Posted on June 2, 2023 by bloomsburywildlife
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Posted on June 2, 2023 by bloomsburywildlife
Posted on June 1, 2023 by bloomsburywildlife
Posted on November 30, 2018 by bloomsburywildlife
The Field Guide to the Ladybirds of Great Britain and Ireland is out now!
by Helen Roy
Ladybirds have captivated me for decades. I am not alone. Thousands of people have sent records of ladybirds to the UK Ladybird Survey and in doing so have contributed to our understanding of these incredible beetles. In our field guide we celebrate the wonderful world of ladybirds, but we also thank the ladybird-recording community who provide unique and inspiring insights into this world.
There is no doubt that we still have much to discover, particularly about the so-called inconspicuous ladybirds (the small, indistinct, slightly hairy insects that would not be recognised as ladybirds by many people). Indeed, as we completed the field guide it became apparent that a new little ladybird was resident in the UK: Rhyzobius forestieri. Richard Lewington’s captivating illustrations will undoubtedly widen participation of ladybird recording to include these tiniest of ladybirds. It is so exciting to think what we can achieve together. Here’s to the next 200,000 ladybird records!
I get immense pleasure from exploring ladybird records; Peter and I (alongside many collaborators) have been able to use the UK Ladybird Survey dataset to address many different ecological questions. Consequently, we have written many articles and several books on ladybirds since we first began collaborating in 2005. It’s always fun working alongside one another, so we were delighted to be approached by Richard to work with him on this field guide. Whenever we all met, we would begin by looking at Richard’s latest illustrations. We learnt so much from the detail he captured; indeed, Richard enriched the species accounts with additional details that had gone unnoticed by us.
I have several favourite species and it was particularly exciting to see the illustrations of these: the stunning, mildew-feeding Orange Ladybird Halyzia sedecimguttata, bordered by translucent margins; Nephus quadrimaculatus, a tiny hairy ladybird that we call Four-Spotted Nephus in the guide, and which sparkles in the sunlight on ivy; and the widespread 7-spot Ladybird Coccinella septempunctata, the focus of my PhD studies and a species of which I never tire, despite endless hours of observation in the laboratory. In fact, there is something special about each and every one of the British ladybird species, and we have done our best to convey this in the book.
We hope readers will get as much enjoyment from this field guide as we had in producing it. I felt a slight sense of sadness when we delivered the final text but that gave way to excitement when I saw the published book. Now over to you – we have learnt so much from your records, questions and fascinating observations; I’m looking forward to our next collaborative adventures. Thank you all.
Field Guide to the Ladybirds of Great Britain and Ireland by Helen Roy and Peter Brown is out now, published by Bloomsbury Wildlife. Illustrations by Richard Lewington.
Posted on November 9, 2018 by bloomsburywildlife
How to garden for wildlife this autumn…
Kate Bradbury is an award-winning author and journalist, who lives and breathes wildlife gardening. Her memoir The Bumblebee Flies Anyway was described by Chris Packham as ‘wonderfully intense and honest – a poignant manual of how to grow hope against the odds’. Below she shares her top tips to help you encourage more wildlife into your garden this autumn and winter time.
Autumn is the perfect time to create wildlife habitats, be they in the garden, allotment, or your balcony or doorstep. It’s a time when we’re typically doing less gardening, and when plants have started to die down, so you can access the back of the border. It’s the best time of year to dig a pond, to make log and leaf piles, to plant spring-flowering bulbs and bare-root shrubs and trees. All of these habitats make life easier for wildlife, many of which – such as hedgehogs – desperately need our help.
If you have space for a great big log pile then great. Maybe you or one of your neighbours cut down or pollarded a tree that you could use. If not, your local tree surgeon might be able to help – native trees such as oak and ash are better than non-natives, as they attract more insects (and therefore more species further up the food chain). It’s best to dig into the ground and partially bury the first layer of logs, as this provides nesting habitat for beetles such as stag beetles.
