (2013), we now have a better perspective on what this legacy may be. We have some indications that show that HBW, which covered all the birds of the world for the first time ever, represents a “before and after” in knowledge and interest in birds. It is true that before HBW there was a good deal of interest in birds in parts of the world like Europe, North America, Australia or South Africa, but in many other parts of the world, including in Tropical Regions with the richest biodiversity, there was a clear lack of even the most basic information. So we think the existence of the series has helped a bit to balance this situation, and has been an influence so that now many more people are interested not only in birds of their own country, region or local patch, but also at the global level, which we are convinced is good, eventually, for conservation.
With the HMW series, which we are just finishing now, we think similar effects will appear. While with birds the interest across the families was more or less regular, mammals have an added complication that some groups receive much more attention than others. So we think that the volumes dedicated to groups like rodents and, especially, the last one dedicated to bats, will be important for bringing together the knowledge that was much more disperse and less accessible, in a single, comprehensive treatment. This will also show where there are still gaps in the knowledge to encourage further study.

7. How do you feel about the imminent fruition of over ten years of publishing the Handbook of the Mammals of the World series – do you have any new projects in the pipeline that you can tell us about?
JOSEP: Well, we have several big projects that we are studying carefully, but we are also aware that the number of people interested in other groups of biodiversity is many times smaller than those interested in birds and even in mammals. But a number of good possibilities do exist, particularly if there is an awareness that such coverage gives a push to the knowledge and conservation of the group.

Meanwhile, we are still very busy with birds and mammals. For birds we published the HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World in two volumes and we are already working on the equivalent illustrated checklist for the mammals. Also, given the important patrimony we hold of the illustrations of all the birds of the world, we have started the Lynx and BirdLife International Field Guides Collection, which is producing good results, and we hope we can pursue a similar line with mammals. In this way, the two Handbook series can help us create field guides to countries for which they are none, thus, raising awareness and knowledge, which in turn can lead to greater local conservation.

HWM, Volume 9: Bats and the complete Volumes 1 to 9 are available at a special pre-publication price until the end of September

Handbook of the Mammals of the World, Volume 9: Bats
Oct 2019 *124.99 £144.99
The final volume in this monumental series profiles the world’s bat fauna.

*Pre-publication price applies to orders until 30th September 2019

 

Handbook of the Mammals of the World, Volumes 1 to 9
Oct 2019 *999.00 £1250.00
The whole set for under £1,000: this offer is available for a limited time only..

*Pre-publication price applies to orders until 30th September 2019

 

Browse all volumes in the Handbook of the Mammals of the World series

Browse all volumes in the Handbook of the Birds of the World series

 

Author Interview: Caleb Compton

Caleb Compton, the creator of the hugely popular @StrangeAnimals on Twitter has recently released A Book of Rather Strange Animals – a collection of one hundred remarkable animal specimens from around the world. We recently asked Caleb some questions to learn more about his inspiration about this project and more. Caleb’s book has also been featured on the 2019 Summer Recess Reading List for Parliamentarians.

  1. Tell us a little about your background and how you got interested in the weird and wonderful?

My interest in the natural world started from a young age. As a child, I used to read books about unusual animals and watched a lot of nature documentaries (my favourites were those narrated by Sir David Attenborough). I started researching strange lesser-known animals after I finished school, and had the idea of creating a Twitter account to showcase these fascinating species. So I set up the @StrangeAnimaIs Twitter account in 2013, where I posted facts and pictures of these obscure creatures, pointing out any conservation issues associated with them. I started my biosciences degree the same year, at the University of Exeter, and specialised in animal biology in my final year. My modules included marine biology, ecology and animal psychology, and my dissertation title was based on the decline of pollinators and the government’s response to this ecological crisis. I was fascinated learning about these topics and it grew my passion for the subject.

  1. Your book is full of very different animals – how do you come across such an eclectic group of animals?

I originally started the research for my book back in 2013, when I first created my Twitter account. Over the years, I have discovered many animal facts and pictures, which I post on @StrangeAnimaIs. When I started planning my book, I went through all my previous tweets and picked out what I thought were the weirdest animals. I wanted a range of species in the book, including an even mix of amphibians, fish, birds, reptiles, mammals and arthropods. After making a list of all the species I wanted to write about, I set about finding as much information as I could on each animal, trawling through websites, books and scientific papers. Using the reference material, I compiled notes on these animals and then typed them up in the format of my book.

