The Countryside Detective

Richard Bell's Wild West Yorkshire Nature Diary, Wednesday, 30th June 2010

Countryside DectectiveI'M A GREAT FAN of big glossy books about British wildlife; my latest is the stunningly designed Dorling Kindersley/RSPB Wildlife of Britain; the Definitive Visual Guide (2008) - the book equivalent of widescreen television - a sumptuous tour of habitats, while, going back to 1973 to my student days, the AA Book of the British Countryside went for as an A to Z encyclopedic format. I tried to make it even more comprehensive by stuffing newspaper articles, postcards and leaflets in the appropriate sections of the book, a sign of my enthusiasm for the book and for my studies in natural history. It was an inspiration to me, a benchmark to attempt to achieve in my ambitious student project A Sketchbook of the Natural History of the Country Round Wakefield.

The Countryside Detective (Reader's Digest, 2000), which I'm currently reading, must rate as one of the most approachable of large format natural histories because, instead of being written as a habitat-based field guide or an encyclopedia of country lore, it presents natural history as observations that you can use as the basis for detective work. It really makes you feel that you could go out and discover things and understand how details fit into a wider picture.

For instance, in the summer meadows sections there's a double-page spread on cowpats and their ecology; the insects, birds and mammals associated with them. Who would have thought that cowpats could be so interesting?