Category Archives: Book reviews

Silent Earth by Goulson 2021

  

Silent Earth, Averting the Insect Apocalypse, by Dave Goulson, Published by Jonathan Cape, London in 2021. (imprint of Vintage which is part of Penguin Random House, London.) 328pp. Hardback £20. ISBN 978-1-787-33334-5  &  9 781787 333345  A review:

Hot on the heels of other books on the impending disaster to affect the wildlife world we live in, this is another that adds to the debate. It seems that lockdown has had a positive effect on the productivity of all authors. But this assessment of the decline of insects is from an academic for consumption by the general public. And he is good at it, converting scientific facts, arguments and counter-argument into some interesting discussion. The author is Prof.  Dave Goulson, lecturer at the University of Sussex, who, when he is not writing books, looks after freshers giving them a tour of the campus to assess their readiness to understand the living world, identifying the common birds and the bees (which they do very poorly). His lecturing circuit of about 40 lectures a year allow him to assess audiences, and he agrees that talking to primary school schoolchildren is more fulfilling as they pay attention and are enthralled, compared to secondary pupils. He sees a drift of grey hairs in some of the older audiences and they also are more keyed into what is happening. He says that about 90% of the population could not care less about the environment, and he is right, possibly higher. This is however a flaw in his halting the apocalypse. Will they all respond?

There are five sections of the book, Why Insects Matter, Insect Declines, Causes, Where are we headed? and What we can do? in all 21 chapters. Each chapter is quite short and succinct and reads without giving specific references (making the text a better read), but the references are at the back of the book under chapter headings if anyone wants to fact-check Goulson’s comments and threads.  The author draws on his own academic published work, and his travels around the world making observations.  Having just reviewed McGavin’s audio book on insects (All Creatures Small and Great), both authors have used the same published work, whether it is the German experience of declining insects or the Knepp experience of wilding, and drawing on the quoted works of Carson, EO Wilson, Fabre, Monbiot or Attenborough.  It is surprising how there is a relatively small body of work on declining species out there, that everyone quotes. The difference with this book and the others is that Goulson supports all his commentaries with graphs and scientific evidence – almost, but not quite, at the level of a textbook. Most pages are enlightening, and the book can be dipped into to get a different flavour. There are at least ten books I have around me here on the impending Armageddon and the story is the same, the relatively few references the same, Carson being the first key witness.

So where does Goulson really stand. He is an optimist. He says on the flyleaf ‘it is not too late for insect populations to recover’. Attenborough also says that on television. That does not fit comfortably with the 90% who do not care less. Even the sub-title is optimistic ‘averting the insect apocalypse’. Topically he has one chapter on life in the future after the apocalypse several decades on, and another chapter on how to get things right before the apocalypse, education, involvement at local level and getting involved in politics. Goulson also muses on Rumsfeld’s ‘knowns and unknowns’ and ‘unknown knowns’ in the biodiverse insect world. He also has a chapter on ‘Bauble Earth’ about light pollution and effects on wildlife, also very topical at the moment.

Goulson is a bee expert and he often refers to his other books (three out of five on bees and bumblebees) and one has the feeling that one should have read his The Garden Jungle before writing this review as he often refers to it.  His appraisal of the effects of neonics on bees is excellent. Curiously, various vignettes on the peculiarities of a handful of insects are placed at the end of the chapters, not related to the subject matter, but the tiniest peek into the world’s biodiversity that we might loose, such as the earwig with two penises if you have ever seen it in the first place.   With the insect world in Britain of 27K species these are not key to the message of the book, and therefore a distraction, perhaps an entrée into the bizarre world of biodiverse insects for a new book?

Insects by McGavin 2022

All Creatures Small and Great. How insects make the World.  An audiobook written and narrated by Dr George McGavin. MP3 (14 hours). Published by WFH Original (W.F. Howes), £16.99   ISBN: #9781004073344    Link on Audible: https://www.audible.co.uk/pd/All-Creatures-Small-and-Great-Audiobook/B09RC5CCYP   A review:

 