Lesser Hedgehog Tenrec by Steve Priest
  1. What was the biggest challenge in writing the book?

My biggest challenge was staying focused whilst writing. About halfway through the book, I was struggling to carry on and lost my motivation. By this point, I had been writing in my free time for almost four months and it was getting too much, and I didn’t have much time to myself. I decided to take a break, and didn’t do any writing for a few months. That was what I needed and when I went back to it later, I was a lot more motivated, and managed to finish the rest of the book over the next couple of months.

  1. Many of the oddities that depict a strange animal are useful adaptations, what is your most memorable of these adaptations?

There are quite a few animals in the book that have some really fascinating adaptations. My three favourites are probably the Suriname toad, aye-aye and the isopod Cymothoa exigua.

The Suriname Toad is a unique amphibian from South America, which has developed a rather interesting method for raising its young. After mating, the male implants the fertilised eggs into the female’s back, where they settle into pockets. Skin grows over the eggs, keeping them safe until they hatch weeks later as fully formed frogs.

The Aye-aye is an endangered primate from the island of Madagascar. They have an incredible adaptation for finding food, where they tap their elongated middle finger on branches and listen out for the vibrations. When they detect a grub, they will bite a hole in the bark with their rodent-like teeth, and insert their finger to skewer the grub. This foraging method is called percussive foraging and it’s extremely rare in mammals.

The parasitic isopod Cymothoa exigua has a horrifying lifecycle, where they enter the gills of fish as males. Here, one of them will develop into a female, and travel through the fish into its mouth. Then the isopod causes the fish’s tongue to atrophy and fall off, and then attaches itself to the newly formed stump. From now on, the isopod acts as the fish’s tongue (it’s the only known parasite to completely replace a host’s organ), grinding up food for its host and feeding on scraps of food.

Bush Dog by Steve Priest
  1. Your Twitter feed is full of great information, do you have any advice for anyone wanting to start up a successful twitter profile?

I would say the best way to grow an account on Twitter is to come up with a good theme for the account and then post regular content that fits in with that theme. Go for something that you are passionate about, because if you’re not interested in it, then others won’t be either. Interacting with followers and similar accounts is also a great way to increase engagement. Another piece of advice I would give is to stick with it, even if the audience growth is slow! My account had just 200 followers for a good part of a year, but I kept going and eventually this audience grew to over 40,000. Combined with my other accounts @NatureIsWeird and @Extinct_AnimaIs, I now have a combined reach of 200,000 people.

  1. Do you have any future projects or aspirations?

I have actually just started writing my next book, which is going to be about lesser-known extinct animals. This is going to be based on my other Twitter account, called @Extinct_AnimaIs and will feature a range of obscure animals (not just dinosaurs) that once roamed the earth. There are so many bizarre creatures, it’s actually hard to believe that some of them actually existed. After doing some research into extinct species for my Twitter account, I have become fascinated by them and I would love to share this with people. I think this is a perfect time to get another book out there, after the success of A Book of Rather Strange Animals.

I am also looking at getting into a career in conservation, and hope to secure a role in this area soon.

A Book of Rather Strange Animals: Highlighting the Wonders of Evolution and the Extraordinary Diversity of Life

With fascinating descriptions of nasty feeding habits, bizarre mating rituals and shocking defence mechanisms, you will marvel at both the splendour and gruesomeness of nature.

£12.99

Author Interview: Gavin Thurston, Journeys in the Wild: The Secret Life of a Cameraman

© Gavin Thurston.

Award winning Blue Planet II and Planet Earth II cameraman Gavin Thurston took some time to sign copies and answer our question about his new book, Journeys in the Wild and his adventures filming the world’s most charismatic animals in spectacular and remote locations.

 

 

© Gavin Thurston.

1. Could you tell us a little about your background and how you got interested in filming and photographing wildlife?

 

 

My first childhood memories are when growing up in Petersfield in Hampshire. A green and leafy part of England. My sister and I used to go and stay with my grandparents who lived near the village of Selbourne close to the South Downs. This was home to the 18th Century literary naturalist Gilbert White. My Granny had a shared interest in nature and had great knowledge of the wildflowers, butterflies and trees of the area. I believe it was her enthusiasm that set the seed to grow a passion for nature in my inquisitive young mind.  As a young frustrated artist, I found an outlet in photography, and later on, in moving images, combining the two passions to spend much of my career filming wildlife.

