James Lowen 


This charming book from the editor of the RSPB magazine Nature's Home is a eulogy twice over. Not only does Mark Ward praise the wondrous diversity of UK Nature – from acorn weevils to zebra jumping spiders – but he also celebrates the überlocal. His handy, inspiring guide tracks the evolution of the natural year and frames it within his (my... your...) neighbourhood context.

Moving into a new home in Cambridgeshire, Ward sets about exploring everything natural within five miles of his house. He then extrapolates from this subjective examination to the generic environs of his readership, lauding the magic of wildlife that awaits us all on our doorstep.

At first read, I am astonished at how many exciting creatures Ward encounters locally, from otters to Baird's sandpipers, adders to bee orchids. Surely his patch is privileged? Surely there cannot be the same thrilling species in my area? But then I draw a mental circle of five miles around my current (Norwich) and previous (London) homes. And I find that Ward is right: within that distance of both homes lies an impressive array of habitats. All I need do is investigate them at the right season – now with Ward's book in hand. 

The book's canvass is broad, covering most of Nature from woodcocks to wood anemones, and reflects Ward's own personal evolution from birder to naturalist. He gets buoyed by all manner of wild things: delighting in the "cracked porcelain" of a drake smew but also "opening the treasure chest" of a moth trap. Nevertheless, there remains scope for expansion: Ward admits that his next step may be to purchase a bat-detector, whilst neither freshwater fish nor pond dipping appear to have enchanted him yet.           

Ward writes with an easy, engaging tone – generous and inclusive, authoritative without straying towards condescending. Words are complemented by attractive photography (with a creditably high proportion of the author's own images). There is now a raft of books (including my own and one by Bird Watching regular Dominic Couzens) offering guidance on how to enjoy UK wildlife across the year. But Ward's approach – universal applicability – renders it among the most useful. Follow the author's advice (hints and tips are liberally scattered through the text) and be inspired by his first-hand experience (diary entries lend immediacy), and your natural horizons will expand with the bare minimum of travel.  


New Holland, 2017. SBK. £14.99