Take part in the Big Butterfly Count 2020

The Big Butterfly Count is an annual citizen science survey organised by Butterfly Conservation. This project, which is the world’s biggest survey of butterflies, aims to assess the health of our environment by counting a selection of our most common butterflies (along with a couple of day-flying moths).

Butterflies respond very quickly to changes in the environment and, as such, are useful biodiversity indicators. They can also provide an early warning system for environmental factors that may go on to impact other wildlife. Since the 1970s, numbers of butterflies and moths in the UK have decreased significantly. Monitoring this decline and any future change is an important step in studying the effect of the climate crisis on our wildlife.

The Big Butterfly Count 2020 will run from Friday 17 July to Sunday 9 August.

2019 Results

During the 2019 survey, more than 100,000 counts took place. On average, people saw 16 butterflies during the 15 minutes; this was higher than the 2018 average of 11 and the second highest number recorded since the survey began.

2019 was also notable in that it was a ‘Painted Lady year’. Painted Lady butterflies migrate over successive generations from north Africa to central and northern Europe. A Painted Lady year happens about once in a decade, and is when unusually high numbers of this migratory butterfly arrive in the UK. In 2019 they were the most numerous species spotted during the Big Butterfly Count; they accounted for more than a quarter of all butterflies reported and were more than two times as common as the next most abundant species (the Peacock).

Other increases seen in 2019 included the Peacock, Red Admiral and Small Tortoiseshell while the Large White, Small White and Green-veined White all decreased in comparison to 2018.

How to take part

To take part, all you need to do is spend 15 minutes counting butterflies on a sunny day between 17th July and 9th August. You can conduct the count from anywhere you like; in the garden or park, in the woods or fields or wherever you find yourself outdoors.

If you are counting from a fixed position, count the maximum number of each species that you can see at a single time. For example, if you see three Red Admirals together then record it as 3, but if you only see one at a time then record it as 1 (even if you saw one on several occasions) – this is so that you don’t count the same butterfly more than once. If you are doing your count on a walk, then simply total up the number of each butterfly species that you see during the 15 minutes. You can do as many counts as you like, even if these take place in the same location.

Submit your results online on the Big Butterfly Count website, where you can also download a handy butterfly ID chart. Or, carry out the survey and submit your count all in one go using the free smartphone app, available for both iOS and Android.

Butterfly identification resources

On the NHBS blog you will find a handy butterfly ID guide, helpfully split into different habitat types. Or why not take a look at one of the popular field guides below:

Collins Butterfly Guide
#173624

This comprehensive guide describes and illustrates about 440 species, depicting both males and females and – where there is significant variation – subspecies. Distribution maps accompany every widespread species.

 

Pocket Guide to the Butterflies of Great Britain and Ireland
#245485

This handy pocket-sized book has become the essential guide to identifying the butterflies of Great Britain and Ireland. It contains over 600 superb illustrations of the life stages of each species, together with beautiful artworks of butterflies in their natural settings.

 

Guide to the Butterflies of Britain and Ireland
#245262

The illustrations in this guide, from originals painted by Richard Lewington, show 58 British butterfly species. The paintings are a quick identification aid to the butterflies most likely to be seen and all are drawn to life-size.

This Week in Biodiversity News – 13th July

First signs of success in bid to reintroduce pine martens to England. The first pine martens to be reintroduced to England have had kits, marking a milestone in efforts to boost their recovery, conservationists said. Conservationists say at least three females have produced offspring in the Forest of Dean. 

Growing evidence suggests that native bees are also facing a novel pandemic. Researchers at CU Boulder have found there is growing evidence that another “pandemic,” as they call it, has been infecting bees around the world for the past two decades and is spreading: a fungal pathogen known as Nosema.

Rare Gunther’s toad sighting highlights farms as biodiversity hotspots. The sighting of the rare Gunther’s toad in the rock pools of farmlands in Anantapur district in Andhra Pradesh puts the focus on the presence of diverse species in farmlands. Experts say it is time that these lands are seen as systems that contribute to ecology rather than just areas for food production.

Almost a third of lemurs and North Atlantic Right Whale now critically endangered – according to the most recent update of the IUCN’s Red List. This update completes a revision of all African primate assessments, concluding that over half of all primate species in the rest of Africa are under threat. This update also reveals that the North Atlantic Right Whale and the European Hamster are now both Critically Endangered.

Author Interview: Andrew G. Duff, Beetles of Britain and Ireland Vol 3

In our latest Q&A we talk to Andrew Duff, keen naturalist and author of the new book Beetles of Britain and Ireland Volume 3, which joins a monumental 4-volume identification guide to to the adult Coleoptera of the Republic of Ireland, the United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland, and the British Crown Dependency of the Isle of Man. By bringing together reliable modern keys and using the latest taxonomic arrangement and nomenclature, it is hoped that budding coleopterists will more quickly learn how to identify beetles and gain added confidence in their identifications.

Andrew has taken his time to answer our questions about his book and about the fascinating world of beetles.

 Aside from the most conspicuous species, beetles seldom seem to attract as much attention as some other insect orders. What is it that has drawn you to study this group? 

My initial attraction to beetles was by coming across some of the larger and more colourful species, as you might expect. The first occasion was in about the late 1970s. I was out birdwatching with my oldest and best friend, the Ruislip naturalist Mike Grigson, when he found a species of dor beetle. These are large black beetles, often found wandering in the open on heaths and moors. They have the most striking metallic blue undersides. Picking one up, Mike said to me: “beetles are really beautiful ”, and I can still picture him saying it. The next occasion was when I was assistant warden at the Asham Wood reserve on the Mendip Hills in Somerset, in the summer of 1982. The warden, Jim Kemp, was an expert mycologist with a side interest in beetles. One day we were on the reserve and he pointed out a black-and-yellow longhorn beetle sat on an umbel. I thought it was very exotic-looking, every bit as worthy of a naturalist’s attention as butterflies and orchids! So I resolved to find out more about the beetles found in Asham Wood. Bristol Reference Library had a copy of Norman Joy’s Practical Handbook of British Beetles and it was obvious that I needed to buy it. Once I had my own copy of ‘Joy’, there was no stopping me. I started finding beetles and was able to identify most of them. The more you study beetles, the more you realise that all of them have their own special kind of beauty, and this is what ultimately led me to become a coleopterist. That, and the intellectual challenge of identifying small brown beetles, are what continue to inspire me. 