© Gavin Thurston.

2. What inspired you to write your book?

Mostly due to my career. I have had so many wonderful experiences and adventures around our planet. I have witnessed more of nature’s wonders than anyone has the right to do. When I told stories to family or friends the most common response was ‘You should write a book!’. So, before I got too decrepit to remember the details, I tried to get on with it. It’s only when I was contacted out of the blue by commissioning editor Emily Barrett, from Orion Publishing, with a book offer, that I signed a contract and then had to bloody well get on and finish it!

© Gavin Thurston.

3. What contribution does wildlife photography and filming make to conservation?

Hopefully the films I work on help to instill in viewers both an interest and then a passion for the natural world. Just as my Granny did for me by showing me the beauty and intricacies of nature firsthand. Once someone takes an interest in what wilderness and wildlife we have left, then there’s more chance that they will take measures to reduce their impact on Earth. The more passionate and driven viewers may well then go on to either donate, campaign or volunteer on conservation projects. It’s only once we know what is out there and why we stand to lose it, that an informed audience can then make a choice on how to stop the decline of habitat and biodiversity.

© Gavin Thurston.

4. If someone was inspired to pursue a career filming wildlife, what advice would you give them to get started?

Spend as much time observing nature as you can. Get outside and see it for yourself. Explore and discover. Take photographs, or if you have the talent, then sketch the natural world. Britain has an amazing variety of species. Animals and insects are playing out life and death dramas all around us daily. Teach yourself how to document these engaging stories. Most teenagers have a smart phone these days, and most of these phones have pretty good cameras for photos and videos. Get out there and use them. Discover the natural world and your hidden talent.

© Gavin Thurston.

5. What is your favourite habitat to film in and why?

I can’t say I can pin down a favourite habitat. I love nature’s variety. Whether that’s dark, dense tropical forest or a rugged coastline, snowy Arctic expanse or vast sandy desert. All I can say is that I’m a big fan of truly wild places. The less human influence or signs the better.

© Gavin Thurston.

6. What is the biggest challenge when filming wildlife in the field?

The biggest challenge is to do the animals and habitats justice on screen without affecting or influencing their often already difficult lives.

 

© Gavin Thurston.

7. When writing your book and looking back over your career, was there one incident or animal encounter that stood out as exceptional?

 

 

I have experienced many extraordinary animal encounters, so it is difficult to single out one. There are a few in my book, so read ‘Journeys in the Wild’ and judge for yourself!

 

© Gavin Thurston.

8. Have you got any future projects planned that you can tell us about?

In this age on non-disclosure agreements I can’t say too much about future projects. I can hint though at one project I’ve been working on for the last year with Sir David Attenborough. It is conservation led, and hopefully will have far reaching influence on how we humans need to change our habits to try and restore natural balance on our planet. Watch this space…

Gavin signed copies of  Journeys in the Wild The Secret Life of a Cameraman for NHBS: order now while stocks last

Hardback| August 2019| £13.99 £16.99

 

Further Reading

Gavin’s book, Journeys in the Wild, is out now and available from NHBS.  If you want to discover even more about filming wildlife: BBC Wildlife Documentaries in the Age of Attenborough explores the history of wildlife television in post-war Britain and Untangling the Knot, Belugas & Bears by acclaimed wildlife cameraman, Mike Potts are both published in November.

 

 

Author Interview: Jens H Petersen and Thomas Læssøe, Fungi of Temperate Europe (2-Volume Set)

Authors,  Thomas Læssøe and Jens H Petersen have spent the last five years creating the wonderful two volumes set: Fungi of Temperate Europe. They have taken the time to answer our questions about this monumental and daunting project.

Could you tell us a little about your backgrounds and how you got interested in mycology?  

 

We both dived into the mycological forest sometime in the late seventies and subsequently studied mycology at the Danish universities of Aarhus and Copenhagen. Since then, we have both tried to make mycology accessible to a broader audience, both through countless excursions and mycology courses and through books and photography (the present work includes photographs from the very first years of this 40 years period). Check also the book, The Kingdom of Fungi by Jens H. Petersen.

