I’m no botanist, so for all I know this book could be riddled with awful errors, but it is a lovely, lovely book.
In a 400-page book, 300 of the pages are given over to about 100 species accounts; each with a distribution map, a photograph of the species, a photograph of the habitat and sections on identification, similar species, habitats, biogeography, ecology, threats and management. It’s a serious book, as could be expected from its authors and publisher, but it’s a seriously beautiful book too. Beautifully produced, well-written and with a cover by the incomparable Carry Akroyd (with some birds in it!).
In the summer of 1976, in my gap between school and university I was the summer warden of St Cyrus National Nature Reserve on the Scottish coast north of Montrose. From my caravan home I could walk just a few yards and see Maiden Pinks in the grassland so I’ve looked them up here, and learned more about them. Most years, I travel to Barnack NNR to see Pasqueflowers as a way of welcoming spring back into my life, so I looked them up too and learned more about them. I found it easy to get seduced into reading the next species account, and the next, but then, I have a lot to learn.
But one thing that one learns in the first few scores of pages is that wonderful grasslands are in very short supply and that very many lowland grassland plants have declined dramatically in range in our lifetimes. Of course, I knew this anyway, and I’ve always cared, but this book made me care even more – the pictures help!
Plants are a bit picky aren’t they? These grassland plants suffer from over-management and under-management so it’s no wonder that they are struggling. I’d have liked a little more on the solutions to this plight in this book but that is a minor quibble (from a birder).
The BSBI, publishers of this book, are a rough botanical equivalent of the BTO and I guess that means that Plantlife is the rough botanical equivalent of the RSPB. Why isn’t Plantlife as big and potentially powerful as the RSPB? That’s a question that is sometimes discussed around dinner tables. Plants are beautiful (duh!) but they do have the habit of not being there when you are – there’s no point me going to see Pasqueflowers in July or December and that’s a bit of a drawback, I’d say. But is it the plants or the botanists? Botanists can be a bit nerdy – but then, let’s be fair, so can ornithologists. I don’t know what the reason is, and I don’t think bird-envy helps botanists get their messages across, but plant conservation needs more great advocates (like this one) and better public relations.
This book does a wonderful job. It’s a joy to hold and read but that joy is reduced by the inevitable regret over the sorry tale of loss of beauty that it inevitably has to reveal.
Grassland plants of the British and Irish lowlands: ecology, threats and management by Peter Stroh, Kevin Walker, Stuart Smith, Richard Jefferson, Clare Pinches and Tim Blackstock is published by the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland. It will be available widely from 1 December but BSBI members can avail themselves of a reduced-price offer and get the book sooner – maybe worth joining?