 What motivated you to write and publish Beetles of Britain and Ireland?

Joy’s Practical Handbook of British Beetles was the standard beetle identification guide for at least two generations of British coleopterists, ever since its publication in 1932. Joy’s book provided concise keys to every British beetle in a handy two-volume set, one volume of text and one of line drawings. The trouble with this idea is that the keys were oversimplified and misleading because of all the detail that wasn’t included. By the 1980s ‘Joy’ was already long past its ‘best before date’. Talk started about somebody producing a successor set of volumes and the late Peter Skidmore made a start—after his death I was fortunate to obtain his draft keys and drawings, and in particular have made much use of his drawings in my book. Peter Hodge and Richard Jones then published New British Beetles: species not in Joy’s practical handbook (BENHS, 1995). This was a fantastic achievement because it brought together in one place a list of the species not included in ‘Joy’, as well as notice of recent changes in nomenclature and of some errors in his keys. But it was still only a stop-gap measure.

By around 2008 still nothing had been produced by anyone else. I reckoned it might be achievable and began to discuss with other coleopterists the idea of writing a new series of volumes. The turning point was a discussion with Mark Telfer at a BENHS Annual Exhibition in London. My main concern was over the use of previously published drawings in scientific papers, but Mark reassured me that provided the drawings were properly credited and that the book was clearly an original work in its text and design then it should not fall foul of any copyright issues. By 2010 I’d already made a start on Beetles of Britain and Ireland and in the summer of that year took early retirement so that I could work on it more or less full time. My own professional background is as a technical author in the world of IT and from the 1980s onwards I’d had extensive experience of what used to be grandly called desktop publishing, what we would now call simply word processing! I’d decided to go down the self-publishing route so that I could ensure the production values matched what I thought coleopterists would want: a book which was laid out clearly and would stand up to a lot of wear. It’s really for others to judge whether my volumes meet the needs and expectations of most coleopterists, but so far I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how well they’ve been received.

 How did production of this book compare to the previous volumes in the series? Was it difficult to bring together information on so many families exhibiting such a diversity of life histories?

As this is the third volume to have been completed I’d already learnt a lot about the best way to collate all of the material and summarise it, while trying to make as few mistakes as possible. The previous two volumes (vols. 1 and 4) were written in a rather erratic fashion, so that at any one time some sections would be more or less complete while others would not even have been started. This time I was determined to be more disciplined by starting with the first family, completing a draft which included the family introduction, keys to genera and species, and all of the line art illustrations, before going on the next family and doing the same again. In a way, having many families was an advantage because it meant I could use a ‘divide-and-rule’ strategy by breaking down a fauna of 1088 species into 69 smaller chunks. The fact that there are so many families in this volume didn’t generate any special problems, indeed families with only a few species like the stag beetles, glow-worms and net-winged beetles are relatively straightforward to document. But some of the family introductions were a challenge, insofar as some families are poorly defined taxonomically and hard to characterise in a way which would be accessible to amateur coleopterists. For example the darkling beetles (Tenebrionidae) exhibit a bewildering diversity which makes it well nigh impossible to say why a particular species is or is not assigned to this family. I made extensive use of the two-volume American Beetles (Arnett et al., 2002), which contains succinct summaries of nearly all of our beetle families, and this made my job a lot easier. But at the end of the day, the family diagnoses are not as important as the keys to genera and species. Most coleopterists won’t be coming to a particular family chapter as a result of methodically working through the key to families in volume 1. I imagine that in most cases people start by comparing their beetle with the colour plates, getting a shrewd idea as to what family it belongs to, and then going straight to the keys to genera and species. Picture-matching will always have its place in natural history, and I hope that Udo Schmidt’s 473 colour photos in this volume will be put to good use.

 This volume covers some of our most familiar beetles – the ladybirds and chafers, for example. What advice would you give to anyone seeking to extend their interest beyond these well-known families to the more ‘obscure’ groups? 

I would say that it largely depends on what kind of naturalist you are. What I mean by this is that there are two main ways of studying beetles, and you have to decide which path is right for you. On the one hand, many naturalists take photographs of beetles and by using the Internet or an expert validation service such as iRecord (www.brc.ac.uk/irecord/) they can usually achieve reliable identifications, at least to genus level, for medium-sized and large beetles. Some spectacular finds of beetles new to Britain have been found by general naturalists posting their images on the Internet, a very recent example being the flower-visiting chafer Valgus hemipterus, first posted to iRecord in April 2019 and already given the full works treatment in my volume 3. The problems start as soon as you try to identify smaller and more obscure beetles, because most of them are simply not identifiable from photographs. It’s not their small size and lack of bright colour patterns as such, so much as the need to view the underside, or the fore legs from a particular angle, or the head from the front, or the body orthogonally from directly above to ascertain the precise shape, which makes field photography impractical as a way to identify small beetles. So what you need to do is to go down the second path and start a beetle collection. This enables you to examine your specimen with a bright light source under a good stereomicroscope, turn it over to examine the underside, stretch out its legs to look for the pattern of teeth and spines, straighten it to measure its length and width, and if you’re feeling brave dissect out the genitalia which often provide the only definitive way to arrive at a species identification. Many naturalists balk at the thought of collecting beetles, but I would argue that the scientific value of having a comprehensive species list for a site outweighs any squeamishness I might feel about taking an insect’s life. In any case, my guilt is assuaged by the fact that insects are being eaten in their trillions every day, everywhere, by all manner of insectivorous animals and plants, so that the additional negative effect of my collection on beetle populations is vanishingly small.

