Uplands & Birds 2020

Uplands and Birds by Ian Newton. No. 142 in The New Naturalist Library. London, William Collins. 2020. 598pp.

The author is a seasoned NNL writer, having already penned four volumes, Finches (1972), Bird Migration (2010), Bird Populations (2013) and Farmland and Birds (2017), and guess what from those titles, he is ‘an ornithologist and applied scientist, and a leading expert on bird ecology and migration, specialising in finches, waterfowl and birds of prey’ as the flyleaf states. He started work with NERC in 1967. This must be some sort of record for NNL writers. This is a big book only beaten by ‘Farmland and Birds’ (630pp). There are 17 chapters, mostly on birds – the title could have been reduced to ‘Upland Birds’ but the intriguing chapter on ‘Sward-makers’ is all about how deer, sheep and goats have formed the hillsides, and there are chapters on hill-farming of the valleys and uplands (the ‘Lower Fields’, and the ‘Open Hills’) and an excellent chapter on Native Woodlands from the post-glacial period to the present day. Whilst maps show the uplands down the west of Britain, we are told that peat bogs cover one tenth of the land in Britain and that they are increasingly appreciated as carbon stores.

Topically, there are two chapters about grouse on raptors, management and gamekeepers, and another chapter on rewilding. He explains there are now about 300 moors, of which managed grouse moors cover less than one-fifth of the British uplands, mostly in Scotland, but also in England, and now, none in Wales. Management of grouse moors comes down to five actions, 1) rotational patchy sward burning, 2) drainage of damp peat bogs (ceasing), 3) contolling of vertebrate predators of grouse, including ‘foxes, mustelids, corvids and, illegally, also raptors..’ (Newton has written elsewhere extensively on raptors in uplands) 4)  treatment with anthelmintic drugs to reduce infection by the strongyle worm Trichostrongylus tenuis, and 5) treatment of sheep with acaricide. Newton thinks it would be sad to see grouse moors disappear if there is no compromise from both sides; they are are actively working to find a way to manage grouse moors without killing raptors.

Newton prefers to use the term ‘rewilding’ though he says that some splitters like to think of rewilding as ‘an attempt to replicate what might have existed in the Mesolithic’ – if we really knew, and ‘wilding’ which is ‘just letting existing nature take its course’. The most cited rewilding experiment is the Knepp Estate in West Sussex (1,400ha), where they take the view it is wilding, as in their book ‘Wilding’ (reviewed here in 2020). However, as Ian Newton explains this is just a tiny fraction of what is already in progress with examples such as 60,000ha in Speyside, 29,334ha at the National Trust’s Mar Estate and 23,000ha in Glen Tromie.

It is good to see that The Flows are mentioned in detail – under ‘birds displaced by forestry’, and how many of the botanically rich peat bogs were sadly lost to tax breaks, but Newton explains that RSPB removed 2,600ha of conifers and a further 2,000ha have been approved for clearance. He states that ‘nearly one-fifth of the British uplands are currently under conifer plantations’. By replacing peat bogs with forestry eventually increases species numbers and overall bird densities increase with forest age he says – but it can be painfully slow – and he admits that ‘afforestation of former open land leads to the replacement of one bird community with another’ – yes botanically also!  In his ‘Farming and Birds’ book he has a section on insect declines, which sets the scene, somewhat, for the change in avifauna populations seen today.

The book is well illustrated with colour photographs of upland habitats, management of uplands and fauna of the uplands. There are subject and species indexes and a comprehensive table on the ‘Breeding Habitats and Winter Distributions of Upland Birds’ according to the different habitats regions. The book is ideal for libraries, naturalists and ornithologists, and it is a welcome addition to the NNL. It is a comprehensive assessment of birds in the uplands,all supported by peer-reviewed evidence.  What will be the author’s sixth NNL book?




Bill Gates’s climate 2021 book

How to Avoid a Climate Disaster, the solutions we have and the breakthroughs we need. 2021.  By Bill Gates. Allen Lane, an imprint of Penguin Books. 256pp. ISBN 978-0-241-44830-4 and 9 780241448304.