For those who have not come across George McGavin on the radio or on the TV he is a passionate, if not unique spirit of ecology who now works in the media but was once a lecturer at Oxford. We learn a lot about the life of McGavin, an early interest in bugs in Edinburgh from the age of 12 through to his latest tribute to the parlous state of insects worldwide. In some ways I thought this was a promo for The Royal Entomological Society (RES) as it so insect-centric (which I applaud) and one of its nine guest contributors is the president of the RES, Prof. Helen Roy – a ladybird authority. But insects rule the world with their complete mastery of numbers and diversity and put other classes to shame in biodiversity. McGavin says confidently that they will be around on Earth well after our own demise. Therein is the issue that grips McGavin throughout this audiobook. The relentless decline in species, that McGavin reminds us several times that he has experienced in his lifetime. We all have.  You can feel that he feels wounded as an entomologist that his subjects are disappearing, even species that could be useful that will become extinct before they are discovered (a very familiar and true refrain) with steady on-going rainforest loss that no one seems to be able to stop. He does not refrain from speaking the truth, whether it is rainforest loss just to grow new crops (oil palms, soya), burning peat for shooting, cutting verges or ‘unnecessary street lights’.  One of his most animated interviews is with the inimitable fly-centric Dr Eric McAlister particularly on the fruit-fly – 60% of whose 15.000 decoded genes are found in humans (a common ancestry) which cause cancer, offering hope for remedies for various diseases. He calls the fruit-fly ‘arguably the most important insect in the world’ – vying with the house fly as the most dangerous.  Like many TV reporters he asks many questions such as why and how we got into this mess, where have all the insects gone, and so what if they go extinct? But he does give answers. He talks to Sir David Attenborough to see if he has any answers to which he is told that he receives 50-70 letters a day, mostly, now from concerned youngsters. Attenborough’s solution is to i) individually do not waste food, space, fuel, paper etc, ii) that those who have an elected voice should appreciate the international point of view of the worldwide dilemma and do something, and iii) that that there is a need to get politicians to set out remedial measures.  Maybe we have all got it wrong, McGavin invokes Genesis 9.7 ‘be fruitful and multiply’. Yes, says McGavin we have done that, and spoilt the world. We have become complacent and here McGavin says that we have all fallen into the ‘Shifting Benchmark Syndrome’ where the gradual decline of species (example Passenger Pigeon) is easily missed and extinction occurs. He laments his windscreens not being encrusted with a pâté of insects, something we have all noted, and now wonder where they all went.  40% of all insects are now threatened with extinction towards an Eco-Armageddon. There have been mass extinctions before, 250yrs ago at the end of the Permian ‘The Great Dying’ but that was because of acidification of the oceans and gross volcanic activity. Insects at that time did not become widely extinct. Now we are told we are ‘in the middle of a mass extinction event’ the Anthropocene, during this The Age of the Human.  With difficulty we must triage what to save, which insect species we need to save.  We are told by Prof. Philip Stevenson (Kew Gardens) that two out of five plants are now currently at risk of extinction. There is discussion on over-production of food, that an area the size of China produces food that is wasted each year, and that the energy and greenhouse gases to produce it could be saved.  There are moments in the audiobook that McGavin reverts to describing in detail the autecology of various species, such as the honeybee (excellent account), the cochineal beetle, the stag beetle, the galls of oak trees or the Colorado Beetle – all a background for a younger audience, and harking back to this lecturing days.  He gets very annoyed at the phrase Save the Planet when the planet is actually fine, it has looked after itself OK for the last 4.5 billion years and insects in general are always OK. As a good storyteller, McGavin tells us of his adventures mothing in Papua New Guinea where he is ‘ecstatic’ by the diversity of moths to his moth trap, or under the clear skies of Africa. McGavin gets us up to date with neonicinoids in the environment and their potential effects on honeybees. A lot of what he says is backed up with reference to recent research. He quotes E.O. Wilson (we all do) and John Muir; he talks about ‘bee vomit’ (honey) from honeybees and the ‘insect spittle’ (silk) from the silkmoth now extinct in the wild. These descriptions are very appealing to youngsters, and to this end the book is pitched for a very general audience from children right up to all adults interested in the natural environment and what is happening to it, even ecologists, entomologists and naturalists.  There is a very good section on ‘A Natural Pharmacy’ (the audiobook is full of named sections) where the plant world is shown to be a natural pharmacy of useful ‘secondary plant substances’ or scientifically as Prof Philip Stevenson says are ‘Secondary Metabolites’. This is an area much to my own interest especially with the suite of carotenoids and their overlooked importance in inverts and humans.  Much discussion is had on caffeine which in concentration is antagonistic or a deterrent to honeybees (for instance) but in dilution appears to be a stimulant to improve the bee’s carrying out its pollination duties.

There is measured frustration in McGavin’ s voice that the message of the insect decline is not being heard or heeded, as we have all been banging on about this for decades. There have been other voices before about the loss of habitat, such as Marion Shoard, Norman Moore, Graham Harvey, and more recently Elizabeth Kolbert on the 6th extinction and Dave Goulson (with his Silent Earth), but McGavin’s is more a more direct and approachable, well-rounded interpretation, as always backed up with scientific evidence, even though the truth is not heeded.  This topic needed to be aired as an audiotape (14 hours), even if it’s dark message that can be listened-to during a long car journey through a clean windscreen. It has great educational value and should be required ‘reading’ for all schools.

 

Dr John Feltwell (Naturalist Dr John Feltwell has visited New and Old World rainforests and has written over 40 books including his own on Rainforests, conservation, global warming etc).

