BOOK REVIEW: ‘ Hidden Nature: Uncovering the UK’s Wildlife’

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Reviewer: Michael Keith  Rimmer

Title: Hidden Nature: Uncovering the UK’s Wildlife

Author: Isla Hodgson

Total Number of Printed Pages: 192

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 7 ½

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In the Forward to this volume, the author notes that ‘…Wildlife is everywhere in Britain, if you just know where to look’, and that she ‘…Decided to embark on a little mission; to write about our under-appreciated wildlife, in the hope that [she] could enthuse others to get passionate about it too’. The result? A ‘…Guide to re-discovering Britain’s hidden wild life’, written in the hope that ‘It inspires you [the reader] to step outside the door and seek out just what the natural world has to offer’. Admirable sentiments indeed.

The volume is arranged in four sections, preceded by a Foreword in which the author relates the circumstances which led to the book being written and why the format used was chosen and a precis of what is to follow. The main part of the volume comprises four sections (analogous to Chapters, but not notated as such). In the author’s opinion these constitute the main habitat types found in the United Kingdom, and comprise coasts, freshwater, inland areas (forests, grasslands, mountains) and urban spaces respectively. Sub-chapters appear within each larger Chapter. These concern specific geographical areas and the creatures found within them while also recording the author’s personal experiences when observing the creatures under discussion.. As a result, the reader is introduced to a variety of wildlife that includes seals, red deer, various types of birds, foxes and garden insects. As noted, the experiences are all personal, and while certainly introducing the reader to the subject, owe more to the ‘What I did on my holidays’ style of writing  rather than serious scientific study.  That detail notwithstanding, the author has included what she describes as ‘…A wee section that details how you [the reader] might find those species or habitats…the best places across the country to catch a sighting [of the creature being described] [and] where applicable how to encourage these animals to your local patch and …how we can help them’. While admirable in sentiment, these ‘Wee sections’ are arranged in a variety of formats with little consistency being evident. A section titled A Final Word  presents and elaborates-on the author’s view that ‘’…The human race are responsible for the rapid increase in [species] extinction rates’ and provides ideas as to how this may be prevented and reversed. It is followed by the volume’s final section; a three-paragraph section titled Thank you, within which all who contributed to it (creatures included) are acknowledged. The volume contains Colour Photographs, Line Drawings and Half-tone Illustrations by the author. Their existence is not mentioned on the Contents page. .Despite discussing various locations around the British Isles, the volume contains no Maps. No Index is provided.

As already noted, this volume contains neither Maps nor Index, details which could be problematic for those readers living outside the United Kingdom seeking information concerning both the wildlife described and their locations within the British Isles. For this reviewer, a General Ordnance Survey Map showing (at minimum) such locations as the Ythan Estuary and the Isle of Canna would have been helpful. The absence of an Index also creates unnecessary problems for those who may not know where the creature they are seeking may be found within the volume. The title (for example|) Garden Birds (a subsection of Section 4), is meaningless if you don’t know if the bird you are observing fits that category, and where, within the volume, is a ‘Common Pipistrelle’ to be found? Without an Index, one cannot know. Whether or not such an omission is important will depend-upon the individual reader. A separate ‘Identification / Recognition’ section containing a brief description and silhouette of the creatures mentioned within the volume, would also have been helpful.

This is an idiosyncratic volume, written by someone who is clearly passionate about her subject. It is likely to appeal to those interested in ‘Conservation’ as a concept, those seeking advice as to what can be done to assist survival of endangered species, and to readers simply interested in learning more about the creatures which may be lurking in their own immediate area – ‘The ‘critters’ in the back yard’, if you will. Readers seeking beautiful photographs of British wildlife may also find it of interest.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this volume a 7 ½.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘ Hidden Nature: Uncovering the UK’s Wildlife’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘ A History of Birds’

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Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title:  A History of Birds

Author: Simon Wills

Total Number of Pages: 180

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 8

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In the final paragraph of this volume’s Introduction, the author writes the following: ‘The world would be a miserable place without birds, and in this book I hope to show how the relationship between us and our avian counterparts has evolved. Our modern attitudes are very much shaped by our ancestor’s beliefs and experiences’. It is an excellent precis of the book’s content.

In addition to the afore-mentioned paragraph, the Introduction also discusses the place that birds have played in human society throughout the centuries. It is followed by an Acknowledgements section, within-which those who assisted with this volume are thanked. The 30 sections which comprise the majority of the volume follow. The book contains no Chapters per se’, but rather Sections devoted to individual bird types. These are unnumbered, but include both the common (Blackbird) and the exotic (Flamingo). Although not stated, the qualification for inclusion with this volume seems to be that at some stage such birds have either been resident in the British Isles or are familiar parts of British culture (the Ostrich being a case in point). Within each Section, the reader is introduced to the subject, and given details of both its behaviour and its place in British and European legend and folklore. Subsections enclosed in boxes within each section provide additional, frequently-idiosyncratic details about the bird-type under discussion.  The Seagull on Stage (page 67) is one such example.  Where appropriate, the author includes personal reminiscences about the bird he is describing. The volume contains numerous illustrations. These are largely photographic in nature and comprise both monochrome and colour images. However, where required by the narrative, there are also reproductions of etchings, drawings, manuscripts and trademarks. While the sources of some of these photographs / images etc. are noted, many do not provide that detail. The Index and Contents pages contain no reference to the existence of illustrations within the work.  Numerous quotes also appear throughout the volume. Regrettably these lack source-citations, and as a result their authenticity must inevitably be questioned. A two-page Index completes the volume. Despite the fact that some species are range-specific while others migrate over considerable distances, the book contains no Maps.