The author, if you didn’t know is a ‘technologist, business leader and philanthropist’ as he describes himself. He is also co-founder of Microsoft. The author is more well known in the world of computers, than his books, previous titles being ‘The Road Ahead’ and ‘Business @ the Speed of Thought’, both with co-authors. But this is now his own book written through Covid 19 and as up to date as one could expect. With Climate Change he says we should remember just two things,51 billion and zero – 51 billion tons being the amount of carbon we add to the atmosphere each year, and zero is what we should aim for.  The chapters have simple titles such as How we plug in, How we make things, How we grow things and How we keep cool and Stay warm. In a sense it is really a simple book with everything set out in a basic formula. It is best not to cherry-pick chapters to read, as it really is meant to be read from the beginning, and his ‘Green Premium’ is a thread that runs through the book. Once you understand the Green Premium you can then cherry-pick, and have a fascinating read. The Green Premium is the difference between for instance fossil fuel prices and the higher priced advanced biofuel prices. That is the extra you have to pay for ‘greener’ products.  For each chapter there is this simple formula: how we got there, why these materials are so problematic for the climate: then the Green Premium is calculated to reducing emissions, how emissions are driven down to make the various materials (steel, electricity, or electric vehicles (EVs) without producing carbon.

Here is a man who has spoken to all the experts and listened to all their advice and is written from a unique perspective. He is also fortunate to be rich enough to pursue his engineering passions through his Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  Gates has a fascination with engineering. He particularly likes cement, and waxes lyrical about the longest floating bridge in the world in Seattle, being made of cement with hollows. It seems he investigates everything. We learn that he likes to visit power plants for fun. He repeatedly pours money into new start-ups on the basis that they might perform and do good in the world, often loosing millions. During this Covid 19 pandemic he, via the Melinda and the Gates Foundation committed more than $445 million in grants to fighting the disease, and ‘hundreds of millions more’ to get vaccines.  He has also put $1billion into approaches to offset emissions to zero, all part of his plan to reduce his own personal footprint. He acknowledges that he has big houses and jets around the world, and his foundation was singled out by The Guardian for his effect on the world, and he has more than offset these shortcomings.  In 2015 he encouraged 24 heads of state who formed ‘Mission Innovation’ which now funds $4.6 million annually on clean energy research.

Gates comes out is with simple sentences that sum up world figures, such as on Offshore Wind, that it it is only 0.4% of the world’s energy output in 2019, and that it is only 1/32,000th  of the contribution to America electricity. And on storage batteries, he comes up with a hypothetical scenario if Toyko’s electricity fails from an extreme weather event, how many batteries would be needed to keep the lights on for three days – 14 million, or that is more than the world’s storage capacity in a decade. So we have not got there yet with batteries. There is a lot on solar power, that the cost of panels came down 10 times between 2010 and 2020. The existing old grid is often the problem to moving electricity, for instance to achieve California goal of 60% renewable by 2030, and New York’s goal of 70% green energy cannot do it without enhancing the grid. He loves his calculations and puzzles. Which is the cheapest in the US, a gallon of milk, a gallon of orange-juice or a gallon of gasoline?

The book has a 1950s feel to it, with well read pages and soft and slightly coloured paper – it feels like it should come with the pleasant smell of an old and familiar book – but it is a FSC of paper mix from ‘responsible sources’. There is an index and references to sources for each chapter (and eight blank pages at the back, surely not for notes?). There are quite a few graphs and pie charts and a few black and white photographs, but not overpowered with too many images, and no colour photographs (which it does not need).

Strangely, the book is a cross between a basic textbook on climate change and a ‘Which? guide to which EV car to buy, or boiler, or which energy source to buy, air source or ground source, with a New Scientist article thrown in. The basic worldwide facts are presented from one of the best informed person on the planet. The book is very  US-Centric throughout especially in figures (but bracketed-up with European equivalents by editors) but that is not a detraction; it is of interest how this philanthropist ticks. The book is very readable and is highly recommended for youngsters aged 12 up to adults.



