Natural bookshelf

It was as a boy that Clifton Bain fell in love with Scotland’s ancient Caledonian pinewoods. Since then he has gathered an encyclopaedic knowledge of all 38 pinewoods in Scotland and his book ‘The Ancient Pinewoods of Scotland’ gives a fascinating and detailed insight into this wonderful habitat.

Clifton works as a policy officer with the RSPB, and is devoted to national and international conservation work.  But Clifton doesn’t just ‘talk the talk’. In undertaking his research for this book he was determined to ‘walk the walk’ and thus journeyed round Scotland’s ancient pinewoods on foot and by bike; his was truly a low carbon route.

The Ancient Pinewoods of Scotland

The Ancient Pinewoods of Scotland

He clocked up over 1,500 miles documenting where to see these fabulous trees which can live for 250 years and in exceptional cases even see out twice that lifespan. The red squirrel, the pine marten, crossbill, crested tit, wood ants, capercaillie, blaeberry and a range of fungus and lichens all thrive in our ancient pinewoods and Clifton lovingly takes the reader through the whole range of delights, sights and smells that await the visitor to these stunning locations.

We chatted with him recently and asked what was the highlight of this labour of love ?  “Inevitably there were a few,” he told us, “ but sitting against a Scots pine eating my sandwiches in a quiet woodland only for a group of crested tits to descend the tree to within inches of my head is a moment that will live with me for a long time. It was a great illustration of the sheer beauty of Scotland’s nature.”

Summer. Beinn Eighe from hills above Loch Clair. Morning light. Beinn Eighe NNR. Wester Ross. West Highland area. ©John MacPherson/SNH For information on reproduction rights contact the Scottish Natural Heritage Image Library on Tel. 01738 444177 or www.

Beinn Eighe pinewoods

His most difficult challenge? “That was probably the four-hour walk round behind An Teallach to find a particularly remote stand of trees.” Clifton explained,  “It proved really elusive and I was on the verge of being beaten when there at the very back of the glen, next to a tumbling waterfall, was a stunning small pinewood. The sense of place was magnificent.”

Clifton’s beautiful book, which was produced by Sandstone Press, takes the reader to each and every one of our ancient pinewoods. He reveals how to get there, explains what the highlights are, and suggests a walk route to fully appreciate the grandeur of the habitat.  Add to the mix cultural and historical notes, and an enthusiastic insider’s knowledge of the sites, and this becomes an indispensable guide book.  With over 200 pages and lavishly illustrated, Clifton’s work is set to be become ‘the’ reference work for those who want to get out and enjoy these magical landscapes.

Written with equal passion is John Love’s study of the mighty sea eagle in Scotland.    ‘A Saga of Sea Eagles’ is an account not only of their fortunes in Scotland but a story of John’s personal commitment to restoring this avian superstar back to Scotland.

Sea Eagles coverJohn’s book is comprehensive. It takes the reader on a journey from the earliest known evidence of sea eagles in Scotland, through the awful litany of persecution that drove the birds from Scotland, and into the present day and the often tricky but ultimately hugely rewarding journey to reintroduce sea eagles.

The book offers a wonderful insight into all aspects of the sea eagle’s life and is a lovely mix of scientific detail and personal anecdotes. Published by Whittles Publishing, it benefits too from the insight of ‘an insider’, for John was part and parcel of the team that worked on the Rum reintroduction in 1975, travelled to Norway to bring birds back to Scotland, and was personally involved in their release and subsequent monitoring.

Sea eagle adult calling  (by John Love)

Sea eagle adult calling (by John Love)

There is a lovely chapter on the social history behind sea eagles and John has sourced all sorts of ephemera to ensure the book is a visual feast, even including a range of stamps from around the world depicting sea eagles. Add to the mix great names from conservation like Roy Dennis, George Waterston and Morton Boyd and a highly pertinent chapter on ‘Living with sea eagles’ clearly this is a book that covers all angles.

Finally John is a noted artist with pen and ink, and handy with his camera, so it’s no surprise to find that this book has an array of illustrations that are both intimate and detailed.  For the inside-track on the story of Scotland’s sea eagles this a wonderful addition to any bookshelf.

Fair to say that Professor Dave Goulson took the literary world by storm with his uplifting, deep and yet humorous account of the plight of bumblebees in his superb ‘A Sting in the Tale’.

By his own admission Dave grew up obsessed by insects, and wildlife in general. Now Professor of Biology at Sussex University he has published over 200 scientific papers on bumblebees and other insects, and in 2006 he founded the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, a charity devoted to bumblebees which now has 12 staff and 7,000 members.

His ‘A Sting in the Tale’ is a wonderful read.  Bumblebees naturally enough take centre-stage and their often hidden lives are explained as is their crucial role in pollination.  But this book is much more than an explanation of why bumblebees are important, it’s a celebration of a much loved species and a clarion call to society to ensure we protect bumblebees.

A Sting In The Tale  by Professor Dave Goulson

A Sting In The Tale by Professor Dave Goulson

Laced with funny anecdotes it’s a brave man who can tackle subjects seemingly as diverse as pies, travel and bumblebees in one book so entertainingly, without diminishing the importance of the main subject.

The key to the popularity of this book is the way in which Dave demystifies a subject that he has pored over for some 25 years. The text simply flows and the reader is taken on a journey that captivates, informs and entertains in equal measure.  Little wonder that this was a huge hit on Radio Four’s Book of the Week and shortlisted for the 2013 Samuel Johnson Prize.

‘A Sting in the Tale,’ which was published by Jonathan Cape/Vintage, is likely to become for bumblebees what Ring of Bright Water was for otters – something that seamlessly reaches out across academia into popular culture.

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