Two volumes, totalling over 1,700 pages must have a been a considerable undertaking; can you let us know a little of the process and how long it has taken for this book to come to fruition? 

 

We have worked with the books for five years. Firstly, we made a long list of taxa we wanted to include and Jens started to develop the first identification wheels. We had the first dummy layout in summer 2015 and made the first version of the wheels for the Basidiomycota during autumn 2015. The asco wheels and the layout of the species pages followed in 2016. By summer 2017 we had a layout ready, but without text.

While Jens did wheels, layouts and photo-shopping Thomas produced the Danish texts online in our Danish Fungal Atlas database (www.svampeatlas.dk) and these were more or less finished during spring 2017. Then followed the long process of proofreading texts and editing them into the layouts. By summer 2018 this was finished and we started to do the translation into English. Fortunately, we had a couple of skilled UK copy editors who corrected mistakes and improved the language. The English edition was ready in April 2019.

The whole process was terrifying with respect to size which no one involved realised before they were deeply immersed in the books. The solution was to keep a tunnel vision most of the time, and just try to finish the one little piece of the puzzle in question and only on rare occasions emerge to the surface to look around and consider the distance to the goal line.

Who do you envisage using Fungi of Temperate Europe – what readership is it aimed at? 

Everyone with a basic knowledge of fungi.

The book uses ‘form group’ to identify and present the fungi rather than exclusively strict taxonomic groups; what influenced you to use form groups and fungi wheels?  

 

 

Scientists using modern DNA methods tend to split fungal genera into more and more narrow entities. As these are based on base pairs they may be absolutely devoid of morphological characteristics and thus impossible to work with for non-scientists. Thus any attempt to approach fungal identification in a strictly phylogenetic way will fail. It is for example impossible to construct a well functioning identification key to genera of fungi (we have been there several times, tried that and failed). This lead us to develop the multi-access computer key MycoKey (www.mycokey.com) and now later to try to convert the learning from MycoKey into book form.

What was your most surprising discovery whilst researching Fungi of Temperate Europe?  

That fungi are difficult but beautiful.

What is the biggest challenge when studying fungi?  

That fungi are mostly invisible to the naked eye unless they develop fruitbodies and when they do, the morphological plasticity of these fruitbodies is baffling. Thus good pictures are often worth more than detailed, lengthy descriptions.

After such an endeavour you surely deserve a rest, but have either of you got any future projects planned that you can tell us about?  

 

We are working on a book with new identification keys to Danish Basidiomycota. The overall structure of this will be built on the form group identification wheels from the present work but the species keys will be dichotomous, analytical keys with lots of illustrations. We believe that the two projects will supplement each other.

We would both like to dive deeper into the world of Ascomycota and possibly return to tropical mycology.

Fungi of Temperate Europe (2-Volume Set)
Aug 2019 £74.99 £94.99
The culmination of five years work from authors, Thomas Læssøe and Jens H Petersen

OUT NOW

 

 

Author Interview: Mike Toms and Garden Birds

The latest addition to the New Naturalist series is a timely study of the ways in which birds use our gardens.  Garden birds provide a connection to nature and wildlife and  a huge increase in the use of feeders and nest-boxes is a testament to their value.  Author, Mike Toms has worked with the BTO since 1994 and his work on projects such as the Garden BirdWatch scheme makes him the perfect author for Garden Birds

Mike, signing Garden Birds

Mike Toms has taken the time to signed a limited number of first editions hardbacks of Garden Birds and answer a few questions about his work for the BTO and his interest in garden birds.

 

Can you tell us a little about your background and how you got interested in garden birds?

When I joined the BTO back in 1994 I had been working on owls, hence the earlier New Naturalist volume on the subject, but after working on a range of topics I took on the BTO’s Garden Ecology Team in 2001. Over the following years, through long term projects like BTO’s weekly Garden BirdWatch and the seasonal Garden Bird Feeding Survey, plus some one-off targeted surveys, our team began to explore how birds use gardens and the resources that they provide. This work, which in more recent years expanded to examine the impacts of diseases, such as trichomonosis and paridae pox, and the broader urban environment, has resulted in a great deal of new information, much of which is presented in the book. Gardens have always fascinated me because they are the place where people most often encounter elements of the natural world. Garden birds are common currency for conversation for many people, just like football or music are for others. This means that we have an opportunity to understand birds lives through citizen science surveys, and to inform decisions about how we garden and how we shape our urban environments for their benefit.