Meadows by Peterken 2013

Meadows by George Peterken. No. 2 in The British Wildlife Collection. 2013. Bloomsbury Wildlife. 431pp  ISBN 978-1-4720-60344  &  9 781472 960344  RRP £35.00  A review:

There are now 11 volumes in Bloomsbury’s Wildlife Collection and a fine series it is. This is an early one written by an authority on woodlands and flowers. Peterken worked originally for the Nature Conservancy (NC), and then he was part of the Chief Scientist’s team at the Nature Conservancy Council (NCC) that became English Nature (EN) and now Natural England (NE) – a fine pedigree to discuss the importance of meadows. This is a very pleasing and satisfactory book that is particularly comprehensive at well over 400 pages.  It feels like the author was given a free hand to include everything about meadows.  He starts out to define what exactly is a meadow and how other authors, including myself (Meadows, 1992) have included all possible interpretations of meadows.  Peterken states that meadows are technically ‘grasslands that are mown for hay, ‘which means they must be ‘shut-up’ in spring and allowed to grow without grazing until they are cut in summer’. Peterken tends to err on the importance of ‘grasslands’ in his interpretation of meadows, as this is where meadows tend to fall in the strict and official classification of British plant communities. However, there is no official classification directly for meadows per se.  The National Vegetation Classification (NVC) has acronyms for each type of grassland, and as Peterken says ‘the majority of meadows fall within MG5..’ but there is so much variation depending on the soil chemistry – limestone, clay etc.  Field botanists and ecologists will know what this means, and the names of the applicable wildflower species that designate each classification, but members of the general public will not. There is no glossary. There are over 50 references to NVC categories like MG5, but this reflects the serious side of grassland classification espoused by John Rodwell in his series of volumes, which Peterken follows. Meadows actually occur across several volumes as ‘meadows’ are actually only a description, or descriptive turn of phrase, about a collection of species describing one sort of habitat that we all subjectively like. Peterken could get bogged down in the minutiae of particular acronyms but he does not. There is however less room for the popular side of meadow creation in this book, which is now practiced widely privately and in public places. So, it was no surprise that the work of Dame Miriam Rothschild and her infectious enthusiasm and her influence on The Prince of Wales and his meadows is not mentioned.  Also the inspirational work of wildflower seed purveyor Donald MacIntyre and Emorsgate Seeds which has coloured many a motorway embankment and municipal parks across the country for all to see, for the last few decades is not mentioned.

 There are 15 chapters whose titles range from the meadow flora, classification, origins, making hay, diversity , ‘birds, bees, butterflies and other fauna’, ‘loss and survival’ and ‘looking forward.

The author comes out with the classic quote of 97% decline of meadows in England and Welsh lowlands up to the 1980s following the published work of Fuller in 1987. So this book celebrates meadows of which only 3% are left. He describes how they are so precious that many SSSIs have been created round them, and how increasing habitat destruction and  ‘improvement’ has led to their continued demise.  Thus, for the last few decades one has been dabbling in the conservation of just the 3% of remaining meadows and wondering how beautiful the countryside used to be. One also wonders if the 3% has been diminishing. No-one seems to be quantitatively charting any further demise. However Peterken does mention new agro-schemes for meadow enhancements across the countryside as well as many effective community initiatives, so all is not lost, and the quantum has remained the same, perhaps, or gone up? Re-wilding is mentioned around the scientific debate about what Neolithic meadows might have been like and the theories of Frans Vera (2000), but there is otherwise no mention of the present enthusiasm of re-wilding / wilding, and the often-mentioned Knepp Estate (West Sussex), where meadows are always part of any ecological or enhancement mosaic. 

The book is not entirely UK-centric, for the chapter on European meadows brings in discussion of meadows from Estonia, the species-rich alpine rich meadows of Ecrins National Park in France,  Switzerland, Moldovia, and Transylvania in Romania. We learn more about colourful wood-meadows, wet-meadows and litter-meadows, the variety of hay ricks, hay cocks and different ways of scything. Continental meadows are often extremely rich, arresting and beyond anything seen in Britain, but Peterken is sceptical….’that, contrary to the myth, not all Continental meadows are wonderfully floriferous.’ … ‘many are generally only grass-rich, with limited colour’. Some may disagree.

 One of the chapters in the book is about ‘Translocating meadows to the colonies’ and here Peterken describes the familiarity of visiting New Zealand with the British introduced grasses, wildflowers and bumblebees, or the progress of early settlers in east and west North America with their meadow endeavours. He deals with butterflies in meadows well, where he charts each species according to the various classification of meadow types. I am sure the butterflies appreciate being put into tidy boxes, but at the same time it does reflect their very important and pernickety food preferences reflecting their essential ecology.   Nearly all the well-known named meadows are mentioned, such as Cricklade, Lugg and Oxford meadows, and the range of colourful wildflower meadow plants that we all love and associate with meadows are in the book, even Lady’s Slipper orchid that few see in Britain. The book has a wealth of fine photographs of meadows and details of certain species of botanical associations. I like the old black and white photos of male-dominated hay-making teams, and the mixed teams, and of course pictures of haystacks always remind us that 97% of meadows are now gone. There are References and indexes to wildflower species and subjects – overall a fine treatise and unlikely to be surpassed.

