Phenology Series: Winter

Winter is the toughest time of year for wildlife – cold temperatures and short days mean that finding enough food to keep warm and survive becomes a challenging job. Some animals use this time to enter a period of hibernation or torpor to preserve energy for when conditions improve, while others rely on stashes of food or body fat, stored away during the previous seasons.

Much of our vegetation has entered a period of dormancy, with growth slowing down and most trees and shrubs remaining bare until the spring. It would be easy to assume that nothing much is happening in the wild, but there are still amazing sights to be seen for the intrepid wildlife watcher who isn’t afraid to venture outside.

This is the fourth and final installment in our seasonal phenology series where you can explore a carefully chosen collection of ID blogs, books, equipment and events, all designed to help you make the most of a winter outside. Check out our springsummer and autumn blogs for inspiration during the rest of the year.

Identification guides:









What you might see:

• During the winter, mountain hares turn white to blend in with the snow that would historically have been much more common and persistent during this time of year. For keen wildlife watchers, this makes November to April the best time to see them, as they stand out clearly from a snow-free landscape. Also known as the blue hare, they are present in Scotland and the north of England and Wales, and are most commonly found on heathland where they can be seen bounding across the landscape.

• As wild food sources become scarce throughout the colder months, elusive red squirrels may be increasingly tempted by garden peanut feeders, providing us with a perfect chance for a close-up viewing. Where they are present in the wild, bare trees can make winter a great time to spot these delightful mammals.

• Tawny owls breed very early in the year, meaning that their loud mating calls can be heard from late autumn and through the winter months. Their territorial calls are very easy to recognise and provide a wonderful accompaniment to an early morning winter walk.

• Ducks and other wildfowl flock together in huge numbers during the winter for their nesting season, and are often responsible for a cacophony of sound around lakes and ponds. The appearance of winter plumage in male ducks also makes them a spectacular sight, and it is now that the differences between male and female birds become most apparent.

• At the same time as we say goodbye to many of our summer migrants, we also welcome to our shores a number of species which arrive to spend the winter away from colder regions. Geese, swans and ducks flock here from as far away as Canada, Russia and Iceland. The numbers of some of our resident species, such as starlings, chaffinches and robins, may also be boosted by additional migrants.



Upcoming events:

Big Schools Birdwatch – 6th January – 20th February
Big Garden Birdwatch – 27th to 29th January
World Wetlands Day – 2nd February
Global Recycling Day – 18th March
First Day of Spring – 20th March

Essential books and equipment:

The Field Key to Winter Twigs

The Field Key to Winter Twigs offers a striking new approach to the identification of over 400 wild or planted trees, shrubs and woody climbers found in the British Isles. It allows any diligent enthusiast to reliably name a woody plant, normally within three turns of a page.

Guide to Winter Coastal Birds

This laminated fold-out chart features 44 of the birds you can see along the coastline of the UK in the winter. From long-legged waders to gulls, geese and shore ducks, all birds are shown in the adult winter plumage with separate images for males, females and juveniles.


Guide to the Seasons

This fold-out FSC chart aids with the identification of different species of flora and fauna through each season, including winter. From catkins in spring to redwings in winter, this portable guide is essential for exploring wildlife and nature throughout the year. This is especially suitable for younger children.


Wild Winter

John D. Burns sets out to rediscover Scotland’s mountains, remote places and wildlife in the darkest and stormiest months. In Wild Winter, he traverses the country from the mouth of the River Ness to the Isle of Mull, from remote Sutherland to the Caingorns, in search of rutting red deer, pupping seals, minke whales, beavers, pine martens, mountain hares and otters.

A Field Guide to Bryophytes

This field guide covers 133 species of moss and liverwort encountered in most UK habitats, using non-specialist terms to help identify them. Twelve ‘flow-charts’ help identify species by the habitat they occur in. All proceeds from the sales go to The Species Recovery Trust.

Winter Birds

In this stunning book, Lars Jonsson celebrates and explores the beauty of the birds that surround him during the Swedish winter months. Inspired by the desolate, wintry landscapes, the dazzling light and the stark contrast of colours he observes against the snow, Jonsson has created an unparalleled collection.

Kite Lynx HD+ Binoculars

Lynx HD+ binoculars have unique, class-leading optical characteristics in an exceptionally lightweight and compact body. They are perfect for surveying as it is easy to locate even fast moving animals and features in large landscapes.

Hawke Optics Nature-Trek Spotting Scope

A high quality yet economical choice for the keen wildlife watcher. Housed in a tough polycarbonate body, fully multi-coated optics help to produce sharp images whilst BAK-4 porro prisms ensure intense colour and contrast.

Petzl Actik Core Headtorch

The Petzl Actik Core is a carefully designed professional headtorch with both white and red light options.


Guardian Seed Feeder

This feeder includes a plastic seed feeder and an exterior cage designed to keep out squirrels and larger birds. The feeder is constructed from plastic with a metal lid and has plastic perching rings, which enable birds to feed in a natural forward facing position.


This Week in Biodiversity News – 2nd January 2023

Climate change

UK wildlife was ‘devastated’ by extreme weather in the UK. The National Trust’s annual audit revealed that 2022 was a dire year for animals, including amphibians, mammals, birds and insects. Due to strong storms, heatwaves and cold snaps, many species and habitats were effected. The wildfires during the hot summer destroyed many heathland areas in Cornwall, Devon and Dorset, impacting rare species such as sand lizards and smooth snakes. This potential ‘new norm’ of extreme weather is creating major challenges for UK biodiversity.

2022 will be the warmest year on record in the UK, according to the Met Office. Provisional figures hint that the annual average temperature from last year will exceed the previous record set in 2014. The 10 warmest years on record have all occurred since 2003, with temperature trends showing that the UK is hotter since we began burning fossil fuels and releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. This new record is showing that climate change is having a real impact.

