State of the Planet assessments

End Game: Tipping Point for Planet Earth

Ever since George Perkins Marsh’s seminal 1864 work, Man and Nature: Or, Physical Geography as Modified by Human Action, books assessing the state of the planet have become a staple part of the environmental literature. Marsh’s magnificent work spawned some valuable retrospectives, including Man’s Role in Changing the Face of the Earth (1956) and The Earth as Transformed by Human Action (1993).

But, since 2000, most of the really good stuff on biosphere and ecosystems science has been beyond the reach of many, behind the paywall of scientific journals (e.g. John Estes’ superb Trophic Downgrading of Planet Earth, Dirzo’s Defaunation in the Anthropocene, and Diffenbaugh’s Changes in Ecologically Critical Terrestrial Climate Conditions).

Following his 2012 paper in Nature, Approaching a state shift in Earth’s biosphere, Anthony Barnosky might well have followed the same route – but thankfully this brilliant and passionate scientist is also a believer in reaching out to a broader public: see his latest book, End Game: Tipping Point for Planet Earth.

Another leading light of planetary ecological assessment is the Swedish scientist, Johan Rockstrom, inventor of the ‘planetary boundaries’ concept, and author of perhaps the most influential peer-reviewed paper of the last decade (A safe operating space for humanity). He also has a new book just out, Big World, Small Planet.

Other notable recent publications on this theme include: The God Species (Lynas), The Sixth Extinction, an Unnatural History (Kolbert), the magisterial Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, Eaarth (McKibben), The Living Planet report 2014, (WWF), Here on Earth (Flannery), and Global Environmental Outlook 5.

Wild Flowers of Eastern Andalucia reviewed by Plant Talk

Wild Flowers of Eastern Andalucía jacket imageThis 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!

Review by Shirley Walker at Plant Talk

Wild Flowers of Eastern Andalucía is distributed by NHBS

Wild Flowers of Eastern Andalucía jacket image

What the reviewers say about Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction

“A Silent Spring of our time” – T.C. Boyle

“…a cogent overview of a harrowing biological challenge.” – Barry Lopez, author of Arctic Dreams

“A remarkable addition to the literature of our haunted epoch” – Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature and Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet

“I tore through Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction with a mix of awe and terror.” – Dava Sobel, author of Longitude and A More Perfect Heaven

“…an important book full of love and loss” – David Quammen, author of Spillover

The Sixth Extinction will be published in February 2014

The Sixth Extinction jacket image















Stewart McPherson’s Sarraceniaceae volumes reviewed in the Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society

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.

This review is taken from the Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society, Volume 170 – September 2012

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
978-0-9558918-7-8. £34.99.

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.

Sarraceniaceae of South America jacket imageThese 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.

Sarraceniaceae of North America jacket imageThe 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!



Chase MW, Christenhusz MJM, Sanders D, Fay MF. 2010. Murderous plants: Victorian Gothic, Darwin and modern insights into vegetable carnivory. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 162: S47–S74.

Fay MF. 2009. Pitcher plants of the Old World. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 161: 449–450.

Fay MF. 2011. Carnivorous plants and their habitats. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 165: 439–440.

New from Redfern Natural History Productions:

Aldrovanda: The Waterwheel Plant jacket image

Aldrovanda: The Waterwheel Plant by Adam Cross

Aldrovanda: The Waterwheel Plant available now

Two reviews of Fauna Verlag’s ‘Birds in Africa’

The following two reviews of Fauna Verlag’s ‘Birds in Africa’ represent the book as a quality general survey of the avifauna for those with a wide interest in Africa’s bird life:

Birds in Africa jacket imageBirds in Africa

Rainer Christian Ertel

Published by Fauna Verlag, Distributed by NHBS

Review published online at the African Bird Club

“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


Review published in the March 2012 edition of Der Ornithologische Beobachter

“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.”

Translation by NHBS

Available now from NHBS

Primates of West Africa “in much more detail than other field guides” – review

Review published in the Gorilla Journal 43, December 2011 

Primates of West Africa: A Field Guide and Natural History

John F Oates

Published by Conservation International

Primates of West Africa jacket imageThis 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.

Angela Meder

Available now from NHBS

“Scotland rocks!” – a customer review of New Naturalist Volume 119: Scotland

Scotland jacket imageNew Naturalist Volume 119: Scotland

Peter Friend

Reviewer: S.W. Mott from the United Kingdom

One-word summary: “Readable”

“The latest volume in this series has been written by Peter Friend and is a review of the rocks and landscapes of Scotland. Collins make it clear that the book is about the rocks, earth history and landscapes of Scotland. The book does not set out to be a comprehensive, all-inclusive survey of Scotland’s natural history – an impossible task to achieve in a single volume. Indeed, for fuller accounts of Scotland’s flora and fauna, weather, environments and habitats, one must refer to earlier volumes in the series – such as Vol 76 The Hebrides, Vol 88 Loch Lomondside, Vol 101 Galloway and the Borders [ed: all unfortunately out of print] and the earlier, now out of date, volumes on Shetland and Orkney. New Naturalist Vol 119 provides a more than adequate overview of the landscapes that shape Scotland and its natural history.