 John Feltwell

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

 

 

British Moths by Lowen

British Moths, A Gateway Guide, a field guide to the common moths of Britain and Ireland.  2021. Bloomsbury Wildlife. 224pp. £15.29 on-line.   Ring-bound and e-edition available. ISBN 978-1-4729-8738-9    9 781472 987389   A review

My review copy arrived just after the Saharan dust arrived on 16 March 2022 and I had installed the moth trap to see which North African moths had hitched a ride to the UK.  So I got out this book and tested the identification. The book is arranged seasonally, that is to say if you are starting to trap moths in 2022 then it begins helpfully with ‘Spring Moths’ – and yes a lot of the moths were present and easy to identify.  The author has illustrated pages such as ‘chestnut-brown noctuids’ and ‘beige and reddish-brown noctuids’ and ‘spring-like quakers’. The noctuids are a big and diverse group and there are many overlapping and confusing features thrown in with individual variation, so many of the similar-looking species are a nightmare for moth newcomers. The ring-bound nature of the book is good for use in the field when opening a moth trap and examining species in the presence of fascinated ‘mothers’.  Although the UK list of moths is about 2,500 species, this book includes 350 species of the most common and eye-catching species. Some of the common micros are also included. The standard of the close-up photographs is good and the identification features are shown in the photos with precise annotations. James Lowen is already a Bloomsbury Wildlife author who also written ‘Much Ado About Mothing’ (also in 2021). Lowen comes out with some intriguing categories for the ever-confusing noctuids through the seasons, where he calls them ‘Little Brown Jobs’ – referring to the ornithological parlance for difficult avifauna. In comparison, birds are easy to identify, moths are so much more difficult and more appropriate for the epithet.  Moths have taken diversity to a completely different level. The whole range of common moths are included from hawk-moths, emeralds, waves, pugs, footmen, tigers, sallows and underwings. At the beginning of the book there is a section on the joy of moths, how to see moths, and how to identify moths. There is a subject index, but no glossary or further information. There are other moth identification books that go into much greater detail, but this is a neat, useful and trap-side identification book in full colour, which is fits nicely into a jacket pocket, and is recommended for all beginners and amateurs who venture into the great world of moths.  No, no Saharan moths graced my trap, but many local common moths were present and the book was found to be useful.   John Feltwell.

Screaming Sky by C. Foster

The Screaming Sky. By Charles Foster. 2022. A Little Toller Monograph. ISBN 978-1-908213-84-6  A review.

 

The author is an academic philosopher at the University of Oxford who has won all sorts of prizes for his other works. However, he admits this is not a scientific book at all and that he has written this book about swifts simply because he is obsessive about them. The book is entirely about swifts, Apus apus, and the author fits all his obsessive notes and observations into a dozen chapters in the year of the swift from January to December. I am not sure the author has enough to say in some months, as there is not always a lot of factual information to say, but he has his anecdotes in any way. The book reminds me of ‘A single Swallow’ by Horatio Clare (Vintage, 2010) both charting the movements of regular migrants, with lots of information gaps along the way. The book cover and the plates within are all by the finest swift illustrator Jonathan Pomroy whose annotated pencil sketches of the birds in flight, in the nest and in screaming parties are well presented and are a great addition; the drawings are so life-like and dynamic. There are so many unknowns about a migrants, and the author has travelled to Spain, South Africa and Asia to see what is going on, to puzzle over spring and autumn passages, often successfully. He obsesses over facts and figures, that the birds fly 6,000 miles each way twice a year to South Africa, and that they live up to 21 years, so that is about 770,910 miles in a lifetime which includes the general flying around that they do ordinarily. The newly-born nestling is 2.75g and it will increase its weight 24 times by its fourth week. It has to grow fast as in England the swifts start to return south in earnest. You would have to be lucky to see a movement of 46,000 swifts off Gibraltar Point in June. It is a short, popular book of 179 pages and it belongs to a series of similarly short texts with about 40 titles. There are references to books from which he has drawn information and a list of books and useful websites. A short index would have been useful to remind the reader of salient pieces, or a table of facts and figures would have been useful too. I would like to have seen a little bit more about the ecology (all about ‘flyburgers’ that adults bring back to the nest) but then the species spends most of its life in the rarified atmosphere at 3,000 to 6,000 feet and it still keeps its secrets.