Entangled Life, 2020

Entangled Life. How fungi make our worlds, change our minds, and shape our futures. By Merlin Sheldrake. 2020. ISBN 978-1-847-92519-0. £20. London, The Bodley Head. 360pp. Hardback.

Dr Merlin Sheldrake was awarded his PhD from Cambridge University on fungal networks in the tropical rainforests of Panama, not that South America has a monopoly on fungi, their ramifications are virtually worldwide, and around us all the time, thus the inspiration for the sub-title.  The book is presented in eight chapters with titles such as Living Labyrinths, Mycelial Minds and Wood Wide Webs – the latter concept appeared as early as 1999 and is much talked about today where scientists discuss how perhaps up to 250 trees can all be connected, how trees help each other out and how these networks, links and cascades all work together as a superhighway.

The book is deeply discussive investigating all sorts of theories, such as  ‘Beer before Bread Hypothesis’ that brought man in from the neolithic (the former), or the ‘Drunken Monkey Hypothesis’ which explains man’s fondness to alcohol (from our earliest ancestors’ ability to smell rotting fruit and thus food – and the single mutation 10 million years ago of the enzyme (ADH4) which allows us not to be poisoned by alcohol), or, indeed Schwendener’s Dual Theory to explain the make up of lichens (fungus plus algae – as believed then). Even Beatrix Potter was not impressed with that. In the ‘Intimacy of Strangers’ chapter Sheldrake provides one of the best introduction to lichens I have seen anywhere, and comes out with this statement: ‘A portion of the minerals in your body is likely to have passed through your body at some stage’ – a sobering thought after he has explained about lichens mining the minerals on their substrates and releasing these into the environment. After all lichens go back 400 million years in their fossil history, and that today they encrust ‘8% of the planet’s surface.’ and that the record breaking lichen lives in Swedish Lapland and is over 9000 years old.  It seems that the dual-theory needs to be undated as recent researchers have found there are other ‘partners’ in lichens. After scientists ground up lichens and checked the DNA they found plenty of bacteria  (‘jam-packed full of bacteria’) and yeast. Lichens are thus ‘microbiomes’.

I was particularly taken by Sheldrake’s appreciation of Monotropa fungi, since I had photographed this very rare fungus on a mountain top in the Cévennes (Gard, France). He called it a ‘mycoheterotroph’, as it is a fungus that makes no energy itself and it is entirely dependent other sources; and he compares it to some blue Voyria species in Panama. Such a tongue-twister name is ‘An unlovely name for such characteristic plants’. I agree.  Apparently 10% of plant species share this phenomenon. Although Sheldrake calls fungi plants, he does explore the slippery way that fungi are named, but after all the debate, the concensus is that they untidyly fall into a separate kingdom, if one really must put species into boxes in the first place.


The book has 16pp of colour images in the centre of the book (I would have like many, many more), a bibliography and index. The ‘Notes’ are, in some cases, more interesting in back stories and supporting scientific information, than the text and are arranged by chapter.  The flow of the book is made more readable and enjoyable, and it stands as a very good read from a scientific enthusiast who is intimately enveloped in the world of mystical mycelia. It has a serious scientific edge to the book and it will be of great interest to those who like the fascination of fungi and their latest scientific advances. It is highly recommended, and will become a key work. The pyschodelic cover is a masterpiece.  John Feltwell 7 February 2021.

Pollinators & Pollination 2021

Pollinators & Pollination. Nature and Society. By Jeff Ollerton. Published by Pelagic Publishing. ISBN 978-1-78427-228-9.  2021. 286pp. £24.25

