BritBats

Scientific conferences get a bad rep. The caricature of a dry, complex and indigestible volume of pure scientific method is, thankfully, unfair. That is, based on my recent visit to the Britbats2018 Conference in Bristol. Learning from researchers about what they have been up to gives you an unparalleled insight into the current frontiers of our knowledge and what we are doing to blast great holes in the limits of our knowledge.

It was fantastic to hear about the Nature Smart Cities Project – using a new detector to report real time data in the Queen Elizabth Olympic Park gives people an unparalleled insight into bat activity. Reliant as it is on power and wifi this is very much an urban monitoring technique but hey, that’s where a lot of humans live so if you want to engage people what better way than to develop the PokemonGo of the bat world? As more and more of the world’s population will live in urban centres it is so important that we find ways to interact with the wildlife that does co-exist with us there.

There was also a fantastic focus on using technologies for ecological surveying such as thermal imaging to detect and track movements, radar and ultrasound as deterrence and increasingly complex DNA based analysis to understand the complex invisible differences between species. If you ever want an example of the power of the human ability to learn new things and apply them to novel situations then look no further than this – it is this innovation that breathes hope into conservation aims worldwide.

But if you think that this exchange is only one-way, that researchers are only ‘borrowing’ ideas and techniques where it can further their own research goals you do the scientific community a disservice. Because actually, what several presentations showed is that many highly skilled researchers can add value outside of their immediate field like a statistician bringing a mind-melting array of statistical methods to aid the analysis and modelling of ancestral bat calls. Or a bat ecology specialist realising that bats play a critical role in predating vectors of tropical diseases (in short – they eat a lot of bugs). By developing methods to understand the bugs in the bat poo you could maybe map the spread of these diseases.

The world we live in is changing – temperatures, sea levels, seasons, populations, consumption and biodiversity are all part of a series of ‘mega-trends’ that are never far from the news. The interaction between these trends is a big grey unknown a lot of the time. So the work of researchers to understand how bats interact with solar panels is really important if we are to balance the twin environmental objectives of decarbonisation and protection of natural resources. Apparently bats can get confused by the smooth surface of the panels, and mistake them for water. For a featherlight bat (just a few grams) the immoveable mass of a solar panel is a novel and probably unwelcome addition to a field. But how quickly do bats learn about these obstacles? And how do they affect the ability of the bats to forage for flying insects? These are important questions to answer if we are to manage finite land space successfully.

Finally then, to my favorite presentation of the day on organic farming. Specifically, how the transitional period between a non-organic farm and an organic farm, which can take up to three years, affects bat foraging. Her preliminary results showed that organic farms had more bat activity than non-organic farms. So far, so as expected. But the transitional farms had less bat activity than the non-organic farms. Logically this doesn’t really make sense, the optimist in me would hope that the benefits to nature start to apply pretty soon after chemicals stop being sprayed – the reverse is certainly true. But think about what might be happening in the transition window: soil nutrient levels may well be very low, pioneer species (in the UK things like nettles and fast growing grasses) will dominate, plant diversity may well reduce, insects could go through  boom and bust cycles – these are not good things for stable predator populations. The structure of the habitat may well be changing too. The impact for agri-environment schemes should not be underestimated – there may be a considerable lag before positive returns can be fully accounted for. If you are assessing plot recovery or success of management measures you may well determine that something isn’t working – but the proper answer may be that it isn’t working yet. Like good research, habitat changes take time. This project is still ongoing and I wish the researcher all the best with this work.

As you can tell, I had a great day and am thoroughly motivated and inspired by the work of so many people. Keep it up 🙂

Em

Advertisements

Methods Matter

img_7169

Snowmageddon. Photo credit: Em.

As  I mentioned in an older blog post, I volunteer on the Wetland Bird Survey every month – counting the birds along a section of the river near where I live. This river is too long for one mere mortal to count so we have a small but dedicated team, and our great river is divided into nominal segments. Eleven to be precise. These segments have arisen somewhat organically, based on ease of access, volunteer locations and count efforts. The end result is that if you want to know how many birds are on the river you need to co-ordinate the counters to avoid the risk that the highly mobile birds are not double counted.

Consider a flock of 20 Canada Geese that forage all along the length of the river. Without proper planning we could count this flock up to eleven times, and therefore over-represent the real population by 1100%! This is an unacceptable error by any margin.

So we count on the same day (and as close to the same time as possible). We notify counters in neighbouring segments if a material number of birds head off from ours into their segments in the counting window. This lively email exchange sometimes includes special sightings (like Spoonbills and Seals) that bring all the counters straight back out doors again!