 

 

Ants by Richard Jones 2022

Ants: the ultimate social insects. by Richard Jones  London, Bloomsbury Wildlife. No. 11 in the British Wildlife Collection. ISBN 9781472964861. Hardback £40.00  A review:

It is always good to see a new book on ants, and Richard Jones has done justice to these very successful animals. Jones is a highly respected professional entomologist with one of the keenest eyes for the mega-diversity of British invertebrates. He has written quite a number of natural history books including Beetles (No. 136 in the New Naturalist series, 2018), and Call of Nature (Pelagic, 2017), both also reviewed here,[1] both remarkable books.  A south London man, Jones was brought up with his father an ‘amateur but expert botanist and entomologist’ and spent much of his youth exploring in East Sussex.

As the book flyleaf says, this covers all ant species in the British Isles and those in nearby mainland Europe. This amounts to ‘about 50 species of ant that might be regarded as genuinely British or Irish’, and there are three other species from the Channel Islands.   Jones allows himself to get diverted into talking about non-British ants, as he says he makes ‘detours and diversions across the globe’ where there are about 12,500 ant species. Plenty to choose from. But I like the detours very much. It becomes a more rounded book, particularly as it speaks to my own ant encounters around the world.

In the book I am then face-to-face with bullet ants (great photo) which I have encountered frequently in the Amazon, and of the floating islands of ants going downstream during annual periods of high water in the River Negro – just do not let your canoe touch the floating island as the ants get on board within milliseconds and panic ensues in caiman-infested waters.  And in Sulawesi (Indonesia) there is also the risk of being killed by giant ant galls falling from the canopy. From tip-toeing over the lawns of South Carolina with fire ants, or crashing through South American rainforest with ants issuing from acacia galls at the slightest touch – these are all covered, some illustrated. These small animals come with a big punch – always punching above their weight.

The book has ten chapters starting with what is an ant, their evolution, interactions between ant species and interactions with human, how they fit in with the landscape, and how to study ants.. The chapter on the ants of Britain and Ireland is set out in sections, species by species in a systematic manner, giving latin names and english names where known.  The intimate association of ants with blue butterfly metamorphosis is covered. Jones is justly very resistent to using common names (and only with lower case names not to embolden them with importance), which is what every entomologist will tell you, and in most cases ants mostly only have latin names. You will have to read older texts to find out about horse ants, honey ants or pastural ants. There are photographs to some of the species (would have been nice to have many more), but this is not an identification book. It is just an absorbing book on ants.

Ants have always been interesting to naturalists, and it is not surprising that there have been a lot of books about them since the early 19th century. I am reminded of other ‘ant books’ such as Sir John Lubbock’s Ants, Bees, and Wasps. (1885 London, Kegan Paul, Trench) who, even then referenced over 50 books and memoires on ants – Sir John lived in Kent – and Maurice Maeterlinck’s ‘The Life of the Ant (1930 translated by Bernard Miall), as well as the more recent Brian’s Ants in the New Naturalist’s Library (1977, Collins). Not all of these are cited. Perhaps that is a good thing, as it brings a new and refreshing look at ants.

This is a lockdown book, written during 2020 and 2021, and is not the worst for it. Even the home-made ‘pancake ants’ have some tasty educational value. The illustrations throughout the book are good (they are for this series of books) and much use has been made of black and white plates from older texts.  If people are keen on identifying ants there is indeed a proper key at the end of the book.

The References are comprehensive, including 12 citations to Jones’s work. I was at Royal Holloway College when ant expert Dr John Pontin was a lecturer and Jones mentions his work throughout, and cites two references.  John unfortunately died in 2021; he wrote The Ants of Surrey (Surrey Wildlife, 2005) and fought to save the rarest of Britain’s ants, F. rufibarbis  – which is mentioned in the book as it was illustrated on a Royal Mail postage stamp.   Ants have come a long way; frankly stamping their mark on British society.  Jones has successfully promoted their importance in a very popular manner.

[1] Beetles: https://wildlifematters.com/?m=201803  Call of Nature: https://wildlifematters.com/?p=319),

Ecology & Nat Hist 2021

Wilkinson, D.M., 2021. Ecology and Natural History. The New Naturalist Library. No. 143 in the series. 368pp. ISBN 978-0-00-829363-5  9 780008 293635.   Review.

