Good reads 2014

My reading of natural history-related books has increased substantially this year, as has the shelf space required to house them. Looking at them from my desk I can see that there have been quite a few which I’ve particularly enjoyed so it is interesting to do an end of year list. Not all have necessarily been published this year, but these are the ones that I have spent the most pleasurable time with.

6. A Sting in the Tale

Cover of A Sting in the TaleLast year I went to the Sussex Wildlife Trust Introduction to Bumblebees day down at Rye Harbour that was run by Nikki Gammans. It was a fascinating way to spend five hours, and Nikki also told us about the Short-haired Bumblebee Reintroduction project which she is managing. At the end of the day I bought a field guide and Dave Goulson‘s book. He was Nikki’s PhD supervisor some years ago, is the founder of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, and has recently moved to the University of Sussex, and has written on (among other things) the impact of pesticides on bees. A Sting in the Tale is a very entertaining read, covering his interest in natural history as a kid, research and lots of useful material on bee biology and ecology. The follow-up A Buzz in the Meadow has recently come out as well.

5. Atlas of British and Irish Bryophytes

Cover of Atlas of British & Irish BryophytesOnly published shortly before Christmas, I’ve already been dipping into this at great length. The essential companion to the Field Guide, this new atlas of all 1000+ British species updates the previous one with a huge number of new records that have been collected in the last twenty years, and provides really useful habitat and distribution notes, as well as valuable introductory essays. It is a magnificent piece of work.

4. Plants and Habitats

Cover of Plants and HabitatsA really lovely, well-produced and useful guide to many of our common plants detailing lots of handy field characters. Ben Averis is an ecologist based in Scotland and has created a great book that is nicely different from other field guides. As is often the case with these things, it’s useful to have more than one book when trying to identify stuff, and this one ties the plants to their habitats very nicely, giving you the National Vegetation Classification codes for the communities in which each species is to be found. And it includes some common mosses, which most plant books don’t, so it can’t be bad.

3. Britain’s HabitatsCover of Britain's Habitats

I’ve only just got this brand-new book for Christmas and have been reading it off and on ever since. Typically containing a couple of pages per habitat (Lowland Wet Heath, Calaminarian Grassland, Mesotrophic Lake etc) it just gives a brief outline of each together with a map showing its distribution, which often make it very clear how special many of these habitats are, especially those in the lowlands. It’s also given me a better sense of the incredible rich variousness of the islands we live in.

2. Mushrooms

Cover of Peter Marren's MushroomsThis is the first of the new series of books published by British Wildlife Publishing (now part of Osprey) which came out in 2012. I think I had it for Christmas a year ago, and have read it twice since, on both occasions in almost one sitting, the last time after going out with Nick Aplin and the Sussex Fungi Group for the first time. It is a gorgeously-produced book that gives a great account of the world of fungi, its richness and diversity, covering different habitats and themes, and (as is always the case with Peter Marren) very engagingly written.

1. Vegetation of Britain and Ireland

Cover of Vegetation of Britain and IrelandOne of the volumes in the great Collins New Naturalist series that came out in 2013, this is another book with a focus on habitats and plant communities (again, tied in to the NVC). Not only is the author an esteemed plant ecologist (he retired from the University of Exeter in 1994), but is also a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society, and so consequently the book has some exquisite photographs of the landscapes of these Britain and Ireland, many of which I’d love to have in large prints on my wall. I’ve been reading and re-reading this book all year, delighting in the variety of plants that grow here, and am frequently inspired by it to get out and visit some of the plant communities he describes.



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