NHBS have worked with Redfern Natural History Productions for many years now and we were delighted to help out with this special project when Stewart McPherson approached us about it.
Thanks to the very generous sponsorship of Lord Ashcroft, Redfern were recently able to donate one copy of Stewart McPherson’s latest book Britain’s Treasure Islands: A Journey to the UK Overseas Territories to every secondary school in the UK and across the overseas territories. At NHBS we organised the packing and delivery of each of these books, which in total was 5250 copies.
The UK Overseas Territories are home to thousands of species of animals and plants in habitats ranging from coral reefs to tropical rainforests, polar landscapes and deserts.
In Britain’s Treasure Islands (aired as a three-part documentary on BBC4 in April, with the book accompanying the series), Stewart McPherson showcases this incredible variety of wildlife, explores the human culture and history of the islands, and documents his adventures in these remarkable lands.
This is a monumental work of over 700 pages, with more than 1,150 full colour images and 17 specially-commissioned gatefold maps on parchment paper showing the geography of each territory.
To send a copy of this wonderful book to every school, NHBS received 47 pallets of books directly from the printers, used seven pallets of specially designed cardboard boxes and 6039 metres of bubble wrap!
Eventually when all the books were packed the couriers took away 53 pallets of books from NHBS’ warehouse in Totnes, Devon over the course of a week.
The packing process took six people three and a half weeks to complete! You can watch the video below for a behind the scenes look at how this all happened.
My Atlas of Breeding Birds in Devon has a pale blue cover, a black-and-white picture of a stonechat on the front, and a price tag of £1.50. It is more than 40 years old.
The atlas, based on fieldwork from five breeding seasons, spanning 1968 to 1972, was described, somewhat inevitably, as an ‘ornithological Domesday Book’, from which changes in the status of the county’s breeding birds could be measured.
So how does the data, published in 1974, measure up to the new Devon Bird Atlas, published this year?
Cuckoo and starling were recorded everywhere in the old atlas, yellowhammer everywhere except Lundy. All three are now missing from large parts of the county.
The skylark was abundant throughout Devon then. Today it is scarce or absent from large areas, mainly farmland.
The skylark’s modern strongholds are Dartmoor and Exmoor and the new atlas says: “If present trends continue… the glorious song-flight will become less and less familiar in intensively farmed areas.”
The plight of the lapwing is even more pronounced. In the old atlas it was a widely distributed breeding species, despite a decline that had been noted since the 1930s; the new atlas records lapwing breeding in only three places, two of them at the RSPB’s Exe estuary reserves, the other on the southern fringe of Dartmoor.
Grey partridge was recorded breeding almost everywhere in the old atlas; now it is confirmed in only two places.
Dr Humphrey Sitters edited the old atlas, and in the preface to the new one says more agri-environment schemes are needed, but will only be put into effect if people who know what is going on “present the data we have collected and batter the politicians and bureaucrats into submission.
“Therefore, ultimately, if we lose our breeding birds it is as much our fault as everyone else involved.”
Species whose numbers have increased include siskin, Dartford warbler, Cetti’s warbler and great crested grebe.
Cetti’s warbler was not in the old atlas, the first British breeding record is from Kent in 1973 – it may now be present at all suitable sites in Devon.
There was little evidence great crested grebe bred in Devon in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Numbers have since expanded, although it is doubtful more than 15 pairs successfully bred between 2007 and 2013, the years when data for the new atlas was collected.
The old atlas does not map where peregrine was breeding. During the fieldwork years only one or two pairs managed to rear young and the bird’s future, then blighted by pesticides and egg collectors, was too uncertain to risk identifying nests.
Today it is recorded as ‘possible, probable or confirmed’ almost everywhere, although in small numbers. Persecution is still with us, however, and the new atlas again tries to mask the actual nesting sites.
The sorriest story is possibly the curlew’s. It was breeding in more than half of Devon in the old atlas, although in small numbers – curlew had still not recovered from the historically cold winter of 1962/63, a trait then shared by many other species. Now breeding pairs are down to single figures, and the new atlas says the “future of the curlew as a breeding species in Devon looks bleak”.
The great landscape historian and great Devonian W.G. Hoskins described a Blackdown Hills parish, in the east of the county, as “a country of deep, winding lanes running from one ancient farmstead to another, haunted by buzzards in the valleys and by curlews on the heaths above, and full of flowers”.
The buzzards are still there but will we again be able to hear the curlew?