Could you tell us a little about the process of compiling keys for the identification of the more challenging species? Were you able to draw upon the existing literature, or did you have to create them from scratch?

Some of the genera treated in this volume have been giving problems for coleopterists ever since the scientific study of beetles began. These are genera with a number of very similar, small and plain species that appear to have few distinguishing features. Nine genera in particular stand out for me as being conventionally ‘difficult’: Contacyphon, Dryops, Cryptophagus, Atomaria, Epuraea, Carpophilus, Meligethes, Corticaria and Mordellistena. It was always going to be a challenge for me to provide workable keys to these ‘nightmare nine’ genera, but I was keen to give it a go. It helps that I take a perverse interest in very difficult identification challenges, so I was motivated to come up with keys which would work. Fortunately I was able to pull together information from a variety of different sources until I had draft keys which could be put out for testing. The testing went through a number of iterations and by reworking the keys—for example adding my own illustrations, simplfying or reorganising couplets, or adding new couplets to account for ambiguous characters—they were gradually improved until I was happy with them. A second source of difficulty concerned the aphodiine group of dung beetles. The formerly very specious genus Aphodius was recently broken up into 27 smaller genera, and our leading dung beetle expert, Darren Mann, recommended to me that we should adopt the new taxonomy. This meant that I needed to construct a completely new key to genera, and that took a great deal of time and effort searching for characters. Incidentally I’d like to pay special thanks to Steve Lane and Mark Telfer for their advice and help with these difficult genera; I owe them both a great deal for their encouragement and support. The keys to challenging genera in this volume will certainly not be the last word on the subject, but I believe they are an improvement on previous keys.

 When gathering information on habitat and biology of the various families, did you notice any glaring omissions? Are there any families that could particularly benefit from further study?

Some of the families treated in this volume are well understood, in terms of their identification, ecology and distribution in Britain and Ireland. The scarab beetle family-group, jewel beetles, click beetle family-group, glow-worms, soldier beetles, ladybirds, oil beetles and cardinal beetles are all popular groups and have been reasonably well studied, while the ladybirds have received a huge amount of attention! But that accounts for just 13 of the 69 families treated in volume 3, and the remaining 56 families are in general much less well known. Modern identification keys in English already existed for some of the other families but for most the information is very basic. I would say that the biggest gap in our understanding concerns the synanthropic and stored-product beetles. Not only do amateur coleopterists rarely come across these species, but the information that has been gathered (mostly by food hygiene inspectors) has not been made publicly available. In a few cases it’s not even clear which country a species has been found in, and all we know is that it has been found at some time, somewhere in Britain. I would like to think that this group will one day be much better documented.

A particular favourite of mine are the silken fungus beetles (Cryptophagidae). This family contains two of the ‘nightmare nine’ genera: Cryptophagus with 35 species and Atomaria with 44 species. I’ve tried hard to produce workable new keys for these two genera, but their identification is never going to be easy and it will be necessary to validate records for a long time to come. But I hope that at least this family will begin to benefit from a greater level of interest, on the back of my new keys.

 There will be one more volume to come before this monumental series is complete – are you able to provide an estimation as to when that will come to fruition?

Volume 2 covers just one huge family: the rove beetles (Staphylinidae). This has been left until last for two good reasons. Firstly, the subfamily Aleocharinae, and in particular the hundreds of species in the tribe Athetini, are so poorly understood that it’s just not clear where the generic limits are drawn. This means I will have my work cut out trying to construct a new key to Aleocharinae genera. Preferably the key won’t involve dissecting out the mouthparts and examining them under a compound microscope, as we are expected to do now! Secondly, it has to be admitted that rove beetles are not the most exciting to look at. As publisher as well as lead author of my series of volumes it was always going to be difficult to sell a book which didn’t contain a lot of colourful plates. My plan all along, then, was to leave the rove beetles until last, in the hope that people would buy the book in order to complete their set! Volume 2 has already been started, and Udo has been working hard on the colour plates, but there is still a mountain to climb to complete the Athetini keys and illustrations to my satisfaction. My best estimate currently is that it will be published no later than 2024. Once that is done, and if I still have my wits about me, I suppose I’ll have to think about revised editions of the earlier volumes!

 

Beetles of Britain and Ireland: Volume 3 Geotrupidae to Scraptiidae

By: Andrew G.Duff
Hardback | Due July 2020| £109.00

 

 

 

Browse the rest of the Beetles of Britain and Ireland series on the NHBS website

 

All prices correct at the time of this article’s publication.

 

The NHBS Guide to Pond Dipping

For many naturalists, some of the most exciting encounters with wildlife as a child were around the edge of a pond, with a net in hand and a sampling tray filled with murky water. It is an excellent activity for children of all ages and is a great way to introduce them to a wide range of plants, insects and amphibians. It offers the opportunity to learn about food chains and food webs as well as discovering some of the amazing insect transformations during their lifecycles. For school groups, a pond dipping trip will satisfy many of the criteria for learning about life processes and living things, and it can also be used to provide inspiration for art, maths or English projects. Younger children will enjoy drawing or painting pictures of the creatures they find, as well as writing stories about their experiences.

Don’t forget that pond dipping isn’t just for children. For adults feeling out of touch with nature, it is an ideal way to reconnect. Ponds, pools and small lakes are also an integral part of our ecosystems and surveying the plant and animal diversity within them is an important way of assessing their health. If you are interested in volunteering as a pond surveyor, take a look at the Freshwater Habitats Trust website for more information.

