Category Archives: Book reviews

Much Ado About Mothing

Much Ado About Mothing; a year intoxicated by Britain’s rare and remarkable Moths. 2021. By James Lowen. London, Bloomsbury Wildlife. £18.99. 384pp.  ISBN 978-1-4729-6697-1   9 781472 966971


We have already had a butterfly enthusiast run around Britain in a year to shoot all the butterfly species, in the name of Patrick Barkham in his ‘The Butterfly Isles’; he reviews this book on the cover as ‘Here is colour, wonder, surprise – and fun’.  Now we have James Lowen setting himself the target of chasing rare and remarkable moths around the islands, from Cornwall to the Cairngorms. Not that he is chasing all the moths – an impossible task with about 40 times more moths than butterflies.

Lowen was initially inspired to all things moths by a poplar hawk-moth which he had to hand. Most people are enthralled by the beauty and evolution of animals, and essentially this is what this book is about, it celebrates the enthusiasm that one man has for moths. James is completely moth-centric. He exudes moth enthusiasm the way other people pursue particular wildflowers, fungi, bryophytes or even tardigrades.

James is an all-round naturalist, whose grass roots were in Yorkshire which set his seed for the living world, and he has explored South America and the poles; he writes for various papers and has a number of books to his name.  His conversion to moths has been recent and profound, not least encouraged by the enthusiasm of his daughter, Maya who figures in the book, especially in the eight pages of colour photographs in the middle of book which figure 15 species of moth, but which mostly shows venues, equipment and techniques. Oh for more illustrations for a group with 2,500 species.

There are 20 chapters starting with winter-spring and ending in autumn. Although only four chapter headings give a clue about the subjects (Hawk-Moths, Kentish Glory, Clearwings and Blues – read Clifton Nonpareil), the rest are very discursive and story-like, on how a site visit was formulated, with advice from whom, how they got there, what it was like on arrival, the type of habitat and finally the exaltation of finding the target.

The book is well researched and his sorties to various far flung habitats is usually to link up with regional moth experts to explore last known locales and pabula. Local contacts from wildlife groups and from Butterfly Conservation (which also conserves moths) and RSPB (yes moths too) and national projects such as ‘Back from the Brink’ are often the source of his targets.  He has included classic lep stories and research involving Miriam Rothschild and Bernard Kettlewell and waxes lyrical about the new arrival the horse-chestnut micro. Where would he be without his treacle ropes, actinics and other entomological paraphernalia.

His writing is florid and descriptive to an intense or even excessive level; his descriptions of moths are flowery and romantic, whether it is the Old Lady, Scotch burnet, Netted carpet, Crimson underwings, Merveille du Jour or hawk-moths. In his quest to find moths James clocked up 14,000 miles over 258 days and visited 139 locations across 27 counties of equivalent.  A job well done.  But only touching the surface of moth biodiversity.

The book is ideal for general readership. A good read for moth-ers without the scientific clutter. The book will be of interest to naturalists, entomologists and lepidopterists and as a book on moths it is unique and unrivalled. There is an index, a bibliography and list of acknowledgements which runs to four pages. The cover is exciting and colourful. It’s a good book to hand, especially with the colourful and exciting cover.

From the flyleaf blurb it says…’no animal may be better placed to inspire the environmentalists of the future.’  Good luck with that then!  Moths will still continue to have a bad press (as most are brown, hairy and scary to the general public), even though they are more biodiverse than butterflies and in many cases more colourful than butterflies such as the day-fliers which James covers in his travels.  Let’s hope this book has started a revival in their fortunes.


‘Gone’ by Michael Blencowe


‘Gone – A Search for what remains of the world’s extinct creatures’ by Michael Blencowe. ISBN 978-0-7112-5675-0  9-780711 256750. Ivy Press, Leaping Hare Press, 2021.   192pp

Focusing on just eleven animals, the author provides an interesting narrative on species that have now disappeared, some rather quickly since being discovered ,such is the impact of man.

The author, from the Sussex Wildlife Trust, describes the Booth Museum in Brighton where the tower clock has stopped at three minutes to midnight – a reminder of the overall global decline of nature and the little time to find a fix.

There is another Sussex connection, since the chapter on the dodo is enlivened with the author’s encounter with the world’s expert on dodos who lives in Battle, Ralfe Whistler who has various dodo artefacts.

This selection of doomed animals is just the tip of the 413 species of animals, plants and fungi lost in Great Britain in the last 200 years (quoted on page 176). This does not seem enough loss compared to the overall publicised position. The UK government admits (2021) that 14 out of 42 biodiversity indicators show a long term decline of habitats and species.

Michael has visited many other museums around the world, for instance to see the whole skeleton of the now extinct Stella’s sea cow in the Helsinki (Finland) Natural History Museum. These were huge blubbery mammals weighing several tons, floated on the surface and ate kelp. It took just 27 years between discovery to their butchered extinction.