What are the biggest changes to populations and distributions of garden birds within the last ten or twenty years?

As our recent paper shows, the communities of birds using garden feeding stations have changed dramatically since the 1970s, when we first started monitoring them through BTO surveys. The provision of a growing range of foods now presented at garden feeding stations has increased the diversity of birds visiting, with feeders no longer dominated by just a handful of species. Changes to feeder design have also played their part, providing access to species that were previously unable to take advantage of them. Long term figures, viewable on the BTO Garden BirdWatch and Garden Bird Feeding Survey (GBFS) web pages reveal the winners and losers over time – GBFS data show the long-term decline of House Sparrow and increase of Woodpigeon particularly well. Perhaps the most dramatic change has come from the emergence of finch trichomonosis, a disease that brought about the sudden collapse in Greenfinch populations. We have been able to monitor the emergence of this disease, and its impacts at a population level, thanks to those who participate in BTO surveys.

 

What single thing or activity can be a hinderance to birds living in, or wanting to live in gardens?

Gardens include both opportunities and risks for wild birds and it would be wrong to single out a single factor, not least because the system is fundamentally more complex than this. We need to remember that gardens are an artificial environment, and it is the opportunistic and generalist species that tend to do best in them. As the book explores in its early chapters, the garden environment can alter bird behaviour, breeding ecology and survival in many different ways.

What role can citizen science play in surveying and monitoring garden birds?

Citizen science is absolutely central to the work being done to survey and monitor garden birds. Gardens are private in their ownership, so if we want to find out what is happening within them then we need to involve the owners of those gardens in collecting the information needed. Through BTO surveys like Garden BirdWatch we have been incredibly successful in this, but as the recent Gardenwatch projects – carried out in partnership with BBC, Open University and BTO – have shown, there is a huge army of citizen scientists out there, willing and able to help us increase our understanding of birds and the garden environment.

While writing your book; was there one surprising fact or discovery that you didn’t previously know that you’d like to tell us about?

There was an interesting study of House Sparrows breeding on an off-shore island that surprised me in its relevance to how birds cope with the built environment. We know that background noise can impact on urban birds, and indeed those living close to airports and roads, but it can be difficult to test such impacts experimentally. The House Sparrows breeding on this island varied in their breeding success, with pairs nesting close to the island’s generators showing reduced breeding success. The noise from the generators reduced the ability of the parent birds to respond to the food begging calls of their chicks, reducing the amount of food provided and lowering chick survival. The generators only ran for part of each day, so the researchers were able to prove the impacts of the noise by watching how provisioning rates changed depending on generator activity.

What are your hopes for the future for garden birds?

There is still a great deal that we need to understand about birds living within the built environment. We need, for example, to understand the impacts of urban living on birds (and other wildlife) so that we can minimise the impacts that planned towns and cities have on biodiversity, but we also need to better understand the impacts that providing supplementary food has on their populations. Evidence relating to the latter is mixed, with some work showing negative impacts on wild birds and some showing positive benefits. Given the scale of food provision in the UK, this is something that we urgently need to address

Do you have any new projects in the pipeline that you’d like to tell us about?

I am currently working with YOLOBirder on a project that is seeking to raise funds for BTO and RSPB research into red-listed Birds of Conservation Concern. The book brings together an artist and a writer for each of the 67 red-listed species. As well as contributing a text, I am putting the book together and, with luck, it should be out in time for Christmas.

 

Garden Birds: New Naturalist Series Volume: 140
Hardback| July 2019| £52.99 £64.99 (limited signed copies)
Paperback| July 2019| £27.99 £34.99

We have a limited number of signed, first edition hardbacks, allocated on a first-come-first-served basis, so order now to reserve your copy.

 

Author interview – Dave Goulson

Dave Goulson is a Professor of Biology at the University of Sussex and nature writer, with a particular passion for bees. Bee Quest and A Buzz in the Meadow were bestsellers, and his latest book, The Garden Jungle is all about the wildlife that lives with us: in our gardens and parks, between the gaps in the pavement, and in the soil beneath our feet – an insight into the the wildlife that lives right under our noses.

 

Dave visited NHBS to meet the team and sign a few copies (now sold out) of The Garden Jungle.   He also answered a few questions about the inspiration behind his new book and his hopes and ambitions for the gardens of Britain.

