All posts by John

Bumblebees (BCT) – a review

Bumblebees, An Introduction. By Nikki Gammans, Richard Comont, S.C. Morgan and Gill Perkins. Bumblebee Conservation Trust. 2018. 174pp.

Edited by four bumblebee experts, this is a major work from eight contributors including the editors. Put together by the Bumblebee Conservation Trust (BCT) it does what ‘it says on the tin’, it is a great introduction, possibly the best introduction to these appealing insects for the general public. The book is extensively illustrated in colour throughout, including the works of 18 photographers including those of entomologist Steven Falk. This book presents a bewildering array of imagery that maps all the finer points of bumblebee biology that make identification easier.  The book has seven chapters: introduction, pollination, decline, gardens, collecting, ‘the big seven’ (buff-tailed, white-tailed, red-tailed, common carder, early, tree and heath) and the major chapter on Identification.  Bumblebees are here classified into four groups, red tails, ginger tails, yellow tails and cuckoo bees, a refreshing classification that departs from earlier books, but very effect. Each of the 24 extant species of bumblebee (three have already gone extinct) is clearly shown as colour bar diagrams of body bands, photographs in the wild showing particular characteristics (noted and shown on the photographs), life cycle through the months and a distribution map. This is a very exciting compilation and will be a great success for BCT. The book will be thumbed through by eager entomologists, hymenopterists and amateur naturalists – it is small enough to go into a field jacket or knapsack for identification and it has a glossary, index and further information.



Anglia Square – Approval

Wildlife Matters is proud to have been part of a team of 28 experts whose planning application by Weston Homes Plc for 1,300 units in Norwich was recommended for approval on 09 December 2018. The application was rich in  biodiversity enhancements incorporating sensitive connectivity links to this drab part of the city effecting an ecological gain for the future.



Bees of the B.Isles – review

Handbook of The Bees of The British Isles by George R. Else and Mike Edwards. Published by The Ray Society, 2018. Two Volumes. Vol.1: 332pp Vol.2:776pp. £137.50


This has to be the bee book of the century. It will not be surpassed for decades. It is written by two experts who have put several decades of dedicated work on these hymenoptera into the book. George Else, who I originally met in the virgin rainforests of Sulawesi in 1985 on Project Wallace, worked at The Natural History Museum in London as curator of bees and certain aculeate wasps, until he retired in 2007. Mike Edwards was originally at Leeds University and helped to set up BWARS (Bees, Wasps and Ants Recording Society), latterly running his own ecological consultancy. The germ of this book was realised by George Else who has a great debt of gratitude for Mike Edwards becoming co-author of these mighty tomes. Many entomologists and hymenopterists are acknowledged for inputting their information, data, diagrams and photographs, and on the latter Paul Brock is mentioned as the ‘all round entomologist…and outstanding insect photographer’ who has supplied many of the photographs. And they are excellent.  The aim of the book was to photograph all bee species in the UK in the wild, which was achieved, save for the two only known from museum specimens: Halictus subauratus and Bombus pomorium. On their count there are 277 species of bee species have been recorded from the British Isles. Of those 171 are known from the Channel Islands, including 11 species that are unknown in the mainland of Britain.   George’s original idea was not to include any photographs which would have been a bad idea. All the photographs are included on a handy CD.  Volume 1 includes information on recognition of bees, how to photograph them, where to find them and identification of pollen loads. After the comprehensive keys to bee genera the book launches into the systematic review of all species, with maps, that flows over into Volume 2. The photographs throughout are excellent for identification purposes but it is not likely that the amateur entomologist or naturalist will ever pay the £137.50 for these wonderful books.  Only serious bee enthusiasts will.

Finnish Bumblebees -a review

‘Suomen Kimalaiset’ (Finnish Bumblebees) by Seppo Parkkinen, Juho Paukkunen and Ilkka Teräs, 2018. Docendo Oy, Jyväskylä  176pp. Hardback. ISBN 978-952-291-454-5   35 euros  In Finnish.   

This delightful hardback book on Finnish bumblebees is somewhat of a challenge to English readers, and to this reviewer, as it is all in Finnish but the 150+ colour photographs give away the subject matter being discussed. It is a serious scientific work on the 37 species of bumblebee in Finland with details on all species.

Each species is photographed with 1-4 images of the insect on a flower alongside a photograph of the sort of habitat in which it is found, and descriptions of the species. Size of queens and workers are given. A map showing distribution is useful and it highlights where species distribution is unclear, or in some species that occur through most of Finland but with absence in the far north which is Lapland.  Nine species fall into this category, and British readers will be familiar with B. distinguendus, hortorum, pascuorum, hypnorum, jonellus, bohemicus and sylvestris. Of the cuckoo bumblebees (loiskimalaiset) there are eight species in Finland the most widespread B. bohemicus the most restricted being B. barbutellus.