Blencowe has visited the formidable collections of Lord Rothschild at Tring to see the two specimens of the Spectacled Cormorant, and the Smithsonian Museum, and brings the book right up to date with new discoveries in Japan on recently found bones.

Blencowe has a very discursive style of writing and puts notable events in the text as a reminder of what was happening in the world at the time of more recent extinctions. The book is incredibly well researched with every timeline explored resulting in the ultimate demise of the species. It is a revelation of man’s effect on wildlife.  There is much fascinating detail on expeditions, who ran them, what they doing, and which discoveries were made. The book will appeal to a wide readership, older children and adults, and as a definitive account of these ‘gone’ animals. It is a good book just to pick up and read a single species chapter. Excellent for a train journey.

The book is dedicated to Michael’s long-lived pet tortoise (Tootles) which leads the reader to all about the Pinta Island Tortoise (Galapagos) and the inevitable demise of famous ‘Lonesome George’ on 24 June 2012.

The book includes a world map showing where the selected species lived (Galapagos, California, Iceland, Reunion, Japan, and three in New Zealand, and two in Russia) and the positions of twelve museums (four in southern England, three in New Zealand), to visit. Surely, a bee-line will be needed in Brighton to visit the Booth Museum.

The pages are interspersed with delightful colour prints in various muted colour shades of various greens and browns by Jade Thery,  all nicely displayed on the page. There is a Further Reading section. Altogether the book is a very satisfactory good read and good to have in any natural history library.

Ladybird Books & App

 Three ladybird books & and a Ladybird App. – all coloured red! Two of the books are by different Helens.

 Ladybirds’ by Michael E. N. Majerus. Collins, 1994. ISBN 0-00-219935-1 (originally £14.99 in pb) 367pp.

 Ladybirds’ by Helen E. Roy, Peter M.J. Brown, Richard  F. Comont, Remy L. Poland and John J. Sloggett. 2012. Naturalist’s Handbook 10. Ladybirds. Revised from Majerus and Kearns 1989. ISBN 987-1-907807-0707. 9 781907 807077. Reprinted by Pelagic Publishing. £22.98 142pp

 A Field Guide to Harlequins and other Common Ladybirds of Britain and Ireland.’ By Helen Boyce. 2021. Published by Pelagic Publishing. A Pelagic Identification Guide.  ISBN. 978-1-78427-244-9   9 781784 272449. 106pp.


‘European Ladybirds App’ v.   2021. v1.1.1(1) The app was hand crafted by Karolis Kazlauskis, and authored by a team of 14 scientists from UK, ITA, CZ, SK, BE and PT with financial support from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) and Anglia Ruskin University (Faculty of Science & Engineering). Two of the authors, Roy and Brown are co-authors of one of the books above. It is free, simple and quick to download and is conceptionally easy to use. Thirty nine species and forms of ladybird are illustrated with common and latin names. A digest on each species describes size, legs, colours, spots, plants on which it is likely to be found and and food, and habitats. After an initial registration with name and address the app knows where you are an applies a 6-figure OS map reference, and all that is required is to note which species found, in what sort of habitat (a choice is given) hit send record, adding a photo if you wish. This is a user-friendly app which you can carry on your android for field identification and reporting records.

There are other ways to record ladybirds, for instance in the long running UK Ladybird Survey via or via the iRecord app.  

 The classic and highly collectable book on Ladybirds by the late Michael E.N. Majerus stated in 1994 that there were 42 species in Britain. It remains the best original book on ladybirds. The figure is now updated by Helen Boyce’s book who states that there are now 47 species of ladybird in Britain and Ireland, but only 26 of them, now including the Harlequin are conspicuous – thus setting the scene for her book.

 The Helen Boyce book is a short but succinct book of colour photographs and explanations in double-space text for identification; the Helen Roy et al book is much longer and more of a digest and thorough scientific treatment of ladybirds with chapters on ladybirds in the environment, their enemies, variation, population and evolutional biology and identification with keys to adult British ladybirds, all adult British Coccinellidae and larvae of British ladybirds. The field and lab techniques are particularly useful. The Helen Roy book is a fair substitute, and up to date too, for the Majerus book which might be difficult to find cheaply. It is all that beginners would need to get started on ladybird identification, a good concise book.

 If you have difficulty identifying a Harlequins from other Coccinellids there is a 32 pages of subtle chararacteristics in the Harlequin book, such as i) only Harlequins have two ‘shoulder spots’, ii) they never have ‘Angel Wings’, iii) they are 5-8mm long, iv) ‘the only black ladybird that has full, round white ‘cheeks’ is the harlequin v) harlequins do not have white spots on their wing cases vi) they have ‘pinched’ dimples on the rear of the abdomens and viii) they have a lip on the elytra.  There is also a photographic guide on how to distinquish harlequin larvae from other ladybirds, and the most interesting one are the branched spines known as scoli. There are references and index in both of the more recent books.

