Category Archives: Flora & fauna

SOMERSET WILDLIFE TRUST EMERGENCY APPEAL

The following is a press release which has been issued by Somerset Wildlife Trust.

Somerset Wildlife Trust has launched an Emergency Appeal for Somerset’s wildlife in response to the devastating impact the Covid-19 pandemic has had on the charity’s ability to fundraise for its work to reverse wildlife declines, restore biodiversity and reconnect people with nature.

Already dealing with the financial challenges surrounding reductions in EU funding, and the immediate and enormous cost of the rapid onset of Ash Dieback disease on its nature reserves, now, as a result of Covid-19, the Trust is looking at a shortfall in its budgeted income for this year of at least £200,000.

At a time when the Trust should be at the peak of its fundraising activities, with membership recruitment and events happening across the county, and delivering vital habitat management programmes with the help of hundreds of volunteers, many of its staff and recruiters have been furloughed, events cancelled, and work programmes are far behind where they should be. Reserve teams are also under additional pressure to repair the physical damage on sites from anti-social behaviour that took place whilst staff was at its bare minimum.

The Trust is appealing to members, supporters and those passionate about Somerset’s nature to support the charity now, when it needs help the most. The funds raised by its emergency appeal will help bridge the significant gap in its finances this year so it can continue its work for wildlife, capitalise on the current drive towards a greener recovery, and ensure Somerset can continue to play its part in addressing the national and global ecological and climate crises.

Katie Arber, Director of Fundraising & Marketing, comments: “Along with members, supporters and volunteers, we are desperately disappointed to have had to cancel our key fundraising activities this year, particularly at a time when the environment, climate change and loss of biodiversity were at the top of the political agenda and high in public consciousness. The Covid-19 pandemic has had a huge and immediate impact on our income and will for years to come.

“The fact that even more people have turned to nature to help them during lockdown however is brilliant news, and we hope local wildlife will continue to be part of their lives. We now need everyone’s help to continue to do our work to support wildlife and habitats here in Somerset, and every donation will enable us to do this.”

CEO, Georgia Stokes (pictured), adds: “The UK is one of the most nature depleted countries in the world. To reverse nature’s decline we must restore and connect valuable habitats for wildlife and restore natural processes also providing essential carbon stores and helping to adapt to climate change.

Many of us have discovered during lockdown that we need nature to benefit our physical and mental health and recognised that nature really is the life support function for our lives, our communities and our businesses.

“Whilst Covid-19 has hit us at the worst possible time, we mustn’t lose the momentum that existed before lockdown for building a more environmentally sustainable, wildlife-rich county, and urge everyone who turned to or connected with the natural world for the first time to continue their support and give if they can to help us continue the work we do during what will be difficult times ahead.”

To donate to Somerset Wildlife Trust’s Emergency Appeal, visit the website here: www.somersetwildlife.org/emergencyappeal or ring 01823 652429.

Photo: Georgia Stokes by Matt Sweeting.

NATURE LOVERS CHALK UP OVER 2,000 SIGHTINGS IN SUPPORT OF EXMOOR CONSERVATION PROJECTS

Over 2,000 plant and wildlife observations have been recorded online by members of the public in response to a plea from Exmoor National Park Authority to help rescue vital conservation projects that have been hit by the coronavirus lockdown through volunteers being unable to carry out their usual monitoring. People were asked to help by joining the National Park’s WildWatch project on iNaturalist and using the app to log any sightings while out on Exmoor.

To date this has resulted in 227 people logging 2,024 observations of 818 different species on the platform. A further 417 people, including professional botanists and National Park conservation volunteers, got involved in helping verify the sightings to get the data up to a standard where it could be used to inform conservation efforts, such as problem invasive species in the National Park.

In a video shared on social media to thank contributors, Exmoor National Park Outreach Officer Patrick Watts-Mabbott, said: “We’ve had an amazing response to our ‘Exmoor Wildwatch’ and ‘Exmoor from Home’ projects on iNaturalist.”

Top sightings include Eye Bright (top), an ancient herbal remedy with anti-inflammatory properties, and the charmingly named Dog Vomit Slime Mold (here) – single-celled amoeba-like organisms that come together to form fungi-like sporing masses.

Patrick added: “I could talk about the amazing orchids, minotaur beetles, moss, grasshoppers, birds, butterflies, reptiles and even butterfly eggs that have been spotted. But as we are on Exmoor we’d better look at the iconic bell heather that is just starting to bloom. By mid-August places like Brendon Common, Dunkery Beacon and Winsford Hill, will be purple and buzzing with bees.

