Lincolnshire, Britain’s ‘most brute and beastly shire’ (Henry VIII, 1536), is where I grew up and started birding. It’s one of Britain’s biggest counties and, contrary to popular belief, its landscape and habitats are surprisingly varied. Yet despite its prime, east-coast location, the density of both resident and visiting birders, especially inland, is low compared with neighbouring coastal counties.
It is three decades since the previous Lincolnshire avifauna (Lorand & Atkin 1989), and this new book focuses chiefly on the 30 years since then. It provides a complete listing of scarce and rare species in the county – but for more details on earlier records of commoner birds and breeding populations, you would ideally want Lorand & Atkin to hand, plus another recent LBC publication, Lincolnshire Bird Atlas 1980–99: an historical perspective. Most resident birders in the county will surely have all three but visitors will be well served with just this new volume.
The book is A4, hardback and ‘only’ 240 pages, which makes it much easier to handle than some other, much heavier and more unwieldy county avifaunas, although the font size is on the small side and the design is cramped. A series of good introductory chapters cover a summary of bird recording in the county: bird habitats and natural regions, the breeding birds of Lincolnshire, important sites in the county, and an introduction to the systematic list.
This book’s genesis is worth mentioning. After producing the Lincolnshire Bird Atlas 1980–99, Colin Casey decided that, during the 2020 Covid-19 lockdown and a subsequent period of shielding, he would tackle another project, an update to Lorand & Atkin. He enlisted three co-authors and set to work. This book has appeared in just a year and is testament to a great deal of effort in a short space of time.
In the systematic list, there are generally 4–6 species on each double-page spread, which includes (mostly) 1–3 small photos of the species in Lincolnshire, or computer-generated artwork if there are no known images – typically of rarities with no recent records. For rare and scarce species, there is a table of all records giving date, site and count (but not observer names), and a small map of the county showing in which 5-km grid square the records have been. A brief text summarises recent trends, notable records, etc.
For breeding birds, that low density of observers provides more of a challenge, but I found the summary information easy to follow and, based on my old home area, pretty accurate. It’s a familiar tale of loss or dramatic contraction of many farmland and woodland species, balanced by burgeoning populations of, for example, generalist predators and certain waterbirds. There is a colour-based horizontal bar graph showing an estimate of abundance and distribution in the first and last of the BTO national atlases, plus 1980–89 (the Lincolnshire Bird Atlas again) and a more recent period of 2016–19, as well as an index of change for commoner species. In addition, for those commoner species, there is a standard chart for 1994–2019 comparing BBS trends nationally, in the East Midlands region and Lincolnshire.
The book ends with a 27-page gallery of images that showcase mostly the more recent rarities, and then a detailed checklist of the Lincolnshire list as an appendix.
Aesthetically, the book is a bit quirky. I wouldn’t claim to be a huge fan of the layout or the colours used – it will, for example, be challenging for anyone who’s red-green colour blind, and the various shades of green are somewhat hit and miss in my copy. Most of the photos in the systematic list are quite small and sadly lack details of where and when they were taken, although there are a number of fine aerial views, which are given more space. An hour’s work tarting up the template for the Excel file used for the graphs would have made a huge improvement; but then again, how much does all that really matter? It’s not a book to sit on a coffee table to impress the neighbours, it’s a book to present a lot of information as succinctly and as accurately as possible; and the more I read it, the more I admired the content. We should salute all the authors who give up a huge amount of their spare time to produce books like this, and Colin Casey and his team have certainly delivered the goods.