Unseasonably warm weather is expected this January, with at least eight countries across Europe experiencing record high temperatures. The warmest January day on record was recorded in Poland, Denmark, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Belarus, Lithuania and Latvia. The Czech Republic saw temperatures of 19.6°C, compared with the usual average of 3°C.

Extinction risks
Polar bear by Martin Lopatka via Flickr

Polar bears are vanishing from the ‘polar bear capital of the world’ in Canada. The western Hudson Bay is considered a stronghold for this species but government research is showing that there has been a dramatic decline in numbers. Every five years, researchers count the number of bears in the area and extrapolate population trends, with the last count in 2021 estimating 618 bears, down from 842 five years earlier. The reveal showed significant declines in adult females and subadult bears between 2011 and 2021, possibly due to displacements to neighbouring regions or hunting. The bears’ sea-ice habitat has also been disappearing, with the far north of the world warming up to four times faster than the rest of the planet.

New discoveries

A pink coloured variant of the Monotropastrum humile plant, native to East and Southeast Asia, has been discovered to actually be a new species. A 20-year study determined how exactly these plants different, with specimens collected throughout Japan, Taiwan and Vietnam. Originially, there was thought to be only one species in this genus in the world, so this new discovery has deepened our understanding of the plants in the Monotropastrum genus. As this newly recognised species is rare and therefore presumably endangered, the information from this study will hopefully be used to inform conservation efforts.


Researchers have found a ‘shark graveyard’ at the bottom of the ocean in one of Australia’s newest marine parks. Fossilised teeth dating back to an ancient ancestor of the megalodon were found in samples taken from this site, along with 750 teeth representing a number of other predatory species. These were a mix of modern and ancient sharks and will help scientists better understand both past and present life in the ocean.

Eastern Quoll by sontag1 via Flickr

Eastern quolls have been released into the Australian bush in New South Wales, over sixty years after they were declared extinct on the mainland. The 10 individuals were released into a NSW nature reserve, bolstering an insurance population of quolls. The Barrington population is the largest on the mainland and was established through the Tasmanian Quoll Program. Special fences have been erected to keep out cats, foxes and pigs, as feral invasive predators are thought to have been the cause of the initial population decimation.

2022 author interviews, book reviews and field tests

At NHBS we love nothing more than chatting with the authors of our favourite books about their lives, passions and publications. Interested in the authors we talked to in 2022? Here we’ve listed all of the books that we were fortunate to cover this year along with the titles that have been reviewed on our blog and the equipment that we tested in our regular ‘In the Field’ series.

Author Q&As

The Secret Perfume of Birds with Danielle Whittaker

“I started out with simple, clearly defined experiments to test the birds’ reaction to odours from other birds. Then moved on to working with chemists to analyze the information content present in the odours given off by birds. Little by little, the scientists who heard about work in this area started to pay attention…”


Otherlands with Thomas Halliday

“We mustn’t fall into the trap of thinking that humans can only be destructive, or that we are separate from the ecosystems we live in…This is the Earth we live in, and we are part of this world, but worlds can change in a moment.”


The Secret Life of the Adder with Nicholas Milton

“The book is my attempt to conserve the species using a 10-point adder action plan, and wake up the government, its nature conservation agencies, the media and the public to its plight before it is too late.”


Field Guide to Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises with Mark Carwardine

“It’s true to say that our knowledge of cetaceans has grown from virtually nothing to just a little bit – despite decades of wild whale research. They are incredibly difficult animals to study, because they spend most of their lives underwater, often live far out to sea and regularly travel vast distances.”

Why Sharks Matter with David Shiffman

“As a marine conservation biologist who studies sharks and how to protect them, I know that we need the public to not only no longer fear sharks, but to value the role they play in the ecosystem and to want them around.”


Wildlife Photography Fieldcraft with Susan Young

“Wildlife photography is hugely important as photographs can convey an emotion or fact better than words, and in particular can illustrate features or situations in a compelling, thought-provoking way, or simply attract by their beauty.”


The Fragmented World of the Mongoose Lemur with Michael Stephen Clark

“Perhaps, more alarmingly, the mongoose lemur has unwittingly become a prima-facie example of something disquieting; namely, a growing acceptance that nature will be allowed to persist only in places of our choosing.”


Book reviews

Ever Green: Saving Big Forests to Save the Planet by John W. Reid and Thomas E. Lovejoy
Reviewed by Hana Ketley

Birds, Beasts and Bedlam: Turning My Farm into an Ark for Lost Species by Derek Gow
Reviewed by Hana Ketley

Abundance: Nature in Recovery by Karen Lloyd
Reviewed by Hana Ketley

Fen, Bog & Swamp: A Short History of Peatland Destruction and its Role in the Climate Crisis by Annie Proulx
Reviewed by Luanne Wilkes

Goshawk Summer: The Diary of an Extraordinary Season in the Forest by James Aldred
Reviewed by Hana Ketley

‘In the Field’ equipment tests

Elekon Batlogger M2 – tested by Hana Ketley

Kowa TSN-501 Spotting Scope – tested by Joshua Smith

Elekon Batlogger S2 – tested by Alex Jackson

Browning Spec Ops Elite HP5 & Browning Recon Force Elite HP5 – tested by Andrew Molin-Wilkinson

Batbox Baton – tested by Antonia Peacock

Kite APC Stabilised Binoculars – tested by Simon Palmer

What are the results of COP15 and do they really mean anything?

COP15, the UN Biodiversity Conference, took place between 7th and 19th December 2022. This event set out to convene world governments to agree to a new set of goals for nature over the next decade. This will create a framework that sets out an ambitious plan to implement broad-based action to change society’s relationship with biodiversity, ensuring that humanity can live in harmony with nature by 2050. COP15 has been touted as the key turning point in the fight to protect biodiversity, and a vital opportunity for countries to make change.