There are only four species that are found throughout Finland (including Lapland), B. hypnorum, pratorum, jonellus and cryptarum. The least distributed and rarest are B. consobrinus, hyperboreus, barbutellus, and there are two species that have not been seen for a few decades: B. patagiatus and wurflenii. The Buff-tailed Bumblebee, B. terrestris is familiar to British naturalists but it is only in the south of Finland as with B. subterraneus, humilis, sylvarum, campestris and magnus – the latter being unknown in Britain & Ireland which has 22 known species.

Bombus lappinicus, monticola, alpinus, pyrrhopygus, balteatus, and hyperboreus are only found in Lapland, several only amongst the often bleak and rocky landscape of the north. The whole of Finland is actually covered with rocks and lakes with meadows in between, and there has been clearly much scope for bumblebee evolution

since the last ice age. One can get a feel of Finland through the habitats that bumblebees frequent (as shown in the book). The book has a good introduction to these insects, their pests, parasites and look-alikes, their food and their habitats; and the book is complete with references and an index; it also remembers bumblebee experts William Nylander, Kasvitieteilijä Olavi Hulkkosen, Metsänhoitaja Rabbe Elfving and Dosanti Antii Pekkarinen.

What will assist field ecologists are the comprehensive colour keys for identification of all the bumblebee species which runs to 18pp and is full of the familiar colour-banded bodies of males and females together with line drawings and coloured artwork showing fine details. However the book is not easily popped into a pocket.  One can only marvel at the colour diversity that has evolved in bumblebees in the yellows, red-orange, browns and of course black and white. This book has succeeded in cataloguing bumblebee diversity and will stand as the definitive tome of the group for a long while.





Hedgehog – review

‘Hedgehog’ by Pat Morris. Collins, New Naturalist Series No. 137. 2018  ISBN 978-0-00-823-570-3. 406pp. £65

The New Naturalist Series is a unique and bespoke appreciation of British wildlife focussing mostly on habitats or groups of animals, but it rarely has single species volumes. This is only the second exception after ‘Badgers’ (by Timothy Roper, 2010, 388pp) since the closure of the New Naturalist (NN) Monograph series. Written by retired senior lecturer in zoology at Royal Holloway College (University of London) Dr Pat Morris MBE has spent a lifetime studying hedgehogs around the world, including New Zealand where they were introduced, and has incorporated the fruits of his exhaustive scientific research into the book, on topics such as spines, food, ecology, mortality, as well as incorporating the works of many others. It is a good read. Fully illustrated in colour throughout, which is the welcome custom of new NN works, the book has 13 chapters ranging from early accounts of hedgehogs ‘more picturesque than trustworthy’, through to reproduction, hibernation (a key section explained in great detail), death on roads, persecution, and hedgehogs and people. This is a comprehensive tome written by the best person to write it, and it stands as a remarkable work in the full spirit of NN series books, and a valuable addition to any bookcase.

Hedgehog by Pat Morris 2018

NPPF 2018 – review

National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) July 2018.  Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.  73pp.  ISBN. 978-1-4098-5302-2

The revised NPPF came out at the end of July 2018 without a lot of fanfare. It was not like the March 2012 NPPF which replaced no less than 44 PPGs and PPSs (inc the important PPS9), Circulars and Letters. There is a new section on ‘Habitats and biodiversity’ to ‘protect and enhance biodiversity’ and to ‘safeguard components of local wildlife-rich habitats and wider ecological networks’ (para 174 a) ‘promote the conservation, restoration and enhancement of priority habitats’ (para 174 b).  It still refers to Circular 06/2005 on further guidance on biodiversity. It recognises the importance of ‘international, national and locally designated sites’. Guidance to LPAs is as follows: refuse applications that cause significant harm that cannot be compensated for, or relocated (para 175 a), refuse any developments where there is any loss of irreplaceable habitats such as ancient woodlands and ancient or veteran trees unless a suitable compensation strategy exists, or under ‘wholly exceptional reasons’ (para 175 c). Para 175 d) usefully states that ‘opportunities to incorporate biodiversity improvements in and around developments should be encouraged, especially where this can secure measurable net gains for biodiversity.’  This new NPPF has a valuable Glossary, but says, confusingly that ‘All ancient trees are veteran trees. Not all veteran trees are old enough to be ancient, but are old relative to other trees of the same species.’ (page 64). On Green Belt land the NPPF states that LPA should give ‘substantial weight. .to any harm to the Green Belt..’ but by way of exceptions, that it will continue to permit ‘limited infilling in villages’ (para 145 e), and ‘limited affordable housing’ (para 145 e) f). This new NPPF continues to recommend planning for climate change (Section 14) and to have a ‘proactive approach’ to mitigating effects, including biodiversity. In its Section 15 Conserving and enhancing the nature of the environment, it has the following suggestions: ‘protecting and enhancing valued landscapes’ (para 170a), ‘recognising the intrinsic character and beauty of the countryside… the natural capital and ecosystem services’ (para 170 b), ‘remediating and mitigating despoiled, degraded, derelict, contaminated and unstable land, where appropriate’ (para 170 f). This new NPPF pursues presumption in favour of development in a more vigorous way, for instance it should be pursued in a ‘positive’ way (Section 2, paras 10, 11) which is ‘at the heart of the Framework’, its goes into great length about how it should be interpreted with regard to local plans, neighbourhood plans,  protected sites and delivery tests. This also includes AONB, which are further mentioned under para 172 with regard to ‘Great weight should be given to conserving and enhancing landscape’. Regarding sustainable development it is clear under para 177 that ‘The presumption in favour of sustainable development does not apply where development requiring appropriate assessment because of its potential impact on a habitats site is being planned or determined’ so that will stymie all development near EU sites (SPA, SAC, Ramsars, WHS). Overall this new NPPF offers more clarification for development especially on biodiversity and sustainability.