“So if you’re planning a visit to Exmoor this year, download the iNaturalist app from the usual places and search the projects for ‘Exmoor Wildwatch’. Then get recording. There’s no need to know everything you find, just get some good photos, ideally from different angles, and upload them. Our volunteers will help you identify them.”

Free wildlife spotter guides are from National Park Centres in Lynmouth, Dunster and Dulverton or online at www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk/Whats-Special/exmoor-wildwatch.

Top photo: Eye Bright. Both photos by janexmoor.

EXMOOR RANGERS’ PLEA TO PROTECT WILDLIFE AS VISITORS RETURN TO MOORS

Exmoor National Park Rangers are asking people to be mindful of ground-nesting birds, baby deer and other wildlife that may have been caught out by the sudden return of visitors to the moors, following the easing of Government restrictions.

Many ground-nesting birds will have nested in spring while crowds were away, making them particularly vulnerable to disturbance now visitors, and particularly dogs, have returned.

Ranger Charlotte Wray, who also volunteers as a BTO bird surveyor, said: “It’s great to see people enjoying the outdoors once again. But with most businesses still shut and the need to social distance, we’re seeing a lot more people heading to open moorland and quieter parts of the National Park, where previously nature has been free to carry on relatively undisturbed.

“Please tread carefully and be mindful that wildlife may not have had time to adjust to the sudden influx of visitors and turn up in some unusual places, such as on or near paths. If lucky your thoughtfulness may be rewarded by some pretty amazing natural encounters.

“Ground-nesting birds are particularly vulnerable and known to abandon their nests if they feel threatened by predators. This includes your family dog, who in following its instincts can innocently ruin these rare birds’ chance to breed successfully.”

How to have great wildlife experience:

  • Time it right. Dawn and dusk are peak activity times for many animals, especially during the hotter summer months.
  • Keep a respectful distance. If a bird flies away, circles, makes repeated alarm calls or feigns injury, move away immediately. If an animal lingers on in one location, ask yourself why – it may have young nearby and feel extremely stressed by your continued presence. The same applies to livestock with young.
  • Stay on the paths, particularly around habitats often used by birds and other animals for nesting or shelter, such as dense heather, riverbanks or wetlands.
  • Take the lead. Curious dogs can scare ground-nesting birds and cause them to abandon their nests. By law they must be kept on a short lead between 1 March and 31 July on open access land. Dogs should be under close control at all times near livestock.
  • Leave the BBQ at home. Moorland fires can be particularly devastating to wildlife in breeding season, so leave the BBQ at home and bring a picnic instead.
  • Take action for nature. Help us better target conservation efforts by letting us know what you see and hear while out on Exmoor at www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk/wild-watch.

SOMERSET WILDLIFE TRUST LAUNCHES #WILDLIFEWINDOW SOCIAL MEDIA CAMPAIGN TO LET WILDLIFE HELP OUR WELLBEING DURING SELF ISOLATION AND SOCIAL DISTANCING

Somerset Wildlife Trust has launched a social media campaign called #wildlifewindow across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to encourage people in Somerset to share the wildlife they see outside their windows and in their gardens, as well as share positive actions they are taking for nature while at home during the covid-19 outbreak.

With so many people now working from home, self-isolating or social distancing, the campaign #wildlifewindow aims to continue to get people to connect with nature and wildlife, even though it is currently more difficult to go outside, and demonstrate that their spaces, large or small, are homes to wildlife where they can make a difference. Somerset Wildlife Trust hopes this will help keep morale high, reduce feelings of isolation by allowing people to communicate with a community of other wildlife-lovers, and reduce the feelings of being ‘trapped’, bored or like they can’t do anything to help wildlife when indoors.

They want you use the hashtag #wildlifewindow across the social media channels in order to share what wildlife you can see out of your window whilst in isolation, or what you are doing for wildlife while at home or in your garden – whether that’s getting around to making that hole in your fence for hedgehogs or putting water out for the birds.

Head of Communications, Kirby Everett said, “Evidence shows that connecting with nature helps people feel happier and healthier, improving both physical and mental wellbeing. We hope that by encouraging people to enjoy and value the wildlife on their doorstep and through their window, the current distancing or isolation measures will be easier to withstand and may even create a great sense of community online in a difficult time. We also hope that it might lead to positive changes in terms of how people value of nature after isolation ends, and also drive more people to act for it at a time it needs us the most.”