142 titles of this esteemed series of New Naturalists Library (NNL) have never used the word ecology in the title, but it has been fundamental to the discussion of many. The book reminds me of a classic work, Ecology of the English Chalk (C. J. Smith, 1980. Academic Press, 573pp) which is much longer, and which Wilkinson does not mention; there is just one reference to chalk in the index which is surprising.  Prof. Wilkinson approaches his new book from a wide angle of interests in the living world, since he is a Reader in environmental sciences at Liverpool John Moores University, and visiting professor in ecology at University of Lincoln and honorary research fellow in archaeology at the University of Nottingham.  His published works range from bacteria to dinosaurs.  So how does he put together a book on ecology and natural history of the British Isles?  Possibly very selectively.  Indeed, this is the case, the author says that it written very much in the same manner as Prof Sam Berry in his Inheritance and Natural History (No. 61) i.e. as his final year lectures without the mathematics. Wilkinson’s book provides ‘something more accessible, while maintaining scientific rigour.’ First he describes what is ecology, so he starts the bar low. Some of his eleven chapters are on particular places such as Windermere, Peak District, Cairngorms, Wicken Fen, Snowdonia’s Cwm Idwal, Rothamsted and Wytham Woods (two chapters no less), and who would blame him, for some of these are classic sites where lots of students have worked and data for degrees have been gathered and much research material is available. There is also a chapter on Gilbert White’s swifts at Selborne,  Grime’s work on snails, but nothing on Berry’s work on small mammals or Kettlewell’s work on changing moth colours, and nothing on the flora of nunataks. Climate change figures throughout the chapters and discussions, and there are colour photographs of Bass Rock showing variable size of the gannetry.  There is a reproduction of one of Bewick’s prints in the period of the Little Ice Age of someone trudging through the snow. Change is an external factor that even Darwin acknowledged altered the ecology; then and now it still is the climate governing ecological impact. The author engages us with the way that algae and bacteria (one of the author’s favourite subjects) are part of the ecology of habitats, to this has to be considered in context of the botany of arctic-alpine habitats in Wales and Scotland, to the research plots of Wicken, where the ecology is influenced by man, to diminishing meadows. When Wilkinson is talking about invasive plant species I am reminded of Richard Mabey’s Weeds (1996, Profile Books. 324pp) which is a good in-depth read of the subject. As is customary with this NNL series of books, this volume has lots of colour photographs (generally good), references, and a general and species index. This is not a gloom and doom book (just the last chapter on man’s impact), it’s ecology to the core and a good read. It is pity that the word ‘ecology’ took so long to get its name on the front cover the New Naturalists series. At least ‘conservation’ had a head start on ‘ecology’.

Butterflies of Serra Dos Orgaos, 2020

Bizarro, J. and Martin, A., 2020. A Guide to the Butterflies of the Serra Dos Orgaos, South-eastern Brazil. REGUA publications. ISBN: 978-0-9568291-2-2  389pp  Review

As guide books go, this is not one for the pocket, but this is a magnificent tome (20x24cm) which depicts in perfect colour all the known butterflies of this part of SE Brazil. It is in English, but if it were in Portugese as well it would be twice as long.

The book includes a total of 923 species of butterfly recorded to date from the Serra Dos Orgaos in the State of Rio de Janeiro.  This includes the very difficult skippers (120 species) which have only been given general descriptions. That leaves 803 butterfly species are described completely with Scientific and Common names, descriptions, similar species, distribution and ecology. There are 58 species which are listed as Threatened in Brazil, and 14 of these which are found in the area, are included too. There is so much natural habitat in the REGUA lowlands to the ridge line of the Organ Mountains (2,260 m) to be explored that many more butterfly species will be discovered. Butterfly lovers wanting to discover new butterfly species need to head for the REGUA reserve.  Also included in the book are 5 butterfly species that are waiting to be described and named, one Symmachia sp. three satyrs and one Gorgythion skipper.

The authors include Dr Jorge Bizarro with a background in medical entomology and a passion for butterflies, and Alan Martin FLS, a renowned ornithologist and professional accountant who has fully embraced an enthusiasm for lepidoptera with a background in helping some of the leading UK and global conservation NGOs.  Other publications from REGUA include ‘A Guide to Hawkmoths of the Serra dos Orgaos’ in 2011 and ‘A Guide to Dragonflies and Damselflies of the Serra dos Orgaos’ in    and ‘A guide to Birds of the Serra dos Orgaos’ in 2015. So this is REGUA’s fourth publication, a credit to their professional output.

Extensive field work carried out by the authors and their many colleagues at the field station in REGUA has enabled this comprehensive compilation of butterflies of the area. It is in an area that Charles Darwin visited, and it still offers naturalists alike the opportunity to explore, discover and describe wildlife. The illustrations in the book, some 88 plates are key to identifying the species, all reproduced in superb colour, 15 species a page, almost all mostly shot in the wild. The range and diversity is stunning, but then the quality of the hinterland of REGUA is of perfect Atlantic Rainforest, a rare and declining habitat recognised as being in the top five global biodiversity hotspots in the world; there is only 16% of Atlantic rainforest left (it used to stretch south from the mouth of the Amazon), and REGUA with its 18,000 acres seeks to conserve (and enhance with native plantings – over 624,000 trees planted to date) what is left.  Bringing back the native flora is key to supporting and expanding the potential of butterflies and moths.  The new acres of wetlands increases the biodiversity of insects across many orders of insects including lepidoptera.