The WeBS method allows for some uncertainty and gives measures to minimise this where possible. Which is fine for all the count dates where Snowmageddon has not descended on the ‘English Riviera’ that is South Devon. So what do we do when access and visibility means that the counts are spread over three days?

Well, that’s where you can use a maximum daily count as apposed to mathematical sum. By comparing the counts across the segments that did manage to get out there we can pick the total seen on any given day per species and use this as the ‘least worst’ total. This is the same approach you can take with patchy or sporadic survey data when trying to compile annual summaries across the region – something else I seem to spend my time doing.

Science in action

Conservation Science. Photo credit: Em.

This might seem overly conservative – after all, some of these sites are many miles apart and we may be talking about less mobile species than Canada Geese. But with the levels of uncertainty that we are dealing with it is quite a proportionate response. And don’t get me started on the impact of surveyor effort or distance weighting! Maybe that’s a post for another day.

This is not the photogenic side of ecology and conservation work, nor does data management get me out of doors. But without this ‘back end’ effort, the value of the field work is not realised. It is in the analysis, at a National and County level that we can learn what is happening to our wetland birds.

Em

Micro Forests (or What You See When You Don’t See an Otter).

The woods are bright and sparkling as the morning sunshine hits the dew. It is still so wet and the river so high that prospects are not good for finding the black gold of a spraint today. Let’s not fib, that’s why were are here today. Otter spotting. Battling through the undergrowth along the fast flowing river I am repeatedly caught in a web of sinuous vines, like a fish in a net. Thorns grab at my clothes, my hair, my bag, and as I pull them free in turn I assume camouflaging marks of brown and green – I am slowly being claimed by the forest.

Studying the rocks in the river bed, the smooth ones, the rough ones, the ones covered in mosses, you start to see them as an otter might see them: That one is too low in the water, that one is in a fast moving torrent, that one is covered with mud and dirt from the collapsing river bank – no good to signal a territorial claim. Like the otter, I am looking for the perfect waymark, or at least a good approximation of it. Imagining myself in the flow of the river I see the rocks as the otter must see them, rising up out of the bubbling stream, some hidden, others prominent, the banks and trees rising up either side to create a green canyon. Lost in my otter’s eye view I trip and grab onto a thorny branch. It draws blood. A little more attention is needed.

As I assess the path along the river bank I see a fallen tree up ahead. It is decaying nicely. The rich smell of damp wood rises from the great frame reclining on the bank in a final repose. From a distance it is recognisably a tree, but up close it looks like a strange and foreign landscape. Small insects face their own Everest here. The colours of the tree are more varied too, stained with fungi and time to create new and fantastically intricate features. The miniature world of mosses and lichens builds a forest in miniature on this fallen giant. The tiny bursts of green glow bright in the morning sunshine, like the shield ferns on the woodland floor. The crisp curls of fungi look like freshly fallen leaves. And the rain hollowed cavities in the body of the wood look like coastal caves – the same weathering forces at different scales. Like a logarithmic spiral the difference is only the scale of perception.

 

Dead and decaying wood is so important in nature. Decay and recycling is a natural part of life, but if we remove these habitats for the sake of tidyness then these valuable detritivores lose their niche. Fungi return nutrients to the soil to fuel the next growth spurt of trees or recharge soils for the next generation of trees, shrubs and wildflowers to grow. They provide energy through the great trophic cascades that make up life to fuel mammals, birds, bats and other insects. This tree is not finished – for some, it has barely begun.

Em

Beach Combing

DSC_0388

2 minute beach clean. Photo credit: Em.

Like the actual beach, you can’t move in the metaphorical sea of social media without encountering problematic plastic. We learned recently that plastic pollution is growing exponentially; that 90% of sea birds have plastic items in their stomach; heck – there’s even plastic in bottled water.

While this is a topic that has enjoyed a stratospheric rise to prominence in recent years, the plastics themselves have been merrily bobbing along, under the radar so to speak, for several years. Studying at university, the main threats to the oceans that we discussed were a somewhat earlier stage of the plastic production line – oil. Exxon Valdez and Torrey Canyon. These weren’t the biggest but their names stuck with me. The emotive images of oil drenched shorelines and marine life are ingrained on my mind as surely as that of the emaciated sea birds stuffed full of plastics that we see with alarming regularity today. In some ways, the oil spills, while catastrophic, were easier to attach blame to. Usually the ‘bad guys’ are fairly obvious and the pace at which we as a society learned to deal with these mishaps generated a small industry in itself. Dispersants, booms and skims entered the arena – not always entirely effective but a response nonetheless, a lesson learned.