As the blurb states Prof Jeff Ollerton is ‘one of the world’s leading pollination ecologists’ who works at the University of Northampton. Most of his 30-year’s research is poured into this major work and it has plenty of graphs as an evidence base for his ideas and theories. He states that he has pitched the book ‘at a very broad audience, and is intended to be comprehensible to anyone with an interest in science and the environment.’ He has succeeded admirably in this aim, and it covers an area not explored by other bee experts whose work is discussed. This is the first time I have seen a blanket acknowledgement for all his academic contacts rather than mentioning bee experts by name. This is not just about bees and pollination – though it may seem that way as Apis mellifera is a major pollinator – it is about all pollinators, birds, reptiles, mammals and invertebrates. There are an estimated 350,000 terrestrial vertebrates and invertebrate species that move pollen, for the estimated 352,000 species of flowering plant: so flowering plants are well catered for and co-evolution is patently evident.  Invertebrates are the commonest pollinators: the estimated number of species, from the largest to the smallest as listed, are Lepidoptera (141,500 species), through Coleoptera (77,300), Hymenoptera (70,000), Diptera (55,000) and Thysanoptera (1,500 species).The book has 14 chapters ranging from ‘To be a flower’ to ‘Agricultural Perspectives’ to ‘New Bees on the Block’ – mostly about the Tree Bumblebee and The Ivy Bee, and the 17 species of bee, wasp and true-flies that have turned up in Britain since 2000. A lot of the collation has been by BWARS.  He even has a chapter on ‘The politics of pollination.’ There is a section on neonics in which Ollerton reminds us they are chemically similar to naturally occuring nicotine, which used to be used a long time ago. He debates all sides of the issue, but unfortunately just missed the latest UK authorisation of neonics prior to publication. In reviewing the literature he shows that some recent research ‘strongly implicated as a likely driver of those declines.’  It is good to see that Buglife-The Invertebrate Conservation Trust is mentioned, as well as the National Pollinator Strategy. As the author states ‘I have tried to provide a personal, state-of-the-art overview of what pollinators are, where they are to be found, how they contribute to the pollination of both wild and agricultural plants, supporting the wild ecosystems…’ etc.  There are just a few colour photographs dotted about the book, but it really offers extended essays on topics rather than pretty photos that can be found in a host of other bee books.   The References run to 32pp and there is an index.

ESCC’s Enviro.. Strategy 2020 & SLNP Natural Capital,2019

ESCC’s Environment Strategy; At pace & at scale’ (2020)

The ESCC Environment Strategy was published in two parts in 2020, the Strategy (16pp) and the Appendix (38pp) dated March 2020 and June 2020 respectively.[1]  It replaces the first Environment Strategy for East Sussex adopted in 2011. A lot of rhetoric, national dilemmas, and UK concerns are repeated throughout this document. Turning to East Sussex, it states that 470 species that are globally threatened in the county, or in rapid decline. The Strategy is updated to be in line with the 25 year Environment Plan (2018) and Parliament’s declaration of Climate Emergency in 2019.

The Strategy’s vision is ‘protect and enhance our natural and built environment for current and future generations and tackle and adapt to climate change.’  That is a familiar mantra that goes back decades and is invested in UK law. ‘conserve and enhance’. The Strategy is disappointing in what it does not cover. There are no references to nature conservation or soil conservation, SSSIs, BAPs, Ancient Woodland, Wood-pasture, or surprisingly nothing major on biodiversity. It acknowledges the impact on woodlands in East Sussex (which has more than most counties), especially the impact on associated woodland habitats ‘the loss of valued areas for recreation.’

Natural Capital is mentioned, and is comprehensively dealt with in the Appendix; whilst everyone is nervously awaiting the result of the Environment Bill in its final deliberation on net gain in which way to jump.  Nationally, it is interesting to note that OFWAT are aiming to ‘protect and improve at least 6,000km of waterways, and protect and improve 1,800ha of protected nature conservation sites by 2025. One hopes this will trickle down to East Sussex. This will clearly be a rolling strategy for East Sussex, but the document as presented, does not have a functioning feedback email address, and the Team Manager is aware of the various typos and states that further information on nature conservation is to be found in the Sussex Local Nature Partnership document ‘Natural Capital Investment Strategy for Sussex 2019-2024.’  At present, it is a disappointing document.

[1] East Sussex County Council, 2020. Is in two parts i) ‘The Environment Strategy’, dated March 2020 (16pp) and ‘The Technical Appendix to the Environment Strategy’, dated June 2020 (38pp).


https://www.eastsussex.gov.uk/media/15589/east-sussex-environment-strategy-2020-technical-appendix.pdf  (accessed 01 December 2020).

