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Book Reviews

Browse the archive of BTO Book Reviews, which originally appear in each issue of BTO News - the BTO membership magazine. Join BTO today to get BTO News, and new book reviews, first.

Steller's Sea Eagle cover.jpg

Steller's Sea Eagle

Author: Vladimir Masterov, Michael Romanov & Richard Sale

Publisher: Snowfinch Publishing, Coberley

Publication Year: 2019

ISBN: 9780957173231

Binding: Hardback

Page Count: 384pp

Price: £40.00

In 1740 Georg Steller, a young German doctor and naturalist, accompanied the explorer Vitus Bering on his search for a land bridge between Russia and America. The expedition was shipwrecked amid storms, and despite Steller’s best efforts, Bering and much of the crew died on what became known as Bering Island. Steller survived a harsh winter and returned to St. Petersburg with first descriptions of many animals, among them Steller’s Sea Eagle.

Times have moved on somewhat since... read more

David Jarrett

Green andProsperous Land cover

Green and Prosperous Land – a Blueprint for Rescuing the British Countryside

Author: Dieter Helm

Publisher: William Collins, London

Publication Year: 2019

ISBN: 9780008304478

Binding: Hardback

Page Count: 336pp

Price: £19.99

This book arrives at the right time. Irrespective of whether and how we leave the European Union, the central tenet of Dieter Helm’s thesis is fast gaining traction: a healthy environment is fundamental to a healthy economy. The author has good credentials for presenting the arguments: he has nature firmly embedded in his upbringing, and economics filling his mind. Rarely does a book arrive, chiming so perfectly with the policy environment of the day. It explains the principles that underpin... read more

Andy Clements

Bonkers Birding (cover)

Bonkers Birding

Author: John Lee

Publisher: Brambleby Books

Publication Year: 2018

ISBN: 978190824154

Binding:

Page Count: 297pp

Price: £9.99

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. It is well-written and comes as close as any book I have read to explaining why people go birding or twitching. The book also resists the temptation of just listing foreign holidays and the birds seen which can become a little boring to the reader. Instead it documents how John’s birdwatching started, the revelation of the first trip to Minsmere (I can still remember mine 50 years ago), birding in different parts of the UK and world as John’s life... read more

Nick Carter

Birds of Vietnam (cover)

Birds of Vietnam

Author: Richard C. Craik & Lê Quý Minh

Publisher: Lynx Edicions

Publication Year: 2018

ISBN: 9788416728107

Binding: Softback

Page Count: 400pp

Price: £55.00

For me, a good foreign bird guide is one that doesn’t just inform you of the many species you might see on your travels, but also takes the time to introduce you to the area and habitats you will be visiting when in a new country. The Birds of Vietnam by Craik and Minh is one of these, with clear and distinguishable illustrations prefaced by a good introduction to the country and help on how to plan your trip. Following the Handbook of Birds of the World’s taxonomy and... read more

Katharine Bowgen

African Raptors cover

African Raptors

Author: William S.Clark and Rob Davies (illus.)

Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing, London

Publication Year: 2018

ISBN: 9780713665383

Binding: Hardback

Page Count: 336pp

Price: £50.00

Another quality guide from the Helm stable, African Raptors covers all 106 species that are found on the continent.  The book follows the Helm Identification Guide format putting the colour plates in the first half of the book followed by the map and text pages in the second half. All of the 52 plates were painted for this guide and are excellent, my only minor gripe being that some of the plates are a little crowded; they do, however, contain a lot of information, the plate for... read more

Paul Stancliffe

Birds of Japan cover

Birds of Japan

Author: Mark Brazil

Publisher: Christopher Helm, London

Publication Year: 2018

ISBN: 9781472913869

Binding: Softback

Page Count: 416pp

Price: £30.00

Birds of Japan follows a tried and tested field guide format, with an introductory section on the different habitats found across the islands, followed by the species accounts. All 700 species that have occurred in Japan are included, even those that are recorded as being extinct are illustrated.

The identification text accompanying the plates is very useful and includes the identification pointers needed to separate similar species and the status and distribution each bird... read more

Paul Stancliffe

Climate Change and British Wildlife cover

Climate Change and British Wildlife

Author: Trevor Beebee

Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing, London

Publication Year: 2018

ISBN: 9781472943200

Binding: Hardback

Page Count: 368pp

Price: £35.00

This is a must-read for anyone with an interest in British wildlife.

Understanding how flora and fauna are responding to a changing climate, and the potential consequences of these changes, are arguably one of the most important tasks facing ecologists today. Trevor Beebee has managed to present the current information in a way that is good, not just for scientists, but for any interested amateur natural historians.

The book leads you through the findings for different taxa... read more

Claire Boothby

Bat roosts in trees cover

Bat roosts in trees

Author: Bat Tree Habitat Key

Publisher: Pelagic Publishing, Exeter

Publication Year: 2018

ISBN: 9781784271619

Binding: Softback

Page Count: 272pp

Price: £40.00

The ‘Bat Tree Habitat Key’ is a collaborative project, set up by Henry Andrews to provide a detailed account of how bat species in the UK exploit trees as roost sites. Mainly designed and written for tree-care and ecology professionals, the objective is to provide a practical and systematic framework for finding tree roosts, with defined thresholds for action.