Biodiversity is declining globally, with the WWF Living Planet Report reporting that trends in the population abundance of mammals, fish, reptiles, birds and amphibians have revealed that populations have declined by an average of 69% between 1970 and 2018. Habitat conversion for people and livestock, hunting, exploitation, the intensification of agricultural practices, and the impacts of climate change such as temperature increase, changes to rainfall patterns and increased extreme weather events are among the wide range of challenges wildlife currently faces. Regionally, Latin America and The Caribbean have experienced the worst decline, at 94%. This global decline is set to worsen if no changes are made.  

COP15 by UN Biodiversity via Flickr
What were the goals that needed to be set?

The main aim of COP15 was to reach a set of goals and targets that would create a comprehensive and equitable framework agreed upon by world governments. These clear targets need to address over-exploitation, pollution, fragmentation and unsustainable agricultural practices, and be matched by the resources needed for implementation. There also needed to be a plan that safeguarded the rights of indigenous peoples, recognising their contributions as stewards of nature. Finally, the finance for biodiversity needed to be addressed, particularly relating to the alignment of financial flows with nature to push finances towards sustainable investments and away from environmentally harmful ones.

The Deal

An agreement was reached on Monday 19th December 2022. Almost 200 countries agreed to the new set of goals and targets that aim to “halt and reverse” biodiversity loss by the end of the decade. Six items were adopted at COP15:

  • the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF)
  • A monitoring framework for the Kunming-Montreal GBF
  • Mechanisms for planning, monitoring, reporting and review
  • Capacity-building, development, technical and scientific cooperation
  • Resource mobilisation
  • Digital sequence information on genetic resources.

It is hoped that measurable targets within the Kunming-Montreal GBF, and a mechanism for implementation, will ensure it will succeed where previous targets have not. There are 23 global targets within this GBF for 2030, with 10 ‘milestones’, including ensuring that at least 30% of land and water considered important for biodiversity are protected before the end of the decade. Currently, only 17% of terrestrial and 10% of marine areas are protected.

The key targets also include increasing financial resources from all sources, not just governments, to at least $200 billion per year towards supporting biodiversity by 2030; reducing, redirecting or reforming environmentally harmful incentives by $500 billion per year; and reducing the nutrients lost to the environment by at least 50%, pesticides by at least two thirds and eliminating plastic waste from entering the environment entirely.

The digital sequence information target refers to genetic sequence data, derived from the natural world. This is used in medicine and science, for vaccines, biofuels, crop improvements and further research. The target would require that the benefits arising from this information be shared fairly and equitably.

Are they effective?

Many are labelling the goal of taking urgent measures by 2030 as a strong call to action, with many 2030 milestones listed in the final agreement, including reducing extinction risk by 20%. This would then be reduced tenfold by 2050. This, however, would mean many species are still likely to go extinct during this time, particularly specialist species that occupy narrow niches, as these are more likely to be impacted than generalist species that can survive in a wider variety of environmental conditions. Reducing the diversity of species within an ecosystem can reduce its resilience against other stressors, such as the impacts of climate change, disease and habitat degradation. This is known as biotic homogenisation, where ecological communities become increasingly similar due to a combination of the extinction of native species and the invasion of non-native species.

The target of protecting 30% of land and sea by 2030 is hailed by many as the main success of the conference. This large increase in protected areas, especially with the requested focus on areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem functions and services, will have a significant impact on biodiversity loss. However, some are describing the milestone of conserving at least 30% of land and sea by 2030 as a ‘floor, not a ceiling’, suggesting that 50% is an important step to the long-term survival of both biodiversity and humanity. This is the key aspect of the Half-Earth concept, developed by biologist E. O. Wilson, which states that the only solution to the upcoming ‘Sixth Extinction’ is to increase natural reserves to cover half the surface of the earth.

Additionally, there is no target for increasing species population abundance by 2030, with details on enlarging the area of natural ecosystems by at least 5% being removed after earlier drafts. While many of the other targets will most likely lead to an increase in species population abundance, and perhaps even in increasing the area of natural ecosystems, the lack of a set target makes it harder to hold governments to account.

Another item that has notably been missed is the issue of dietary consumption, beyond reducing general overconsumption. Research has shown the consumption of meat, particularly beef, is specifically linked to biodiversity loss, with 30% of biodiversity loss linked to livestock production. Reduction of meat consumption is not mentioned in the text of the COP15 agreement, despite research suggesting that beef consumption needs to fall by 90% in western countries to prevent the future impacts of climate change.

Cattle farming by ScotGov Rural via Flickr

Research has also shown that over £1.48tn ($1.8tn) of environmentally harmful subsidies are being paid each year, going towards high-emission cattle production, deforestation and pollution. One of the Aichi biodiversity targets, discussed later in this article, was to remove these subsidies, which governments failed to achieve by 2020. This new target, which requires governments to redirect or reduce these subsidies by at least £416bn ($500bn) per year is a major opportunity, and is recognised as another major outcome of this agreement. However, this still leaves over £1tn ($1.3tn) in environmentally harmful subsidies each year, continuing to put pressure on global biodiversity.

Additonally, the COP15 agreement calls for businesses to assess and disclose how they impact and are impacted by nature loss, but it is not mandatory, which weakens this target. This is unlikely to effectively hold large corporations to account, though societal pressure may play a role in encouraging many countries and financial firms towards disclosures.

This all suggests that, while meeting these targets will put the world on the right track towards halting and reversing biodiversity loss, there is still much more that is needed to be done to create a ‘nature-positive’, more harmonious future. These targets need to be a starting point rather than an end goal.

Can we rely on these promises?

