As a botanist this reviewer was conned into reviewing the book by the title which claims to be a guide to the flora and fauna of Britain and Europe. However, on opening it I discover it is about fauna only. Just as well I am a keen naturalist or I might have laid aside an excellent and useful book. The five chapters, which are colour coded at the margin, are on mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians, fishes and invertebrates. A strength is that the chapters are written by four different authors who are experts in their fields making accuracy a strong point of this book. Only the general editor Michael Chinery covers two areas, reptiles and amphibians and invertebrates. Each animal is illustrated by an attractive colour painting. The paintings by nine different artists are superb. It is a pity that there is no scale since all animals are reproduced at about the same size, for instance a muntjak deer appears beside an elk. The descriptions, however, do give the sizes.
The animals are described briefly with a few key details about size, colour, range, habitat, food etc. In the case of birds, useful distribution maps are given for each species treated. The beginning of each chapter provides a helpful introduction to each major group of animals with basic terminology and anatomy explained. Some excellent hints on how to watch the various animals are also provided.
The dust cover claims that this is a comprehensive and complete guide to the most common and interesting species. It does indeed contain the commonest and most interesting species of Europe, but the specialist, wanting to identify any bird or animal, will find that many species are missing. This is an excellent introduction for the beginner to the most likely species to be encountered on any venture into the European countryside. Indeed some of the animals treated are very rare.
The section on invertebrates covers a huge range of organisms including representatives of the echinoderms or sea urchins, sea cucumbers, starfish, molluscs such as slugs, snails and common seashells, crustaceans from woodlice to lobsters, and shrimp, crabs, spiders, dragonflies, grasshoppers, crickets, butterflies, moths, beetles and various other common insects. Earthworms and jellyfish are also featured, each with its colour paintings.
We read today much about the biodiversity of the tropics and other species-rich areas of the world, but we should not be negligent of the wealth of fascinating fauna that is found in Europe. In these days of habitat destruction we have a lot to preserve in our own continent. This guide should help to stimulate further interest whether one is interested in dragonflies, butterflies, fish, birds, or mammals. This is a book for the young naturalist who wants an easy way to recognise the features of the different groups of animals, but it is also of great use to any naturalist seeking to identify the commoner animals or just wanting to have a collection of attractive paintings of them. In spite of the lack of plants I will enjoy this volume for many years.
Ghillean Prance is director, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
Larousse Countryside Companion: The Essential Guide to the Flora and Fauna of Britain and Europe
Editor - Michael Chinery
ISBN - 0 7523 0025 3
Publisher - Larousse
Price - £12.99
Pages - 142