450 pages, 209 figures comprising mainly colour photos plus illustrations.
Softback ISBN-13 978-0-00-220151-6.
Hardback ISBN 13 978-0-00-220150-6. Softback, £30. Hardback £40.
surname ‘Parslow’ (John and Rosemary) is synonymous with wildlife in
Scilly and Rosemary Parslow in particular is an expert in the flora and
skilled in her knowledge of the fauna of the islands. I doubt there is
another person as suited as she is to the task of composing a book
about Scillonian natural history, having visited the islands annually
since 1958, initially as a very junior scientific assistant at the
British Museum of Natural History, but now as a tour leader sharing
with others her encyclopaedic knowledge of the natural history of the
islands. Thankfully Parslow has condensed this knowledge into such a
wonderful new book to share it with a wider audience. The book is part
of The New Naturalist Library series that aims, “to interest the
general reader in the Wildlife of Britain by recapturing the enquiring
spirit of the old naturalists.” Parslow is one of those enquiring
naturalists and she achieves the series aim with perfection.
book comprises 17 chapters. After an insightful introduction the next
three chapters deal with history. Chapter 2 deals with the geology of
the islands with a fascinating section about the submergence of Scilly
as water levels rise transforming what amounted to one main island
2,000 years ago into the multitude of islands and islets that we see
today. Chapter 3 looks at people and their influence on the islands
from medieval times with particular reference to material
transformations that have created modern day Scilly, from the ancient
woodlands to modern day heathland, farmland and town. Chapter 4
introduces Scilly’s naturalists from the generalist Robert Heath in the
mid-1800s, to the specialists who publish today in the Isles of Scilly Bird Group Bird and Natural History Review.
We learn that there have been many interesting characters involved over
the years that between them have amassed and published a wealth of
information about the natural history of Scilly.
next three chapters focus on the islands as such starting with St
Mary’s (Chapter 5), the so-called off-islands that are the four
remaining inhabited islands St Agnes, Bryher, Tresco and St Martin’s
(Chapter 6), rounding off with the uninhabited islands (Chapter 7).
These chapters provide a general introduction to the complexion of the
islands for the most part in terms of habitats and the main flora and
fauna to be found, and scenes and habitations to be witnessed. By this
stage of the book the reader has developed a sound understanding of
many facets of Scilly that facilitate full appreciation of the details
of the flora and fauna to come.
subsequent chapters (Chapters 8-13) are systematic in coverage of the
main types of habitat in Scilly and their flora, the wildlife that
frequents these habitats, and key issues that affect habitat and
wildlife alike. For example, the islands’ economy has drastically
influenced the habitats with bulb fields dominant for many years
accompanied by interesting/rare species of flowering plants, which are
presented in a systematic list by Parslow. The bulb industry is in
decline on the islands threatening some of these rare species of
flowering plants. To boot, the equable climate of the islands permits
native and many introduced plants to co-exist side-by-side and the
subtropical aspect of this climate means frost sensitive flora may
survive with human habitations swathed in palm trees and other exotics.
The main habitat types covered by Parslow in these chapters are the sea
and marine environment, the coast, grassland and heathland, woodland
and wetland, cultivated habitats, and gardens.
next three chapters introduce the fauna that frequent these habitats
and their flora. Chapter 14 deals with the insects and other
terrestrial invertebrates. Chapter 15 covers the mammals, reptiles and
amphibians. Chapter 16 sees to the birds. Clearly each fauna type may
be covered by a book(s) of its own so the chapters are not intended to
be all-inclusive and far-reaching. However, they do provide an
interesting introduction to the main species and are clever in
highlighting those which are of especial interest and, depending on
season, may be seen by a keen eyed visitor to Scilly … Hummingbird
Hawk-moth, Clouded Yellow Butterfly, Scilly Bee, Scilly Shrew, Grey
Seal, Puffin, and Hoopoe.
closing chapter (Chapter 17) looks to the future of Scilly. There are
numerous issues of concern for Scilly that need to be dealt with, even
in a ‘feel good factor’ book such as the one at hand. Parslow does not
shirk her responsibility in this regard. Topics covered include the
medium- to long-term issues of sea-level rise and climate change, and
the here and now issues of housing, tourism and wildlife, and changing
farming practices. There is also a problem with introductions of plants
and animals that are making permanent changes to the species
assemblage. However, Parslow is pragmatic rather than pessimistic about
the future understanding that change is inevitable and that there have
been losses (e.g., the recent loss of Roseate Tern as a breeding
species) and there may be gains, albeit by way of introductions. As
Parslow recognises, “there is still a community of people on the
islands and none of them would appreciate living in a museum.”
209 figures spread evenly throughout the volume appear exactly where
needed, not clustered in the middle or at the end of the book. This
must increase production costs. Collins is to be applauded for bucking
the publishing trend of profit maximisation by producing a book within
the spirit declared for the New Naturalist series. The figures are
mainly excellent colour photographs of classic scenes, landscape, flora
and fauna. There are many contributions by well known bird and wildlife
photographers with Parslow’s own contributions of equal standing.
Figures include artwork of wildlife by celebrated Scilly veterans Ian
Wallace and Ren Hathway. The figures animate what is already a lively
on. Treat yourself to this wonderful book about the natural history of
the Isles of Scilly. The book wraps up Scilly between its covers and
permits you to take the islands back home where you can open the
covers, and release and experience the wonders of Scilly in your living
room again and again and again.