Thursday, 25 August 2016

Additions to the library

It's been a busy few weeks for the purchasing of natural history books - Mrs ND&B has quipped that we will need more shelf space for them, but the answer to that one is simple - she needs to ditch some of her gardening and cookery books...

First up is the Field Guide to the Wild Flowers of the Western Mediterranean by Chris Thorogood (Kew). It is a weighty tome, and I was loathe to actually take it out into the field with me when in Majorca recently. However, armed with specimens or photographs, this really is the first stop when trying to identify those plants that you come across inbetween watching Bee-eaters, Audouin's Gulls and Woodchat Shrikes. At 600 plus pages long, it is packed with photographs and line drawings of over 2,500 species, largely from the camera and hand of the author. It is a monumental undertaking for a single person, and obviously was the fruit from a labour of love. If you visit the area on holiday, or just like to hold and enjoy a well produced book, then it is worth your investment.

Britain's Birds (WildGuides/RSPB) Another bird guide? With a Robin on the cover?? Jointly published by the RSPB??? I wasn't tempted. And then I looked inside it... my folly was soon exposed, and this may well be the best guide to birds ever produced. There were clues to suggest that this would be a publication from the very top drawer, with Hume, Still, Swash, Harrop and Tipling as the named authors. It is beautifully laid-out, a stunning photographic celebration of every single species on the British and Irish list - each one a photoshop masterclass showing all ages, sexes, races and sub-species clearly pictured, carefully labelled and with the identification of each succinctly explained. Difficult groups are treated together, with side-by-side comparisons; flight plates of skuas, ducks and waders will get even the most jaded birder off their seat; even that cultish world of gulls is demistified. There are a few line drawings to sort out some of the tricky identifications (along with tables of key features). The authors, photographers and designers have come together to capture all that we know about identifying our birds, and present it in an easily accessible and understandable format. If you think that you are expert enough to not need to purchase this book, think again!

I have to admit to having not yet read Mountain Flowers by Michael Scott (British Wildlife Publishing/Bloomsbury) - in fact, it only came into my possession this morning. However, this is the fourth book in the BWP series, and the first three were highly readable and accessible. The author is well known in the botanical world and has spent a lifetime in search of my favourite plants of all, those of our mountain tops. It is a work that is as much a celebration of the allure of these high dwellers as it is a guide to what can be seen and where to go to find them. I have twice had the pleasure of visiting Scotland, walking the western Highlands (where I paid homage to Diapensia) and the Breadalbane Hills (including the incomparable Ben Lawers and the charismatic Ben Vrakie). Scott's book isn't Scotland-centric - he also takes us on a journey across the Welsh and English uplands, where a surprising amount of mountain flora is on show for the adventurous botanist. I know that I will be planning all sorts of trips whilst reading this - Glen Clova, the Cairngorms and Snowdonia are calling, and I haven't even read a single word yet...


  1. Oh dear! Having just spent a hefty amount on the fourth volume of Beetles of Britain & Ireland, your mini-review just prompted me to buy Chris Thorogood's Wildflowers of the Algarve. It should stand me in good stead based on your review of his Med book and my frequent visits to that part of the world.

    My purse strings have also been loosened by Amstel.

    1. Andrew, what with this hot weather, and the need to imbibe in a cold larger, I'm surprised that your Amstel investment allows for any more book purchases at all!