Note: The above ESCC Environment Strategy 2020 relies upon the following publication for nature conservation issues, facts and figures.

Natural Capital Investment Strategy for Sussex, 2019-2024. Sussex Local Nature Partnership, December 2019. Final Version. (adopted by Sussex LNP October 2019).  73pp.    

Twenty-four Sussex Local Nature Partners (SLNP) participated in drawing together this 73pp compilation of Natural Capital Investment Strategy in Sussex. Both East and West Sussex are lumped together, and obvious nature conservation groups have been involved such as Sussex Wildlife Trust, CPRE, CLA, EA, NE, NFU, SDNPA, ESCC (but no LPAs). This reviewer has been told (Dec 2020) by the on-line administrator of The ESCC Environment Strategy 2020 that it relies upon this document for all the information on nature conservation that is not within the Environment Strategy. It is just over a year since this document was produced (adopted by SLNP October 2019), but it still has not published the assets that it is still counting up. Sussex’s assets are its habitat types, and this document lists these which it classifies as ‘natural capital asset types.’  The assets it is relying on are on page14, which lists, for instance four types of Ancient Woodland.

However, it does not list ‘Wood-pasture & Parkland BAPs’ which are Priority BAPs – a serious error. These are associated woodland habitats of ancient woodland recognised by Natural England. There is a risk that the eventual quantum of assets will only be based on some of the statutorily protected areas such as NNRs, SSSIs, SACs, SPAs and Ramsars whilst other important habitats, protected by other statutory instruments will not be represented in the overall audit.

The omission is replicated in Table 2a (p.68) ‘Terrestrial Assets’, where at risk habitats are highlighted in red.  They do note that woodland is under risk of ‘loss of valued areas for recreation’. There is not a word about ‘Wood Pasture and Parkland BAPs’.  It is as if the law embedded in NERC (2006) – a statutory act – is not recognised.

The report has produced various useful maps across Sussex (too small to expand) and an intriquing ‘Woodland Heathmap’. This shows that there are three areas across the Sussexes, one in the east, one in the north central area of Sussex and one in the east. This is where there are:

existing woodland concentrations in Sussex,’ In these areas what is proposed is ‘In terms of biodiversity benefit, new woodland plantings regeneration in the areas of high woodland concentration can be used very beneficially to expand and connect woodland fragments and thus strengthen woodland ecological works.’

 Alarmingly, the document states that ‘At time of writing this strategy, no ‘valuations’ have yet been published for the natural capital of Sussex.’ (http://sussexlnp.org.uk/what-is-natural-capital/).  This is a concerning relevation. Without any valuations there can be no informed or considered view, so the report is not supported by any evidence.  Valuations are awaited to inform the strategy in Sussex, whilst the climate emergency continues.

There are some inherent downfalls in calculating nett gain for the nature conservation, as RSPB points out that removing an ancient woodland to make way for conifers that do a good job in carbon sequestration, plus providing BMX tracts of recreational value, may improve the economic value, but the irreplaceable loss of ancient woodland cannot be quantified. (RSPB (2017) Accounting for Nature: A natural capital account of the RSPB’s estate in England.). Not that anyone is proposing to remove ancient woodland in Sussex, but in other parts of the country the removal of ancient woodland for HS2 has in part been mitigated by replanting.

So, nature conservation in both the Sussex counties is currently held in the balance, whilst the parameters for calculating the assets that the counties are decided. SLNP have not taken Sussex a step forward in knowing what to protect, only advising of the concern that the climate emergency has promoted.  Thus no hope at this stage that the definitive quantitative work for Sussex can seemlessly be slotted into the demands of the Environment Act when it lands on our tables in 2021.  Until their valuations are complete they cannot inform the direction to take to address the climate emergency.