The plastic tide of today is harder to attribute to a particular source. Sure, our throw away culture, inability to use materials responsibly and disrespect of the ocean as a habitat all contribute. But it isn’t immediately apparent who one might sue (if you are that way inclined). And as the bigger, identifiable items degrade and dissolve, so it becomes harder to separate them from the sea. Plastic pieces are breaking down to the size that Krill, the sea’s secret power source, can digest the micro-plastics into, well smaller nano-plastics like a never ending Russian doll. Set against the homogeneity and commoditised oil, the diversity and complexity of plastics pollution is a altogether trickier problem to resolve.

Walking along the beaches and river banks near where I live the plastic waste I find is quite ‘new’ not often encrusted with aquatic life acquired through a long exposure at sea. Walking along the south coast shoreline  I quite often have enough to fill the hunter’s pocket of my red waterproof. Food wrappers, bits of fishing line and unidentifiable plastic lumps are what I hoard. One day it was Lego. The small trademarked brick nestled incongruously among the smooth round pebbles. Three-by-one, blue, and angular, it was an oddity. The brick was tired, worn out by the rough play of the sea. Slipping the treasure into the front pocket rather than the back – I kept it. A full container of Lego spilled from the Tokio Express into the sea off the Cornish coast in 1997, who knows, maybe this piece came from that ill-fated load. I fancy that it did.

More recently I found the dented rusting lid from a miniature jam pot – perhaps the inevitable, if regrettable, result of the popularity of the cream tea. ‘Life is sweet’, it said. How true. But what a shame the message came to me via the discarded debris in the sea.

DSC_0387

Life is sweet Photo Credit: Em

Along the river it is bottles and cans, buckets and bits of boat, I imagine this detritus mostly originates from the small harbours at the river mouth. Higher up the river bank, tangled in the tree roots are bits of rope, slowly uncoiling their blue plastic strands before disintegrating. Their strands tangled in the bank – not quite what Darwin contemplated when he wrote on the origins of the species:

“It is interesting to contemplate a tangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent upon each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us.” – Charles Darwin.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I fear the banks of today have one or two unwelcome additions compared the vision before him when he penned that phrase.

DSC_0337

Rope unwound. Photo credit: Em.

But in the face of such a monumentous challenge there are some fantastic initiatives out there – like surfers against sewage, the 2 minute beach clean and many many more. Perhaps with proactive measures and diligent clean ups we can start to turn the tide. So far, I am not yet optimistic that we have achieved much beyond inciting outrage at the deplorable state of affairs. Lets hope this energy can turn into something more tangible and there is much much more to come.

Em

Not-so-busy Bee

Tapping insistently on the window, demanding my attention is the black and yellow body of an early bee. I think this is perhaps the fifth bee I have seen this year. Twisting myself around the outwards opening window I watch her settle down to sit on the wall of my house. Perhaps she has designs on it for her own brood. Sorry bee – this one is occupied.

Bee

Spring Bee – Photo credit: Em

She is big. The contrast of the black and yellow bands around her body are so distinct. The back is as deep as the night sky and the orange/yellow so rich and vibrant. She is beautiful. Though the angle makes it hard to tell I think she has a buff tailed behind, which would make her a Bombus terrestris. Across her back the translucent wings are scribbled with veins, like a network of paths across the thin membrane. It seems hard to imagine that these wings are made of chitin, the same material that forms her exoskeleton, indeed the same material that forms the shell of a crab. She is rather incredible too then.

Up close I can see her curiously shaped feet grip the wall like miniature ice picks. Though with the rough wall surface she probably doesn’t need such specialist equipment just right now. Basking in the sun the micro-mountains of the wall provide a welcome resting place. The thick fur on her legs is absent from her ankles and feet, heightening the contrast between the thickness of her body and the delicate elegance of the extremes of her legs.

Her compound eyes are confusing, alien, and impossible for me to fathom. What can she see? With a wider visual range than humans,  she can see a lot more of the world than me. She can see into the ultraviolet spectrum and appreciate the full display of the markings on a flower, because despite our homo-centric view of the world, flowers were not made for us and we are not able to see all that they do without the aid of technology to let us see what she sees.