 

  1. How did your interest in the natural world begin?

I’ve no idea! I have been somewhat obsessed by wildlife, particularly by insects, for as long as I can remember. When I was only five or six years old I remember collecting cinnabar caterpillars from the weeds on the edge of my school playground and rearing them up on my bedroom windowsill in jam jars. I never grew out of my interest, and have been lucky enough to find a way to make a living out of it.

2. Could you tell us a little about the research that went into writing The Garden Jungle?

I’ve been both gardening and studying insects for all of my adult life. The two go hand in hand, for if you grow the right plants, and garden in the right way, you can attract all sorts of insects to your garden. I’ve often done my scientific experiments from home, for example studying bee behaviour and the flowers that they choose. I also try out many of the techniques that are said to help wildlife for myself; my garden is full of more than twenty homemade bee hotels, two ponds, nine compost heaps, four or five log piles, a wildflower meadow area, half a dozen ‘hoverfly lagoons’ and more.

3. What fauna and flora gives you the most pleasure to see in your garden?

It is hard to beat the excitement of seeing the first brimstone butterfly of the year, a flash of bright yellow usually seen on the first warm day in late February or March, a sure sign that spring is coming. But bees are my real obsession, particularly bumblebees, colourful, furry, and endearingly clumsy insects that bring the flower borders to life with their buzzing activity.

4. Are you a keen gardener yourself?

I love gardening. When I’m not at work or asleep, I am somewhere in my two acre garden in the Sussex Weald, growing veg, fruit and flowers, and looking after the birds and the bees. It is my own little piece of heaven.

5. Have there been any changes over the past fifty years – either for the benefit or to the detriment of wildlife in the way people view their gardens?

There has certainly been a great increase in interest in encouraging wildlife into our gardens, for example via bird feeders, tit boxes, bee hotels and by planting bee-friendly flowers. Many of us believe that gardens can be places where people and nature live in harmony. On the other hand there have been many detrimental changes too; Astroturf lawns, decking, hard paving, and a huge increase in the number of chemicals available for use. Gardening has become big business; nowadays many people’s idea of gardening is to drive to some vast garden centre and fill the back of their car with annual bedding plants grown in peat-based composts, drenched in pesticides and sold in disposable plastic pots. There is nothing green about that approach to gardening.

6. If someone wanted to link gardens together for the benefit of wildlife, what would be your advice to enlist the neighbourhood’s cooperation?

Often the best way to convince people to change is to show them the alternative. If your garden is wildlife-friendly, invite your neighbours round for a coffee and show them the butterflies nectaring on flowers, the bees busy stocking their bee hotel, and the flowers in your not-too-tightly-mowed lawn. Offer them some seeds or cuttings of bee-friendly flowers; I give comfrey roots to anyone willing to grow them, it is one of the very best plants for bumblebees and I’m trying to encourage everyone to have a clump of it somewhere.

7. Do you have any new projects in the pipeline that you’d like to tell us about?

With colleagues at Sussex University I recently launched the Buzz Club, a nationwide organisation which is working with the public to do experiments to test interventions for garden wildlife. For example, we are asking people to test out creating a ‘hoverfly lagoon’, miniature ponds intended to provide homes for the offspring of some types of hoverfly. Find out more here: https://www.thebuzzclub.uk/.

Signed copies

A very limited number of The Garden Jungle, signed by Dave Gouslon are available from NHBS. *Signed copies are now sold out*

 

 

The Garden Jungle
Hardback | July 2019| £14.99 £16.99

The wildlife that lives right under our noses, in our gardens and parks, between the gaps in the pavement, and in the soil beneath our feet.

 

Discover other titles by Dave Goulson, on special offer until the end of August 2019

Bee Quest
Paperback | April 2018
An endearing account of the search for rare bees. – The Observer £7.99 £9.99

 

A Buzz in the Meadow
Paperback | April 2015
A fascinating look at the insect world found in one field in France – NHBS
£7.99 £9.99

A Sting in the Tale
Paperback | April 2014
A very readable introduction to the remarkable world of bees and bee conservation. – Good Book Guide
£7.99 £9.99

All prices correct at the time of publication.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Author interview: Simon Barnes

When writer Simon Barnes heard a Cetti’s Warbler sing out at a house viewing, he knew immediately that he had found his new home. Their new garden backed onto an area of marshy land which he and his wife purchased and began to manage it as a conservation area, working with the Wildlife Trust to ensure it became as appealing as possible to all species.