That this volume is readable and well-researched is very evident. This reviewer does however have reservations concerning the Index. During the review process, words were randomly sought from within the Index.  Included were such terms as Publius Claudius Pulcher (page 13), Ostrich Racing (page 104) and Heyhoe (page 176).  No Index entry was found for any of these terms. In addition, although the Index noted that the term Falconry appeared on pages 34 and 71-72, that term also appeared on pages 126 and 127. Why the latter entries were omitted is unknown. As these were the results of random Index searches; what else may be missing cannot be known.

As already noted this volume is readable and well-researched. Despite the previously noted ‘limitations’, it is likely to have wide reader appeal. ‘Bird lovers’ of all persuasions and interest-levels are likely to find it a delight and it could well become a standard reference work with their libraries.  Readers who simply see a bird and want to learn about it, are also likely to find this volume of use. The unusual information it contains may also appeal to the compilers of ‘Pub-quiz’ competitions, while visual artists could find the photographs a useful resource.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this volume an 8.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘ A History of Birds’

Musings on becoming a ‘Pensioner’

On 23 October 2017 I became a ‘Pensioner’!!

Let me explain:

Under the laws of the country in which i live, when I attain the age of 65, I am entitled to receive a fortnightly amount of money from a grateful government; this being ‘Reward’ for the taxes I have  paid to them as a worker over the last 40 or so years. it si ‘free’ certainly, although to receive it one has to have an interview with an official i the relevant Government department and, when doing-so, provide them with all the necessary ‘bits of paper’ that are required to prove that i actually are whom I say I am.

One then waits, hoping that the application has been approved.

That is the easy part; it’s the ‘psychological’ aspect which is more entertaining.

Rightly or wrongly, the term ‘Pensioner’ has certain attributes attached to it. The perceived image is of an old person (invariably male) with a long white beard, a walking sick and, perhaps, an accompanying beard. he is also usually slightly less than bright and wears a dazed look as it he is trying to make sense of his environment. he also has a ‘hat’ – a very important piece of apparel which definitely marks him as being ‘an Old’.  Said hat accompanies him everywhere and is most noticeable when he is driving his (frequently, unsurprisingly, old) car erratically down the local highway.  It is, after all, common knowledge that ‘elderly men with hats’ are the world’s worst drivers’ and are to be avoided at all costs by all other drivers. the ‘hat’ is the signature; see it and avoid  the vehicle if at all possible.

Except that I am none.of those, although I am certainly male. I do not, for instance,  possess a long white beard, a walking stick and definitely not a hat worthy of the name. These are of course all stereotypes and i had certainly embraced them; indeed I actually knew people who conformed to them with a high degree of accuracy. The stereotype was well-entrenched.

Before unintentionally becoming one of the ‘Chosen’, I had real problems with the image I have detailed above. I was aware, of course,  that I was to enter the realm of the ‘Pensioner’ yet I did not fit my own stereotype. Indeed I was very definitely  anything but. I still hold  to this view, and to a certain extent am still fighting  with it. Certainly my ‘calendar’/ physical age is 65 years of age, but the mind that is attached to the frame is still anything but; it still undertakes academic-level research, it still tries to unravel complex problems involving gold mining extraction processes., and it still has sufficient capacity to write a weekly review of books received from a publisher in another country. The mind still asks the questions and the body is still reasonably fit and working  well. All of which does not fit the previously-noted stereotype.

My problem therefore is self-inflicted, and a matter of ‘self-perception’. The ‘mind’ says ‘You are not ‘old’ yet (to use an aviation analogy), the air-frame’s hours are ever increasing  (albeit gradually, imperceptibly).  and the skinning is starting to show evidence of a shortening fatigue life.  It’s an interesting situation, made somewhat more interesting by the apparent visual evidence that I am  younger than those around me; the ‘real’ Pensioners’, evidence that can become rather irrelevant when I see my reflection in a shop window or when I am smiled at by a ‘young mum’propelling a toddler down the road in a pushchair,  and realise that, to her and her ilk I am actually ‘Old’, a  ‘Grandfather’ if you will. THAT is a dose of reality… There are other, similar, reminders.

So here I am; a ‘Pensioner’. It’s a new experience, the stereotypes are gradually being  eroded, and I am slowly moving (albeit still to a degree ‘kicking and screaming’) into what I am assured is ‘A new stage of my life’. My acquaintances (all of whom have already made ‘The Jump’) have made me welcome into their world, but it is still a new land, with all sorts of unknowns. I know what I do NOT want to do, yet at this very early stage. I do not know what I CAN do . As I said above, it is apparently a ‘new’ stage; and it remains to be saeen what form it will take. and how I will react to what I  encounter. Age being what it is, there is, of course, no going back, so I am, like it or not ‘committed’.To use an aviation analogy, I have passed the ‘Point of No Return” in much the same way as an aircraft is committed to fly onwards to its destination because it has nowhere to go and not enough fuel to go back.

The ‘flight’ promises to be an interesting one…

Thank you.

Musings on becoming a ‘Pensioner’