For the geologist there are more detailed and scientific texts available, including the British Geological Survey (BGS) Regional Guides and material from the Geological Society and Scottish Museums. However, where this New Naturalist volume scores is in its organisation, presentation, and collation of material from a variety of sources in a fresh and compelling way. It has been thoroughly researched and meticulously brought together. Peter Friend uses the same format and scaffolding for this new volume as he used in his earlier New Naturalist, Vol 108 Southern England. He makes good use of modern computerised technology to provide effective diagrams, sections and maps to explain the geology and geomorphological processes. No diagram or text figure is too small to read; the aerial photos are carefully selected and add substantially to the understanding of the features described.

The first five chapters are about geological processes and landform development. Chapters 2 and 3 borrow heavily from Vol 108 Southern England. And why not? Processes don’t change north of the border, and Peter Friend applies them to the Scottish setting. The remainder of the book divides Scotland into regions and each chapter follows the same pattern with the sub-headings ‘Stories from the Bedrock’ and ‘Making the Landscape’. This chapter structure works well and is consistently applied, making the book stand out among others by presenting the current state of knowledge and understanding in a logical, approachable and co-ordinated way. The photographs are excellent throughout, add greatly to understanding and their reproduction seems accurate and sharp.

Some assumptions are made – such as of the reader’s familiarity with earth science terminology, although much is explained in the text and the diagrams help enormously. However, I do wonder if a small glossary of earth science terms could have been provided. I also found Dr Friend’s use of the geological stratigraphic term “tertiary ” in its volcanic province context both inconsistent and slightly dated: the Tertiary Volcanic Province is now known as the Palaeogene Volcanic District. Confusingly for the non-geologist reader, Dr Friend refers in “Further Reading” to the BGS Regional Guide “Palaeogene Volcanic Districts of Scotland” by Henry Emeleus; yet in the text, he more often refers to these districts as “Tertiary”. Anyone unaware that these terms are almost synonymous and that Palaeogene is the preferred term, will be at a loss. Indeed, in the Foreword to the BGS Regional Guide, published in 2005, it states “The term ‘tertiary’ is no longer approved”.

As a geologist wanting an overview and a compilation of both geological and geomorphological material, I shall be using this New Naturalist whenever I need to obtain a wider view of Scotland’s complicated earth history or an idea of the surface landscape features of a particular region within the country.

Dr Friend has provided us with a sound piece of writing, imaginatively produced and thoughfully presented. Vol 119 Scotland is a worthy addition to the this long running series.”

Available now from NHBS

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“Informative” guide to Brazilian Hawkmoths reviewed in the Bulletin of the Amateur Entomologists’ Society

 Review published in the October 2011 Volume of the Bulletin of the Amateur Entomologists’ Society

A Guide to the Hawkmoths of the Serra dos Orgaos, South-eastern Brazil
(Guia dos Sphingidae da Serra dos Orgaos, Sudeste do Brasil)

Alan Martin, Alexandre Soares and Jorge Bizarro

Published by REGUA

A Guide to the Hawkmoths of the Serra dos Orgaos, South-eastern Brazil - jacket imageHawkmoths 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.

A Guide to the Hawkmoths of the Serra dos Orgaos, South-eastern Brazil - internal imageOne 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.

Bulletin of the Amateur Entomologists’ Society

Available now from NHBS

BTO’s Norfolk Bird Atlas “a triumph of organization…” – IBIS review, October 2011

The Norfolk Bird Atlas: Summer and Winter Distributions 1999-2007


The Norfolk Bird Atlas: Summer and Winter Distributions 1999-2007“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’.”


IBIS The International Journal of Avian Science

Available now from NHBS

A Field Guide to Monitoring Nests and The Norfolk Bird Atlas reviewed in Birdwatch Magazine

A Field Guide to Monitoring Nests


A Field Guide to Monitoring Nests jacket image“The best of the nest”

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!

Ian Woodward

Birdwatch Magazine – September 2011

Available now from NHBS

The Norfolk Bird Atlas


The Norfolk Bird Atlas jacket image“Accounting for Norfolk’s Birds”

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.

Dominic Mitchell

Birdwatch Magazine – August 2011

Available now from NHBS