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The handiest field guide to British dragonflies and damselflies
on 5 September 2006
For several years now, WILDguides have been setting the standard for small, handy field guides that focus mainly on British wildlife. Their approach is characterised by portability, the emphasis on visual utility (the use of computer enhanced photographs) and a significant contribution to conservation. The latter is achieved in two ways: firstly by getting these guides into the hands of the public at very competitive prices (WILDguides is a non-profit publisher) and secondly by donating all profits to conservation organisations that work on the area or organisms treated by each guide.
Twenty years ago, there was just one guide to British dragonflies - the very expensive and awkwardly proportioned - but ground-breaking and beautifully illustrated - "Dragonflies of Great Britain and Ireland" by Hammond, published by Harley Books. This slim volume was so expensive that I had to wait for a school prize to fund it, and the quality of the book was such that it remained at home and was consulted only after returning from dragonfly trips, notebook in hand.
These days, thankfully, there are many more options for identifying Odonata in the field, from Steve Brooks' 1997 "Field Guide to the Dragonflies and Damselflies of Great Britain and Ireland", illustrated by Richard Lewington, to Klaas-Douwe Dijkstra's brand new "Field Guide to the Dragonflies of Britain and Europe", both published by British Wildlife Publishing. These two guides are nigh on definitive with the illustrations a pleasure to behold and are worth every penny of the price - they should be on every naturalist's shelves. Nevertheless, despite this extremely stiff competition, I believe the Smallshire & Swash guide has the edge for actual field identification of British Odonata. Why?
Two things swing it for me. The first is the overall clarity of the text and illustrations. With the book open at one species, I can see the entire species account, clearly divided into sections, red print highlighting major field marks. On the same page is a good size map, easily interpreted, together with a bar calendar to indicate flight season and a neat little condensed box suggesting "Observation tips". On the opposite page are superb computer-enhanced photographs, some 4 - 10 per species depending on variability and the identification challenge it poses. Secondly, four full page, full colour spreads summarise the identification of all species with colour illustrations of the abdomen and other key features.
This book is a comprehensive photographic guide to the dragonflies and damselflies of Britain and Ireland, covering all 43 breeding species, 3 former breeders, 11 recorded vagrants and 10 potential vagrant species. Its 55 remarkable full colour photographic plates show all you need to identify the adults. In addition, it is worth noting that this guide allows you to identify larvae and exuviae, something not covered by, for example, the European guide.
And since WILDGuides are a non-profit organisation that supports conservation throughout the world, you are helping ensure that the wildlife you enjoy today will still be there for others to enjoy tomorrow. In this case, profits from the book go to the British Dragonfly Society. Check out their web site and look for other WILDGuides titles on Amazon.co.uk, all of which share the enhanced photography approach. Another winner is "Britain's Butterflies" by David Tomlinson and Rob Still in the same series.
So, if you are going to buy just one dragonfly guide for the British Isles, then make it this one.