What you need:

White tray – Rummage through your recycling bin for an old ice cream tub or place a sheet of white paper in the bottom of a baking tin. Our heavy-duty sampling trays come in three sizes and are sturdy enough to be carried full of water.
Net – For younger children a small aquarium net is ideal. For adults and older children, a larger pond net will allow you to reach further into the pond.
Collecting pots – Although it’s perfectly fine to observe your catch directly in the tray, individual pots, particularly those with a magnifying lid, are helpful for looking more closely at individual specimens.
•  Field guide – A guide to freshwater animals will help you to identify the species that you find in your pond. You’ll find a few of our favourites at the bottom of this post.

When and where to go:

May to August are the best months for pond dipping as this is when most creatures will be active and breeding. Any body of still water is suitable for studying, but make sure that you have permission to access the area and that the bank of the pond provides safe access to the water. Ponds with a variety of vegetation and open water are likely to support a high diversity of species.

What to do:
  1. Half fill a tray or bucket with water from the pond and set aside. Do the same with your collecting pots and/or magnifying pots (if using).
  2. Use a net to dip into the pond. Sweeping in a figure of eight will ensure that you retain the catch. Areas around the edge of the pond, especially near vegetation, tend to be the most productive. Take care not to scoop up mud from the bottom of the pond, as this will clog up your net and make it difficult to see what you have caught.
  3. Gently turn the net inside out into the tray. Once everything has settled, you should be able to view a fascinating selection of pond-dwelling creatures. A pipette can be used to transfer individual specimens to a magnifying pot for a closer look.
  4. Use a guide such as the Freshwater Name Trail or the FSC What’s in your Pond pack to identify the creatures found. For adults or older children, a more in-depth guide such as Ponds and Small Lakes or the Bloomsbury Concise Pond Wildlife Guide will cover a greater range of species.
  5. When you have finished, make sure to return all water and inhabitants to the pond. Trays, pots and nets should be rinsed and dried thoroughly before storage.

Pond dipping equipment and books:

At NHBS we stock both individual and class-sized pond dipping kits. These contain nets, trays, pots, magnifier and pipettes, as well as the excellent (and waterproof!) Freshwater Name Trail which will help you to identify the key animals found in UK ponds. Or why not choose from our top 10 list of equipment and books for pond dipping:

1. Pond Net
Made at our workshop in Devon, the Pond Net is a high quality, lightweight net with a removable bag for cleaning. The bag is made from woven 1mm mesh which is ideal for pond life. Also available in a telescopic version.

2. What’s in your Pond?
Find out the names of the insects, plants, amphibians and reptiles that you see with this wildlife pack. Features three of the FSC’s popular fold-out charts: Reptiles and Amphibians (frogs, toads, newts, slow worms, lizards and snakes), Freshwater Name Trail (classic pond dipping guide) and Commoner Water Plants (from lilypads to water mint). Also includes a card-sized magnifier.

 

3. Heavy-duty Sampling Trays
These strong white trays are ideal for pond dipping as they are robust and stable enough to be carried when full of water. Available in three sizes.

 

4. Bug Pots (Set of 10)
This set of ten Bug Pots is perfect for pond dipping, as well as general nature studies. Each pot has a 2.5x magnifying lid and a measurement grid of 5mm squares on the base. They are ideal for storing and observing specimens.

5. Field Guide to Pond and River Wildlife of Britain and Europe

The Field Guide to Pond and River Wildlife of Britain and Europe will help you to identify more than 200 species that can be found in our freshwater habitats, including marginal plants, aquatic plants, fishes, amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals and invertebrates such as pond snails, crayfish, water spiders and dragonflies.

 

6. Economy Telescopic Pond Net
With an aluminium telescopic handle and knotless fine mesh net bag, this pond net will not harm specimens and is guaranteed not to run if holed. Not suitable for heavy-duty use.

7. Ponds and Small Lakes: Microorganisms and Freshwater Ecology

Suitable for adults and older children, this book introduces some of the less familiar and microscopic species found in ponds such as diatoms, desmids and rotifers. Along with excellent photographs, the book provides useful identification keys so that readers can identify, explore and study this microscopic world.

 

8. Pipettes
Small pipettes are extremely handy for sorting through and picking up tiny creatures found when pond dipping. They can also be used to transfer samples to microscope slides to look at the microscopic specimens found.

 

9. 125ml Collecting Pots 
These sampling containers are made from see-through rigid polystyrene and have secure screw-on lids. They are recommended for liquids and so are ideal for keeping specimens when pond dipping or rock pooling. Available either singly or in packs of 10, 30 or 100.

 

10. Bloomsbury Concise Pond Wildlife Guide

This concise guide is packed with information on more than 190 species of animal and plant that inhabit ponds, pools and small lakes in northern Europe. Among the fascinating animals featured are freshwater sponges, hydras, water bears, worms, leeches, water snails, dragonflies and damselflies, frogs and toads, bats, fish, birds, water voles and otter.

 

Creating your own pond:

During the lockdown imposed by Covid-19, the UK and many other countries have seen a rapid growth of interest in nature, especially found in gardens. It is widely considered that the best way to encourage and benefit wildlife in your garden is by adding a pond. There are many books to help in this process, such as Making Wildlife Ponds or the more complete guide called The Pond Book by Pond Conservation.

Palace of Palms: Tropical Dreams and the Making of Kew: an Interview With Kate Teltscher

Daringly innovative when it opened in 1848, the Palm House in Kew Gardens remains one of the most beautiful glass buildings in the world today

In Palace of Palms, Kate Teltscher tells the extraordinary story of its creation and of the Victorians’ obsession with the palms that filled it: a story of breathtaking ambition and scientific discovery and, crucially, of the remarkable men whose vision it was.

Cultural historian and author, Kate Teltscher kindly took some time  to answer our questions about her new book.