Call of Nature – a review

‘Call of Nature’: The Secret Life of Dung.  Pelagic Publishing.  2017 292pp ISBN 978-1-78427-105-3

There can be no better person to produce a book on dung that Richard Jones who has spent his life peering into poo and getting his hands dirty. Whilst reviewing this book in the Cevennes mountains, France, I actually had the large dung beetle illustrated on the cover at my feet pushing a large round dollop of wild boar poo across my woodland path, a first for me and easily identified from the book. I suppose that not everyone will rush to read this book, but there are a surprising number of entomologists and coleopterists in particular who will be fascinating by the factual information teased out of the detritus of the forest and field floor by this inquisitive and talented entomologist author. The book is illustrated throughout with beautiful line drawings, and, probably a first, a unique visual key to the variety of poo seen when out and about in distant parts, the remit is worldwide (whales to wombats, though not exhaustive). The illustrator is Verity Ure-Jones.  All the characters involved in recycling poo, such as flies (so many species), midges, gnats, beetles (so many species) including scarabs are described and illustrated, including many involved on the periphery of poo. Only Richard Jones could separate out all the species into an orderly collection. The illustrations of beetles associated with dung makes an invaluable key. All is in black and white, which is probably good, as the thought of all the poo in colour would be too much. There is an excellent index and glossary.

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Rainforest, T.Juniper – review

‘Rainforest dispatches from Earth’s most vital frontlines.’ By Tony Juniper. Profile Books, London. 448pp.  978-1781256367


Rainforests are Tony Juniper’s speciality and one of his previous books that I especially liked was ‘Spix’s Macaw’ (2002). He has spent a life working for Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace and is currently with WWF. This book is a summation of his industriousness trying to reduce or slow-down the rate rainforest loss, many times with direct action. Not that he, or anyone else, has been entirely successful in this venture as rainforests are being visibly destroyed (for all to see by satellite), still at an alarming rate since at least the last 30 years; he illustrates the familiar clearance of rainforests to make way for palm oil plantations, or local people living amongst the burnt out stumps of emergent trees. Juniper’s ‘dispatches’ are in fact 22 chapters on different issues affecting tropical rainforests in Asia and Pacific, Africa, Americas;e has not forgotten temperate rainforest globally, including one fragment in South West Wales. There is not too much on Australian rainforests, and he has missed the area off his map on p. 277.  His Chapter 16 is pretty damming in one sentence ‘Indonesia largely erased its rainforests over two decades, aided by the World Bank and the IMF – and multinationals.’ The value of the book is in the endnotes for each chapter that provide corroborative links. There are black and white photographs throughout the book (pity not in full colour) and two sections of stunning colour photographs demonstrating biodiversity by Thomas Marent.  The book is recommended as an excellent source of information on rainforests, as indeed is my own ‘Rainforests’ book (Published by Wildlife Matters in 2009, full colour, 646pp) which is not mentioned!

Beetles, Richard Jones -review

‘Beetles’ No. 136 in the Collins New Naturalists Series. ISBN 978-0-00-814952-9. 482pp

Richard Jones is the go-to person in the UK for beetles, and this book which germinated as a suggestion in 2014 eclosed as the most remarkable book on coleoptera four years later. It is the first on beetles in the New Naturalists Series which has been much overdue. With 4,118 species of beetle in the UK this indeed is mostly a UK-centric review of the richness of beetles, with occasional forays into beetles of the world where there are 1-3 million waiting to be discovered.  Raised in the shadow of the South Downs with his current ‘manor’ of Sydenham Hill and Dulwich Woods, Jones introduction to beetles has not left any piece of dung, bark, compost, fungus matt unturned in his quest for his favourite prey. He has delivered excellent chapters on ‘What is a Beetle’, ‘Beetle Variety’, ‘Life Histories’, quirks, oddities, flight and general natural history. The fine morphological details remind one of Imm’s General Textbook of Entomology’. There are colour photographs throughout, which is always pleasing in these new NNS editions, especially so with Penny Metal’s superlative images. Species decline has inevitably caught up with Jones as there are species that he writes about that he has either never seen or rarely seen, Blaps ‘maybe on its way out’ or Platyrhinus – not seen – or oil beetles –only one seen.  There is a large and very useful section on British beetle families each illustrated and fully described. A full index, references, keys and glossary complete this fabulous book which is to be recommended to all entomologists and naturalists.