This excellent field guide to the flowering plants of Almeria and the Sierra de los Filabres region covers an area of southern Spain with a particularly rich and varied flora. The book is beautifully illustrated with stunning colour photographs, and botanist Sarah Ball describes a good representative selection of the most frequent and characteristic flowering plants to be found, from the Sunshine Coast to the beautiful mountainous area inland, spanning 2000m in altitude. Aromatic thymes and colourful brooms dominate, along with other Mediterranean vegetation types, and Sarah has used the botanical collections of the University of Reading extensively to check her plant identifications and to further discover the distribution and variation of the species she describes.
Wild Flowers of Eastern Andalucía contains background information on geology, habitats, vegetation types and classification, and descriptions of 625 plant species, with 575 illustrated by colour photographs. A comprehensive glossary will help novice users to understand the necessary botanical terms, and the text is also supplemented by information on traditional plant uses that bring the descriptions to life. There is an introductory account for each plant family and each species account includes the English and local Spanish names where known.
I think this book will appeal to local residents and holidaymakers, visiting botanists and students, and anyone with an interest in wild flowers, planning to visit the area. I travelled to this region of Spain in 2004 with groups from the Eden Project and the University of Reading, to study both wild and cultivated plants, and this book would have been invaluable… and small enough to carry easily in a rucksack!
Stewart McPherson is the owner and manager of Redfern Natural History Publications and author of many of its books. His global explorations have afforded him a place of significance in the botanical world, and many of his worldwide field trips have resulted in the classification of new plant species, with a particular emphasis on carnivorous plants such as the Sarraceniaceae.
Sarraceniaceae of South America by Stewart McPherson, Andreas Wistuba, Andreas Fleischmann and
Joachim Nerz. Poole: Redfern Natural History Productions, 2011. 562 pp., 488 images. Hardback. ISBN
Sarraceniaceae of North America by Stewart McPherson and Donald Schnell. Poole: Redfern Natural
History Productions, 2011. 808 pp., 571 images. Hardback. ISBN 978-0-9558918-6-1. £34.99.
These volumes together constitute a monograph of the New World pitcher plant family, Sarraceniaceae, and it has to be said straight away that McPherson and colleagues have produced another two beautifully illustrated books to add to their previous works! [See previous reviews to access information on the earlier works (Fay, 2009, 2011)]. These new books will feed the appetite of those who are fascinated by carnivorous plants (see Chase et al., 2010, for a description of the craze for carnivorous plants since the 19th century).
The South American volume provides the first complete study of Heliamphora (now 23 named species and some undescribed taxa) from the Guiana Highlands of Venezuela, Brazil and Guyana. The authors describe five new Heliamphora spp. and document three incompletely diagnosed Heliamphora taxa for the first time. The North American volume is a study of all species of pitcher plants (eight Sarracenia spp. and Darlingtonia californica) from the USA and Canada, and the authors describe 18 new varieties and forms of Sarracenia and one new form of Darlingtonia and document an incompletely diagnosed Sarracenia taxon.
The number of new names presented in these two volumes (new species in one, new infraspecific taxa in the other) reflects the belief of the authors that taxonomic ranks have historically been applied differently in these three genera (notably in North America), and they argue a clear and strong case for making the ranks more even across the family. In the North American genera, varieties and forms have long been used in some species, whereas for other less well studied species, similar morphological variants have only been known by informal names. In this monograph, McPherson et al. attempt to remedy this situation by applying equal taxonomic logic:
‘the subspecific rank is used to distinguish morphologically discrete variants of a species that have a distinctive, and often disjunct geographic range. Varietal rank is used for elements within a population of a species that are morphologically discrete or exhibit a distinctive, consistent and inherited colouration type, and the forma rank distinguishes “deviants” within a population, for example variants that arise through gene mutation, but are stable and inherited.’
Based on extensive field work (Schnell, the co-author of the North American volume, has been observing
pitcher plants for five decades, for example), these authoritative volumes will be important books for all
who wish to study New World pitcher plants. The South American volume includes an introduction to
the family, the taxonomic treatment of Heliamphora and an appendix including the descriptions of the new species, accompanied by black and white drawings. The North American volume includes an introduction, taxonomic treatments of Darlingtonia and Sarracenia and an appendix including the descriptions of the new taxa, accompanied by coloured drawings. Both volumes also contain a list of societies and suppliers, a glossary, a bibliography and an index. No library of books on carnivorous plants will be complete without these reasonably priced and lavishly illustrated volumes. Buy them now if you haven’t already!
