Book review – natural history

An illustration from Emperors, Admirals and Chimney Sweepers by Peter Marren

Fluttering to extinction: the tragedy of Britain’s butterflies

29 June 2019 9:00 am

In 1979, despite the best efforts of scientists for more than a century, a butterfly called the British Large Blue…

An English oak in a misty meadow at dawn [Getty]

Why the British love the oak tree

27 October 2018 9:00 am

Over the past couple of years, I’ve been planting up much of the pasture on our small Cornish farm with…

Will all whales soon be extinct?

25 August 2018 9:00 am

Nick Pyenson, curator of fossil marine mammals at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, is quick to tell us he’s not…

Above: The Spangled Cotinga of the Amazon Rainforest is one of the seven species known to fly-tiers as the Blue Chatterer. Left: The Resplendent Quetzal, found from Chipias, Mexico to Western Panama

The most bizarre museum heist ever

28 April 2018 9:00 am

They don’t look like a natural pair. First there’s the author, Kirk Wallace Johnson, a hero of America’s war in…

‘The Kindly Robin’: a Victorian Christmas card portrays the robin as a ‘good’ bird, despite it being aggressive by nature, and quick to see off intruders

Animals make us human

28 October 2017 9:00 am

There was a time when biologists so scorned the attribution of human qualities to other animals that anthropomorphism was seen…

The famous rip tide in French Pass, Marlborough Sounds, New Zealand

Across the river... and into the trees

30 April 2016 9:00 am

Water accounts for 70 per cent of your planet, and 60 per cent of your body. Yet when do you…

Without mankind, dogs wouldn’t stand a chance

What dogs are really up to

30 April 2016 9:00 am

Before I read this book, I thought I knew what a dog was. It barks, it wags its tail, it…

Male bowerbirds’ creations look like little art galleries — built to impress the females

Which came first — the bowerbird or the egg?

23 April 2016 9:00 am

What is it about birds? They are the wild creatures we see most often, their doings and calls a daily…

Tracking the great Siberian tiger

23 January 2016 9:00 am

Of all charismatic animals, tigers are surely the most filmed, televised, documented, noisily cherished and, paradoxically, the most persecuted on…

Green is the colour of happiness

17 October 2015 8:00 am

According to this wonderfully thought-provoking book, human attachment to plants was much more evident in the 19th century than it…

Acer palmatum ‘Osakasuki’, the Japanese maple

There is good in every tree, says Thomas Pakenham — even the sycamore

26 September 2015 8:00 am

I have never written much about the one-acre shaw of native trees I planted in 1994, even though it is…

Herring girls had to wash their hair six times on a Saturday night to rinse out the smell

The current scarcity of herring may itself be a red herring

19 September 2015 8:00 am

Fish stories come in two varieties: the micro-version of a hundred riverside bars, blokeish boastings of rod-and-line tussles with individual…

The Clouded Yellow, especially vulnerable to cold, wet weather, is rare in Britain and usually confined to the South Downs and south coast

We all love butterflies — so why are we wiping them out?

1 August 2015 9:00 am

Last month, at Edinburgh School of Art, I was interested to come across a student who’d chosen Marlowe’s Dr Faustus…

Primula auricula

How 18th-century gardeners ordered their plants after a great storm, a terrible drought and ‘a little ice age’

23 May 2015 9:00 am

I hesitate ever to criticise an author for the inappropriateness of a book’s title, since it’s more likely the fault…

A ‘nurse log’ — a tree stump in which a seed has germinated, thereby avoiding browsing herbivores and the overshading of undergrowth. From Uncommon Ground by Dominick Tyler

Fizmer, feetings, flosh, blinter - enjoy these words and forget them immediately, advises Adam Nicolson

28 February 2015 9:00 am

Wolfsnow is a dangerous blizzard at sea; slogger the sucking sound made by waves against a ship’s sides; ammil the…

Simon Barnes’s final chapters converge not at mammals, even less at primates, but at fish

From water-dwelling sponges to face-eating hyenas: the whole of life is in this book

15 November 2014 9:00 am

‘The meaning of life’, announces Simon Barnes in the opening pages of his new book, ‘is life, and the purpose…

Signs of the times: the shrivelled leaves and lesion on the trunk of infected ash trees

First ash dieback, then the world's scariest beetle

4 October 2014 9:00 am

The ash tree may lack the solidity of oak, the magnificence of beech or the ancient mystique of yew. In…

Lu Kongjiang, taking part in a ‘bee beard’ competition in Shaoyang, Hunan Province, China, 2011 From In Praise of Bees: A Cabinet of Curiosities by Elizabeth Birchall (Quiller Publishing, £30, pp. 255, ISBN 9781846891922)

Bees make magic: an inspirational case for biodiversity

13 September 2014 9:00 am

The importance of biodiversity, a handy concept that embraces diversity of eco-systems, species, genes and molecules, has been promoted for…

The ring-necked parakeet, one of the most successful birds to colonise London, still looks conspicuously out of place in Hyde Park in the snow

What's eating London's songbirds?

16 August 2014 9:00 am

This book, with its absurdly uninformative photographs, dismal charts and smattering of charmless drawings, looks like a report. A pity,…

Drawing of a goshawk by the leading wildlife artist Bruce Pearson. From A Sparrowhawk’s Lament: How British Breeding Birds of Prey are Faring, by David Cobham (Princeton University Press, £24.95, pp. 256, ISBN 9780691157641, Spectator Bookshop, £23.95)

Falling in love with birds of prey

9 August 2014 9:00 am

Is it the feathers that do the trick? The severely truculent expressions on their faces? Or is it their ancient…

Raspberry and quince by Sarah Simblet

Warning: the beautiful trees in this book may very soon be extinct

31 May 2014 9:00 am

John Evelyn (1620–1706) was not only a diarist. He was one of the most learned men of his time: traveller,…

Snowy Owl

Toowit-towoo! At long last, a Collins book on owls

8 February 2014 9:00 am

Owls have more associations for us than perhaps any other family of birds, suggested Jeremy Mynott in Birdscapes, so it…

The elegant stems of the hornbeam allow for views down into the five garden compartments on the south side of the long water garden at Temple Guiting by Jinny Blom. (From The New English Garden by Tim Richardson)

The most important gardening book of the year

16 November 2013 9:00 am

I’ll own up at once. Tim Richardson and Andrew Lawson, the author and photographer of The New English Garden (Frances…

Migration Hotspots, by Tim Harris - review

17 August 2013 9:00 am

Consider for a moment the plight of the willow warbler. Russian birds of this species fly between eastern Siberia and…