Category Archives: Book reviews

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.

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.

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!

7 Years of Camera Shake -a review

David Plummer, 2017. 7 Years of Camera Shake, One Man’s Passion for Photographing Wildlife. Unbound. 256pp. In aid of Parkinson’s UK. ISBN 978 1 7852 392 4

Renowned wildlife photographer David Plummer found that he had Parkinson’s when he was 40 seven years ago.  This book is a perspective of his work. The picture perfect images from around the tropics, Africa, Asia, the Americas and the Galapagos show wildlife in close-up, mostly birds, mammals and reptiles with some from his base in Sussex. The book is a delight (large format 28x26cm), an impressive production with a single amazing photograph on each page accompanied by a brief description. The colour reproduction is spot-on showing off the stunning colours of toucans, skimmers, owls and kingfishers. His patience in getting the right shot of leopards, and jaguars in the Pantanal is evident in the photographs, and his arduous field techniques are explored. This is a book that is worth having for just for its amazing photography. It is crowd-sourced by the many people who have contributed to the publishers Unbound and half of the profits go to Parkinson’s UK (https://www.parkinsons.org.uk/).

Grove’s Biodiversity Green Brexit – a review

Michael Grove’s length speech at the Oxford Farming Conference (4 Jan 2017) mentioned ‘biodiversity’ twice, and ‘Green Brexit’ once. It is encouraging and surprising times for wildlife and nature conservation with Secretary of State Gove at the Defra helm. ..’we will design…through countryside stewardship and agri-environmental schemes…to enhance the natural environment by planting new woodlands, providing new habitats for wildlife, increasing biodiversity…and returning cultivated land to wildflower meadows or other more natural states.’  The Government now has a wildlife mission, a vital one no less: ‘Enhancing our natural environment is a vital mission for this Government.’ And they will be delivering a ‘Green Brexit’ by implementing various policies after leaving the EU.  Gove bases a lot of his background information on ‘Natural Capital’ that reflects back to the initiatives of the Natural Capital Committee (NCC) set up in 2012.  Gove is clearly enamoured by the countryside ‘ I am moved by the beauty of our natural environment’ promising ‘a truly sustainable future for the countryside’.  Let’s see how this Green Brexit grows.

 

The Switch – A review

Chris Goodall, 2016. The Switch. Profile Books. 274pp.

With so much free solar energy the world is catching up fast in harnessing it day and night. The author, an expert on these matters, puts the case for the inevitability of the global switch and turning over to ever more efficient systems and storage in particular. The switch to a low carbon economy is convincingly told. We learn of the novel perovskites coatings on new PVs that my give an extra 20-25% boost in productivity. The book is a good read on the history of solar production which includes details of main players (and photos of them in black and white), how the ‘experience curve’ provides for cheaper materials, of Swanson’s and Moore’s laws, and all manner of alternative energy sources being trialled and honed. Altogether this is an essential guide to the subject. It has an appendix to figures and terms and an index. There are no references in the book, but reference is made to the authors website (www.carboncommentary.com) which is complete as can be, and offers updates (following publication of this book in 2016) and warns the reader to be wary of columnists in newspapers who get solar stats wrong.

The Switch

Mulberry by S.J.Bowe, Review

S.J. Bowe 2015. Mulberry, the material culture of mulberry trees. Liverpool University Press. 124pp.

Mulberry Book

If ever there was an introduced tree that has such a fascinating historical record in the grand gardens of Britain it is the mulberry. The book looks at both the white and black mulberry species and how they are wound up in the silk industry and associated with people such as James 1 and Shakespeare as well as Morris, More and Milton. The unique part of the book is its approach to the use of mulberry in the Japanese sashimono furniture tradition, highly regarded and often used in the tea ceremony. It is beautifully illustrated in colour showing many artefacts such as whisk shapers, tea containers all made from mulberry. This is a serious, almost academic book though accessible for general readership – the author is Senior Lecturer at Liverpool John Moores University – magnificently published and ideal for dendrologists, especially those keen on the historical perspective of the Morus genus, as well as antique dealers and enthusiasts of Japanese art. Each of the five chapters has exhaustive references and there is a good bibliography and useful list of 100 UK gardens where mulberries continue the tradition. 

RBG / World’s Plants review

RBG book

RBG Kew. 2016. The State of the World’s Plants. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. 80pp (also on-line).

It was a surprise that the world’s plants had not had been put under the microscope before, but this timely report sets the record straight, and will be an annual event. This is a major work brought together and verified by scores of eminent botanists worldwide. The brutal message is that the quantum of plants is declining.  There are three sections to the book, first, how many plants are there (391,000 vascular plants) second, threats, including climate change, and third, policies and international trade. The stark facts are highlighted throughout the book in large print: 21% of global plant species currently threatened with extinction, one in five of plants threatened with extinction. This is not compensated by the 2,034 new plant species logged up to March 2016. Genome sequencing is running apace, with 136 species whose whole-genome sequences are known. There are an amazing 31,128 species of ‘useful plants’ and 1,771 ‘important plant areas’ but, worryingly very few of these areas are protected. There are 4,979 species now documented as invasive; they say it is inevitable that with globalisation the incidence of invasives will rise. On climate change they agree that ‘>10% of the earth’s vegetated surface demonstrates high sensitivity to climate change.’ This year the review focussed on Brazil where there 32,109 native Brazilian seed plants known to science and where more seed plants are known than any other country in the world. There are 219 scientific references in the book, just in case anyone wants to dispute the facts. It will be interesting to compare parameters next year on the world’s inventory of plants. Clearly, then, there are plenty of reasons to be worried about plants.

Latest book by John Feltwell

bw-cover-26-oct

  • ·         The first book ever on black and white in animals
  • ·         Black and White as a colour
  • ·         Which came first black or white swans?
  • ·         Life in bright deserts is best served in white
  • ·         If you are not a Darwinist, this book is not for you
  • ·         Global warming effects on colour
  • ·         Radioactivity effects on colour
  • ·         Piedness in birds