I’ve just created a new log/stick pile. It’s largely made up of thick, gnarled elder logs and twiggy fruit tree prunings. I drove a couple of stakes into the ground to keep everything in place, and then piled it all up – easy. It’s a large, open heap, with plenty of nooks and crannies, into some of which I’ve stuffed handfuls of dry autumn leaves. It will make a fine hibernaculum for a hedgehog now, but over the years, as the leaves and logs break down and start to rot into the earth, it will make a complex habitat for a variety of wildlife, including centipedes, woodlice, beetles, frogs, toads and newts, small mammals and even birds, which will hop among the pile looking for grubs. As a habitat, it mimics that of the woodland floor, onto which branches and twigs fall in high winds, and are covered in a thick layer of leaves every autumn. It makes a fantastic wildlife habitat, providing essential shelter to hibernate over winter, but also nesting habitat in spring.
If you don’t have room for a log pile then you might want to create a leaf pile, where countless insects and small amphibians and mammals will seek refuge over winter, but may also use in spring and summer – hedgehogs, for example, may nest here. Again, this mimics the woodland floor. Make a cage of chicken wire or pallets – cut a hole in the bottom, if necessary, so wildlife can access the heap – and simply fill with deciduous leaves. As they break down you’ll need to add more, so eventually you’ll have layers of leaves at different stages of decomposition, from different years. After three years you could harvest the ‘leafmould’ at the bottom of the heap to use as a mulch or in home-made compost recipes, or simply leave it for the wildlife.
If you have a small garden you could tuck handfuls of autumn leaves behind pot displays, or beneath a hedge or your shed. Again, all sorts of wildlife, from tiny centipedes to small mammals and amphibians will take advantage of the shelter, which will not only improve their chances of surviving winter but will also ensure they’re on hand to eat pests such as slugs and snails in spring.
Elsewhere in the garden, as temperatures fall, it’s important to ensure wildlife has enough shelter to get through winter. Leave seedheads standing, where ladybirds might gather inside to hide form the elements. Let areas of long grass die back naturally, which will form a cosy winter duvet for anything sheltering among it. If you can, plant native shrubs and trees – a mixed native hedge, comprising hawthorn, hazel and guelder rose is ideal if you have the space – as this will provide leaves for the caterpillars of moths and butterflies, which will provide food for small mammals, birds and amphibians. Spring flowers will feed bees and autumn berries will feed birds. As the shrubs grow they’ll provide nesting habitat for birds and small mammals, and as their leaves fall in autumn, they’ll help generate a new layer of leaves, under which wildlife can shelter until spring. Your very own woodland floor.
The Bumblebee Flies Anyway is available now
Wildlife Gardening is available to pre-order now
Posted on April 25, 2018 by bloomsburywildlife
Jess French discovers some of the world’s most venomous creatures…
Author Jess French is no stranger to the world’s most venomous creatures. Her recent book Minibeasts with Jess French is packed full of mindblowing minibeast facts. This month she visited the Venom: Killer and Cure exhibition at the Natural History Museum to uncover more…
Part of the joy of a lifelong fascination with invertebrates is that you can never know it all. When writing my latest book, Minibeasts with Jess French, this superabundance of information presented me with somewhat of a dilemma. There were simply too many incredible facts to condense into one tome. The flipside, of course, is that there is always something new and exciting to learn. And that’s just what I did when visiting the Natural History Museum’s incredible exhibition, ‘Venom’.
Some of the content was familiar to me, like the excellent diagram of Justin O Schmidt’s pain scale. The highlights of this barometer of suffering are presented on pg. 49 of my book, as well as further facts on some of the minibeasts he chose to be stung by. In ‘Venom’ a whole wall display was devoted to his menu of torture, detailing in full his delicious descriptions. A particular favourite must be the Bullet Ant, which he describes as ‘Pure, intense, brilliant pain. Like walking over flaming charcoal with a three-inch nail embedded in your heel.’
