Sunday book review – The Complete Naturalist by Nick Baker


There is no such thing as the complete naturalist – that’s part of the fun of nature. There is always more to learn – more mysteries to unravel. And I doubt that Nick Baker would claim to be the complete naturalist.  But when you get past the title of the book, and stop harrumphing about it, this is a very good book.

Who is it for? Well, for me, for one, but I think the potential readership of this book is large. It includes those who know quite a lot about some wildlife and little about all the rest (most birders!) and absolute beginners.  It’s for those who go out and look at things, but is an interesting enough read for those who sit at home and want to learn.

If you need to know how to build, rather than buy, a moth trap then you’ll find the answers in here, but you’ll also find out how to make a moth mixture to entice moths to your garden overnight and some good stuff about the biology of moths too.  That’s what the book is like throughout – a mixture of ‘how to’ and interesting facts. I like it.

There are six main chapters, covering birds (first, actually!), mammals, herps, fish, inverts and last of all the mere plants whose existence supports everything else! The book has an introduction and then an introduction to the kit you might want. It suggests, at the end, that you might want to go further and join a bunch of wildlife NGOs.

The chapter on birds and birdwatching includes tips on how to identify birds, how to feed them in your garden and how to make a bird nestbox.  There wasn’t anything to disagree with and as I read it, I kept thinking ‘Good point, well put!’. I didn’t learn much about birds but the other chapters, particularly the invertebrate chapter (for me) were great.

The book is written in an engaging, informal style. The illustrations are clear and helpful. The photographs are quite wonderful in places; see the Blue Tit gathering nest material (p53 by Paul Sawer), Great Diving Beetle (p 167 by Nick Baker himself), a ladybird larva (p211, also by Nick Baker himself), wasp (p227, Andy Sands) and leaf litter (p291 also by Nick Baker himself).  The impression made when you open the book is that it is fun, informative and useful. I think that first impression is reinforced as you read and use the book.

The book has the RSPB’s logo on the front cover and it’s a clever move on the journey to persuade the world that the RSPB is a conservation organisation for all wildlife not a club for nerdy birders. Inside it says that buying this book will help contribute to the RSPB’s conservation work but I missed anything that might tell me how. No worries. A good present for Sir Ian Botham perhaps?

Oh yes, and if you like lots of photographs of Nick Baker looking handsome you will also like his book.

The Complete Naturalist by Nick Baker is published by Bloomsbury (they publish a lot these days don’t they?!).

Inglorious: conflict in the uplands by Mark Avery will also be published by Bloomsbury on 30th of July.

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