To be as busy as a bee is a reverse anthropomorphism borrowed from the apidae family – the application of animal characteristics to human behaviours. Yet this association with industrious endeavour is carried over into their common names – mason, mining, carpenter, digger, leaf cutter – all worthy trades indeed. Throughout nature, most wildlife builds their own shelter, so why is the bee so disproportionately named for this characteristic instead of the more eclectic mix of names, colour and fancy that drives animal names elsewhere? Indeed the great majority of social bees are referred to as workers – perhaps in recognition of the societal structures that we saw  in the bee world, a mirror to our own. Perhaps through their social constructs they are able to achieve more as a whole than the individual efforts of other insects, in doing so attracting the attention of the humans that named them. Since some of the bees named for their fabrication methods are solitary this cannot be the whole story.

My bee doesn’t appear overly industrious right now, content to sit on the wall outside as I write. Perhaps she wants to see what I am saying about her. Don’t worry bee – it’s a glowing appraisal from me.

Em

A Mismatched Pair

Watching two birds circling over some roadside trees I made the lazy mistake of assuming they were the same. Idle glances from the bored commuters stuck in traffic might assign them both the identity of buzzard, if indeed the thought extend much beyond the classification of ‘bird’. But in taking a few seconds more to avert my gaze from the sea of red brake lights ahead I detect a tension between the two birds. They circle low over the woods like a hunting pair but without the synchronicity and easy grace of a well acquainted duo. One is fuller bodied, more rounded, steady in the air. The other is angular, twitchy and makes more adjustments on the wing. They sail near and low over the road. Buzzard, Kite, Buzzard, Kite. Like a near perfect lesson in identification differences the birds are schooling me in their silhouette and behavioural differences. This is a nice respite from the road.

Em

Dusk of a Season

untitled 2

Devon Dusk Photo Credit: Em.

Watching the spring sun set across a river valley in South Devon is a good antidote to the incessant pace and pressure of modern life. As the last rays of light wend their way through the atmosphere and clouds, over fields and trees before alighting on the placid surface of the water you can feel the day gently coming to a close. There is still snow on the ground, and yet this feels more like a turning point in the season than any of the milder days before. In an understated way, Spring is coming.

As dusk descends on the river bank, the pebbles, tide strandings and river debris are blending into a homogenous, indefinable neutrality – both form and colour lost in the fading light. The water, approaching high tide is not troubled by ripples or currents, it is remarkably still, the boats slack on their moorings. As with the pause between an inhalation and an exhalation, the animation of the river is momentarily suspended.

The ducks dabble amicably in the shallows, they have left behind the  squabbles and feuds of the day. Sitting on the cool shingle of the river bank, the woods behind us too are settling down into the cool evening. The water from snow melt drips from the canopy to the understory, trickles down tree trunks and over roots, pooling in little hollows. Sitting still enough, it is the sound of these tiny rivulets that you hear, so still is the evening that they drown out the quiet gurgling of the great river.  The birdsong is petering out, rising now and then with alarm calls and pips as the last of the evening dog walkers filter back through and home.

The temperature drops quickly. A solitary owl call echoes across the channel. The male reply to the absent female kee-wik of the Tawny Owl. Perhaps he is about earlier than her this evening. If we waited longer perhaps we would have heard their chorus call, so intricately linked that it is easy to be tricked into thinking that ‘Te-whit-te-whoo’ is the work of just one bird. Finding out that it was a pair in conversation was a wonderful addition to my understanding of the world, adding to the magic of a bird not short on romanticism.

Ducking through tree branches and stepping cautiously over rocks we extricate ourselves from the evening wilderness. We may be leaving the wild behind but it’s creeping, twining tendrils have woven their way into the soul and we will be drawn back before too long.

 

Em

For the Love of Birds

img_7158

Snowy Intertidal. Photo credit: Em.

Every month I count the wetland birds on a section of the river close to where I live. This is a coordinated count of over eleven different segments along my river and, if all goes to plan, we are counting the birds at the same time as all other wetland birds across the country are being counted. This is in aid of the Wetland Bird Survey, which seeks to identify population sizes, determine trends in numbers and distribution, and identify important sites for waterbirds.

It’s good fun and has helped me no end in understanding and appreciating the changing patterns in birds. Come rain, shine or snow – out we go. This weekend was no exception and the count quickly turned into a polar expedition as the large, sticky flakes fell heavily on us and the landscape. I had never seen snow settle on the inter-tidal segments of the river before and it quickly made a section of the shoreline impassible. Cutting inland we encountered a dreamscape in the woodlands, with snow clinging to even the smallest of branches. In a nearby field the snow covered sheep looked even more pink against the blank snow canvas.