The previous strategic plan for biodiversity for the 2011-2020 period included the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, agreed upon at COP10 in 2010. However, by 2020, the Global Biodiversity Outlook 5 Report by the UN showed that the world failed to meet any of the targets.  There were 20 targets agreed upon, which were separated into 6o elements, to aid in monitoring overall progress. In 2020, only seven of these elements were achieved, with 38 showing progress and 13 with no progress at all. Two had unknown progress. This resulted in six Aichi targets being partially achieved, such as those on protected areas and invasive species. This failure to meet the previous set of targets does not bode well for any confidence in the seriousness of the commitment of world governments to meet these new ones.

The new financial targets, widely hailed as one of the main successes of COP15 will make a huge difference in halting and reversing biodiversity loss but only if they are actually achieved. In 2009, developed countries committed to supplying $100 billion per year by 2020 to help vulnerable countries impacted by climate change. However, these rich nations failed to meet the long-standing pledge. Instead, $83.3 billion was provided in 2020, $16.7 billion short of the target. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) suggested that the $100 billion target would not be met until 2023, using U.N. data processed with a two-year delay. This, again, casts doubt on whether developed countries can be relied upon to follow through with the financial commitments agreed upon at these events.

The other main success of COP15, the goal to protect 30% of land and sea for nature by 2030, also has a failing precedent. In the UK in 2020, the Prime Minister at the time, Boris Johnson, committed to protecting 30% of the UK’s land and sea for nature by 2030. However, so far, according to the 2022 Progress Report on 30×30 in England by Wildlife and Countryside Link, only 3.22% of England’s land is effectively protected and managed by nature, compared to 3% in 2021. There was more progress in protecting English waters, with 8% effectively protected for nature, compared to 4% in 2021.  With very little progress being made and the continued threats of deregulatory proposals to reform or repeal the strongest laws for nature, this calls into question whether the UK will remain committed to these new global goals. Additionally, the newly published environmental targets from The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) are being criticised as a ‘job half-done’ as the goals to ensure greater biodiversity in 2042 than in 2022, and at least 10% more than in 2030, do not go far enough.

However, a proposed EU Nature Restoration Law might be the first step towards achieving these new targets. Should this law successfully make its way through the European Parliament, it would signal that these countries are willing to make the necessary policy changes to stop biodiversity loss. The new law aims to set specific timetables for restoring degraded habitats such as rivers, wetlands, fields and forests. It would cover 1.6 million square miles across the 27 member countries. As the EU’s current environmental laws don’t explicitly state how, when or who needs to restore these areas, this new law is a much-needed addition to ensure proper implementation of conservation. The final vote is expected to take place in June.

Protest at COP15. Image by UN Biodiversity via Flickr

Ultimately, world governments and global businesses have made similar pledges before and failed to follow through. Often, while the agreements contain targets that would make significant progress against biodiversity loss, there is a lack of strict regulation of adherence and adoption of policies that would allow for progress towards these targets. While there have been some initial steps that suggest a real commitment to achieving these targets, the next few months and years will be a key time for world governments to prove that they are willing to make the necessary changes.

References and useful resources

The UN page on COP15

The first draft of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework

The 23 targets of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework

Two papers on the impacts of biotic homogenisation

Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life by Edward O. Wilson

Research into meat consumption and its connection to biodiversity loss

Research into food systems and environmental limits, discussing the reduction of meat consumption

Research into the amount of environmentally harmful subsidies per year

The Aichi Biodiversity Targets

The world failed to meet any of the Aichi biodiversity targets by 2020 – a news report by The Guardian

The statement by Defra on the final environmental targets under the Environment Act 2021

Information on the EU Nature Restoration Law

NHBS Staff Picks 2022

Welcome to our annual round-up of the books and equipment we have enjoyed reading and using this year, all chosen by members of the NHBS team.

Kite APC Binoculars

My choice this year is a set of image stabilised binoculars from Kite. Having used them, it’s difficult to go back to a standard pair as they really make it very easy to focus on the wildlife and enjoy the behaviours seen instead of having to work at holding the binoculars steady. I spent many days out on boats scanning the sea for cetaceans and wished that I had had these for those trips. This is a great example of where technology is improving the ability to view wildlife accurately.
Simon – Technical Advisor

Otherlands: A World in the Making

Otherlands, the debut of Scottish palaeontologist Thomas Halliday, presents you with a series of past worlds. Though this is a non-fiction book thoroughly grounded in fact, it is the quality of the narrative that stands out. Beyond imaginative metaphors to describe extinct lifeforms, some of his reflections on deep time, taxonomy, and evolution are simply spine-tingling.
Leon – Catalogue Editor

Beak, Tooth and Claw: Why We Must Live with Predators

Beak, Tooth & Claw is my choice for this year’s staff picks as it’s an informative and thought-provoking analysis of our relationship with predators in the UK. This controversial and often highly charged debate is skillfully handled, with tales of Mary Colwell’s face to face encounters with predators as well as conversations with scientists who study them, wildlife lovers who want to protect them and the people who want to control them. I highly recommend this book for anyone who loves our predator species and wants to know more about one of the greatest challenges facing conservation today – how, when and where to control predators.
Hana – Marketing Manager

BeePot Mini Bee Hotel

The BeePot Bee Hotel has been a perfect addition to our little urban garden! The flowering plants and nesting place have encouraged solitary bees. Loss of suitable habitat is one of the main causes of pollinator decline and Green & Blue design many products that are centered around providing a home for wildlife. Not only is the BeePot beautifully and sustainably made, but it also helps support pollinators and makes a lovely gift for anyone who loves insects or gardening!
Alex – Wildlife Equipment Specialist

