A friend bought me ‘A Year in the Woods: The Diary of a Forest Ranger‘, by Colin Elford. I picked up the book with a certain apprehension – the second-hand bookshops’ natural history shelves are stuffed with glossy tomes under that kind of title; giving accounts either uncomfortably twee or tediously focussed on shooting, fishing, horses or birds. The cover gave me some hope, being a gentle New Naturalist-style linocut rather than a breathless photo of some generic deer in the leaves.
Once I began to read, my concerns evaporated within a few paragraphs. For this is a direct book. Colin Elford writes succinctly, writing as much as he needs to and no more. The reader can almost feel and smell the forest and its hidden life as Elford’s measured voice describes it with the kind of understated eloquence that one might be more accustomed to hearing from David Attenborough. Continue reading →
Last seen in 1928, the colobognathÂ millipede Illacme plenipes is thought to have more legs than any other animal on earth – oneÂ female was found with 750 legs, while the males are thought to have a maximum of 562. Despite its legginess the species is actually quite small, even relative to other millipedes. Females grow to just over an inch long; males are slightly smaller.Â NowÂ scientistsÂ from the University of Arizona have rediscovered this elusive beast, and here’s a video of it.
In 2010, the People’s Trust for Endangered Species produced Britainâ€™s Mammals â€“ a concise guide, which I said was “aÂ rich delight to read”. So when I heard that another book in the same series was on its way, I was naturally interested. That book is Urban Mammals – a concise guide. Unlike its predecessor, the cover credits the author, former biochemist and erstwhile Edinburgh FringeÂ performer David Wembridge, who works asÂ Surveys Coordinator for PTES.
Urban Mammals is an interesting and well-presentedÂ tour through a selection of mammals that might be found inÂ Britain’sÂ urbanÂ environments.Â In the introduction, it gives the striking example of Jennifer Owen of Leicester, who in 30 years managed to identify over 2,500 species of plants and animals in her own suburban garden, including four that were new to science. This leads on to an interesting discourse on the extent and value of urbanÂ habitats, and the inevitable difficulty in defining them. Then it is onto the guide, which forms the main body of the book. In this, a selection of mammal species are given a page or more of description. Interspersed amongst these guide pages are various boxes and case studies which add background – for example, two pages on bats inÂ buildingsÂ by another author. These are valuable but sporadic, and do make it difficult to know whether the book is best used as a guide that one should browse, or a reference book to read through systematically and enjoy. Continue reading →
Persisting with the Ranger’s long-standing interest in bizarre invertebrates, the latest addition to his virtual menagerie is this video, enigmatically titled “A shrimp on a treadmill to the tune of Benny Hill”:
This is one of the funniest things the Ranger has seen online for a long time. Which probably says something about the internet.
Lord Howe Island stick insect (Dryococelus australis)
The Lord Howe Island Stick Insect, or Tree Lobster,Â Dryococelus australis, is one of the largest insect species in the world. It is a flightless phasmid that lives on trees in the isolated Lord Howe Island chain off theÂ AustralianÂ coast. These great creatures were once common enough to be used regularly as fishing bait, but in 1918 a supply ship ran aground there and accidentally introduced the black rat. By 1920 the tree lobster was thought to be extinct, a casualty of the voracious rats which cut a swathe through the native island ecosystem. Continue reading →
It has come to our attention that a ranger from the Antipodes has landed on our shores, and weÂ suspect he has an agenda. While claiming to be ‘on holiday’ we believe he will target current andÂ former park staff in his quest to assemble the definitive collection of park / wildlife / conservationÂ management uniform insignia.
Volunteers and a ranger, Tasmania
So our advice to rangers in the UK is to guard your sleeves closely, and beware of alluring offers to exchange agencyÂ insignia for similar items featuring exotic-looking species from southern lands (eg: Tasmanian devil).Â If interested in supporting this project by having your park / agency represented in the spirit ofÂ international cooperation, please contact Barry Batchelor, a ranger with Tasmaniaâ€™s Parks & WildlifeÂ Service by email at: email@example.com Continue reading →