Other facts were new to me, like the existence of a venomous beetle! The Scorpion Beetle, from Peru, is the world’s only known venomous beetle. Its venom is comparable to the Deathstalker scorpion, which was used as a weapon against the Romans by Iraqis from the fortress of Hatra. The Scorpion beetle delivers its sting through the needle-like tips of its long and magnificent antennae. It is an innocuous-looking little creature. One which I’m sure I wouldn’t have hesitated to scoop up with my bare hands on my travels around South America, had I come across it!
One invertebrate that I certainly would not consider handling is the Scolopendra centipede. People often ask me if I’m afraid of any minibeasts. My usual answer is that ‘no, I’m not afraid, just respectful.’ I occasionally caveat this with the exception of the Scolopendra centipede. And the truth is, they terrify me. More than once they have visited me in nightmares and several times I’ve run from them in real life too! When travelling with my boyfriend in Asia I remember the fear flooding his face when he realized we had unearthed an invertebrate that I was afraid of. ‘Oh no’, he had thought, ‘this really must be bad!’ These voracious predators chase down their prey at alarming speed and even hang from the roof of bat caves, taking bats in mid-flight! Thankfully, the only live invertebrates within the ‘Venom’ exhibition were spiders; the centipedes were dead, pinned and preserved.
It was also interesting to read about the evolution of novel cocktails of venom being driven by the arms race between envenomator and envenomated. The ingenuity of evolution by natural selection and its ability to create such convoluted and intricate designs within nature never ceases to amaze me. In Minibeasts I describe one such race between a cloverworm and the plant it feeds on, which results in wasps learning to abseil and kamikaze caterpillars!
The scope of the exhibition is far wider than just invertebrates. Snakes, fish and lizards are all represented, as well as a fascinating section on the use of venom in human medicine and warfare. It’s well worth a visit. And if it whets your appetite for a foray into the wider world of bizarre and shocking minibeast facts – after all, there are few animals as downright bizarre as invertebrates – you may also be interested in taking a look at my new book Minibeasts with Jess French!
Posted on March 3, 2018 by bloomsburywildlife
World Wildlife Day 2018 turns the spotlight on big cats
By Sara Evans
Today is World Wildlife Day! Set up by the United Nations and organised by CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), World Wildlife Day has been an annual event since 2014.
Described as the ‘most important global annual event dedicated to wildlife’, the aim of World Wildlife Day is to celebrate and raise awareness of the earth’s wonderful animals and plants and promote their protection.
Each year it has a special theme. This year the focus is on big cats. Why big cats? In a nutshell, because they’re in trouble. Big trouble. Lions, tigers, leopards and jaguars, as well as other wild cats, are in crisis. It can feel difficult to take this in. Big cats, especially lions and tigers, are vivid in our minds. It’s easy to picture a lion roaring on the savannah or see a tiger dashing through a sunlit forest, but the reality is that many of these species are on the brink of extinction.
Their populations are crashing, declining at frighteningly fast speeds. For example, in Asia, tiger populations have plummeted by 95 percent in the last century. And in Africa lion numbers have fallen by 40 per cent in just under two decades. Many experts believe fewer than 20,000 lions now remain in the entire continent.
During my time as a travel writer, I was lucky to have had many encounters with lions. All different. All mesmerising. So, when I learned about the plight of lions, I wanted to understand how one of Africa’s most enduring icons could be in such peril?
What happened, I wondered, to the lions that roamed Africa in their millions a couple of centuries back? What happened to the ancient lions that left Africa for Eurasia, eventually reaching North America? And what happened to the big cats that moved into Asia, populating vast territories from northern Greece to Pakistan and further south to India?
When The Last Lion Roars, is all about these missing lions. It tells of their rise during the Ice Age and their fall in more recent times. It reflects on our journey with them and the effect we have had on them, from our very first encounters as early humans to the dramatic interactions of lions with pharaohs, emperors, maharajas and European royalty, to everyday folk just protecting their livestock and kin, and the trophy hunters of modern times.