As at 18th March (please check the Trust’s website for latest info) Somerset Wildlife Trust nature reserves currently remain free and open to all and are excellent places to unwind with wildlife, get fresh air, clear your head and exercise away from any crowd, if you are not in government advised self-isolation. However, they do recommend you take sensible precautions, taking into account the health and safety of yourself and others if you do choose to enjoy the reserves during this time.

Somerset Wildlife Trust will be sharing the #wildlifewindow images and posts they receive, as well as hoping to share short videos, images and interesting wildlife facts to keep us all entertained. You can follow them on Facebook on Somerset Wildlife Trust, Twitter on @SomersetWT and Instagram on @somersetwt.

Photo by Ben Hall.

SOMERSET WILDLIFE TRUST LAUNCHES APPEAL TO PREVENT THE POSSIBLE EXTINCTION OF THE COUNTY’S DORMICE

Somerset Wildlife Trust has announced an urgent appeal for £35,000 to help secure a positive future for the county’s dormice in the face of possible extinction.

Despite once being common, in the last 100 years the native hazel dormouse has become extinct in 17 English counties, with recent UK reports showing that their numbers have declined by 51% in just 18 years. Somerset could easily be the next county to lose its dormouse populations unless positive action is taken now to make their habitats safe, and to provide the best conditions in which these vulnerable, and adorable, little mammals can thrive, now and in the future.

Somerset Wildlife Trust is urging wildlife and nature lovers in Somerset and beyond to donate what they can to support additional woodland management and monitoring programmes needed in the county, before Somerset’s dormice are lost without a trace.

Dormice declines are linked to the loss of habitat and decreasing traditional woodland management practices. Across Britain, just 3% of woodlands are today being managed using traditional management techniques such as coppicing and hedge-laying, while in the 1940s, that figure was almost 50%.

Senior Reserves Manager, Chris Eyles explains, “Dormice need well-managed, connected woodlands through which they can safely move to find food, breed and have secure places to hibernate – something that is already becoming increasingly problematic for them as we continue to see the impacts of a warming climate. Milder winters can sometimes cause dormice to waken from hibernation before adequate food sources are available. Woodland habitats are disappearing all over the country, so dormice populations are becoming fragmented and their future in Somerset looks uncertain.”

“Traditional techniques such as coppicing, thinning and hedge-laying enable us to maintain a balance of healthy habitats in our woodlands, and provide the perfect conditions within which dormice can thrive. But we have a huge amount to do.  We need your help to do more and faster.”

Monitoring their populations to keep them safe: Through regular surveying we know dormice are present on several Trust nature reserves, including Langford Heathfield and Black Rock, but there are plenty more with great potential which are currently not being surveyed! In fact, there are currently only 28 dormouse survey sites across all of Somerset, which is not sufficient to get enough baseline data to understand the true health of the county’s dormouse population. With more funds, we can install more dormouse nest boxes and train new volunteers to regularly survey these sites, so dormice have the best chance of breeding success in the years to come.

Chris continues, “Donations to the Dormouse Appeal will help us create ideal dormouse habitat, enable us to install more nest boxes and train more volunteers to carry out regular dormouse surveys to collect vital data about their health, so please do help if you can.”

“Every donation, whatever the size, will make a real difference. To donate to the Dormouse Appeal, please visit the Somerset Wildlife Trust website at www.somersetwildlife.org/dormouse-appeal or telephone 01823 652429.”

 

COUNCIL CONTRACTORS BECOME ‘HEDGEHOG HEROES’

Contractors working for North Devon Council are helping to save hedgehogs by placing special warning stickers on all of their grass-cutting machinery.

In conjunction with the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, the council have provided free stickers to be placed on all grass-cutting machinery which warns contractors to check the area for wildlife before using the equipment.

Leader of North Devon Council, Councillor David Worden, says: “Hedgehogs are in decline in the UK, so we are delighted to partner with the British Hedgehog Preservation Society and Tivoli Group Ltd to help prevent injuries to these lovely animals by reminding our grass cutters to ensure there are none around before they start work.”

Fay Vass, Chief Executive of the British Hedgehog Preservation Society says: “We are pleased to welcome North Devon Council as the latest group to join our Hedgehog Heroes roll of honour, after fitting our warning stickers on their contractors’ cutting machinery to help hedgehogs. Raising awareness of the problem is half the battle, long grasses and the bottom of hedges are both places hedgehogs are likely to be found; a quick check before work begins can literally save lives.”