The guide will be immensely useful to visitors to these neotropical tropical habitats in Rio de Janeiro state and all those who wish to start identifying from their digital images.  As stated, the book is too large to have in a knapsack (it is over 1.1kg) but a copy needs to be in all field schools, field labs, libraries and university ecology and conservation departments, as a key reference book.

There is a Glossary, Latin Name Index, additional reading and references, and the list of Threatened species. This is a remarkable compilation and sets an important milestone in butterfly research in this wonderful part of the world.

VISIT    Reserva Ecológica de Guapiaçu  (REGUA) https://regua.org/about-us/
 REGUA PUBLICATIONS:
 A Guide to the Butterflies of the Serra dos Orgaos, South-eastern Brazil. Jorge Bizarro and Alan Martin ISBN: 978-0-9568291-2-2  £35.00 including UK delivery
Field Guide to the Birds of the Serra dos Órgãos and Surrounding Area. Daniel Mello, Gabriel Mello and Francisco Mallet-Rodrigues. ISBN: 978-85-919157-0-5.   £21.00 including UK delivery
A Guide to the Dragonflies and Damselflies of the Serra dos Orgaos, South-eastern Brazil Tom Kompier  ISBN: 978-0-9568291-1-5  £30.50 including UK delivery
 A Guide to the Hawkmoths of the Serra dos Orgaos, South-eastern Brazil.  Alan Martin, Alexandre Soares and Jorge Bizarro  ISBN-13: 9780956829108  £15.00 including UK delivery.
 All available from Alan Martin, Alureds Oast, Northiam, East Sussex, TN31 6JJ.

 

Environment Act 2021

The Environment Act 2021 –  10% net gains now mandatory

(This is a preliminary review, awaiting commencement date – either from a Commencement Order, or , if not, the evening of 9 Nov 2021)

 The Environment Act 2021 was given Royal Assent on Tuesday 9 November 2021.[1]

NOT to be confused with The Environment Act 1995, especially where sections 4,5,6 on controlling pollution and ‘conserve and enhance’ are concerned.

The Environment Bill had this official long title:

A Bill to make provision about targets, plans and policies for improving the natural environment; for statements and reports about environmental protection; for the Office for Environmental Protection; about waste and resource efficiency; about air quality; for the recall of products that fail to meet environmental standards; about water; about nature and biodiversity; for conservation covenants; about the regulation of chemicals; and for connected purposes.’[2]

A new body will be set up called the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP).

Much of the Act is about sewage, but this briefing note is about the natural environment.

The OEP, according to George Eustice (Environment Secretary), will have five roles, which will be legally binding; these will strengthen the government’s commitment to ‘building back greener’ :

  1. The integration principle
  2. The prevention principle
  3. The rectification at source principle
  4. The polluter pays principle
  5. The precautionary principle

Further explanations of these are on gov.uk 2021[3]

If you think the last two principles are familiar, that is because they are in the 1992 Rio Declaration, of which the UK was a signatory.

Net Gain – key points[4]

  • Developments ‘Must satisfy 10% net gain in biodiversity points’,
  • Must be satisfied before planning permission is given
  • It is the duty of the LPAs to ensure compliance (expect variable uptake then!)
  • The habitats created must be managed for up to 25-30 years

Exceptions (only two)  are

  1. ‘Householder developments’.
  2. ‘Specific development on infrastructure land by providers or nationally significant infrastructure.’

Leniency is proposed for smaller sites to prevent disproportionate costs..

Net Gain delivery  – more key facts

The government requires all 35,000 developers to deliver these gains.

It estimates they they will have to pay out £900 per ha for site surveys, and £19,698 per ha for habitat creation (advised by RSPB, NT, Wildlife Trusts), inclusive of 30 years maintenance as well.

The government think net gain will help to achieve the 25-year environment plan (Defra, 2018).  They also think it will create a ‘level playing field’ for developers.

The gains have been estimated to achieve a monetary value of £1,395.7m. ‘These benefits do not fall within the 10 year appraisal period, as it is expected that developers take 20 years to create the desired habitat condition.’   So delayed monitoring will have be built into each development Site.

 It is believed that ‘29% of residential developments already deliver net gain is based on evidence that six developers have some form of habitat mitigation and creation policy.’

 The government believe that most net gains will continue to occur on site, though, off-site gains, as offsetting’ is likely to increase. This seems reasonable.

Whilst this consultant already knows some Councils who seek substantial payments of money per ha for biodiversity projects off-site the government have worked out that The assumption of the cost per biodiversity unit at £11,000 is satisfactorily supported’

                                                   

Other major changes

  • The Environment Bill ‘builds on this strong foundation, and maximises the opportunities created by leaving the European Union, underpinning our goal of delivering a Green Brexit.’[5]

If you want to know what a Green Brexit is, go to Soil Association video.[6]

  • Statutory Environmental Improvement Plans (the first being the 25 Year Environment Plan) will be created to ensure government can be held to account.
  • Local Nature Recovery Strategies will be established across England, to ‘support better spatial planning for nature recovery…’
  • Forestry Enforcement Measures will be introduced to give Forestry Commission powers to impose larger fines for illegal tree felling. (currently fines, when imposed are paltry).