On the Marsh is his account of a year spent surrounded by wildlife. Part memoir, part nature guide, this is a vivid and beautifully written account of the wonders that can sometimes be found on our doorsteps, and how nature can transform us all.

We asked Simon a few questions about the inspiration behind writing his new book and his hopes and ambitions for the wildlife of Britain.

 

1. Can you tell us a little about your background and how you got interested in the natural world?

 

I received David Attenborough’s Zoo Quest for a Dragon as a junior school prize, the Natural History Museum every Saturday and the trees of Streatham Common to climb. After education and four years on local papers I ran away to Asia, when I worked as a gonzo journalist and re-found my taste for wildness.

I returned home and started writing about sport and wildlife, with columns in The Times on both subjects; I was chief sports writer for 12 years. I have written a number of books on wildlife, including the Bad Birdwatcher trilogy.

2. What was your inspiration to write a more auto-biographical work than your previous books?

I suppose it was the marsh itself. I wanted to write, not just about the few acres of Norfolk marshland we are lucky enough to own, but also about living with the place: sharing it: being a part of it.

I started writing with that idea in mind: and at once, my younger son Eddie made an entrance. I hadn’t really planned that, but he and I spend a lot of time out there, so it had to happen, I suppose. He’s just turned 18 and has Down’s syndrome. I started off wanting to write about vulnerable places: I ended up writing about vulnerable people as well.

3. Do you believe intervention in the form of land management is important to keep places like the marsh just as they are?

In land-management, doing nothing is a powerful form of action. Mostly I have left the marsh do what it wanted, but I have made sure the dikes are kept cleared and some trees have been cut down. I now manage an adjoining few acres rented from the parish: I am trying to keep this place open with the help of a local grazier. Nice contrast.

What’s natural? What’s unnatural? What’s imposed? Sterile questions: what matters is life.

4. The Barn Owl is often described in your book; would you say that it was the totem species on the marsh, or would you give that accolade to something else?

 

I am slightly surprised by this question, because so far as I am concerned, the marsh harriers steal the show. Marsh harriers: extinct as breeding birds in this country in the 19th century, making a comeback after WW1, then reduced in 1971 to a single pair – and now they skydance and hunt and food-pass over our bit of marsh: the powered flight just above stalling speed, the long glide with the wings held in that dihedral, and above all, the sense of ownership… because the marsh harriers own the marsh. I have the immense privilege of looking on.

5. While observing the marsh, was there one surprising fact or discovery that you didn’t previously know that you’d like to tell us about?

I was given a moth-trap for my birthday. I am pretty ignorant about moths, but on the first day I used it, the first moth I found was the moth on the cover of my moth ID book: an Elephant hawk moth, big enough to count as an honorary bird. So I read it up: and apparently it’s common. Well, maybe so: not commonly seen. It was a classic through-the-wardrobe moment.

6. What are your hopes for the future of such special and bio-diverse places?

My hope for the future is that they have one. I have long given up optimism, because I’m not daft, but pessimism is no way to live. Will we win the battle? Or will we lose? Such questions no longer matter. What matters is fighting on the right side.

7. Do you have any new projects in the pipeline that you’d like to tell us about?

 

 

I’m working on a big fat book called A History of the World in 100 Animals. It’s about the interface between human and non-human species: starting with Lion (we humans were originally a prey species), moving on to domestic cat (did we take them into our home because they purr?) and then to Gorilla (did you know there were just 46 years between King Kong terrorising New York and David Attenborough romping with Gorillas in Rwanda? That’s revisionism for you…). After that, Galapagos Mockingbird, American Bison, Oriental Rat Flea… you get the idea.

On the Marsh: A Year Surrounded by Wildness and Wet
Hardback | June 2019| £13.99 £16.99

How the rewilding of eight acres of Norfolk marshland inspired a family and brought nature even closer to home.

 

All prices correct at the time of publication.

Author Interview – Stephen Rutt

In this moving and lyrical account, Stephen Rutt travels to the farthest corners of the UK to explore the part seabirds have played in our story and what they continue to mean to Britain today. From Storm Petrels on Mousa to gulls in Newcastle and gannets in Orkney, The Seafarers takes readers into breath-taking landscapes, sights, smells and sounds, bringing these vibrant birds and their habitats to life.