But my book also tells the story of the people protecting our last lions. These include men, women and children who share their landscapes with lions and who have found ways to live together, conflict-free. They also include scientists, researchers and conservationists who seek to find ways to help people and lions live peaceably together.
Which is why I’m delighted World Wildlife Day is putting the plight of lions and other big cats in the spotlight. Giving more people the opportunity to get involved in protecting some of our most charismatic predators.
When The Last Lion Roars is published in June. Pre-order your copy here.
Sara Evans is an award-winning writer and photojournalist, specialising in travel and wildlife. Her work has beenfeatured in the Telegraph, LonelyPlanet Travel Magazine, BBC Wildlife Magazine, AfricaGeographic, Countryside Wildlife Magazine and many others. She won the 2005 Independent on Sunday and Bradt Travel Writing competition andhas been shortlisted in a number of BBC writing competitions.
Posted on February 10, 2018 by bloomsburywildlife
How to make Seaweed & Garlic Biscuits inspired by Food You Can Forage
We’ve done it, guys. February half term has arrived, and even if you don’t have feral children to dance around this week, it means we’ve all made it through the miserable post-Christmas slump – and spring is finally on its way! The landscape is already bursting with signs of spring; our hazel trees are full of catkins and we’ve seen the first daffodils, snowdrops and primroses emerging from the soil. So while we wait for the last clutch of winter to release its grip, now is the perfect time to explore our coastlines, fill our lungs with fresh, salty air after hibernation, and forage something delicious from the waves.
Britain’s coastline is rich in seaweeds and halophytes (plants that thrive in saltwater), and seaweeds are great for beginner foragers, as they are easy to identify and there are no poisonous varieties on British shores – although some taste better than others. There is plenty to nibble on the edge of the ocean, including one of our most common seaweeds bladderwrack (Fucus vesiculosus), the colour of dark olives and rather leathery, with pockets of air (bladders) swollen at the end of each branch. I use it to make seaweed crisps by drying the branches off with kitchen towel and laying them out flat on a baking tray. Sprinkle with rosemary, chilli flakes and chopped garlic, and pop in the oven for a few minutes to bake.
My favourite edible weed is kelp (Laminaria digitata), also known as oarweed. The Latin name digitata means finger, because it looks like a big wobbly hand waving at you underwater. The texture is thick and leathery with one wide blade tailoring off into strappy segments, and it is usually found on low-tide rocky shores throughout Britain, sometimes forming ‘kelp forests’ on large tidal stones. In Japan, kelp is used as a thickening agent in soups and stocks, but when dried it also makes a delicious addition to noodle soup with king prawns and ginger.
Out of the water, sea purslane (Halimione portulacoides) grows on the walls of coastal footpaths around saltmarshes, coastal dunes, pools and creek edges throughout the south and east of England. Blossoming with greenish yellow star-shaped flowers and thick, fleshy leaves, the entire thing is brimming with vitamins and minerals. On some Caribbean islands it is even used to treat wounds caused by venomous fish. Take the leaves home to stir fry with cashew nuts, or try Filipino cuisine and mix them with papaya and garlic to make sweet pickles called atchara.
If the coast is choppy this February, imagine the Norse goddess Rán, who was believed to be responsible for all storms and lost souls at sea. She spends her immortal days beachcombing lost treasures at the bottom of the ocean, gathering them in the giant fishing net she wears around her waist. Always check the tides before venturing onto the beach, and stay away from dangerous water conditions. You can also help protect our coastlines by doing a 2 minute beach clean to remove any litter and plastics.
Seaweed & Garlic Biscuits
(To eat with creamy cheese and chutney!)
230g wholemeal flour
¾ tsp sea salt
2 tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 stems rosemary, stripped & chopped
210ml warm water
- Preheat the oven to 180°C. In a frying pan, fry up the seaweed, chopped garlic and rosemary in a little olive oil.
- In a separate bowl, mix the flour, semolina, salt and flaxseed together with the fried seaweed mix.
- In a measuring jug, mix 210ml warm water with a splash of olive oil, and add this to the flour mix to make a firm dough. Knead well.
