BOOK REVIEW

Trees of Britain and Northern Europe
by Alan Mitchell & John Wilkinson
pub. Harper Collins, reprinted 2001
Paperback 14.99, 288 pages
ISBN 0 00 219857 6

This is an interestingly useful book about our trees. It's a simple slim-line volume that will fit in your jeans' back pocket, although it feels a little chunky given the quality of cover - but then that's helpful given that this Collins Pocket Guide isn't going to remain on your shelf (one expects).

To begin with, the inside page quickly briefs the user on how to use the book and then follows this with a Contents section which places pictures of leaf shapes besides tree names and page numbers. This makes the guide ideal for anyone who doesn't have a basic grounding in arboriculture and knows only the simplest trees like oak, sycamore and such similar. So the real novice has a chance of getting to the right place in the book without too much mischief. Neat.

The Introduction section is very different from other similar books and guides reviewed on this website. For one thing, the introductory text explains how the trees listed have been rated for gardenworthiness and also deals with the propogagtion, grafting of, and cuttings from trees; although there's no 'how to' explanation.

Initial identification of specimens follows through Keys to conifers and broadleaved trees, and the physiology of their leaves and leaflets. The heart of the book, however, is the 225-plus page section in which each of the tree families is illustrated; although the long, narrow pages don't really provide a lot of space for large illustrations. The pictures (there are no photographs in this tome, but there are over 1,500 illustrations), provide just enough detail for identification but [in this reviewer's opinion] are not always clear enough to perhaps display the very finest detail which may determine between two tree varieties. That said, there are some helpful images of tree barks (not throughout the book, however). For example, the barks of four birches are lined up; making it easy for the amateur observer to spot the difference between the varieties. Each of the tree types also has an illustration of a typical example in full summer growth. Incidentlly, at the back of the book there's a separate section devoted to the winter silhouettes of 40 of the most common broadleaved trees along with a winter identification Key.

One very commendable inclusion in the book is a section at the rear which identifies the most 'Notable trees in the British Isles', and specifying the locations and measurements of these; a nice touch which will keep tree hunters occupied for a long time. Another nice touch is a guide on how to measure the height of a tree. This is handily placed inside the back cover.

How does this Pocket Guide stack up against the competiton then? Well at fifteen pounds this is a fiver more expensive than the Reader's Digest equivalent (though that is technically a field guide, and has a larger footprint). This book will probably have a wide user, however, because it's easier to fit into a jacket or back pocket. The paper feels slightly thicker too. Stacked against the narrow Kingfisher hardback equivalent this Collins offering will probably feel more comfortable in the pocket. However, it would be best to cover the Collins guide in protective plastic as it's only a paperback.

The content is comprehensive and 'covers all tree species, both native and introduced, which the reader is likely to find growing north of the Mediterranean region'. Well worth considering if you like to look at trees close up rather than from the comfort of an armchair.

~

There are a number of other Collins 'Pocket Guides' which may be of interest to readers keen on exploring Britain's natural history:

Birds of Britain & Europe - ISBN 0 00 219894 0
Fish of Britain & Europe - ISBN 0 00 219945 9
Grasses, Sedges, Rushes & Ferns of Britain - ISBN 0 00 219136 9
Insects of Britain & Western Europe - ISBN 0 00 219137 7
Sea Shore of Britain & Europe - ISBN 0 00 219955 6
Wild Flowers of Britain & Northern Europe - ISBN 0 00 22006 7

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