To get to know Stephen Rutt and his new book, we asked him a few questions on his inspiration, advice and some interesting facts he’s discovered on his journey while writing The Seafarers.

  1. Can you tell us a little about your background and how you got interested in seabirds?

I’ve been birding since I was 14. I grew up with two dominant interests: birds and books. Circumstances funnelled me towards studying literature and after university I was unhappily living in London with a job I didn’t enjoy. When I was 22 I saw an opportunity to get out, by volunteering at the bird observatory on North Ronaldsay, the northernmost of the Orkney islands. I was expecting to fall in love with migratory birds, but found myself in one of the slowest, least-exciting springs for them. That focused my attention instead on the unfamiliar terns, the tysties (black guillemots) and fulmars. I fell in love with seabirds there. The Seafarers is my love letter to them.

2. If anyone wanted to observe or study seabirds themselves, what would be your advice to getting started.

Britain is brilliant for seabirds. Even if you can’t get to the coastline, there are kittiwakes – a proper sea-going gull – nesting in Newcastle city centre, and terns migrating overland. If you can get to the coast then there will be a colony of something not too far away, whether it is terns or fulmars or gannets or auks. Find a place and a species that suits you and spend some time watching – it’s a heady, hypnotic, fun thing to do. Some books will help. The Collins Bird Guide is a great field guide to help you work out what you’re looking at, particularly with the tricky common/Arctic tern, and a book like Shearwaters by R. M. Lockley will guide you through the thought processes and the joy of observation. If anyone reads The Seafarers and is inspired to go birding or seek out a seabird, I will consider it a success.

3. Seabirds face many threats to their survival; in your opinion, what is the number one threat they face?

Climate change. Plastic pollution is an obvious and alarming threat, but I fear it is easy to be distracted by a problem that’s much more visible, emotionally involving, and straightforward for individuals to have an effect on. Global warming threatens everything: not just the birds but the eco-systems they live in. It is not an original thing to say, but it is the number one threat with which we live. Problems are amplified by apathy. I wrote the book to bring the sight, the sound, and the smell of the species and landscape to the reader. I want people to fall in love with seabirds like I did.

4. Each chapter tends to focus on a different seabird; are you able to say which bird had the most profound effect on you?

Fulmars. I had been travelling the best part of 24 hours by public transport (two trains, four buses), when I finally got the ferry across to St Margaret’s Hope on the Orkney archipelago. It was blowing a gale and I was worried about the flight to North Ronaldsay being cancelled, stranding me in an unfamiliar place. I stood on the deck anyway, clinging to the handrail, fulmars carving up the breeze, turning it into their plaything. Their ability at flying elegantly in the strongest winds is exceptional. The wind continued for my first few days on North Ronaldsay. Fulmars were everywhere. At times they were close enough that it felt like I could reach out and touch them (though obviously I didn’t!). That was glorious. They were my welcome committee and they made the transition feel like absolutely the right thing to do.

5. While writing your book and observing seabirds; was there one surprising fact or discovery that you didn’t know previously that you’d like to tell us about?

I learned so much while researching the book, both how astonishing seabirds are and the distressing effects we are having on them. But let’s be optimistic! One of my favourite discoveries was in relation to the Arctic tern that were GPS tagged on Northumberland’s Farne Islands. It took the birds just a month to migrate to the sea off the coast of South Africa’s Cape of Good Hope. It took them just a month to return from there in spring, as well. The speed and the distance they are capable of is just incredible.

6. What are your hopes for the future of seabirds?

That they have one – which is depressing but true. Beyond that, I hope that we can take their conservation seriously, and that they can thrive as we continue into the Anthropocene, and a future of plastic pollution and global warming.

7. Do you have any new projects in the pipeline that you’d like to tell us about?

I do! I have just finished my second book. It’s about geese, winter, and the twin pull of Scotland and East Anglia and should be published this autumn by Elliott & Thompson. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to going birding again.

The Searfarers: A Journey Among Birds
Hardback | May 2019| £14.99
Takes readers into breath-taking landscapes, sights, smells and sounds, bringing these vibrant birds and their habitats to life.

 

 

You can discover more about the lives of seabirds, shorebirds and wildfowl by browsing our complete selection.