Dinosaur Monopoly

I bought this for my son as a present, he is obsessed with Monopoly and Dinosaurs. It is a great alternative to the traditional Monopoly and we loved the dinosaur pieces and the way you place tents and jeeps instead of houses and hotels.
Mark – Product & Purchasing Manager

Cornerstones: Wild Forces That Can Change Our World

As a biologist, I was already familiar with the theory of keystone species and the important role they have in shaping their local habitat and wider ecosystems. However, Benedict Macdonald really brings this to life in Cornerstones, offering us a beautifully descriptive view of how our country could look, should we choose to reintroduce those species that are so vital for its health and diversity. His writing perfectly blends scientific theory with visceral imagery to both inspire the mind and capture the imagination. This book left me feeling tentatively hopeful for what our small green island could once again become.
Luanne – Senior Editor

National Trust Apex Insect House

We love our National Trust Apex Insect House! About eight months ago, we installed it slap bang in the sunny middle of our orchard among trees and shrubs, and have since seen a great buzz around it. The variety of bamboo and wooden tubes in this house-shaped box, as well as the pine cones in its attic, create all kinds of dwelling for insects big and small. Here’s a tip: perseverance is key. Pop it in a nice, sheltered spot in the midst of greenery, then give it a little time and your residents will come.
Sabine – Customer Services Advisor

The Bumper Dinosaur Activity Book

This activity book was a huge hit with my son on his birthday. It’s bursting full of a range of activities that kept him occupied for ages. It’s great value for money and really good quality.
Jess – Purchasing Coordinator

This Week in Biodiversity News – 19th December 2022


The province of Limburg in the Netherlands will be restoring the habitat of the critically endangered garden dormouse over the next four years. In the Netherlands, this species (Eliomys quercinus) is only found in the southern Limburg area, although it is found across other parts of Europe, including France, Spain, Portugal, Italy and areas of south eastern Europe. The species relies on contiguous hedges and bushes, avoiding open fields, with a food preference for blackberries, common hazel, elderberries, gooseberries and red currants. Habitat loss and fragmentation are thought to have been the cause of the decline in both their abundance and range.

The garden dormouse (Eliomys quercinus) by Arno Laurent via Wikipedia Commons
Extinction risks

There have been a number of news stories relating to the mass die-offs of crustaceans off the North East and Yorkshire coasts, the first of which occurred in October 2021. Fishers and campaigners are protesting against further developments on the River Tee, where they believe dredging disturbed toxic chemicals and caused the mass deaths. Both the government and Tees Valley Combined Authority rejected this claim, with Defra suggesting naturally occurring algae was the most likely cause. Defra is organising an independent panel that will reinvestigate by January, and MPs are now calling for the inquiry to be open and collaborative, ensuring independence in the process.


Campaigners call for biodegradable plastic to be included in English single-use cutlery ban. The ban, expected to be announced in the coming weeks, comes after Scotland and Wales already legislated to ban various single-use plastics, including those described as biodegradable. Many ‘bioplastics’ are environmentally damaging and won’t break down in the natural environment, despite being termed biodegradable.  

A report from the House of Lords has said that access to green space needs to be prioritised when deciding how to use land. The cross-party House of Lords land use in England commission has laid out its priorities for a land use framework. This would divide up the land in England and decide where is best for different types of agriculture, as well as carbon sequestration, nature restoration and recreation. The report, published on Tuesday last week, highlights the need for greater access to the natural world for the public, as it is ‘important for health and wellbeing, especially in urban and peri-urban locations near where people live’.  


New research has found the structures and binding environments of pigments bound to a protein responsible for photosynthesis at sea. Using cryogenic electron microscopy, the team studied a marine macroalga, Sea Staghorn (Codium fragile), which uses a protein termed a ‘photosynthetic antenna’ to efficiently utilise the blue-green light that reaches the ocean floor. The mechanism by which this is achieved has not yet been fully understood but this new research is contributing to a better understanding.

Sea Staghorn (Codium fragile) by Jerry Kirkhart via Flickr

A breakthrough in nuclear fusion energy has been announced by US scientists. Physicists have been pursuing the technology for decades as it promises a potential source of near-limitless clean energy. The fusion experiment, which took place at the National Ignition Facility in California produced more energy than was put in, but experts say there is still some way to go before fusion powers homes. Nuclear fusion works by taking pairs of light atoms and forcing them together, which releases a lot of energy. This process, while giving off small amounts of short-lived radioactive waste, produces no greenhouse gas emissions and therefore would not contribute to climate change.  

Pollination loss removes healthy food from global diets. New research led by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health has found that this increases chronic diseases causing excess deaths. Inadequate pollination, due to reduced biodiversity, has led to a 3-5% loss of fruit, vegetable and nut production, linked to an estimated 427,000 excess deaths annually from lost healthy food consumption and associated diseases, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes and certain cancers.


Eels are facing a population collapse after the annual fishing negotiations for key EU waters ended in quotas higher than those scientists have recommended. Conservation groups and scientists recently called for all EU eel fisheries to be closed to allow populations space to recover. However, the European Commission only agreed to extend the closure of eel fisheries at sea from the current three-month closure to six months. This will cover juvenile eel migrations and mature eels swimming between the sea and rivers. This decision came as the UN COP15 biodiversity summit, which ended on Monday 19th December, attempted to bring countries together to agree on targets to ensure the survival of species and stem the collapse of ecosystems across the world. A number of conservationists and scientists believe this decision is at odds with EU leaders’ proclaimed ambitions to protect biodiversity at COP15. 

Countries have agreed to protect 30% of land and sea, decrease environmentally harmful subsidies and increase financing for nature restoration and protection. This goal is set to be achieved by the end of the decade, with initial responses from green groups being broadly positive. A new biodiversity fund will be formed, to sit within the UN’s existing Global Environment Facility, pooling together development aid, private sector money, philanthropic donations and funds raised through the use of digital sequence information of genetic resources. Additionally, rich countries have committed to increasing international aid for biodiversity to $20bn annually by 2025, then to $30bn by 2030.

