| By Robert Read | Illustrated by Paul Sterry | John Beaufoy Books | 2019 | Edition 2 | Paperback | 160 pages, 300 colour photos | ISBN: 9781912081172 |
The Publisher’s View: This easy-to-use identification guide to 280 insect species most commonly seen in Britain and northern Europe is perfect for amateur naturalists. High quality photographs from Britain’s top nature photographers are accompanied by detailed species descriptions, which include common and scientific name, height, distribution and habitat. The user-friendly introduction covers the different habitats, life-cycles and the study and conservation of insects.
The Author: Robert Read is a professional photographer with an emphasis on the natural history of Britain and Northern Europe. He has had a lifelong interest in insects and nature and he also manages the Nature Photographers image library.
Fatbirder View: This is a difficult guide to assess. Like many photoguides its difficult to compare like with like… for example some of the butterfly illustrations have full open wings, others are closed or partially closed. Its easy to include all our butterflies as, sadly we have so few, but with other insect families the decision on what to include is pretty arbitrary. I guess that the guide is very much geared to the general reader who finds a moth on their curtain or bee in their bee-house and wants to know what they are looking at. So, in go the most common and most colourful. However, I guarantee all of us will see micro-moths that are too varied to go in a pocket guide and probably many other species across the range of insects. In my own tiny urban garden I’m up to twenty something hoverflies, a good few bumblebees not to mention leafcutters and miners.
The second issue is how do you cover ID when many insects go through a vast range of instars and colour ranges through their life. Having recently taken an interest in Odonata I have found ID really tricky with males and females often seemingly different species, not to mention the colour changes over their short life spans. Maybe each ‘chapter’ should carry a warning that a cursory glance won’t cut it and to be sure you need a book for each family and even then sometimes the only way to be sure is to dissect genitalia under a microscope!
I’m going to judge this not on its claim to be a naturalists guide, but how it should style itself, an introduction to some of Britain’s insects… a stepping stone in the life of a budding naturalist or semi-curious householder. On that basis this is an attractive and handy little guide well worth the cover price. Just don’t be fooled into thinking that its going to make identification easy or sure
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