 All readers have a an affinity with ladybirds, and after befriending an individual the question is often which species is it. Both books will help at this stage, though in the field the app is invaluable and the best choice, even though both books will fit into a jacket pocket.  The classification of ladybirds according to the number of spots is deceivingly simple, but as with many things in nature the more you look the more alternatives come forward.

 All these books are useful.  In a world before Harlequins (introduced into the UK in 2003 and spread to many areas at 100km a year) and in a world that Dr Majerus did not know about, the widespread occurrence of Harlequins introduced another level of variation amongst ladybirds, If you thought that the range of variation amongst ladybirds was great, then Harlequins are at another level. Thus the need for a book on Harlequins and how to distinguish them. This aim has been discharged well.

 Do the books have an answer to this intriguing colour variation?  Helen Roy et al say that factors producing these variations are unknown in many species’. There is much discussion about genetic effects, but the environment has something to do with it too. It is ‘expected that ladybirds will be negatively affected by climate change’ and it was interesting to learn about the dark melanic forms of ladybirds, especially that ‘darker forms are associated with cooler humid climates’.  

 2-spot and 10-spot and the Harlequin are the most variable of ladybirds, and some reliance is had in the Helen Roy book of the old classification of the German entomologist who listed 119 colour forms in his research in 1926-37. By 1945 more than 200 colour forms of the Harlequin ladybird had been listed for Europe with only three in the Britain.

 The colour red has been evolved especially for aposematic purposes by these ladybirds, and also in combination with black and white, and yellow. It is as if ladybirds have cornered the red market for defence in a lively world of predators, but it is not the case. Many other insects use red for great effect.






Forager’s Garden A Locke

The Forager’s Garden, Grow an Edible Sanctuary in Your Own Backyard. By Anna Locke. Permanent Publications. 2021. 194pp. £9.95 RRP. ISBN 978-1-85623307-1  9 781856233071          

The author has a herbal medicine degree and is an expert on permaculture and has produced a fine example of an easily accessible book for beginners to grow food. The book is not about foraging about along waysides and woodlands to bring back bunches of edible plants a la Richard Mabey’s ‘Food For Free’. It is more about a wake up call to bring useful plants into the garden and let them perform, or run riot; or let them arise and colonise the garden, in a form of rewilding. Rewilding is one of three principles of permaculture and there is a small section in this book but that subject is covered elsewhere in Isabella Tree’s book on ‘Wilding’ as a different kind of feeding off the land. However, amongst the many colour photographs, and black and white artworks, there are plenty of ‘wild’ looking parts of the garden up against walls, gravelly edges, which is just what Anna proposes, willowherbs, foxgloves, apples, pears and plenty of  ground cover, no neat lawns here.  There are 15 chapters which range from wildflowers, trees, and managing the wild garden, composting, pruning and being at ease with the space; and lists and tables to consider on species selection. There are also plenty of plans for layout in small places, but the ideas can go large to fit most spaces and enthusiasms. The author’s experience of a garden designer in London brings a lot of professionism to the book, and common sense for which beginners will be grateful. There are some neat tricks for water collection and distribution for off-grid gardens, reminding me of ideas that might be found in the alternative energy site in Wales, or in drought years, or in the Mediterranean (Anna has inspiration from Sicily).  Anna Locke practices in Hastings and manages the Ore in Bloom society. There are references to local places such as the Hornsburst Wood Forest Garden and the Bohemia Walled Garden Association which show, with before and after images, how gardens can be turned round to being useful for food production. But the wild turnaround can be applied anywhere. The book is for the UK and US market and the species chosen and all the ideas are applicable both sides of the Atlantic.  I like Anna’s enthusiasm for plant guilds that naturalists would also call suites of species, or just an example of rich biodiversity where in nature everything grows together. Bringing associated species together in gardens (for instance with plug plants), or just encouraging them to find their place and spread naturally, is presumably an aim for any wild garden, except here there is a preference for food. There is no need to eat the foxgloves (steady on there – danger!) but daisies, bugle and sorrel are recommended as food.  Clearly Anna likes nature, and her acknowledgement ‘To the field that held me’ reminds me of Robert Louis Stevenson who so liked the woodlands on his camping trek through the Cevennes mountains, that in the morning he laid coins on tree stumps as a thank you for such a nice environment. I too, know that feeling. Give me a wood or meadow any day.  For those beginners who get inspired by this book, they can save themselves a lot of money by foraging in their own back yard. This book also ticks the principle boxes for ‘regenerative agriculture’ and ‘community resilience’.  If you have a very large back yard you could at least have some wild boar to do some of the hard digging for you. The book is recommended for all those would would like to live the foraging life and commune with nature.






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 book 2021

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).  (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.’ (  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.