Can you tell us something about your background and what motivated you to write Palace of Palms?

I’ve visited Kew since my childhood and have always loved the Palm House.  It’s such a magnificent building, and just astounds you, the moment that you enter the Gardens.  It’s so sleek and elegant, and modern-looking.  As soon as you push open the door, the heat hits you, and you’re inside this tropical world.  The architecture and plants combine to form this astonishing spectacle. The whole Gardens are landscaped around the Palm House, and the three long vistas at the back mean that you’re always catching sight of the Palm House as you walk the grounds.  I wanted to find out why the Palm House was at the centre of Kew.  Why was it the first building to be commissioned when Kew became a public institution?  As a cultural historian, I was interested in the story that the Palm House could tell about Britain and botany, about palms and empire.  And then in the course of my research I became fascinated by the characters that I discovered: the ambitious first Director, the self-taught engineer, and the surly yet devoted Curator.

The historical period in your book has been described as ‘The Golden Age of Botany.’ Do you think this description is justified?

The period certainly saw the birth of modern botany and many plant collecting expeditions, but the idea of a ‘golden age’ seems outdated now. The phrase tends to obscure or gild botany’s connection with commerce and empire.  From its very foundation as a public garden, Kew had close links with colonial gardens across the empire. John Lindley, the botanist who wrote a government report on Kew, proposed that the colonies would offer up their natural resources to Britain to aid ‘the mother country in every thing that is useful in the vegetable kingdom’.  Kew was seen as the co-ordinating hub of a network of colonial gardens in India, Australia, the Indian Ocean and the West Indies, that would exchange information and plants across the globe.  Transplanting medicinal plants, economic and food crops across continents, Kew engineered environmental and social change worldwide.

Why were palms so important to the Victorians?

The Victorians inherited the great Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus’ notion that palms were the ‘princes of the vegetable kingdom’.  They were regarded as the noblest of all plants, far surpassing all European vegetation. For the public educator, Charles Knight, they combined ‘the highest imaginable beauty with the utmost imaginable utility’. They provided every necessity of life: food, drink, oil, clothes, shelter, weapons, tools and books.  They were so bountiful that Linnaeus imagined that early humanity had subsisted entirely on palms. As Chambers’s Edinburgh Journal put it: the question is not ‘What do they afford us? But what is there that they do not?’

Your book is full of intrigue, exploration and innovation. During your research was there one fact or event that stood out as been particularly remarkable?

I was particularly struck by the change in status of palm oil between the 1840s and today. Industrial chemists had recently discovered the properties of palm oil that would, in our own time, make it one of the most ubiquitous of vegetable oils.  In the nineteenth century, palm oil was used as axle grease on the railways and, combined with coconut oil, as a constituent of soap and candles. The oil palm grew in the areas of West Africa previously dominated by the slave trade.  The trade in palm oil, it was argued, was the most effective means to combat human trafficking.  In contrast to current fears that palm oil production is a major cause of deforestation and involves child and forced labour, the Victorians viewed palm oil as an ethical product, with unlimited manufacturing possibilities.

How do you envisage the future of the Palm House, the finest surviving Victorian glass and iron building in the world?

I understand from Aimée Felton, the architect who compiled a report on the Palm House, that despite the constant humidity of the interior, the actual structure is in reasonably good shape. These days, I guess, the Palm House does not look so big. Some of the tallest palms can never reach maturity because the Palm House roof is not high enough; they have to be cut down so that they don’t break through the glass. Obviously modern plant houses, like the Eden Project biospheres or the Norman Foster-designed Great Glass House at the National Botanic Garden of Wales may be larger or wider.  But what I find interesting is that these plant houses, like the Palm House, are daring, experimental structures.  The Palm House really functioned as the model for glasshouses across the globe throughout the nineteenth century: in Copenhagen, Adelaide, Brussels, San Francisco, Vienna and New York.  From a contemporary point of view, the Palm House is often seen as a forerunner of twentieth-century modernism.  It offers a perfect union of form and function, with its clean lines and organic shape.  In recent years, the Palm House has provided the inspiration for one of London’s current icons: the London Eye.  I expect that it will go on inspiring architects and engineers for years to come!

Are you working on any new projects you can tell us about?

I’m hoping to work more with Kew, in particular a project to digitise an early record book that documents all the plants that were received and sent out from Kew at the end of the eighteenth century.  Since Kew was the first point of entry for many plants into Britain, and also sent plants to colonial botanic gardens all over the world, this record book is central to our understanding of the circulation of plant species, both nationally and globally. Kew really is a place of infinite riches, for the visitor and historian alike!

Palace of Palms: Tropical Dreams and the Making of Kew
By: Kate Teltscher
Hardback | July 2020| £19.99 £25.00

The extraordinary history of the magnificent Victorian Palace of Palms in the Royal Botanic Garden, Kew.

 

Further Reading

Discover more about natural history explorers and their discoveries in our selection of books.

All prices correct at the time of this article’s publication.

Faber Independent Alliance: Publisher of the Month

Launched in 2006, The Independent Alliance  has been a vital platform for nature writing to flourish. Authors such as: Patrick Barkham, Stephen Moss, Richard Mabey and John Wright all feature in this rich and varied list.

We are delighted to announce Independent Alliance as our Publisher of the Month for July: a chance in these challenging times to immerse yourself in eloquent, knowledgeable and thought-provoking writing.

We have price-offers on our top fifty Independent Alliance titles and have showcased our top ten below:

A Natural History of the Hedgerow: and Ditches, Dykes and Dry Stone Walls
By: John Wright
Paperback| May 2017| £8.99 £11.99
Tells the story of hedgerows past and present, encompassing their long significance in the life of the countryside.

 

Wild Child: Coming Home to Nature
By: Patrick Barkham
Hardback | May 2020| £13.99 £16.99
Patrick Barkham  explores the relationship between children and nature.

