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Nick Baker’s Favourite Read of 2011 – and a Top 5 for Christmas


Nick BakerWe asked NHBS Ambassador Nick Baker to choose his top 5 books for naturalists and wildife enthusiasts – he went one better and gave us a book of the year as well:

The Butterfly Isles by Patrick Barkham

The Butterfly Isles jacket imageNick says: “The only thing that beats seeing butterflies is reading about them. So, for me, long winter nights are best spent reminiscing about the summer seasons gone and anticipating the one that lies ahead. This is the time for the armchair Aurelian. The book of the year for me is definitely The Butterfly Isles by Patrick Barkham. I was given my copy by a butterfly enthusiast who has rapidly become a good friend of mine, Dr Dan Danahar. He sent me a copy as a thank you for taking part in what became a butterfly race around Brighton (25 species in a day). Several of the characters that took part in this wonderful inspiring day full of Chalkhill Blues and White-letter Hairstreaks are in the book, many of the others – the Martin Warrens, Mathew Oates and Jeremy Thomases of the world – are all portrayed as passionately and as accurately as the insects that drive their lives.
The author seeks to see all 58 species of British breeding butterfly in a single year and at the same time rekindle a father-son bond over the butterflies they desired. The outcome is a very well-written romp, true to the traditional eccentricities that is almost compulsory to those in the pursuit of these winged things. It’s a book about people as much as it is about the insects, and all in all it tackles our deep seated relationship with nature and the British countryside and leaves you feeling proud to be living on this collection of islands we call home.”

Nick’s Top 5 Books for Naturalists

1. The Butterflies of Britain and Ireland by Jeremy Thomas and Richard Lewington

The Butterflies of Britain and Ireland jacket image…”The Butterflies of Britain and Ireland by Jeremy Thomas and Richard Lewington is a perfect butterfly reference book. It oozes quality and is the quintessential book for anybody interested in these winged wonders. Way back in 1991 butterfly ecologist and thoroughly energetic champion of these insects, Jeremy Thomas, teamed with the talented paintbrush pushing skills of Richard Lewington and together they created a special thing. This second edition is totally up-to-date with the current status changes, and the intricate details, subtleties and ecological relationships of our British species. The winter is a great time to slip between its pages the first thing that strikes you is the illustrations, which like the first edition of this book are stunning… then allow yourself to dip into the text and everything springs to life; Jeremy Thomas has a way of writing about his life’s charges with the sort of passion a child may have for the fairground but at the same time he has the scientific knowledge, gravitas and experience of someone who has dedicated his life to understanding the world according to these charismatic insects.”

2. Guide to Garden Wildlife by Richard Lewington

Guide to Garden Wildlife jacket image…”This little beauty is both penned and illustrated by Richard Lewington, and is a truly excellent guide to many of the most commonly encountered garden species; from bees, birds, voles and moles and many others to the more specialised such as harvestmen, thrips, and solitary bees and wasps, as well as slugs and snails! The wonderful detailed text and observations within are in many cases clearly born from the actual experiences of the author. Scattered throughout are sections that may inspire you to create an even better wildlife garden with advice on creating ponds, building and positioning nest boxes and bird feeders. I cannot recommend this book enough – if you have a garden and are interested in wildlife then you must have this on your shelf, and if you know of someone who has a garden make sure they’ve got this on their shelf.”

3. Mushrooms by John Wright

Mushrooms jacket image…”This isn’t a new book by any means; I’ve had my copy for several years now. I’m not even massively into fungi. I have a general interest and engage in a little bit of hedgerow foraging from time to time, so why this book? …it made me laugh! Yep, this is undoubtedly the funniest field guide I’ve ever read. It is so refreshing to find yourself with tears streaming down your face while trying to concentrate on the finer points of separating a Yellow Stainer from a Field Mushroom, or learning that it is illegal to pick magic mushrooms, but not if you can’t identify them! This book is rare: being informative, excellently written with personal passion, both entertaining and peppered with all manner of identification tips and recipes for when you are 100% happy with your identification skills.”

4. Survivors by Richard Fortey

Survivors: The Animals and Plants That Time Has Left Behind jacket image…”Having been a fan of two of Fortey’s other books (Trilobite and Dry Store Room No.1) I’ve been waiting with great anticipation for this, his latest book, to be published. I can tell you it was well worth the wait, the writing style is in the same ball park as other great science popularisers of today (well written, not dumbed down and immensely readable) and the subject matter is those animals we often hear referred to as ‘living fossils’. Richard uses them as biological muses, looking into their lives for clues as to how the story of life on earth unfolded – using these animals as ‘telescopes’ into the past. I’ve always like evolutionary stories, hence my love of natures oddities and here we have a book full of beguiling beasts with some of the best back stories ever in the history of life on earth – with Tarsiers, Hellbenders, Velvet worms, lungfish and lampreys all covered within its pages.”

5. Mammals of the British Isles Volume 4 – edited by Stephen Harris and Derek W Yalden

Mammals of the British Isles: Handbook, 4th edition jacket image…”This high quality, comprehensive and scientifically up-to-date publication by The Mammal Society is very much in line with the standard set by Lynx publications (Handbook of the Birds of the World, Handbook of the Mammals of the World and Threatened Amphibians of the World). On publication it immediately became a standard reference in its field. Expertly done, it covers every mammal species found in, on and around the British Isles, including marine mammals and naturalised species (and a few that only have a historic presence on our islands). For anyone that has an interest in our mammal fauna then this the essential book. It is a large tome which despite the ambitious intent is easy to navigate with loads of glossy photographs and easy summary charts that help to ease your way through its pages.”

Read the full article on Nick Baker’s blog