- Roll the dough out onto a floured surface to a thickness of 3mm. Use a cookie cutter or glass to cut several circles out.
- Lightly oil a baking tray and add the cut circles onto the tray.
- Bake for 20 minutes or until golden.
Tiffany Francis is the author of Food You Can Forage, publishing 8th March 2018. Pre-order your copy here. Follow Tiffany on Twitter at @tiffins11.
Posted on February 9, 2018 by bloomsburywildlife
The intelligence of ravens
By Joe Shute
Three immediate truths tend to register with a person when they find themselves close to a raven.
Firstly, the sheer size of the giant corvid, which can possess a wing span of more than a metre.
Then there is the colour. Whilst from a distance the raven’s plumage appears a funereal black, up close it morphs into a shimmering pool of inky blue and brown.
Finally, and most thrillingly, is the sensation that the bird is looking at you. Not just assessing whether you are a threat or potential source of food, but staring somehow deeper. You realise that behind the raven’s dark beady eye is a fiercely intelligent creature – and you are being weighed and measured.
In years gone by this intelligence proved to be the raven’s undoing, leading it to be branded the ‘devil’s bird’ and ruthlessly purged. But in recent years, as the welcome revival of the raven has continued across the country, studies are beginning to unpick the secrets of its motivations and thoughts. We now know, for example, that ravens form complex social structures and establish their own political systems by remembering long-term relationships.
Ravens can also manufacture and use tools, solve problems, learn to mimic voices, spot themselves in a mirror, and recognise human faces for many years after they have seen them.
More incredibly still, ravens can plan for the future. In the summer of 2017, a report was published by a group of Swedish researchers who had been studying captive ravens at Lund University. By presenting them with various challenges and rewards and monitoring the response of the individual birds as to how they hoarded and bartered with food, the research team confirmed that the ravens possessed the power of foresight, an ability previously only documented by scientists in great apes and humans.
For much of the 20th century, the size of the brain was regarded as being of primary importance in determining an animal’s intelligence. The brain of a raven, by the way, is roughly the equivalent of a large Brazil nut (15.4g compared to an average body weight of about 1kg). However, recent studies have challenged this traditional theory and shown that, in fact, it is the density of neurons packed into a brain that is the true marker of intelligence. Judged by this criterion, the raven has been shown to possess 1.204 billion neurons in its forebrain (the avian equivalent of the cerebral cortex which is the nucleus of human intelligence) a far higher concentration compared with primates, or other mammals and birds.
Perhaps this goes some way to explain the curious occurrence I have considered in my book: when captive ravens live with people, they insert themselves into human social structures, ruthlessly teasing anybody they deem below them in the pecking order and ingratiating themselves with those they regard as their superior.
It is not proven by science, and would make critics of anthropomorphism wince, but those who spend time with ravens insist that they possess every emotion a human does: empathy, jealousy, remorse, guilt, anger, fear, joy, anxiety and frustration.
Seeing how closely ravens interact with people reminds me of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, one of my favourite childhood reading experiences.
Pullman described how every person possessed a dæmon, an animal manifestation of their soul. Indeed in a recent interview Pullman said that if he were to have a dæmon himself it would be a raven, due to their ‘enterprising way of dealing with the world, intelligence, acrobatic flight and daring behaviour’.
As with Pullman’s dæmons, invisible bonds have connected humans to the raven for millennia. And it is only through a deeper understanding of the raven’s intelligence that we can gain a greater insight into the connection that still resonates today.
Joe Shute is the author of A Shadow Above: The Fall and Rise of the Raven, out now with Bloomsbury Wildlife.
Posted on January 24, 2018 by bloomsburywildlife
Take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch!
This weekend is the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch. There’s still time to register online for this year’s event, and help provide the RSPB with important information on how the UK bird population is doing. It is simple and enjoyable – and a great excuse to watch your garden birds from the comfort of your living room!