Read our author interview here.

 

The Accidental Countryside: Hidden Havens for Britain’s Wildlife
By: Stephen Moss
Hardback | February 2020| £13.99 £16.99
Stephen Moss journeys the length and breadth of Britain to find the wildlife that is thriving amidst our urban landscape.  Read our author interview here.

 

The Cabaret of Plants: Botany and the Imagination
By: Richard Mabey
Paperback | Oct 2016| £8.99 £10.99
Mabey puts plants centre stage, and reveals a true botanical cabaret: a world of tricksters, shape-shifters and inspired problem-solvers.

 

The Vital Question: Why is Life the Way it is?
By: Nick Lane
Paperback | April 2016| £8.99 £10.99
Why is life the way it is? If life evolved on other planets, would it be the same or completely different…

 

 

The Orchid Hunter: A Young Botanist’s Search for Happiness
By: Leif Bersweden
Paperback | April 2018| £6.99 £8.99
In the summer after leaving school, a young botanist sets out to fulfil a childhood dream – to find every species of orchid native to the British Isles.

 

Notes from an Apocalypse: A Personal Journey to the End of the World and Back
By: Mark O’Connell
Hardback | April 2020 | £11.99 £14.99
Where environmentalists who fear the ravages of climate change and billionaire entrepreneurs dreaming of life on Mars find common ground…

 

Becoming Wild: How Animals Learn to be Animals
By: Carl Safina
Hardback | April 2020 | £14.99 £18.99
Safina demonstrates that the better we understand the animals with whom we share this planet, the less different from us they seem.

 

Darwin’s Most Wonderful Plants: Darwin’s Botany Today
By: Ken Thompson
Paperback | July 2019 | £6.99 £8.99
Ken Thompson establishes Darwin as a pioneering botanist, whose close observations of plants were crucial to his theories of evolution

 

Gods of the Morning: A Bird’s Eye View of a Highland Year
By: Sir John Lister-Kaye
Paperback | Oct 2019 | £8.99 £10.99
Sir John Lister-Kaye follows a year through the seasons at Aigas and the Highland animals, and in particular the birds – his ‘gods of the morning’ – for whom he has nourished a lifelong passion.

Browse all Independent Alliance books at NHBS

All prices correct at the time of this article’s publication.

This Week in Biodiversity News – June 29th

This Phillipine butterfly had a mistaken identity for years, until its ‘rediscovery’. A pair of scientists have discovered a new subspecies of butterfly whose only known habitat is at the peak of a potentially active volcano in the central Philippines.

Koala’s will be driven to extinction before 2050 in New South Wales, major inquiry finds. State parliamentary investigation finds the biggest threat to the species’ survival is habitat loss – but logging and clearing has continued.

Forest loss escalates biodiversity change. New international research focusing on biodiversity data spanning 150 years and over 6,000 locations, published in the journal Science, reveals that as tree cover is lost across the world’s forests, plants and animals are responding to the transformation of their natural habitats, revealing both losses and gains in species.

Dolphins learn how to use tools from peers, just like great apes. A new study upends the belief that only mothers teach hunting skills, adding to growing evidence of dolphin intelligence, experts say. It is the first known example of dolphins transmitting such knowledge within the same generation, rather than between generations.

Song Meter Mini and Mini Bat firmware update

A new firmware update is available for the Song Meter Mini and Song Meter Mini Bat. Version 1.4 will introduce the following changes:

  • Mini Bat now reports scheduled recording period to the app correctly.
  • Mini Bat now correctly increments the recording counter in zero-crossing only mode.
  • Improvements for battery performance.
Instructions for updating the firmware

To upgrade the Song Meter Mini or Song Meter Mini Bat firmware:

  1. Download the firmware file.
  2. Copy this file to the top-level directory of a flash memory card. There must be only one firmware file on the card.
  3. Insert the flash memory card into the SD card slot of the Song Meter Mini.
  4. Turn on the Song Meter Mini.
  5. Press the FUNCTION button two times to select the ‘LOAD’ function.
  6. Press and hold the FUNCTION button until the ‘LOAD’ LED begins blinking.
  7. When the process is complete, all four LEDs will blink green three times and the recorder will reboot with the new firmware.

30 Days Wild Activities – Hedgehog Watch

Hedgehog at Night by Mark Wheadon

Hedgehogs are abundant in urban and suburban areas and can frequently be found in gardens, as these provide safe, accessible spaces for them to forage and rear their young. They are most active between April and September with the main mating season occurring between May and June. Female hedgehogs give birth during June and July, although some will go on to produce a second litter later in the summer. All of this means that now is a great time to look for hedgehogs – and if you’re taking part in the Wildlife Trusts’ 30 Days Wild Challenge, then this will also contribute to your month of wild activities.

If you’re lucky enough to have hedgehogs in your garden, why not take the time to record their behaviours for Hedgehogs After Dark. This project, organised by Hedgehog Street, aims to learn more about the ways in which hedgehogs are using our gardens and the behaviours that they are showing through the spring and summer. Until Sunday 26th July you can submit your observations to their website and have the chance of winning an exclusive hedgehog hamper in their prize draw. Visit their website for lots of information about the different behaviours they are interested in and how to submit your findings (you will need to register as a Hedgehog Champion to do this).

Keep reading for some top tips on making your garden attractive to hedgehogs and how to watch them, either with or without a trail camera.

Is your garden hedgehog friendly?

There are several things that you can do to make your garden more attractive to hedgehogs:

Improve access – Gardens are only useful for hedgehogs if they can access them. Plus, hedgehogs move long distances throughout the night to find enough food, so creating networks of gardens that they can move between is important. By cutting a 13cm diameter hole in the bottom of a fence or removing a brick from the base of a wall, you can help to provide access and link your garden with surrounding ones.