The NHBS Guide to UK Rails

Rails, from the family Rallidae, are small- to medium-sized birds and include crakes, coots and gallinules. They can be found in most terrestrial habitats, but the most common are marshland and dense forests. They are present on every continent except Antarctica and are generally omnivores, consuming invertebrates, fruits and seedlings. Typically, they prefer dense vegetation near bodies of water, such as lakes, rivers or swamps.

This is a large family with around 130 species. We have several resident species in the UK, as well as a number of migrants and occasional visitors. Identification of rail species relies on plumage, leg and frontal shield colouration (if present), and their calls. Binoculars and scopes are useful for spotting these features from a distance. Juveniles and chicks will often differ in appearance from adults, therefore a guide covering these life stages is also helpful.

How are rails faring?

Due to hunting, egg collection and habitat loss, many rail species have become extinct and others are endangered. The corncrake and the spotted crake, for example, are classified as Red and Amber under the Birds of Conservation Concern 4. Due to their general flightlessness, they are often heavily impacted by introduced species such as domestic cats. American mink, a nonnative and invasive species in the UK, are a particular threat to moorhen as they can be a main prey item.

Corncrakes are the focus of several conservation projects due to their Europe-wide population declines. Research has shown that increasing the areas of suitable tall vegetation, particularly in spring, autumn and mid-winter, delaying mowing and using certain mowing methods can be effective conservation measures. Up to 60% of chicks are killed by standard mowing practices, due to their flightlessness and reluctance to escape to areas already cut. Since 1992, conservation measures have been implemented on a large scale and have resulted in a partial recovery, from 480 calling males in 1993 in the UK to 1,284 in 2014. However, since 2014, numbers are declining again in Scotland, down by 30% to 870 males in 2019.

Eurasian Coot (Fulica atra)

Distribution: Widespread in England and Wales, rarer in Scotland and Ireland. Numbers are boosted by migrants during winter.
BoCC4 status: Green
Wingspan: 70–80cm
What to look for: The coot is an all-black bird with a distinctive white bill and ‘shield’ on its forehead. They have yellow and white legs with large white feet that have lobed flaps of skin, which act similarly to webbed feet to aid their swimming.

Eurasian coot by Dave Morton via Flickr

Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus)

Distribution: Widespread in England, Wales, and Ireland, but less common in Scotland.
BoCC4 status: Amber
Wingspan: 50–55cm
What to look for: Moorhens have a similar appearance to the Eurasian coot, with a blackish plumage, which, when viewed close up, is actually dark brown on its back and wings with a bluer underside. However, they have a red and yellow bill, long green legs and white stripes on their flanks

Moorhen by cuatrok77 via Flickr

Corncrake (Crex crex)

Distribution: Scarce summer breeding population, recorded in the Western Isles, coastal parts of northern Scotland, parts of Ireland and a few key areas in England.
BoCC4 status: Red
Wingspan: 46–53cm
What to look for: Corncrakes are small birds, slightly larger than a blackbird, with chestnut and dark brown wings and back, a mottled grey to buff underside and reddish-brown and white flanks. Its head is grey, with chestnut eyestripes and a chestnut and dark brown crown. Its legs and bill are pale pink.

Corncrake by Jo Garbutt via Flickr

Spotted Crake (Porzana porzana)

Distribution: Scarce, scattered pairs across Scotland and England.
BoCC4 status: Amber
Wingspan: 37–42cm
What to look for: The spotted crake is similar to the corncrake, with chestnut and dark brown wings and back and a greyer underside, but this species is speckled with white throughout and has a buff undertail. It has a similar grey head, chestnut and dark brown crown and chestnut eyestripe. Its legs are yellowish-green and its bill is a mix of orange, yellow and grey.

Spotted crake by Imran Shah via Flickr

Water Rail (Rallus aquaticus)

Distribution: Widespread but thinly distributed throughout England, parts of Wales and Ireland. More scarce in Scotland and absent from upland areas.
BoCC4 status: Green
Wingspan: 38–45cm
What to look for: Their back and wings are chestnut and dark brown, with a grey underside and face. They have black-and-white barred flanks, a chestnut and dark brown crown, a long, red bill with a darker upper part and greyish-pink legs.

Water rail by Imran Shah via Flickr

Sora (Porzana carolina)

Distribution: Occasional visitors, small number of records around England.
Global status: Least concern
Wingspan: 38cm
What to look for: The sora has a brown back marked with small black and white lines, a blue-grey underside and face, a short yellow bill with black markings at the base and yellow legs. Their flanks are barred with white and black.

Sora by Susan Young via Flickr

Recommended books and equipment

The Corncrake: An Ecology of an Enigma

The detailed ecology of the corncrake, including many important facts about its lifestyle and behaviour, remains mysterious, even among ornithologists. This is the first full-length book to capture all the aspects of corncrake ecology and present this information to non-specialists.


Collins Bird Guide: The Most Complete Guide to the Birds of Britain and Europe

With expanded text and additional colour illustrations, the third edition of the hugely successful Collins Bird Guide is a must for every birdwatcher. The new edition has an extra 32 pages allowing several groups more space and completely or partly new plates with more detailed text.


Britain’s Birds: An Identification Guide to the Birds of Great Britain and Ireland

A bestselling guide since it was first published, Britain’s Birds has quickly established itself as the go-to photographic identification guide – the most comprehensive, up-to-date, practical and user-friendly book of its kind. Acclaimed by birdwatchers of all kinds, from the beginner to the most experienced, the guide has now been thoroughly revised and updated to make it even better than before.