MICHAEL F. FAY
Chase MW, Christenhusz MJM, Sanders D, Fay MF. 2010. Murderous plants: Victorian Gothic, Darwin and modern insights into vegetable carnivory. Botanical Journalof the Linnean Society162: S47–S74.
Fay MF. 2009.Pitcher plants of the Old World. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society161: 449–450.
Fay MF. 2011. Carnivorous plants and their habitats. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 165: 439–440.
“When Vögel in Afrika by the same author became available in 2009 (reviewed in Bull. ABC 17: 254 – 255) it was a landmark on the German market as there was no book available covering the entire birdlife of Africa. Now it has been translated into English and is therefore more readily accessible to a much wider audience, but must also face stiff competition from several other
excellent photographic (field) guides. Ertel’s book covers more than 1,300 species using a single photograph for each. Most photographs are of good quality and compared to the German version some images have been improved immensely…” Continue reading the review
“It is noteworthy, and a seal of the quality of the original, that a German natural history book should be translated into English, as has been ‘Birds in Africa: An Introduction to and Survey to the Birdlife of Africa‘ by Rainer Christian Ertel, published 2009 by Fauna Verlag, Nottuln. Nik Borrow – supplement, revision and translation – is a prominent author of books on bird identification in West Africa.
The pages on the right have 8 colour photographs, faced opposite with short texts about the species, with small distribution maps. In both the German and the English version, the scientific names of over 1,300 species can be found in both the German and the English language.”
Following feedback from experts in the field and authored by professionals, the Bat Conservation Trust has updated and revised the “Bat Surveys: Good Practice Guidelines“. In line with the latest evidence and best practice the second edition features new chapters and content, with revised advice and guidance. This is the essential reference and guide for anyone involved in professional bat work.
BCT Members receive a 20% discount: please quote your membership number when ordering (in the ‘comments’ field when ordering online), and the discount will be applied when we process your order. Please disregard the full amount quoted in your shopping basket and automated order confirmation. If you are not a BCT member, click on the following link to join online now and claim your discount.
This field guide introduces the primates of West Africa in much more detail than other field guides. The species/subspecies are not only described (and shown in drawings by Stephen D. Nash as well as photos), but their behaviour and ecology are also explained. But it is not just a field guide, it contains much more information for people interested in West African primates; the appendix introduces important sites for primate conservation and observation (also with respect to tourism), also illustrated with photos, and finally, 52 pages with references suggest material for further reading.
Hawkmoths have an enduring appeal for their attractiveness, size, sheer power and their breathtaking diversity, particularly in tropical regions. This attractive volume deals with the 110 Neotropical species found in a small reserve which is part of the Atalntic Rainforest in south-eastern Brazil, and an additional 4 species that have been recorded close by. The introductory chapters are written in both Portuguese and English, and cover a preface, checklist of hawkmoths, introduction to the region, hawkmoth taxonomy, life history and development. The main text of the book deals with the individual species and is written in English only. For each species there is a reference to the original description, synonyms, type locality, common name where applicable, size, notes on world-wide distribution and tips for identification. There then follows 37 pages of colour illustrations showing both upper and under-sides of set specimens, illustrating both sexes where they are known. There are four pages of habitat photographs, and a final 10 pages of colour photographs of living moths. The work concludes with a number of appendices covering notes on an historic collector, the reserve, some details of key species, and notes on the host-plants of Neotropical Sphingidae, distribution of species by Province, a phenology table and detailed bibliography.
One of the appendices is a brief biopic of Henry Richard Pearson (1911 – 2004), an Englishman who was one of the first entomologists to study Lepidoptera in the region. He amassed a collection of more than 12,000 specimens, which he donated to the Museo Nacional of Rio de Janeiro.
There are many books available on world hawkmoths, a good many of them substantial monographs that are very costly to purchase. By comparison, this is a modest volume but very well produced, well written and packed with information. The qualities of the colour reproduction are adequate for the set specimens, but very good for the habitat and live moth pictures – and the price is very attractive! The authors and staff of the Reserva Ecologica de Guapiacu are to be congratulated on producing an inexpensive and informative guide to these moths, which will be of great help to visitors to this region of Brazil, as well as those in other parts of Neotropical South America and those with a general interest in the world Sphingidae.
“This handsome volume is the successor to Kelly’s The Norfolk Bird Atlas (1986). The famous county has 1459 tetrads, and this new work is a triumph of organization, including as it does the contributions of over 400 observers, the number and quality of whom few counties could hope to equal. Illustrations are lavish, although the lovely photographs, mostly by David Tipling, sometimes overwhelm the maps and drawings. Indeed, the last, which can be useful for providing landscape background, can seem redundant.
