The Guide to Everything


Richard Bell's Wild West Yorkshire nature diary, Monday, 30th July, 2007

booksnaturalist'My walking mates and I have had an idea for you.' says John, who lives at the end of the road, 'We walk all over the countryside but we don't know what we're looking at; we know the basic trees but then there are other's that we haven't got a clue what they are.

'We need a book with the things you're likely to see, just a simple guide to all kinds of wildlife with, for example, silhouettes of the tree in summer and winter and a leaf.'

walker'It's a good idea,' I say, 'but it's going to take some carrying; it would be enormous!'

'No, it would have to be a small book; just including the things you're likely to see.'

British Wildlifeautumn dandelion'Yes, but you'd see different things depending on where you were.' I tell him, 'You'd see different things on the coast or in the hills. Besides, with any guide that includes a selection of species, you can guarantee that the one you're trying to identify will be the one that isn't in.

'I was looking at lovely photographic guide to wild flowers at Armitage's', reduced from £25 to £4.99 but it said that out of a possible 3,000 species they'd chosen a 'representative' selection of about 600.

'You'll have seen that flower that's growing all along the bypass in a bright yellow line along the verges; it's autumn dandelion (right), but I bet you wouldn't find it in their selection.'

In fact, there is a field guide very like the one John was suggesting that I should write. When I was working on Richard Bell's Britain in 1979 -80 for Collins, bird illustrator Norman Arlott was painting over 1,500 flowers, fungi, birds, snakes, seashore creatures, farm animals and more for The Complete Guide to British Wildlife, written by R. Fitter and A. Fitter. It is no longer in print but I notice that copies are still available through Amazon, where it gets a 5-star rating from readers, but be careful not to purchase Collins' new photographic field guide with a similar title because you'll miss out on this tour-de-force of natural history illustration.

Richard sketchingIt doesn't include Autumn Hawkbit (a.k.a. Autumn Dandelion) Leontodon autumnalis, but it does include the virtually identical-looking Catsear, Hypochaeris radicata, and, come to think of it, it's probably Catsear that is growing along the bypass! Must take a closer look at it.

You can't really identify plants when you're driving past at 40 mph!

Link: Norman Arlott at the Society of Wildlife Artists