Book: A Summer of British Wildlife – 100 great days out watching wildlife
Author: James Lowen
Published: Bradt (2016) 256 pages.
I had to put my flip-flops on for this one. And my shades! It made me feel like it was summer for sure! This book, the most recent offering from James Lowen treads similar terrain to his previous Bradt publication (52 Wildlife Weekends) and is the latest in a seemingly endless line of site guides to British wildlife. A Summer of British Wildlife promises you 100 days of nature watching between April and August, and it certainly delivers!
The layout of the guide is simple, stylish and consistent throughout enabling the reader to easily peruse through the summer calendar for days out wildlife watching. Each day out is entitled with a soon tiresome play-on-words, followed by four bullet points, the first of which ‘Where’ doesn’t actually tell you where you’re going in more detail than to which county. This is rather frustrating and it seems strange that the actual site name is contained in the information box at the end of the account. Up next are a couple of paragraphs within which the author talks us through what might happen during your day out. This is the creative side of this site guide, and the part that James clearly enjoyed writing. While this style may not be to everyone’s taste, he is usually successful at capturing the imagination and whisking you away with him on a glorious, enriching summer day out. The nitty-gritty of what wildlife you may see, and how to see it follows, usually with some excellent tit-bits of information. For example, it will surprise many to learn that Large Blue butterfly has now been introduced to in excess of 100 sites in southwest England. The information box at the foot of each account provides details of access, timings, alternative sites and nearby locations for other interesting wildlife encounters. The spread of sites reflects the areas with which the author is most familiar and while those in the Greater London area have a plethora of choice, would-be wildlife watchers in the West Midlands and Lancashire conurbations will have to travel considerable distances. Similarly, Scotland is strangely lacking in sites, particularly given its wealth of nature.
Whilst a birder first and foremost, James is obviously genuinely excited by all nature, and plants and invertebrates enjoy centre stage here. For example, Day 33 sees us visit Dungeness National Nature Reserve in Kent, an area well-known for its birds, both resident and in particular as a migration hotspot. Yet, perhaps peculiarly, the listed target species contain no avian interest. Instead, specialist shingle plants such as Nottingham Catchfly and Sea Pea are put in the crosshairs. Why these and not other plant species should be the day’s prizes is less clear. Similarly, a day out on the ornithologically-rich north Norfolk coast at Thornham (Day 48) is all about the bugs.
The publications target audience is clearly, and understandably, varied, although perhaps too much so? Families with a general interest in wildlife will certainly take a lot from it but at other times will be left scratching their heads at some of the quite specialist ecological terms and why a dedicated trip to see some flowers they’ve almost certainly never heard of would be a good use of their time. It’s perhaps a little too bug and plant heavy for many general readers, however, I applaud the author for attempting to widen the laypersons interest. Perhaps it would have been better to include these more specialist species as secondary interests alongside a more accessible/charismatic species for the weekend ecologist? At the other end of the spectrum, the more dedicated wildlife hunter will know much of what’s in here and more besides. However, that is not to say there isn’t some excellent information contained within, there most certainly is, and anyone would learn at least something by browsing this books pages.
So, is this just another site guide or does it deliver more? Well, in truth, it’s a site guide through and through but it’s written in such a way as to really take you there before you’ve even left the house. For many readers this will enrich the book, for others, they may see some of the prose as wasted space, as they may see the plant and insect leaden itineraries. Overall, it certainly gets the BiOME seal of approval and our copy will surely see some regular use as the summer unfolds….
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