Brad Cole, Tivoli Regional Director, commented: “Hundreds of hedgehogs are injured every year, sometimes fatally, as a result of grounds maintenance work. Working in partnership with North Devon Council, Tivoli are proud supporters of the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, making sure all our operatives are aware of the dangers that mowers, strimmers, hedge cutters, etc. can pose to wildlife. These dangers can be avoided by carrying out a thorough visual check of the area before work commences. By attaching the BHPS stickers to our equipment and raising operator awareness, our aim is to reduce the number of hedgehog injuries and deaths caused by grounds-maintenance activities.”

Contact the British Hedgehog Preservation Society for more information at info@britishhedgehogs.org.uk or email the NDC parks team at parks@northdevon.gov.uk.

Photo: British Hedgehog Preservation Society

BUTTERFLY POPULATIONS BOUNCE AS LOCAL PROJECT IS CELEBRATED IN NATIONAL AWARDS

A project working across Exmoor, Dartmoor and Bodmin Moor has been shortlisted for a national award following exceptional work to rescue butterfly populations in the South West.

All the Moor Butterflies from Butterfly Conservation is one of six projects to be shortlisted for the prestigious 2019 Park Protector Award and the very first Year of Green Action Award for National Park projects from the Government’s Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Jenny Plackett, South West Regional Manager at Butterfly Conservation, said: “Butterfly Conservation is absolutely delighted to be shortlisted for this Award for our work to improve the fortunes of our declining fritillary butterflies across Dartmoor, Exmoor and Bodmin Moor. We have been working alongside dedicated farmers and landowners to increase the quality and extent of suitable breeding habitat, and it would be wonderful if our partnership efforts were to be recognised with this Park Protector Award.”

The project fought off stiff competition to be within touching distance of the Awards, the results of which will be announced in a parliamentary reception this month. This year saw the most applicants apply in the competition’s history!

“The projects are each making an outstanding difference in some of the most famous countryside in the world; they are more vital than ever, when the natural world is under threat like never before and in the year of the National Parks’ 70th anniversary no less!”

“From introducing asylum seekers to the Yorkshire Dales to rescuing endangered butterflies, it’s testament to the power of the National Parks that they are inspiring people to make our countryside a better place for all,” said Corinne Pluchino chief executive of Campaign for National Parks.

Launching the competition, Lord Gardiner of Kimble, the Government minister for National Parks, said: “From my experience travelling the diverse and beautiful landscapes of the Parks I know that there is work to be done, whether that is work to enhance nature or introduce more people than ever to the glory of the countryside. But I also know that very challenge is being embraced by projects up and down the country.”

The six shortlisted projects are:

LOCATE – New Forest National Park

 

 

This project is mapping precious archaeological sites in the New Forest, training volunteers in the specialist skills this requires. This project has helped to map Neolithic long barrows, Iron Age hill forts and Roman pottery kiln sites!

 

People and the Dales– Yorkshire Dales National Park Enabling people from a truly diverse range of backgrounds, including asylum seekers, disabled and inner city youths, to have life changing experiences in the beautiful countryside – improving community relations and introducing thousands to the National Park.

 

SWEPT – Pembrokeshire Coast National Park This project is training citizen scientists to go out and collect vital pollution data in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. This data has led to clean-up events and has shone a light on the relationship between land and marine environments.

 

 

Skill builder – Peak District National Park Skill builder is engaging offenders on probation in conservation work across the Peak District, teaching them new skills, improving the offenders’ health and wellbeing and helping their rehabilitation. They boast that no participant has re-offended with the project.

 

Carlton Marshes – Broads National Park An ambitious restoration of 1000 acre landscape for wildlife alongside Lowestoft, one of the UK’s most socially deprived towns. Carlton Marshes is proving that people and wildlife alike can benefit from conservation and has been supported by the likes of Sir David Attenborough.

 

All the Moor Butterflies – Exmoor & Dartmoor National Parks. This project by Butterfly Conservation is rescuing butterfly populations from collapse in South-West England. Through working with farmers and other organisations the project aims to save six threatened species of butterfly and moth.

 

Stephen Ross, of the Ramblers Holiday’s Charitable Trust, which sponsor the Park Protector Award, said: “This year we’ve had an unprecedented number of high quality applicants, judging has been exceptionally tough and because of that I know what we have here are some of the very best projects run by the most passionate people. I wish there was a way to award every project. “

The winning projects will be announced at a parliamentary reception on 10 July 10. The winner of the Park Protector Award will receive a £2,000 grant towards their work, while the winner of the Year of Green Action Award will receive £1,500.