The bird count started to suffer as visibility dropped and it is likely that some were smarter than us and seeking shelter from the elements. Nonetheless, we recorded the count diligently. Starting off well, using tallies, my fingers soon protested the effort and I short-cut to numbers instead. Dragging my chilled fingers out again and again they slowed and protested – my handwriting deteriorating as quickly as the paper. Eventually, not wanting to be outdone, the pen also gave up and I had to hold the memory of the last six, cold black headed gulls in my head until we returned to the warmth of home. The start time of the count faithfully recording that, in a little less than an hour we had gone from less than a centimeter of snow to around ten centimeters.

 

img_7173

WeBS counts. Photo credit: Em.

The birds that we did see seemed untroubled by the weather, going about their business as if this was a regular occurrence in South Devon – granted this is not the first dump of snow the county has received but probably the last for a while. We heard the redshank before we spotted it, the high pitched solitary voice carrying through the snow filled skies. It swooped low over the river before settling on the mud bank on the opposite side of the river.

Of the black headed gulls, some had their full head of black feathers already, while others still had the little comma behind their eye. I wonder if some are migrants and other are resident populations? Or maybe they are of different age classes?

Notable absences from this weekend’s counts are the little egrets and the cormorants. Normally there are at least tree or four of each but not today. Maybe the egrets were well camouflaged in the white-out and the cormorants abstaining from their icy swim today.

I will be entering these online so that they can contribute to the wonderful work of the Wetland Bird Survey and the BTO/JNCC/RSPB  report. It’s free to sign up so why not see if there is a section near you that you can count or help out on – snow optional.

Em

Turnstones

DSC_0413

Wind blown Turnstones Photo credit: Em

Scurrying along the promenade, heads bent in the light snow flurry, the little birds are at first indistinguishable from wind tossed leaves. Small and brown the little flock moves as one, trickling towards us among the metal railings between the town and the sea. The falling snow flakes dissolving on the path are clumpy and irregular, like the patches of white on their little plump bodies. They are not shy, perhaps used to visitors in this South Devon seaside town, or perhaps the cold and the snow has emboldened them into seeking out the fallen scraps from human snacks. We have nothing for them. They pause to investigate, curious, before sweeping around and across the promenade to look for food among the sand drifts and shingle that has already been thrown up by the agitated waves.

They are pretty little things, Turnstones (Arenaria interpres). Their chubby squat bodies are topped with a dark mantle of feathers. The white breast and dark bib gives them the appearance of a portly gentleman in a waistcoat. They are still quite dull and brown today, dressed in their winter attire as befits the snow flurries. It’s a shame they don’t hang around for summer – the orange brown stripes of their back and zebra like black and white bandings on their head look quite appealing in my field guide. I’d have to go to the Nordics to see them dressed like that.

They are very similar in body shape and overall colouration to a resident to most of the UK’s  coasts – the Dunlin (Calidris alpina). Brown on top and white underneath, from a distance you might want to double check the ID. The beak and the legs are pretty different though. In the Turnstone the bill is shorter and the legs bright orange. In the Dunlin the beak is much longer and the legs, where you can see them are dark. I say, where you can see them because they often stand around in the shallows or on mud flats, their legs somewhat hidden and giving you the false impression that their legs are very short indeed.

I haven’t yet learned the song of either of them, to me they still sound a little like the generic ‘wetland bird’ high pitched trill. If I can learn and filter out the Dunlin I think this would help me dissect the soundscape a little better.

As we leave the Turnstones to their business we pass a moody looking Herring Gull (Larus argentatus) who stares blankly back at us with one pink foot tucked up into the insulating warmth of his feathers. Clearly, he favours his left foot – the right one will just have to freeze. He is unbothered by us, or the weather it would seem. The wind catching his feather tips has ruffled the pristine white of his chest and lifted the soft grey tertials and coverts of his wings. He is unmoving, and we are cold, so we take our own frozen feet to recover inside.

DSC_0433

Herring gull glare. Photo credit: Em

Em

Reading, naturally.

img_7053

Some good books Photo credit: Em

With the minibeast from the East on the way you might be looking for an indoorsy type activity today – well, can I recommend a good book?

I love nature writing. On the surface it seems like quite a narrow genre but there are a lot of different ways to write about the life we share this planet with. Blogs, newspaper nature diaries and magazines are all good, but sometimes you want something a bit more involved, a longer read.