Rite in the Rain Side Spiral Notebook (Small)

This is an environmentally responsible, all-weather paper which will survive anything from torrential rain to extreme heat and humidity. Perfect for making notes when birdwatching.


Kowa TSN-500 Series Compact Spotting Scope

Durable, lightweight and with excellent image quality, the TSN-500 series 20-40x spotting scopes are ideal for beginners or experienced birders looking for a portable alternative to heavier scopes.


Opticron Discovery WP PC Binoculars

These have an ultra-compact design to make them among the smallest waterproof roof prism binoculars available on the market today. Great for travelling and fantastic for children as young as seven.


Bird-Spot Laser Pointer

This is a pocket-sized green laser designed for use on birding trips. Its green beam will allow you to easily point out the location of a bird to fellow observers whilst remaining safe for both the birds and the user.


Please see for up to date pricing and availability.

Climate Challenges: COP27: A brief summary of key outcomes

The UN Climate Conference COP27 took place in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, from 6th to 18th November. Bringing together over 45,000 people from around the world, the list of delegates included indigenous peoples, local communities, civil society and world leaders, with the aim of delivering solidarity between countries and following through on commitments made in the landmark Paris Agreement.

In this post we’ll take a brief look at some of the outcomes of the conference.

Breakthrough agreement on “Loss and Damage” fund

In negotiations that went up to and beyond the official closing date of the conference, an agreement was finally made to establish a “loss and damage” fund to help those nations most at risk due to the climate crisis. Although many of the details to do with the fund have yet to be ironed out, the money is expected to go to the most vulnerable countries to assist with problems arising from droughts, flooding and other situations caused by climate change.

Commitment to limiting global temperature rise

Although the final agreement of COP27 stated “the urgent need for deep, rapid and sustained reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions” and a renewed commitment to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels as stated in the Paris Agreement, there were widespread concerns that there have been no concrete plans to cut fossil fuel emissions since COP26.

The global transformation to a low carbon economy has been estimated to require investments of USD 4–6 trillion per year. This amount would require a complete transformation of financial systems, and concerns were raised that developed countries are not yet showing signs of working together to achieve this.

World Leaders Summit

The World Leaders Summit took place over two days and involved 112 world leaders in six round table discussions. Under the general title “Together for Implementation”, these discussions were intended to break down the steps required to translate commitments into concrete and achievable action. Topics covered by these discussions included:

  • Just transition
  • Innovative finance
  • Investing in the future of energy
  • Food security
  • Water security
  • Climate change and the sustainability of vulnerable communities
The voice of youth at COP27

Children and young people were given much greater prominence at COP27, with governments being encouraged to listen to their thoughts and opinions, and incorporate their ideas in solutions and policies.

The first ever Pavilion for Children and Youth featured a lively programme of discussions, panel events, creative workshops, talks and networking, and provided a dedicated space where the voices of young activists could be heard.

Also new at COP27 was the youth-led climate forum which brought together policymakers with young representatives from the Conference of the Youth (COY17), who presented the Global Youth Statement and highlighted the topics that they wanted raising during COP27 discussions.

Other key outcomes

• The second technical dialogue of the Global Stocktake took place. The Global Stocktake aims to assess collective progress on the implementation of the Paris Agreement. The UN Secretary-General will convene a ‘climate ambition summit’ in 2023, ahead of the conclusion of the stocktake at COP28 next year.

• The Forest and Climate Leaders’ Partnership was launched, which aims to half forest loss and degradation by 2030 by uniting action by governments, business and other community leaders.

• A USD 3.1 billion plan was announced by the UN Secretary-General which would ensure that everyone on the planet is covered by early warning systems by 2027. This is particularly important for the most vulnerable communities who often have no idea that hazardous weather is on its way until it is too late.

• A 12-month masterplan was drawn up to help make cleaner energies more accessible. Involving 25 collaborative actions to be delivered in time for COP28, the plan aims to speed up decarbonisation within five key areas: power, road transport, steel, hydrogen and agriculture.

For information about last year’s COP26, check out our series of blogs on its importance, the first week update and a round up of all the major outcomes from that event and how they could affect our efforts to combat climate change, if countries and businessess stay committed. We also have a series of blogs that look at some of the toughest global climate challenges that we are currently facing.

However, climate change isn’t the only challenge the natural world is facing. Despite world-wide and on-going efforts, biodiversity is deteriorating on a global scale, with the decline projected to worsen if nothing changes. COP15, the UN Biodiversity Conference, is currently underway (7th to 19th December 2022) and aims to agree a new set of goals for nature over the next decade through the Convention on Biological Diversity post-2020 framework process. For more information on this, please check out the dedicated UN webpage.

A Short History of the Collins Bird Guide

The third edition of the popular Collins Bird Guide has arrived! With this newly published edition, we decided to take a brief look at how this highly regarded field guide came about.

Illustrated bird guides have been around in one form or another since the turn of the 20th century. It wasn’t until the post-war years, however, that they began to gain popularity, and birdwatching as a pastime became increasingly common both in the UK and farther afield. At this point, illustrated identification guides became much more available on the mass market and were no longer affordable only to the wealthier classes. 

Between the 1960s and 1990s, three field guides dominated the scene in Britain and Europe: Fitter and Richardson’s Collins Pocket Guide to British Birds, Lars Jonsson’s Birds of Europe with Africa and the Middle East and Peterson, Mountford and Hollom’s A Field Guide to the Birds of Britain and Europe. But although these books were widely used, there was an appetite among publishers for the creation of a new, definitive field guide.