Who Owns England. 2020

Who Owns England. How we lost our land and how to take it back. By Guy Shrubsole. London, William Collins. 2020. Paperback 376pp   ISBN 978-0-00-832171-0  £9.99

1066 has a lot to do with who owns England today; indeed not a whole lot has changed since then. William the Conquer gave much of his new kingdom to his 200 Norman barons. By the Victorian age 18 million acres of land, or half of England and Wales is still held privately by just 0.01% of the population, this time represented by ‘4,200 Victorian nobles and gentry’. These facts and figures have been meticulously teased out by the author who is an investigative journalist, in conjunction with  colleagues over the last two years. The book deals with the land quantums with sensible chapters on the Crown and the Church, Old Money, New Money, the state, ‘corporate land holdings’ and ‘property owning democracy’. The staggering information is that taxpayers now pay most of these land owners £8m in annual subsidies (figures for 2015), a legacy payment from the desire to reduce the milk lakes’ and ‘butter mountains’ of 2003 crises in Europe from 2003. The figures of land ownership do not add up, since the author believes that about 17% of England’s land is unregistered for various reasons, one of which the Land Registry is still not open to who exactly owns what and where. The Appendices are most interesting and summarise the fruits of these exhaustive investigations. The list of the top 100 land owners is fascinating, so too the list of 24 extant Dukes with their land ownership and the amounts they receive as subsidies. Also of note is the chart on who owns what for all public bodies, the Crown, the Church and Conservation charities; top three are Forestry Commission, the MOD and Highways, with  National Trust, RSPB and Woodland Trust in positions 17-20. The sub-title of the book is summarised with the following ten recommendations comprehensively explored: (listed here:) i) end secrecy, ii) sort the housing crisis, iii) stop subsidies to farmers Iv) restore biodiversity, v) abolish last vestiges of feudalism, vi) reduce tax avoidance, vii) stop the sale of public lands, viii) give people a stake in the country, ix) open up the land to the people, x) introduce a land ethic. This is a well researched book, packed with facts and figures, overflowing with 298 sources of information. There is a small group of colour photographs in the centre of the book, and a good index, though the book is packed with so much data that a comprehensive index would have added far more pages.


Pembrokeshire, NNS, 2020

Pembrokeshire. No. 141 in the New Naturalists’ Series. by Jonathan Mullard, 2020. London, Collins. 510pp

The author has already provided ‘Gower’ and ‘Brecon Beacons’ in the same series, so this is a Welsh hatrick, and at 510 pages it is a beefy tome, well worth the read. Jonathan Mullard has spent most of his life working in local planning and has been instrumental in managing National Parks, AONBs and Heritage Coasts. The extent of the Pembrokshire Coast National Park is impressive, as shown on the only map in the book, as it embraces nearly all of the coastal area of the county: its symbol is the razorbill of which there are 8,000 birds in the county.  The book has interesting chapters on its rich geology, caves and archaeology and a good section on the early naturalists. The natural history of the islands is described in detail: for Caldey, Skokholm, Skomer, Grassholm and Ramsey. Skomer being the best place in Pembrokeshire for puffins (25,227 in 2018) and has its own Skomer vole. Ramsey is famous for the black rabbits put there probably by the Earl of Pembroke. Skokholm is famous for its genetically different mice with their failed fused vertebral columns so studied by the late Prof. Sam Berry from Kent (see his books in the NNS (No 109 ‘Islands’ and No 61 ‘Inheritance and Natural History’) and for the largest slow worms in Britain – so much for evolution and natural selection on islands of which Pembrokeshire excels with examples. Manx shearwaters breed on the islands (450,000 pairs) but decreasing numbers of Storm Petrels (5,000 birds) are now recorded. The shearwaters have a 22,000 mile round journey each year to South America. It was interesting to learn that some seabird colonies can destroy their own breeding grounds, in the case of the original ‘immense puffin colony’ on Grassholm it is thought that they undermined so much of the peat layer with their nest tunneling that their numbers declined; the habitat has now been replaced by a large gannetry.   The rugged rocks and castle ruins have been the subject of studies on the rich lichen species, including the cuckoo stones in churchyards. For a region that is steeped in humidity the damp-loving ferns and bryophtyes have been clearly described, as well as the natural history of meres. There is the very rare ‘Pembroke dwarf moth’ to look out for, only re-found recently on the Castlemartin MOD Range: there are only five known sites in the UK. The effects of other industry are covered in this book with the exploitation of the Milford Haven, but the outstanding natural history gems of the rugged Pembroke coast, terrestrial and underwater, have all been thoroughly explored in this book. In keeping with the NNS the book is populated with many colour photographs, many by the author and there is the usual  extensive references and index. For the craggy interior of Pembrokeshire, which is always interesting because you never know what is around the next crag, this is an essential book to have back at base (for it is too big and heavy to go in the rucksack). It is a superb book, well researched, and a delight for all those who have ventured on field trips, or wished they had, since it brings to life the particularly rich tapestry of wildlife that this part of Wales now protects.

