Monday, 9 May 2016

Book review: A Summer of British Wildlife by James Lowen

A Summer of British Wildlife: 100 great days out watching wildlife

Bradt Travel Guides | 2016
256 pp. | 13.5 x 21.6 cm | abundant colour photographs
Paperback | £15.99 | ISBN: 978 1 78477 009 9

Three years ago, James Lowen wrote 52 Wildlife Weekends to wide acclaim. The book 's aim was to suggest a wildlife-themed agenda for every weekend of the year and its target readership was wide: anyone with an interest in British wildlife. Those with television sets are used to watching superb-quality wildlife spectacles on the BBC, but it seems that we are less inclined to actually get outdoors and find the subjects of those wonderful documentaries in the flesh. Indeed, research shows a major disconnection between young people and their natural environment. To some extent, the book set about remedying the situation by offering unique excursions targeting our characteristic flora and fauna throughout the year. I have used that book regularly, though I confess to having butchered James's itineraries to fit the time available. Nevertheless, it has been a very handy resource.

This new book largely follows the successful approach and format of the previous guide, but this time James provides ideas for day trips rather than weekends (perhaps more realistic if young families are to be encouraged to use it). The suggestions comprise 100 summer days out – enough for three or four (or more!) British summers. Each is linked to a particular day covering the period from May 15 to August 22, beginning with spring-flowering bluebells and closing the summer with some of Norfolk's localised damselflies. The locations stretch from Shetland to the Scillies.

Each wildlife site receives an enthusiastic write-up based on the author's first-hand experience – and be assured that James is keen to make sure that field experience informs his selection and descriptions, so there is nothing in the book that the author has not tried. Directions to each location are provided, together with OS grid references and helpful websites, an indication of how much leeway the visitor might have in terms of dates and suggestions for either turning the day trip into a weekend or for alternative sights at which to encounter the featured wildlife. 

With summer only just begun, I have not had time to field test the book, but I know it will see some use over the coming months. In fact, I relish the thought of trying some of the unfamiliar experiences suggested. So if you are a nature-lover looking to explore Britain's wildlife over the summer, this guide will answer your questions. Where to go? When to visit? How to get there? What to do? What to look for? If you already own 52 Wildlife Weekends, will you need this book as well? I checked for overlap, and there is very little. Yes, one or two of the experiences, such as diving with sharks in Cornwall, are mentioned in both guides, but only because they are too good to miss.

So what are you waiting for? Get a copy, get out and enjoy a summer of British wildlife while it lasts!

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