To help you take part and identify the birds in your garden, for a limited time only, we’re offering 30% off our top birding books including the new release The Everyday Guide to British Birds. In the blog below author Charlie Elder gives a few tips for spotting birds in your garden.
By Charlie Elder
Identifying birds can seem like a confusing business for a beginner. For a start, they never seem to stay still long enough to get a decent look, flying off just when you’ve worked out which way to twiddle the focus wheel on your binoculars. Then, when you do get round to thumbing through a guidebook, it’s hard to remember exactly what you saw, and there seems to be a bewildering array of possibilities.
It was fairly small and brownish, of that you’re sure. Only this doesn’t narrow things down much, given the pages of alternatives. Oh, and didn’t it have some red on the front? Bingo! A Sinai Rosefinch. Fancy seeing one of those in my back garden – a first for Britain. (Unless, of course, it was a Bullfinch.)
Frustratingly, birds in the wild don’t pose neatly side on the way they do in books, and their colours may look muted in poor light. It can be hard to get an accurate sense of size, while so-called ‘unmistakable’ characteristics can seem anything but. And where exactly should you look to distinguish a bird’s so-called ‘distinguishing features’? For a novice, it can feel as though identification depends on actually knowing what the bird is first!
However, even those who consider themselves complete ornithological bird brains may be pleasantly surprised by what they already know. When it comes to identification, most of us will recognise a picture of a Robin, a Magpie, Kingfisher or Puffin. Perhaps we’d also know when we saw a Wren, Blue Tit, Swallow, pheasant, Barn Owl or Heron. And we could definitely guess that something was a kind of swan, duck, gull or woodpecker even if we couldn’t recognise the exact species.
And that’s where the fun begins. What kind of swan is it? Putting names to birds could be regarded as a frivolous brain-teaser, but there is more to it than that. The satisfying challenge of working out what something is from clues and the process of observing and noticing help us gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of the natural diversity around us. And knowing what a bird is called is only a start. Rather than being an answer in itself, a bird’s name could be considered a question: a whooper swan? What’s that all about?
Unlike with hobbies such as hot air ballooning or abseiling, it doesn’t matter if you make mistakes when you’re watching birds – though it’s much more rewarding to know you’re getting things right. And that’s what inspired The Everyday Guide to British Birds. By excluding rare and elusive species, localised specialities and birds that are incredibly tricky to identify, my new book tries to help birdwatching beginners by focusing attention on the common and widespread species we are most likely to encounter.
An excellent place to start is in the comfort of your own home, by joining in with the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch. Every January, the RSPB urges everyone to make a note of the bird species that visit their back gardens and bird tables over the course of one hour – this year it’s from January 27–29. Big Garden Birdwatch not only encourages people to put their bird identification skills into practice, it also puts everyone’s findings to good use. More than half a million people take part every year, and the findings have helped scientists to paint a picture of the changing populations and distribution of familiar species since the ‘citizen science’ survey was first launched in 1979.
One thing Big Garden Birdwatch has shown is that our abundant species can never be taken for granted. The humble House Sparrow may consistently top the Big Garden Birdwatch chart as the species we are most likely to spot from our kitchen window, but flocks are now far fewer in number than before – numbers are down by more than half since the annual survey of backyard birds began. Other declining species include the Starling, Greenfinch and Song Thrush. Happily, though, Woodpigeons, Collared Doves and Goldfinches are flying high, visiting our gardens in increasing numbers.
Beyond the back garden, long-term surveys have shown that once-numerous species have undergone alarming declines, particularly farmland birds, such as Yellowhammers, Linnets, Tree Sparrows and Grey Partridges. This may sound like a contradiction in terms, but in many cases, it’s the common birds we need to worry about.
Whether you birdwatch as you go, or go out of your way to see more, learning about our birds and appreciating the everyday species around us offers a lifetime of pleasure and discovery.
The Everyday Guide to British Birds, an illustrated Bloomsbury/RSPB title by Charlie Elder, describes our common and widespread species and the fascinating qualities that make them unique. All photos taken by Charlie Elder and used with permission.