Champion Trees of Britain and Ireland, by Owen Johnson, is the new handbook from TROBI, the Tree Register of the British Isles. It’s not a book that you’d read in one session, but it is an invaluable reference work for anyone with a serious interest in trees. It draws from a database, assembled over 20 years, of 190,000 notable trees growing in Britain and Ireland. It includes every tree that is exceptional for its size, age, historical associations or rarity. British trees have been better surveyed than Irish ones, but a substantial portion of the book deals with this country.
There are 200 colour photographs. Part one is a tree flora listing all native and exotic trees alphabetically. Part two is a guide to visiting the finest specimens — the Irish section is divided into the four provinces. There is also much other reference information. This includes a chapter on how to measure a tree, so if you know the whereabouts of an unrecorded specimen you can measure it yourself and submit your results for inclusion in the database and, possibly, in a subsequent edition of the handbook.
Another fascinating book for serious tree lovers is Wood — A History by Joachim Radkau. Radkau is the professor of Modern History at Bielefeld University and has an interest in wood and woodlands and their role in economic history. This is a large, thorough and slightly academic book, but interesting in that the German approach to timber and to forestry is different to that in the English-speaking word. Although Radkau’s work is well-known to people who read German, this is the first time it has been translated into English.
Because German has a larger vocabulary than English, and more technical terms, it’s a difficult language to translate. But Patrick Camiller has done an excellent job, so good that you could read this in one session. It would be a long session, but at the end of it you would know much more and you would be questioning some of your old assumptions about the relationships between humans, trees and wood.
Bird lovers should definitely cash that token in on Freshwater Birds of Ireland, Jim Wilson and Mark Carmody’s new book. Mark Carmody’s bird photographs are just stunning, the best I’ve ever seen. It’s not just their technical perfection, crisp even when he zooms in to a small detail like a bird’s foot or beak, it’s also the fact that he manages to catch birds doing interesting things. There’s a sequence of pictures of the courtship ballet of great crested grebes, a heron scratching its head and a delightful picture of a mother coot offering an iris seed to her chick.
Jim Wilson’s text is equally good. Very few people know as much about Irish birds as he does and he’s a good writer who avoids technical terms and imparts his knowledge effortlessly. I guarantee you’ll learn several things you didn’t know before from this book.
* Freshwater Birds of Ireland, by Jim Wilson and Mark Carmody, is published by The Collins Press at €19.99. Wood — A History, by Joachim Radkau, is published by Polity Press (£23.95). Champion Trees of Britain and Ireland, by Owen Johnson, published by Kew Publishing, (£25).