In thinking about tackling this topic I realised I wanted to explain what I got from reading these titles. Some of them opened my eyes to something totally new: an idea, a place or a different perspective. Others invoked a strong set of feelings, whether that was passion for a cause or deep, welcome, relaxation. The last category is books that have inspired me do something – the surest indication that they have touched my life. So, if you like the sound of some of these then read on.

In my own opinion, and in  no particular order, here are some of the best books I have read in the nature writing genre (as defined by me):

table.png

I have bitten off more than I can chew in writing about this small library so for the time being let me just talk about those that motivated me to do something.

The Natural History of Selborne by Gilbert White. This book, with its unassuming narration by the rural vicar is both gentle and ground-breaking. Reading this inspired me to start noticing more around me, not to take it for granted. What he did, in noting the changing seasons and questioning what he saw is accessible to us all. And ok, there are a few natural phenomena that we understand a bit better now (most notably the migration of birds) but the fear of getting something wrong didn’t stop dear Gilbert from having a go. And have you ever stopped to think about the musical note that birds sing in? No? Well, this is the kind of musing that I would like to make more time for – why have I never wondered that before? This book is a deep well of inspiration for the scientists of today – whether that’s as a profession, a hobby or just a passing interest.

Findings by Kathleen Jamie. It was around the time that Sightlines came out that I first became aware of Kathleen Jamie. I actually wanted to read Sightlines first but I was on a bit of a budget and the first book, Findings, was cheaper. I’m so glad this arbitrary factor influenced my decision. I could relate so well to the style of the writing, the sense that the author has in some way absconded from everyday life and responsibilities in order to be living this experience. Whether searching for seabirds or cleaning a whale skeleton I was in awe of this raconteur. It is because of authors like Kathleen that I wanted to write this blog.

Voyage of the Beagle by Charles Darwin. Written as a diary of his travels around the world as a naturalist onboard HMS Beagle this book is clearly going to be an unrepeatable set of experiences. It led to a theory that would shape the way we understand the whole of life on earth. With that as a backdrop there are quite high expectations riding on this book. But actually, by focusing on that side of this work you undersell it. It’s a great adventure and, written as a diary, it races along like a thriller there is even a good deal of dry humour in there too. The attention to detail, the commentary on scientific protocols and commitment to high quality investigative biology is mind-boggling. And that’s the bit that inspired me the most. Get out there, explore, challenge yourself, but don’t forget the basics. From good science comes great ideas.

Cabaret of Plants by Richard Mabey. This is a lovely way to get into Botany. The best thing is you don’t even notice it happening. The attention he devotes to each group of plants means you can really spend some time getting to know them. After reading this I bought field guides, I took a vegetation course and went out specifically with the intention of studying the green life around me. There are plenty of books that I enjoyed reading and probably taught me more that has stuck, but it was the motivation to go out and learn more that made me set this book apart.

At the Water’s Edge by John Lister-Kaye. I sort of stumbled across this one, a portal to the Scottish glens and lochs, over 500 miles from the suburban commuter train where I sat reading it. It was an immersive read, I hadn’t really appreciated just how good nature writing could get. This book is probably the reason I have bought and read so many other books, in the hope that I will find the same escapism. Despite criticism of this attribute, I don’t think that reading nature writing in pursuit of that is a bad thing, after all, this is part of the reason that people read at all. Few books have come close to bettering this book for me, but I am more than happy to keep on searching.

 

So what do I plan on reading next? Well I am ashamed to admit I haven’t yet read Tarka the Otter (by Henry Williamson). This is an oversight and must be corrected. Thankfully I was given a copy so this I am working on. My Amazon wish list has Common Ground (by Rob Cowen), Orchid Summer (by Jon Dunn), The Most Perfect Thing (Tim Birkhead)The Wood (John Lewis-Stempel), and The Living Mountain (Nan Shepherd) but sometimes on browsing a bookshop something catches my eye and ‘queue-jumps’. I also see that one of my favourite authors has another book out too (The Dun Cow Rib by JLK) so I might need to add that one on too. Plus the New Naturalist series has a title called ‘Books and Naturalists’ which I suspect will be the literary equivalent of a can of worms – prompting an exponential increase in the list of books to read. So many books, so little time.

Em

PS I have, predictably, come across books I don’t rate. It’s bound to happen. But I’m not going to dwell on them here. I just need to point out that just because a book isn’t listed above doesn’t mean I hate it and have burned it for fuel – I might not have read it yet.

PPS If you have any recommendations of your favorite nature writing let me know! I’d love to hear from you.