Wild Boar, & Summer Books

Summer books reviewed here include three on butterflies, two travel books (18th century, and 19th century) and one on the Wild Boar.

Two new books on butterflies, the first by Matthew Oates (His Imperial Majesty, Bloomsbury, 2020), and the second by Wendy Williams (The Language of Butterflies, Simon & Schuster, 2020), made me re-visit Miriam Rothschild’s ‘Butterfly cooing like a Dove’ (Doubleday, 1991). His Imperial Majesty is reviewed in detail in the previous August 2020 posting.

They are all completely different. Oates’s book is an impassioned, if not intimate review (almost ‘too much information’) of his methodology for searching for Purple Emperor butterflies, ova, larvae and pupae in woodlands. It is obviously emperor-centric and mostly UK centric, and literally he has not left any sallow leaf untouched in his pursuit of the natural history of the species. It is for amateurs and is not a scientific work, though he does say that much more peer-reviewed work is needed to be published. He has a great love of this one species, which is not the case of the Miriam Rothschild’s Butterfly cooing like a dove book, which reflects her great love of all butterflies; she died in 2005. This was probably a difficult book to write as it all about how butterflies express love through art and poetry. It is a unique in dealing with the subject matter. It is an informal and autobiographical anthology that includes works by Ancient Greeks and from Rome, Pliny, Shelley, Neruda, artworks by Picasso. I was taken by her deep love of Marcel Proust –‘is the first and greatest urban naturalist the world has ever known – the others have yet to be born.’ Hopefully there is some hope for some of us yet. It is generally illustrated throughout in black and white and colour. Where Oates does not mention Miriam Rothschild or her uncle Charles, the science journalist, Wendy Williams does include Miriam’s work on butterflies along with many other lepidopterists in her The Language of Butterflies. She interweaves the scientific work and discoveries about the wonderful world of butterflies, often through the lens of the Milkweed butterfly. She speaks for instance her site visits to the declining wintering habitats of Monarchs. Where Oates tries to promote the Purple Emperor as the national butterfly of the UK (there are other worthy contenders), Williams declares that butterflies are ‘the world’s favourite insect’ in the sub-title. The cover is an arresting and electrifying composite picture of dozens of morphos – this has to be the top book cover of the year. Rothschild is for all butterflies.

As for travel books, the first was ‘The Oregon Trail’ (Zenith, 2015) is about a 23-year old from New Hampshire who set out west in 1846 to cross the western part of America. As a chronicler and lover of the great outdoors, it was interesting to read about the habitats and wildlife, not alone the native Indians that he encountered. He has a great way of describing nature, where Proust was urban based Francis Parkman, was a country lover.  The great hordes of buffalo, the Indian villages and vast inhospitable lands they had to cross are described whilst they had to watch their backs – followed by wolves, bears and Indians. Later illustrations showed thousands of waggon trains queuing up to cross rivers on ferries, their waggons enveloped with buffalo hides.  Sadly most of the buffalo and the Indians would be dead a few decades later, mostly due to the new settlers. In this edition the book is illustrated with paintings and early photographs which help to set the scene, often of dying Indian races.  The second travelogue, at least for a naturalist to read was the round the world voyage by the Brassey family from Catsfield (East Sussex)  in their yacht ‘Sunbeam’ (Around the World in the Yacht Sunbeam, Burt, 1877).  Anne Brassey was an accomplished plantswoman who described the various garden plants she saw in all ports of call; she particularly liked the Chile coast with its colourful gardens. She and her family travelled with a menagerie of animals which she collected, or was given, in various ports: monkeys, pigs, parrots, turtles, and birds and fish which came on board were often eaten: boobies, albatrosses.. ‘Mother Carey’s chickens’ (Storm Petrels) were often seen around the world.  Sighting of whales and dolphins were also frequently seen. Lady Brassey was a great writer of everyday events. Her descriptions of various places bear no relation to what they are like today, and the idyllic setting of Honolulu, as an example does not compare to that of today. It was infinitely better then than today!

