There have been innumerable guides giving descriptions of walks in Britain, including lots concentrating on wildlife. This well produced, sturdy and handsome book by James Lowen, does something a little different, with suggestions on how to spend 52 weekends watching the best of GB wildlife.
The sites are invariably interesting, the photographs beautiful and the writing, despite the relatively small amount of space the author allows himself, inspirational.
It's not always made immediately clear how likely it is to see the special species described...eg Weekend 24 is headlined "Glamorgan for Fen Orchid..." and there's a big photo of the target plant but reading the walk description carefully... "a 99% decline since 1980...some are off limits..." gives a more realistic appraisal of success than the strapline. This is commendable, as the hopeful weekend naturalist may have travelled a great distance in the hope of spotting the orchid and deserves a fair and realistic estimate of how easy the search will be. Most if not all the site descriptions do give clear appraisals of the chance of success.
There is always a danger in site guides like this that vulnerable species or areas will be too publicised, the only entry I found a bit dubious from this respect was weekend 46 where the wildlife-watcher is advised to drive up and down a raod at night as the best chance to see Wildcats. This seems a bit dangerous for the animal but undoubtedly would give just about the only chance of seeing one without joining a guided walk.
Some of the weekends involve a bit of travelling between two or more rather distant places (eg Walk 7)but I can honestly say that virtually every suggested short break would be a memorable and really rewarding experience.
Well researched and presented this collection of magical weekends would be perfect if only the author would have provided maps for each of the sites. Without them the portable, sturdy format is a bit wasted. Even so, very highly recommended.
on 5 September 2013
This is the perfect guide for nature-lovers of all kinds looking to make the most of British wildlife in their free time. Where to go? When to visit? What to do? What to look for? Where to stay? This guide provides the answers. It might help a family orient their weekend excursions to take better advantage of nature's sights, or allow a keen naturalist to make the most of a business trip to encounter some of the country's most wanted wild species. Although seasoned naturalists will make full use of it, the book should also nudge a less expert readership - perhaps a typical BBC Springwatch audience - to go out and experience Britain's wildlife in the flesh.
Most of the wildlife spectacles that have come to be uniquely associated with the UK are covered: hundreds of wintering geese, spring Bluebell woods, ancient Yew trees, Puffin colonies, the aerial displays at Starling roosts, dusk gatherings of crows, and opportunities to snorkel with Basking Sharks. The majority of these would be targets for even the keen naturalist: charismatic species such as Fen Raft Spider and Purple Emperor, Cirl Bunting and Pine Marten, amongst many others.
With 52 chapters, there is one weekend for every week of the year (although one would have to be pretty dedicated to exhaust all the suggestions in one, or even two years). Five wildlife targets grouped within easy striking distance have been chosen for each weekend. For example, a weekend on the Yorkshire coast (#38: September weekend 3) comprises a boat trip from Bridlington, rockpooling at South Landing, and birding at Flamborough, the Outer Head and North Landing. The first weekend trip is one of my favourites: an excursion to see Islay's wintering geese, and perhaps the Lagavulin and Laphroaig chasers recommended by the author. The experience is rounded off with Otters and Golden Eagle and, with a bit of luck, White-tailed Eagle. Thirty years on, this remains one of my most memorable short trips: in fact, I still remember the geese and raptors, not to mention Bruichladdich, Bowmore, Lagavulin and Caol Ila.
For each location, a weekend 'base' is suggested: a local town or a particularly characterful lodgings. Contact details and / or OS grid references of lodgings and wildlife sites are provided. There is a good spread of sites, with the majority of them outside south-east England. An index of sites and species, together with a couple of helpful tables, allow the reader to plan a whole year of rewarding wildlife excursions.
A book to inspire, but above all a guide to be taken out and used. This is recommended for anyone who wants to take a more active approach to experiencing the full gamut of Britain's wildlife, whether the keen naturalist with a wildlife hit list or simply those who want to become better acquainted with British nature. My copy has already found a home in the glove compartment...
Chris Sharpe, 5 September 2013. ISBN-13: 978-1-84162-464-8
on 14 September 2013
Well I should declare that James is a friend. But I should also declare an interest in promoting British biodiversity in its entirety, and James has written a book that will inspire new naturalists and veteran pan-species listers alike to get into the field and see our wildlife. I love the way this book is written - it would have been so easy to write dull accounts of the logistics of where, when and how. But James has managed to weave all this into a witty and erudite narrative which really brings alive a sense of place and of experiencing wildlife in its natural context. It's very readable.
There is an understandable emphasis on vertebrates, orchids and other more glamorous species but hopefully that leaves the door open for "52 more wildlife weekends" for those who want to see more of the 80,000 species that occur in Britain!