Provide shelter – Try to keep some areas of your garden wild and overgrown, as this will provide secure nesting and feeding spaces. An artificial hedgehog home will also provide a safe and warm space for hedgehogs to overwinter and for a female to birth and raise her young in the spring and summer. Try not to use pesticides or slug pellets in the garden, as these are poisonous to other animals as well as slugs.

Provide food – Make sure that there are lots of worms, beetles and earwigs in your garden by growing wildflowers and providing log piles. Leaving areas of the garden which are overgrown or making a small wildlife pond will also help to encourage a diverse range of invertebrates. (Make sure your pond has sloping sides or piles of rocks to allow any animals to escape.) You could also provide a shallow dish of fresh water along with good quality hedgehog food, meaty dog or cat food, or dry cat biscuits.

Tips for watching hedgehogs

Hedgehogs are nocturnal, so the best time to watch them is during late evening. Throughout the night they can travel up to 2km searching for food and/or mates. (This great video shows radio-tracked hedgehogs moving between gardens in a suburban area of Brighton). If you have a suitable window looking out onto your garden, then you can watch them from the warmth of your home. Make sure that you turn any inside lights off and keep noise to a minimum. If there is no illumination from street lights, visibility will be best at twilight (before complete dark) and around the time of the full moon (provided it isn’t too cloudy).

If you can’t watch the garden from a window, then wrap up warm, get into stealth-mode and venture outdoors. As with any wildlife-watching endeavour, the most important thing is to be still and quiet. It might also help if you can get low to the ground which will provide a hedgehog-level view of their activities. Don’t be tempted to try to get too close to them, however, and never attempt to pick them up or interfere with their natural movements.

Using a trail camera to watch hedgehogs

One of the best ways to view the hedgehogs in your garden is using a trail camera. If you’re lucky enough to own one of these, then setting it up to record at night is a great way to see if any hedgehogs are around and, if so, what they’re getting up to. Here are some tips to maximise your chance of getting great footage:

• When siting your camera, think about where the hedgehogs are likely to be moving around. If you have a hole cut in your fence and you know that hedgehogs are using it to access your garden, then you might want to point your camera towards this. Similarly, if you have provided any food or water, then setting your camera up near to this is a great way to capture footage of them feeding.

• Position your camera low to the ground. Think about the size of the hedgehog and where it is most likely to trigger the infrared beam.

• Set your camera to the highest sensitivity setting. If you find that it is triggering far too much, particularly in the absence of any animals, then you can always reduce this later.

• As you’ll be recording hedgehogs mostly in darkness, having a camera with invisible night vision LEDs could be a bonus, as these will not startle the animals. Plus, models with adjustable night-time illumination (or which adjust automatically) will give you the most control over your image quality.

[The Browning Strike Force HD Pro X is one of our bestselling trail cameras for hedgehog watching and is used by lots of great projects, such as London Hogwatch. For more information or advice about trail cameras, please get in touch with us and chat with one of our experienced ecologists.]

No hedgehogs?

Maybe you don’t have a garden, or you have one but haven’t seen any hedgehogs using it. You can still view lots of great hedgehog videos on the Hedgehog Street YouTube channel. Or, if you use Facebook, why not watch this talk by ecologist and hedgehog fan Hugh Warwick, recorded for the Summer Solstice ‘Wonderland’ Festival this spring.

Further reading

Hedgehog
Pat Morris
#235985

An all-encompassing study of the hedgehog and its habitat, shedding new light on conservation efforts crucial to the survival of this charming creature.

 

The Hedgehog
Pat Morris
#212733

This booklet presents general information on biology and behaviour of the hedgehog.

 

 

RSPB Spotlight: Hedgehogs
James Lowen
#239043

A lively, readable and well-illustrated account of one of Britain’s most loved but most vulnerable animals.

 

 

A Prickly Affair: The Charm of the Hedgehog
Hugh Warwick
#241371

In this glorious book, Hugh sets out to answer our questions about hedgehogs, from the practical to the sublime.

The NHBS Guide to UK Tree Identification

Trees are a vital part of our ecosystem and essential to all life. Trees offer habitation and food to wildlife, they provide us with oxygen, clean the air, conserve water and stabilise soil. As such, trees are invaluable to our environment and to human well-being. 

In the UK there are at least fifty native tree species, and they come in many different sizes and shapes. All trees have distinct features that can help with identification. In this blog we will focus on 10  common native trees and provide you with the most important things you need to look out for, so you can recognise Oak from Elder or Silver Birch from Ash. 

How to Identify a Tree: 

By looking at the overall features as well as where the tree is growing you can work out what the species is. Below are some key characteristics to look out for when trying to identify a tree :

  • The size and shape of the tree
  • Leaves and needles
  • Flowers and fruit
  • Bark, buds and twigs

10 Common British Trees and How to Identify Them:

1. Oak (Quercus robur)
Oak by Gedomaru via Flickr

Where to find: The ancient, wise oak is one of Britain’s most iconic species, standing tall for hundreds of years, it can be found across the country

How to identify:

The common pedunculate oak is a large deciduous tree growing up to 40m tall, with a grey bark when young and darker brown with fissures as it ages.

Look out for: Its oval to oblong shaped leaves with its familiar deep lobed margins with smooth edges. Oak can be easily identified by its distinctive acorns that hang on long stalks. 

2. Ash (Fraxinus excelsior)
Ash tree by David Radcliffe via Flickr

Where to find: Ash is a common, widespread tree often found amongst British hedgerows and in many mixed deciduous woods in the UK.

How to identify: 

Ash grows tall, up to 30-40m, the bark is pale brown and fissures as the tree ages.