Ultimately this project and the book, which is one output from this, provides a systematic framework for providing the... read more

Stuart Newson

Common and Spotted Sandpipers cover

Common & Spotted Sandpipers

Author: Phil Holland

Publisher: Whittles Publishing, Dunbeath

Publication Year: 2018

ISBN: 9781849953610

Binding: Softback

Page Count: 176pp

Price: £19.00

Many of us will probably have only a passing familiarity with Common Sandpipers, either encountered as birds on passage in lowland wetlands, or as dispersed breeding birds along upland lochs and rivers. This delightful book brings all aspects of their behaviour and ecology to life with a mix of natural history observation, data and reference to published studies, which enable us to get to know the species much better. Importantly, this is not just a book about Common Sandpipers in the UK. It... read more

James Pearce-Higgins

The Refugees from Daffodil Cottage

The Refugees from Daffodil Cottage

Author: Ian Rudd

Publisher: Xadrum

Publication Year: 2017

ISBN: 9780995581500

Binding: Softback

Page Count: 187pp

Price: £7.99

The Refugees from Daffodil Cottage is a children’s fiction book told from the perspective of a flock of birds that lose their home. It teaches about the importance of friendship and the impact that human activity has on birds. It also shows the hardships of the changing seasons birds have to face every year. 

The birds go through many things, including getting attacked by cats and Sparrowhawks and having homes destroyed, but they stick together and try to make it through.... read more

Phoebe Moran (aged 9)

The Wren: a biography

The Wren: a biography

Author: Stephen Moss

Publisher: Square Peg, London

Publication Year: 2018

ISBN: 9781910931936

Binding: Hardback

Page Count: 208pp

Price: £12.99

On St Stephen's Day (Boxing Day) the young men of the village would set out to hunt a Wren to parade round the houses in exchange for charity. The tradition of the Wren hunt stretches back as far as the Bronze Age, punctuating the darkest point of the year.


Settling down to read Stephen Moss' account of the Wren definitely seemed more pleasurable! The book echoes the form of its subject; small, with the full page colour illustrations introducing each chapter akin to its loud... read more

Rob Robinson

Ploughing a new furrow cover

Ploughing a New Furrow: a Blueprint for Wildlife-Friendly Farming

Author: Malcolm Smith

Publisher: Whittles Publishing, Dunbeath

Publication Year: 2018

ISBN: 9781849953283

Binding: Softback

Page Count: 224pp

Price: £18.99

Ploughing a New Furrow primarily focuses on a series of case studies where the author, Malcolm Smith, seeks to gain an insight from farmers who overcome the myriad of challenges of managing a profitable farming business whilst conserving wildlife.

Written in a clear and digestible format, the book begins with a breezy but essential overview of UK farming through the ages, from the early settlers to the present day. I found this thought-provoking in itself as it paints a... read more

David Norfolk

Rewild Yourself: 23 Spellbinding Ways to Make Nature More Visible

Rewild Yourself: 23 Spellbinding Ways to Make Nature More Visible

Author: Simon Barnes

Publisher: Simon & Schuster, London

Publication Year: 2018

ISBN: 9781471175404

Binding: Hardback

Page Count: 208pp

Price: £14.99

Finding time to enjoy the natural world can be hard, but with a few tips and tricks such as those mentioned in Simon Barnes’ Rewild Yourself it becomes possible to make the most of any length of time and location you might find yourself in. A pleasant book, it takes the time to show you how simple actions and equipment can be used in small “spells” to deepen your perception of the natural world.

Each chapter focuses on one tip to reconnect with nature in a closer way than... read more

Katharine Bowgen

Woodpeckers cover

Woodpeckers

Author: Gerard Gorman

Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing, London

Publication Year: 2018

ISBN: 9781472951182

Binding: Softback

Page Count: 128pp

Price: £9.99

From the Gila Woodpecker excavating nest-holes in desert cacti and the Acorn Woodpecker jamming thousands of acorns into holes in ‘granary’ trees to feed on later, through to the flycatching woodpeckers, the woodpeckers are a more diverse family than one might initially assume. This message is adeptly conveyed in Woodpeckers by Gerard Gorman, with crisp colourful images and easily digestible text.

While Woodpeckers is neither an ID guide nor a systematic reference... read more

David Jarrett

Sutherland Birdlife

Sutherland Birdlife

Author: Fraser Symonds & Alan Vittery

Publisher: Privately published

Publication Year: 2018

ISBN: 9781788084925

Binding: Softback

Page Count: 208pp

Price: £16.50

Sutherland Birdlife is a book of two halves; the first covers the geography, habitats and birdlife of the county and the second is comprised of species accounts that form an extension to Alan Vittery's 1997 book 'The Birds of Sutherland'. These distinct halves are separated by several pages of beautiful watercolours by Symonds, illustrating some of the species characteristic to the county at different times of the year.

For those unfamiliar with the county a chapter... read more

Justin Walker