            

[1] Hansard, 9 Nov.2021

[2] Gov.uk 8 Nov 2021. Environment Bill. Commons insistence, disagreement, amendments in lieu and reasons.  https://bills.parliament.uk/publications/43515/documents/910 (accessed 12 Nov 2021)

[3] Gov.uk. 2021. Press Release. From Defra and The Rt Hon George Eustice MP, dated 10 March 2021.  Consultation launches on on environmental principles.  Five legally binding principles will guide future policymaking to protect the environment. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/consultation-launched-on-environmental-principles (accessed 12 Nov 2021).

[4] Regulatory Policy Committee, 2021. Biodiversity net gain Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs RPC rating: fit for purpose.

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/858037/2019.06.06_-_RPC-4277_2_-DEFRA-EA_biodiversity_net_gain.pdf  6pp. Date of issue 06.06.2019, but current and on site when accessed  www.gov.uk/rpc  (accessed 12 Nov 2021)

[5] Defra, 2021. Policy paper 30 January 2020, Updated 6 September 2021: Environment Bill 2020 policy statement Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs (https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/department-for-environment-food-rural-affairs). (accessed 12 Nov 2021)

[6] Soil Association 2021  Green Brehttps://www.soilassociation.org/causes-campaigns/green-brexit/ (accessed 12 Nov 2021)

 

The Blue Book – RoW

Riddall, J. & Trevelyan, J. 2013. A Guide to Law and Practices. 4th edition. Published by the Ramblers’ Association and Open Spaces Society.  883pp.  ISBN 8780-1-901 184-99-0    £29.95

 

Known as The Blue Book, this has been the bible for ramblers since 1983.

The book was written by two authors, John Riddall, a barrister, and John Trevelyan who worked with the Ramblers’ Association. Trevelyan had previously been heavily involved with the passage through Parliament of the Wildlife and Countryside Bill and he could see that a lot of the existing legislation on rights of way needed substantial revision. That is where The Open Spaces Society came on board as co-publishers with The Ramblers’ Association. That was the genesis of the Blue Book, which sold out in its first edition. The 4th edition of 2007 has not been revised.  Sadly John Riddall died in 2014 aged 86.

The book is a massive and weighty tome, typical of many legal books, and it has all the feel and look of legal books, with the minutiae and arguments of cases referenced galore. The book is in two parts, the first on the law and practice, the second on Acts, Regulations and Circulars, which splits the book almost in half (400 pages each). There are nine pages of legal cases and a list of law reports and 12 pages of chronological legal instruments from 1275 AD which is useful.

Not included in the book are all Welsh regulations or publications ‘where these are equivalent of those in England’. This is a pity as the equivalent Welsh regulations depart significantly from their English equivalents, with completely different on-line resources and ways of conveying information of a natural history nature and access to the countryside. Much has moved on on conservation awareness in Wales in the last few years, since the Blue Book was published.  Ecologists used to accessing English data have to re-learn the Welsh way of accessing the same type of habitats, flora and fauna but shown in a different way.

The collection of laws and guidances all in one place is an excellent idea (i.e. Part II of the book) as its provides an alternative location for the shelves of separate legal acts and laws that one might have.  As the texts have been written by these two authors, both experts in legal matters, the texts are written in a familiar legal way with references to cases throughout, and cited in proper legal fashion. So the book is not for the general public. It is perfect, even at this advanced out-of-date stage, for law students, libraries and those of the general public who wish to dip in and extract a useful statement of case to support a local action.

It is not a book to review from cover to cover, so a dip into the index is a way in. The index could have been more inclusive. There were interesting sections of the book that on searching in the index that could not be re-found. The book is a useful gazzeter to information on all issues which may arise in issues to do with footpaths, bridlepaths, obstruction, barbed wire, signage, dogs etc.  I can see people dipping in to find who has priority on footpaths (cyclists, walkers or horse-riders) or what really counts as an Ancient path (particularly with keenness amongst walkers nationwide to register walkways before 2026).

Although The Blue Book came out in 2013 it just missed mentioning The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) which came out in 2012. The NPPF has been an important document in planning and is now in its July 2021 version, and its relevance to rights of way is something that could be addressed in a new edition of The Blue Book.  Even as the 2013 edition says that various matters were already on-line in 2013, there are many more laws on-line now, so perhaps there will be less call for this Blue Book in the future – and it may  go the same way as the text version of Encylopaedia Britannica – most niceties of the legal profession available with the click of a button – perhaps not all the niceties of nuances in case law  for which a real book would still be useful.  The book is good to have as a historical record, seriously and comprehensively up to date to 2013.