Look out for: The tree can be recognised by its pinnately compound leaves, usually comprising three to six opposite pairs of light green, oval leaflets. The buds are one of its defining characteristics. The buds are a sooty black with upturned grey shoots. Sadly, ash is also identified by a serious disease called Ash dieback that is a substantial threat to the species. The fungus appears as black blotches on the leaves, and the whole tree appears to be dying back. 

3. Common Lime (Tilia x europaea)
Lime tree by louis.quinzexv via Flickr

Where to find: The sweet smelling lime is native to much of Europe, found scattered across the wild it is more commonly found in parks and along residential streets

How to identify: 

Common lime is a tall, broadleaf tree, and is a natural hybrid between large-leaved and small-leaved limes. 

Look out for: The Common lime has dark green heart-shaped leaves. It is known for its sweet, smelling white-yellow flowers, that hang in clusters of two to five and  develop into round, oval fruits with pointed tips. The common lime can be distinguished from other lime varieties by the twiggy suckers around the base of its trunk. 

4. Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)
Hawthorn by David Lee via Flickr

Where to find: An ancient tree steeped in mythology and folklore, hawthorn is most commonly found growing in hedgerows, woodland and scrub. 

How to identify:

Hawthorn is identified by its dense, thorny foliage, and if left to fully mature can grow to a height of 15m.

Look out for: Shiny lobed leaves, and five petalled, sweet smelling flowers that are similar to cherry blossoms. It is characterised in the winter by its deep red fruits, known as haws.  

5. Hazel (Corylus avellana)
Hazel by Stoutcob via Flickr

Where to find: Used regularly for coppicing, hazel can be found in a range of habitats, including woodlands, gardens and grasslands.

How to identify:

A small shrubby tree, with a small, grey-brown bark, and can reach up to 12m when left to grow. 

Look out for: Leaves are oval, toothed, and have soft hairs on their underside. It is familiar for its long yellow catkins that appear in Spring, and crop of hazelnuts in the winter. 

6. Common Alder (Alnus glutinosa)
Alder via Flickr

Where to find: Common Alder enjoys moist ground and so can be found along riversides, fens and wet woodlands, providing shelter to fish. 

How to identify:

Alder is a deciduous tree that grows to 25m. It is broadly conical in shape, and the bark is dark and fissured.

Look out for: Small cone like fruits and young catkins that harden when pollinated. It can also be recognised by its purple buds and purple twigs with orange markings in winter.  

7. Holly (Ilex aquifolium)
Holly by Douglas Cox via Flickr

Where to find: A favourite in Christmas decorations, holly is widespread and found commonly in woodland, scrub and hedgerows. 

How to identify:

The dense, evergreen tree has a smooth bark and dark brown stems. It can grow up to 15m in height. 

Look out for: Holly can be easily identified by its dark, evergreen, shiny leaves that have prickles on the edges, as well as its bright red berries.

8. White Willow (Salix alba)
Willow by Bill Cheesman via Flickr

Where to find: The weeping, romantic willow can be spotted growing in wet ground, for example along riverbanks and around lakes. 

How to identify: 

White willow is a large, fast growing tree growing up to 25m, with an irregular, leaning crown.

Look out for: Willow is distinguished from other trees by its slender, flexible twigs that drape into the water. White willow appears more silvery than other willows due to its pale, oval leaves, that carry silky, white hairs on the underside. In early Spring look out for its long yellow catkins.

9. Silver Birch (Betula pendula)
Silver Birch by Jan Roles via Flickr

Where to find: A pioneer species, silver birch is a popular garden tree, and thrives in moorlands, heathland and dry and sandy soils.

How to identify:

Can be easily recognised by its silvery, paper bark. It has drooping branches and can reach 30m in height. 

Look out for: Its triangular-shaped leaves that grow from hairless leaf stalks. In Spring flowers appear as yellow-brown catkins that hang in groups, once pollinated female catkins thicken and darken to a crimson colour. 

10. Elder (Sambucus nigra)
Elder by Rüdiger Heiß via Flickr

Where to find: Historically known for its magical properties, Elder appears in hedges, scrub, woodland, waste and cultivated ground.

How to identify: 

Elder can be identified by its short greyish-brown trunk, that develops deep creases as it ages. The tree can grow to around 15m.

Look out for: Elder has compound leaves, each leaf divided into five to seven leaflets. In summer Elder is recognised by its creamy, sweet, smelling white flowers that hang in sprays, and later in autumn develop into deep, purple berries. 

Recommended reading and guides:

Collins Tree Guide: The Most Complete Field Guide to the Trees of Britain and Europe

#151916

An essential, definitive, fully-illustrated guide to the trees of Britain and non-Mediterranean Europe.

 

 

The Tree Name Trail: A Key to Common Trees

#115887

This 12-page laminated fold-out chart contains a full-colour illustrated key to the leaves, twigs, fruits and seeds of the commonest broadleaved and coniferous trees of Britain and Ireland.

 

 

London’s Street Trees: A Field Guide to the Urban Forest 

#249755

London is home to an astounding diversity of tree species and this portable book offers a field guide to their identification, as well as suggested walks to see them.

 

RSPB First Book of Trees

#226307

Through beautiful full-page illustration accompanied by key information about each creature, books are designed to encourage young children’s interest in the outside world and the wildlife around them.

 

 

Trees: A Complete Guide to their Biology and Structure

#229286

Roland Ennos sheds new light on trees and their structure by answering questions from the apparently obvious to the obscure but fascinating.

 

Tree Story: The History of the World Written in Trees

#248320

A dendrochronological delight, the beautifully written and illustrated Tree Story reveals the utterly fascinating world of tree-ring research and how it matters to archaeology, palaeoclimatology, and environmental history.

 

Winter Trees: A Photographic Guide to Common Trees and Shrubs

#209999

This AIDGAP guide covers 36 of the common broad-leaved deciduous species, or groups of species, that are most likely to be found in the UK, as well as a few rarer trees.