Friday, 4 October 2013

Book review: Britain's Freshwater Fishes by Mark Everard

Britain's Freshwater Fishes

Princeton University Press WILDGuides | 2013
144 pp. | 15 x 21 cm | 569 colour photos. 161 colour distribution maps
Paperback | £17.95 / $27.95 | ISBN: 9780691156781

There have been quite a number of guides to British freshwater fish over the years, but none seems to have endured and there is no clear 'standard field guide'. This seems odd for a group that is the basis of one of the country's most popular hobbies. The only guide on my shelves is Wheeler's 1978 Key to the Fishes of Northern Europe, acquired shortly after it was published. This is an extremely well-researched and comprehensive guide, but I suspect that the lack of colour illustrations prevented it becoming very popular. It is probably a reflection on the lack of better guides in the intervening 35 years that good copies of the dependable Wheeler typically fetch £100 or more!

Everard's new guide covers the UK's freshwater fish: all 41 of our native species, plus 13 exotics (including anglers' favourites Common Carp Cyprinus carpio and Rainbow Trout Oncorhynchus mykiss). It follows the established WILDGuides format, combining high-quality photographs and informative figures with a concise, authoritative text that focusses on field identification – all arranged across one or two pages to obviate the need for page-flipping. The text includes quite a lot of ecological information, which is of interest in itself, as well as supporting identification. Where appropriate, a box summarises the diagnostic features which can be relied upon to clinch separation from similar species. The author's approach is largely non-technical, relying on what birders call 'jizz', rather than detailed taxonomic detail (although, for example, the comparative table of cyprinid identification features on pp. 52-53 provides handy comparison). Maps would have been useful and one would have thought that our anglers and angling bodies would amassed ample distributional data. Apparently not: “distribution maps have generally not been included in the species accounts due to the incomplete knowledge of the range of most species, and the extent of introductions" (p. 51).

As with other WILDGuides, conservation is a major theme running throughout the book. Within the species accounts, a table indicates conservation status: IUCN Red List status, UK Biodiversity Action Plan listing and whether the species is subject to key European and UK environmental legislation. Our most threatened native fish are the Gwyniad Coregonus (laveratus?) pennantii (the Welsh population of the European Whitefish C. lavaretus), Common Sturgeon Acipenser sturio and European Eel Anguilla anguilla, all of which are Critically Endangered.

I found particularly interesting the comparative photographs of Rudd and Roach (p. 56), the page suggesting sites for watching salmon migration (p. 50) and the map of species richness of European fish (p. 12 – although it is puzzling to see North Wales shown with >55 species [data taken directly from the European Red List of European freshwater fishes]).

Is this the fish book to buy? Definitely! Ideal for the pocket, glove-compartment or tackle-box, this guide will give naturalists a much better chance of identifying the fish they see. I presume that all but novice anglers can identify their catch, but they should welcome the comprehensive national coverage, and detailed information on ecology and conservation.

This handy guide is a very welcome addition to the literature, especially since few of the dozen or so previously published fish guides are still in print. All in all, a great new guide for naturalists and anglers alike.


Freyhof, J. & Brooks, E. (2011) European Red List of European freshwater fishes. Publications Office of the European Union: Luxembourg. 60 pp.

Wheeler, A. (1978) Key to the fishes of northern Europe. Federick Warne: London. 380 pp.

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