Wild Boar (Reaktion Books, 2017) is part of the growing Animal series from Reaktion and follows the usual format of describing the animal species from earliest times, and its relationship to humans especially by way of symbolism. The author is from Oxford and has brought together a collection of facts and figures that sums up the life of the beast, whose range stretches from Europe to Japan, and into the USA. Different genetic strains determine the colour variants seen. There is a lot of coverage of the boars in the Forest of Dean where they are particularly well known, including photographs of very close encounters with people. As a wild boar lover, I am all in favour of wild boars for their tearing up of the land and boosting biodiversity through stimulating buried wildflower seed to germinate. They are increasingly becoming habituated to humans, that where before they were long gone when they heard a car or a human, now they stand their ground and will charge a car. As a species, they remain highly successful thanks to breeding with domestic pigs and will remain a formidable trophy and symbolism for chasseurs in the future that always defies the determined chasseurs.


Oates’s Purple Emperor

Matthew Oates. 2020. His Imperial Majesty, a natural history of The Purple Emperor. London, Bloomsbury Wildlife. 416pp £20.00 HB

The author, retired from The National Trust, is the UK’s expert on the Purple Emperor, and this book reflects his particular obsession with ‘His Majesty’. The title is borrowed from the Victorian era. The sub-heading accounts for the minutiae of the species whose preferences have led Oates a merry dance amongst the woodland, scrub and farmland throughout the UK, notebook in hand over the last few decades. Oates says that the book could not be written without his involvement with the wilding project at Knepp (West Sussex), and Isabelle Tree, the co-owner of Knepp, has written a lively Introduction. Of Knepp he says it has become the foremost Purple Emperor site in Europe, and later says that a private estate in East Sussex is the best breeding ground he has ever seen. Oates has had to change his views on the habitat preference of the Purple Emperor, away from its perception as a forest species, even though he variously says in the book that it is an arboreal species and a canopy-loving species.  He argues that the species is now widespread and not rare any more, and he champions the species as the National Butterfly. What about the Swallowtail, or Large Blue? Oates is quick to say that various lepidopterists are wrong or have differing opinions: Heslop, Frohawk and Pratt. Of Heslop he says it is a pity he did not publish his notes, and Oates goes on to rely heavily on Heslop’s work. As the author points out, the book is clearly written in an anthropomorphic manner with a few concessions to science, principally the reproduction of distribution maps. His penultimate chapter is on Conservation Issues, but you have to work hard to find any bullet points on how to conserve the insect, mostly focusing on sallow management. He says that he is not convinced that the species actually ‘needs some thinking and practices of contemporary nature conservation.’ That said Oates argues for a rigorous peer-reviewed scientific work on the ecology of the Purple Emperor and gives useful tips for future research topics. This book, that embodies his almost complete dedication to the species, will not do, even though the 17 chapters are packed with day to day factual ecological information from his exhaustive and laudable time in the field over the last few decades. The book is a little repetitive and could have been more tightly edited, and there are bits about Christine Keeler, and Pygmy Hippos that could have been edited out. Many lepidopterists are mentioned, but some like the Rothschilds (Charles and Miriam) are not. Miriam was also a lover of butterflies. There is a short glossary, references and further reading, but the best, previously unpublished section is the Appendix which runs for 50 pages and describes county by county, wood by wood, the varying and increasing range of the species that has not been collectively drawn together elsewhere. Excellent. The book is an interesting read and will appeal to all the followers of Purple Emperors, of which there is a fan club.