BOOK REVIEW

Readers Digest Guide to Britain's Wildlife Pnats & Flowers Reader's Digest Guide to Britain's Wildlife, Plants & Flowers
Ed. Michael Wright
pub. Reader's Digest, 2002
Hardback, 420 pages, 19.99
ISBN 0-276-42635-5

At some 400 pages this is a heavyweight book - content-wise as opposed to scientifically - which covers a wide remit of Britain's natural history: wild flowers, trees and shrubs, non-flowering plants, birds, butterflies and moths, mammals, amphibians and reptiles, and water life.

As a comprehensive guide the content necessarily cuts down on some of the lesser known or rarer species in favour of those most frequently found around Britain. If you have a specific interest in wild flowers, butterflies or trees and shrubs, then you might be better off buying one of RD's paperbacks [price 9.99 each] on your specific subject of interest. Some of the illustrations are common to both this hardback and the paperbacks.

The letterbox page format is ideal for presenting similar species side-by-side. For example, being able to compare various deer species next to each other, and similar plant species such as dandelion, sow-thistles, hawkbits and cat's ear, and particularly when it comes to identifying grasses.

In the case of wild flowers, and trees and shrubs, the plants species are grouped in a simple way to facilitate identification by the novice natural historian. Flowers are broken down into their flower colour as the basic starting point for identification, then by the number of petals, followed by the regularity of the flowers. Gone is the burdensome requirement to know which family a flower belongs to. It is a similar story with trees and shrubs too, where the basis of identification is leaf shape.

The illustrations are excellent and each plant and animal entry has an accompanying, although short, descriptive piece of text, simple note on habitat, flowering or breeding time, physical size and latin name. All in all it is an excellent package for the novice natural historian or complete amateur with a curiosity to know more.

Bottom line...
This volume will make an excellent general reference book providing you do not want in-depth detail of rarer species. It would also make an excellent gift if you know someone who is interested in Britain's natural history and want to encourage their interest. As a large, and somewhat heavy, hardback the guide is not something to be put in your rucksack or lugged around the countryside [except, perhaps in your car], and seasoned natural history watchers really won't find anything here they do not already know, although the large page format allows much easier side-by-side comparisons of some species.

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