The annual Award is generously supported by Ramblers Holidays Charitable Trust.

Additionally, supported by Breedon Group.

PHOTO: A marsh fritillary, one of the species at the centre of conservation efforts. Photo credit: Tom Cox

WARNING OVER ASH DIEBACK IN EXMOOR NATIONAL PARK

Around 800,000 trees in Exmoor National Park may be at risk from ash dieback, the National Park Authority has warned, as work to clear potentially hazardous infected trees from land it owns gets underway in Simonsbath this week.

The estimate comes from a Forestry Commission report produced on behalf of Exmoor National Park last summer*. It follows a University of Oxford study last month predicting a nationwide cost of £15 billion to the British economy linked to ash dieback**.

Ash is the second most common native tree species in Exmoor National Park after oak. It’s estimated that at least 95 per cent of ash trees in the UK will be killed by ash dieback over the next 20-30 years.

Graeme McVittie, Exmoor National Park Authority Senior Woodland Officer, said: “The trees being felled in Simonsbath next week are on Exmoor National Park Authority land and will be the first of many that will be sadly missing from the Exmoor landscape in years to come. We always conduct a thorough check for nesting birds and if possible delay any tree work to avoid disturbing them. But because this disease progresses so rapidly we have to act quickly before trees become too hazardous.

“Many of the diseased trees won’t need removing and may even provide temporary benefits to wildlife – for example populations of woodpeckers and stag beetles peaked following Dutch elm disease in the 1980s. Yet the longer-term loss in terms of public benefits such as clean air and water and carbon storage is likely to be significant.

“We are committed to the government’s national action plan on ash dieback, which focuses on building resilience and encouraging tolerant species of ash and are happy to provide expert advice to anyone with concerns. It is always the landowners’ responsibility to deal with any diseased trees that may present a risk to the public.”

Ash dieback disease is caused by the fungus Hymenoscyphus fraxineus. It causes leaf loss and crown dieback and once infected a tree will usually die, often as a result of the infection weakening the tree so it becomes more susceptible to attack by other pests and diseases.

There is no requirement to notify Exmoor National Park Authority about ash dieback but the Forestry Commission is collecting data about this and other tree diseases at www.forestry.gov.uk/treealert.

Exmoor National Park Authority has recently set up a new CareMoor Tree Fund for people wishing to donate towards replacing any cherished tree that has been lost from the landscape for any reason. Find out more at www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk/caremoor.

* National Forest Inventory statistics for Exmoor National Park, Forest Research, July 2018, Online at: file://srvfs-app1/userdirs/astevens/VM_redirect/downloads/FR_NFI_Exmoor_Report_2018.pdf

** The £15 billion cost of ash dieback in Britain, Current Biology, Louise Hill et al, May 2019, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2019.03.033

About ash dieback: www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk/Whats-Special/woodland/working/Info-for-woodland-owners/ash-dieback-disease

AWARD FOR EXMOOR’S WOODLANDS

Exmoor National Park has won a prestigious Royal Forestry Society (RFS) Excellence in Forestry Award for its sustainable approach to woodland management and involvement of community groups*. It complements a new Government accord announced last week that aims to expand and enhance woodland in National Parks**.

Moor Wood near Minehead is being slowly transformed by the National Park’s woodlands team using a technique called Continuous Cover Forestry, which harnesses the ability of woodlands to naturally regenerate.

The small temporary gaps created when carefully selected trees are felled  provides a stable habitat for a variety of woodland species, such as birds, butterflies and fungi, whilst allowing commercially viable amounts of timber to be harvested sustainably. This avoids the need for large-scale felling, which takes several decades to regenerate and generally involves uniform plantations that are more vulnerable to environmental pressures.

Graeme McVittie, Senior Woodland Conservation Officer for Exmoor National Park, said: “It’s great to get this kind of recognition for the work we’re doing to make Exmoor’s woodlands more resilient in the face of modern day threats from pests, disease and climate change. We’ve witnessed the loss of elm and larch in our woodlands, and are now losing horse chestnut and ash. Storms and drought have caused further damage and other diseases threaten our oaks and sweet chestnut. So it’s vital that we do all we can to prepare these places for the future.”

The Certificate of Merit was also awarded for the National Park’s commitment to creating opportunities for local communities enjoy and benefit from Exmoor’s woodlands.