In 1986, well respected identification experts Peter Grant and Lars Svensson came together to begin working on just such a thing. To illustrate the book they recruited artist Killian Mullarney from Ireland, whose painstakingly detailed work was conducted from first-hand field experience, lending it a lively and lifelike quality. Creating artwork in this way, however, proved to be a slow process, and even with the addition of another illustrator- Dan Zetterström – the book was 13 years in the making. Unfortunately, Peter Grant died in 1990, some time before its eventual publication in 1999, so he never got to see the final result.

The quality of the artwork in the Collins Bird Guide is widely regarded as the best that has ever been seen. Even with contributions from two artists, there is an unparalleled uniformity in style, and the ‘jizz’ of the birds are captured beautifully alongside their more objective characteristics. Including illustrations of the birds featured in their natural habitats in order to assist with identification was another brilliant feature. 

The book also differed from previous field guides in the clever and user-friendly layout of the pages. For the first time, all of the images and text for a species were arranged on a single spread – an obvious benefit when using the book in the field. Species were also arranged taxonomically, unlike many earlier books in which birds were grouped together based on their appearance.

The second edition of the Collins Bird Guide was published in 2010 to reflect new and revised taxonomy, and included both expanded text and additional illustrations. The third and most recent edition has now been published in hardback, with the paperback to follow in 2023. It is the opinion of many that ornithological field guides to Britain and Europe will never surpass the Collins Bird Guide in quality and scope – indeed, more than 20 years after its initial publication, it remains a stalwart member of most birdwatchers’ bookshelves. 

The third edition of the Collins Bird Guide has now been published (hardback only, paperback to follow in 2023). 

This Week in Biodiversity News – 5th December 2022


More than 20,000 bison, in 65 herds, are now owned by 82 Native American tribes across the US. Once roaming North America’s Great Plains in the tens of millions, bison were slaughtered to near extinction by European settlers. Previously, conservation efforts for this species have excluded Native Americans but now this cultural connection is being rekindled, increasing food security, reclaiming sovereignty and improving land management.

Bison by Sheila Sund via Flickr

More than 50 shark species are to be given protection from over-exploitation. Nearly 200 countries voted to add them to the list of species protected under global trade rules. This includes tiger sharks, blacktip sharks, the bonnethead and blue sharks. The two shark families, requiem sharks and hammerhead sharks, that these species belong to make up over 50% of the trade in shark fins for soup, with many species threatened with extinction. By listing them on CITES, trading products that contain these species will be much harder. 

The largest-ever dam demolition will restore hundreds of miles of historical salmon habitat. Four ageing dams are set to be destroyed along the Klamath River in California and Oregon, a win for the Native American tribes and environmentalists that have been fighting for this for years. This $500 million proposal was approved in November and the project is slated to began next year, with the biggest removals taking place in 2024.

Cranes fledge young on the Suffolk coast for the first time. The RSPB recorded two successfully raised chicks at Snape Wetlands Nature Reserve by a pair of cranes. Only around 65 pairs breed in Britain each year. This is a great sign for the relatively new reserve: the original 82ha graslland was converted to wetland and reedbed between 2008-2014. The RSPB has said it will continue to manage the wetlands to encourage more cranes to breed at the site.  

Common crane by Charlie Jackson via Flickr
New discoveries

A new seaweed species has been discovered more than 100 metres below the surface of the Antarctic Ocean. The red algae, Palmaria decipiens, was found by a team that included researchers from the University of Aberdeen using a remotely operated vehicle. The project, funded by the UK Natural Environment Research Council, set out to clarify the maximum depths that seaweed could grow in Antarctica. Samples were collected for further examination and DNA sequencing was then used to confirm the type of seaweed.  

Extinction risk

The Mount Ballow mountain frog, only discovered earlier this year, is already facing extinction, despite living in a World Heritage rainforest. Scientists have warned that the species could become extinct by 2055 due to the impacts of climate change reducing the availability of suitable habitats. These frogs are currently stranded on an ‘island in the sky’ due to habitat loss within the upland mountain rainforests of the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia, and occupy a very narrow niche. 91% of this ecological niche would be lost under a worst-case scenario of three degrees warming, according to lead author Liam Bolitho. 

Calls for a ban on eel fishing from an intergovernmental scientific organisation are challenging the UK and EU to step up on the extinction crisis. Juvenile populations of this snake-like fish have crashed by between 95-99% since 1980. The Internation Council for Exploration of the Sea (ICES) now advise that fisheries catch no European eel in 2023. With the UN Biological Conference currently taking place, now is the time for European countries to make the right commitments.

European Eel by Bernard Dupont via Flickr
Climate Change

A survey has found that 80% of Scots fear climate change impacts on Scotland’s nature. The research, conducted for charities network Scottish Environment LINK, also found that pollution and ocean warming are also major fears. Just over 1,000 Scots were interviewed between 31st October and 6th November. Nearly a third of those polled stated thay were “very concerned” about the impact of climate change on Scotland, with 50% saying they were “quite concerned”. Just 14% put that they were “not that concerned”, and only 3% stated they were “not at all concerned”.


A number of MPs are backing the bill to ban trophy hunting overseas, in hopes to protect many endangered animals that are being hunted to the brink of extinction. Support currently includes the MPs for East Yorkshire, North Devon and Milton Keynes. The bill, which has cross party support, would ban British hunters from bringing ‘trophies’ of endangered and vulnerable animals into Britain. The bill has passed its second reading and it is now preparing for the committee stage of its progress through Parliament, which is expected to take place in the New Year.  


Tissue loss, decay and death, along with widespread coral bleaching, were reported across the northern coastline of New Zealand last year, impacting hundreds of thousands of specimens. Latest research shows that the most severe impacts on sponges occurred in areas where a prolonged marine heatwave was most intense. These organisms serve a number of important ecological functions, including filtering large quantities of water and moving carbon from the water column to the seafloor. A major loss in coral species would change the community structure of the ecosystem within that habitat, having widespread impacts on a variety of species.