by John Mitchell
pub. HarperCollins Publishers, 2001
Paperback, 232 pages, £19.99
ISBN 000 220146 1
Now retired, John Mitchell was, for almost thirty years, the Senior Warden of the Loch Lomond and Ben Lui National Nature Reserve, and his knowledge and love for the Loch Lomondside area is clear in this latest addition to Harper Collins' New Naturalist Series.
Curiously for a naturalist book Mitchell includes sections on the human socio-economic impact on the area, but the end result is an enhanced understanding of how the past has shaped the present Loch Lomondside. A good example is the author's description on oak coppicing; the harvested bark from which was destined for the Clydeside leather industry. The pedunculate oak was preferred to the native sessile oak because of its higher tannin content.
There are also interesting insights into the old estates and country sports, which have been an imortant facet of Scotland's economy for ages. Among the many pictures is a lovely one of Mr Edward Cochran who caught a record-breaking 44lb salmon. It reaches from Cochran's chest to his feet. It feels entirely appropriate that such aspects of local life are included in a natural history of an area which was celebrated by Sir Walter Scott and William Wordsworth.
Mitchell's writing style is informative and highly readable, but not flowery or chummy. But then this is not a guidebook. Structurally the author breaks his extensive knowledge and love of the area into four parts: Physical Environment, Man's Influence [already mentioned], Wildlife Habitats, Communities and Species, and Conservation.
Every young student of geography should read the small section on how the weather has influenced the Loch Lomond environment. It's a marvellous account of how the elements have shaped the landscape - from frontal depressions moving in from the Atlantic, to air temperatures as low as minus twenty degrees celsius - which occurred in 1995 and killed off large numbers of common native gorse.
In the section on Wildlife Habitats we discover that Loch Lomond has 'been under continuous study longer than any other large body of fresh water in Scotland'. In fact Glasgow University set up its first course in freshwater biology in 1938. The fruits of this academic initiative has been rewarded in countless studies on this very special ecosystem. In the Wildlife Habitats section you will also discover items like the Loch Lomond Dock which is found nowhere else in Britain, the rare Aber Bogs, and lovely pictures of a short-eared owl and capercaillies.
Mitchell's final section is devoted to Conservation: Past, Present and Future, and catalogues the outcome of a whole heap of government reports and plans over the decades, but concludes that Loch Lomond has managed [and still manages] to withstand the ravages of human demand on the local resources.
In retirement Mitchell must, above all, be happy that Loch Lomondside is to become a part of Scotland's First National Park.
Bottom line? A really comprehensive and interesting overview of the Loch Lomond area and its natural history, and ideal for students of natural history or visitors to the area who want to understand the landscape in more depth. A hardback version of the book is also availabe, priced arounf £35.