Woodcombe Community Woodland is a project initiated by Forum 21, an environmental group in West Somerset.  It leases an area of woodland from the National Park to produce seasoned firewood to help local people in fuel poverty, with the help of local volunteers.
Graham Boswell who leads the project for Forum 21, said: “It’s great to see our idea for a community woodland brought to life through our ongoing partnership with the National Park. The next few years will be crucial in terms of developing a workforce with the necessary woodland skills, but we’re all up for the challenge and excited by the potential benefits for the whole community.”

Rob Wilson-North, Head of Conservation and Access at Exmoor National Park Authority, said: “Exmoor’s diverse woodlands are truly special, providing a rich haven for nature, from some of the country’s rarest birds, butterflies and bats, to seldom seen lichens, liverworts and mosses. But they’re also an important part of the local economy, providing timber and recreational opportunities, along with a host of public benefits, including educational opportunities, carbon storage and flood alleviation. Balancing these priorities isn’t always easy, but this award is a sure sign we’re on the right track.”

Presenting the Awards, RFS President Andrew Woods, said: “The Excellence in Forestry Awards have once again revealed a rich seam of excellence in woodland management – from some of the most prestigious estates in the country to some of the smallest of woodlands. As landowners and woodland managers look to an uncertain future with increasing climate and environmental challenges, these are all woodlands we can learn from.

“It is also uplifting to see the fantastic work that is being carried out among communities to encourage forestry and woodland skills. These projects tap into the enthusiasm of those who will be planning, planting and managing our woodlands in the future as well as looking at how timber can be used in construction for generations to come and deserve the recognition they receive.”

CHASING THE GHOST BY PETER MARREN

We are proud to have Peter Marren among our expert panel of writers. Here is a little review of his latest book – as featured recently on Radio 4 – which his friend and fellow contributor to our mag, Rosemary FitzGerald, penned for us. The book is available locally in Number Seven Dulverton and from Brendon Books in Taunton. If you, too, are a local bookseller and you stock this title please let us know and we will mantion you also, as we struggled to obtain a list of local sellers.

Peter Marren, Chasing the Ghost (2018). Square Peg. 286pp. £16.99.

Most of us who love the countryside have this strongly grounded in
childhood memories, and many, like me, retain a gently competitive
collector’s instinct about nature. Special sightings of bird or animal, the earliest date for catkins or frogspawn, seeing a new species of wild flower – all these are notable, small treasures added to a lifetime store, and it’s a wild flower quest which inspired this delightful book.

Readers will remember Peter Marren’s ‘Fungi at Your Fingertips’ (Exmoor Magazine, Autumn 2017). An admired and respected natural history writer, he is a good friend of many places and people in Somerset. His fascinating memoir (Where the Wild Thyme Blew) showed the sometimes hard road to becoming a dedicated naturalist. Chasing the Ghost shows his deep knowledge and love of plants, and a great capacity for fun! A lucid style and a quirky, entertaining viewpoint make it a great adventure story. Imagine The Famous Five Go Botanising and you’ll get the mood of this most original quest.

However, the subtitle may mislead at first glance. In fact, the author has already seen almost all of them, but decided to challenge himself to finish ticking off his final 50 never-seen species in one year. The framework of that bold decision comes from a significant West Country connection. Probably the most influential popular flora publication ever, The Concise British Flora in Colour, was by a Devon vicar, W. Keble Martin, and was illustrated with his exquisite watercolours. First published in 1965, it was a best seller, and drew countless people to wild flowers. The British flora has around 1,500 species, and ‘Keble Martin’, as the book is affectionately known, deals with a solid core of them, excluding the more difficult reaches of subspecies and varieties. Peter always used his copy to tick off plants new to him, youthful family holiday finds progressing to the wide range seen when working in plant conservation. Feeling he had time to spend on an extended adventure, he decided to hunt down the final tantalising rarities shown in this seminal book. This challenge gives the structure for this charming story.

Each plant has its own section, with an elegant line drawing and gripping account of each particular search. Some days were easy and sunny with good company and the plant located and looking perfect. Others involved terrible times, in frightening thunder on a mountain, being stuck on a Hebridean island through the pain of family bereavement, a diagnosis of serious illness – but the author’s good humour and spirit, and the wonderful nature of the quest, make this book both exciting and inspirational as one follows Peter’s every step, willing the target plant to be in flower for him that day!

Among the adventures there are some powerful conservation messages. Our threatened flora needs informed supporters, and Chasing the Ghost seems a wonderful way of encouraging serious thought in the guise of a perfect holiday or bedtime read. It’s a delightful book.

Rosemary FitzGerald

PHOTO: Editor’s own.