The authors have aimed for a much more detailed treatment than any previous county Atlas. They follow the current county boundaries and have even excluded sections of border tetrads which are outside Norfolk. Any reader involved in the current national Atlas will immediately notice four features: November and July are excluded, the summer and winter periods being sub-divided at 15 May and 15 January; no time limit is set to tetrad visits, which average 3-4 hours; the summer counting units are ‘breeding pairs’ (which may be single adults or families!), their totals being shown by the size of the coloured dots on the maps; and no distinction is generally drawn between confirmed and probable breeding, both of which are defined as ‘likely’ and are represented by shading. For most species there are also maps showing changes since Kelly’s period. The authors are frank about possible dangers in their radical changes to what have become traditional systems, but they are surely right in their advocacy of such methods for local Atlases, which must aim for the fullest possible coverage rather than for mere sampling.
There are two important additions to the main Atlas text: P. W. Lambley’s section on habitats; and Marchant’s ‘Overview of Norfolk’s Birds’.”
The introductory sections to this excellent guide cover current legislation, the BTO’s Nest Record Scheme and advice about finding and monitoring nests without affecting the outcome of the breeding attempt. Importantly, it also explains why there is a need to monitor nests. Along with survival rates, breeding success determines whether a species increases or decreases in population. Monitoring helps explain some declines and contributes towards the creation of conservation initiatives.
The bulk of the book is made up of species accounts in the traditional field-guide format, with one or two pages per species. A total of 146 breeding birds is included, with Schedule 1 species – rarer birds whose nesting sites cannot be approached without a licence – omitted. For each, there is a map, a summary of the dates when eggs and young can be found, colour pictures of the adult, eggs and newly hatched young, and details of breeding ecology and tips on the best methods for finding and monitoring nests.
The BTO hopes that this guide will encourage more birders to become involved in nest recording for conservation purposes. The numbers of nests being monitored has been dropping rapidly for some species, particularly open-nesting passerines, which could hinder efforts to understand why their populations are in decline. However, the comprehensive information covered in this guide will be of interest even if you do not want to take part in nest recording. It may even help to change your mind!
Arguably the premier birding county in the country, Norfolk already has a detailed and highly readable avifauna to its credit. The Birds of Norfolk team of co-authors incuded county stalwart Moss Taylor, who links up in this new volume with the British Trust for Ornithology’s John Marchant to present the results of eight years of summer and winter mapping undertaken by an army of fieldworkers.
Surveying for the last Norfolk Atlas ended in 1985, so there was clearly a need for an update – a lot can and has changed in two decades. Geoffrey Kelly’s The Norfolk Bird Atlas also only covered breeding species, so this latest work adds significantly to knowledge of the county’s birds, with current winter distributions also fully mapped.
The premise, planning and methods are set out in full in 18 introductory pages which precede the meat of the book, the species accounts. Some 270 species are covered: those present year-round typically have three maps to show summer and winter ranges and changes since the previous atlas, while summer visitors have range and change maps, and those present only in winter or recently added as breeding species get a single map accordingly. The historical and current status of all are described informatively in an accompanying narrative.
There is a wealth of information to be absorbed from the accounts and maps, and to set the scene the reader could do worse than turn to John Marchant’s overview of Norfolk’s birds at the back of the book. Here, we learn among many other things that the county was home to about 900,000 pairs of breeding birds of 135 regular species during the survey period; that there were some 3.1 million wintering birds in the county of 183 regular species; that Woodpigeon was both the most abundant breeding and wintering species; that the county holds more than 50 per cent of the country’s breeding Marsh and Montagu’s Harriers; and that Red-backed Shrike, Wood Warbler and Winchat have all been lost as breeding birds since the last atlas, but up to 14 more species probably or definitely nested for the fist time in the same period.
All of this fascinating information is presented in a well-designed package, with double-page species spreads enlivened particularly by an excellent selection of illustrations and colour photos, many of the latter by David Tipling. Branded ‘A BTO Bird Atlas’, the format is presumably a template for a series of reinvigorated county atlases by the Norfolk-based Trust, which 20 years ago moved its headquarters to Thetford.
As gathering of data from observers becomes faster and more efficient through online schemes such as the BTO’s BirdTrack project, as well as through dedicated grid-based surveys such as this, it may be that the relevance of mapped atlases like Norfolk’s new tome will overtake that of conventional county avifaunas.