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Naturenet: The Ranger's Award

Books Reviewed
Nature Reserves Guide
The Wildlife Trusts
256 pages, maps
£6.99 (only £4.99 to Wildlife Trust members)
Available from local Wildlife Trusts, or by telephoning The Wildlife Trusts (0141) 306 3274

Where can you find green-winged orchid, yellow archangel, knapweed broomrape, autumn lady's-tresses, or wilson's filmy fern? Or, come to that, golden eagle, red-breasted flycatcher, or zebra mussel?

On Wildlife Trust reserves, that's where. And now, with this ridiculously cheap book, you can find which reserve. It contains details of 200 of the 2,300 Trust reserves, four or five from each county, with a map reference, location, parking, habitat description and lengthy notes on the geology and species to be found there. And for each entry, there's a map, showing footpaths, access points, and the different habitats. The map is the thing - so often missing from similar guides, such as my erstwhile favourite, the Macmillan Guide to Britain's Nature Reserves. Visiting reserves and making your own discoveries is fun, but if you have only a little while, you need to know where to look.

"Here you have a jewel of a book" says David Bellamy in his Introduction. Quite right. Get it now - give yourself time to plan which reserves you want to visit next year. Myself, I'm up to about 150 already ...

Britain's Rare Flowers
Peter Marren
Poyser Natural History
350 pages, 6 col plates, 138 col photos, 10 b/w line illus.

Marren is a lively and readable writer, no worse for being unafraid to express his opinions, which are all the more valuable for being personal. In this book he has produced a survey of the 40% of our flora which is regarded as 'rare' or 'scarce'.

He explains what and where our rare plants are and why they clump together in certain parts of the country. He recounts the discovery of the plants, and how they are still being discovered, and how they come to be rare. He describes enthusiastic and fanatical plant hunters and their exploits. He lists the rare plants on the 'protected' list and the ones undergoing conservation projects.

Reading Marren on 'The Lust for Rarities' is a journey back into another world, where conservation was unheard-of. It is a sad tale of fading ferns and obliterated orchids, of mis-education and exploitation. He documents the decline and disappearance of some plants, the doubtful status of others, and discusses what they mean to us and what we can learn from the past. He shows what can be done with very little money and a lot of dedication to resurrect plant populations. It is an engaging and uplifting story which will keep any reader fascinated for weeks.

"Peter Marren is a master story-teller" says Baroness Young of Old Scone in her joint Foreword with Adrian Darby of Plantlife, and it is true. The book is full of personalities: G.C. Druce, "The epitome and champion of the 'twitchers'"; George Don, who "astonished the Highlanders wherever he went by his strange occupation of climbing rocks and hooking down plants, which they regarded as weeds, with a fifteen-foot staff crowned by an iron spaddle"; John Lightfoot, who braved "impassable torrents" and "terrible claps" of thunder to find (perhaps) Blue Heath; Jocelyn Brooke, who "worshipped wild orchids", and many more. There are many entertaining and illuminating sidelights: what plant may be found on the dunes at the top of the letter 'L' in 'EXPLOSIVES'; what to use cocktail sticks for in Teesdale; how many witches a month were being burnt in Cornwall in the mid-seventeenth century; where the 'No Parking Tree' is, and so on. Being from Poyser the book is beautifully produced and illustrated, pleasantly heavy, always a good sign. This is a book which many will buy for the flowers but which many more would enjoy, just because it is a damn good read.

Enthusiastically recommended.

Flora Anomala updated
Thomas Hopkirk and Martin Cragg-Barber
That Plant's Odd
50 pages, 13 black and white plates
£3.50 including postage,
from That Plant's Odd, 1, Station Cottages, Hullavington, Chippenham, SN14 6ET

In 1817 Thomas Hopkirk published 'Flora Anomala', a description of aberrations within our native flora - "the anomalies which take place amongst vegetables", as he says. It was one of the first books to assess abnormal developments amongst our plants, and thus to establish the normal. Now Martin Cragg-Barber, an enthusiastic 'teratologist', has published a shortened edition, with his own comments and examples alongside, in a contrasting typestyle.

It is a fascinating booklet. Hopkirk, a Scot from near Glasgow, lists his variations under Anomalies of the Root, Stem and Branches, Leaf, and Flower. He notes such unusual developments as an oblong turnip, the different kinds of Holly leaf, a bluebell with twenty stamens, and so on. Cragg-Barber inserts his own examples from his own home county and those of friends.

Living Britain 
Peter Crawford 
BBC Books
288 pages, 200 col photos. 

The book of the BBC TV Sunday series follows the wildlife from January to New Year's Eve, tracking the way life in Britain responds to the changing year. Each of the 12 chapters concentrates on a specific location, and the life of plants, animals and humans are explored. 

Field Flora of the British Isles
Clive Stace
Cambridge University Press
736 pages, plastic covers

The standard work for the flowers of Britain is Stace's 'New Flora' but, with all its virtues, it is a little heavy, in all ways. This is the 'Excursion Flora' version of 'Stace', pocket-size, yet still with 736 pages and listing all the native and alien species in the larger tome. The index has been slimmed-down, and some hybrids omitted, but the full glossary remains and drawings are cross referenced in the margins. It is sure to prove popular with those wanting a substitute for 'Bentham & Hooker'.

The Sun Islands : A Natural History of the Isles of Scilly
Patrick Coulcher 
Book Guild
176 pages, 66 col photos. 

The Isles of Scilly are a personal paradise, one of those places which one hopes not-too-many know of since they are so easily spoilt. However, the wise people who do visit Scilly will appreciate information on the natural history of the fascinating islands.

This book describes not only the unique plants, butterflies and birds that can be found on Scilly and where and when they can be found, but also the history of the islands through the ages. Enhanced by many superb illustrations, bringing the fascinating diversity of these islands to life. 

The Flora of Norfolk
Gillian Beckett and Alec Bull 
Privately published
320 pages, illustrated
£38.00 hardback

'Petch & Swann' has been the flora for Norfolk since 1968, but it is now superseded by this major production. Unlike the earlier flora, 'Beckett & Bull' is based on tetrad (2 x2 km.) maps which have colour overlays for soil types, river systems and so on. This clarifies the distribution of some plants, such as the restriction of primrose to the clays in eastern Norfolk.

The prefatory sections on habitats, soils, past botanists and nature conservation round off an impressive amateur production.

Wychwood: the evolution of a wooded landscape Beryl Schumer 
Jon Carpenter
128 pages. 

Complements the story of the forest and its people by following the history of the woodland and the region of West Oxfordshire through to the landscape of the present day.

The Unofficial Countryside 
Richard Mabey 
176 pages
£10.00 (paperback)

Under the banner of progress, urban and suburban development is fast wiping out our rural heritage. Yet Nature is adapting to even the worst of Man's excesses, and in this brilliant book Richard Mabey reveals the astonishing rich world of animal and plant life surviving and often thriving among docklands, railways, factories and canals. From orchids in abandoned cars to kestrels over Kensington, this is Britain's `Unoffical Countryside.'

The Song of the Sandpiper: Memoir of a Scottish Naturalist
J Morton Boyd 
Colin Baxter
256 pages, 24 photos and illus. 

The late John Morton Boyd was a pioneer of nature conservation in Scotland, with a career spanning more than forty years. His memoir has many voices: the romantic explorer and artist in exotic places, the gifted scientist, and the ardent lover of nature. A fascinating account by a man who flung himself at life, and his interest in the harmonies of nature. 

I happily acknowledge the help of the NHBS BookNet Alert in compiling this page. 

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