I was sent this book to review and was very glad to do so, as it promised to neatly solve a common class of problem. Often I'll be walking in the countryside and see a field of some unusual crop. Is it peas, or beans of some sort? Is it grown for animal feed or human plates? This slim volume promises to be your guide to all such countryside conundrums, crops being just one small part.

It covers a wide array of topics, all well presented with good photographs and brief descriptions containing interesting tidbits, which makes it lively, engaging and informative. It's quite good to just sit and read in the comfort of your home frankly.

With 96 narrow-format pages it really is quite slim, which is great for tucking into an already over-burdened bag, but I felt that its compactness is also its biggest problem. There is just one page on crops (so no help at all really for my problem above) and if you want to look up badgers, bats, kingfishers, or any owl other than the little owl, you're out of luck. It's ironic that there's a picture of a barn owl on the back cover, but nothing about them within.

I presume that the authors were forced by size-constraints to concentrate on common daytime species, but when we saw what might have been a badger's sett and I opened the book with my young daughter, we were disappointed to find nothing. Similarly as we watched a bat skimming over a canal in the afternoon, or a kingfisher dipping into the river – surely one of the most iconic and treasured birds to spot on a walk?

I think I (or perhaps it) got a bit unlucky with the things I saw on my walks, and realistically it's pretty good for identifying common plants and animals and learning more about the terrain itself. Its breadth is admirable, covering ancient monuments, waterways, boundaries, clouds, village life and more. It's already a decent book for the keen novice that wants to get out and about, but will hopefully be much improved if a second edition comes along with 50-100% more content for the areas that are weak. Maybe based on feedback they could find some relatively unpopular sections to cut entirely, to enable the rest to really shine without becoming a weighty tome.


Moorhen and chick

The snowy weather over the last week or so has made spotting bird activity in the back garden so much easier – with everything white the one little blue tit moving through a bush is much more obvious. It's good to use this opportunity to get used to recognising the birds that you do get visiting your garden in practice for this year's RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch

This year the Birdwatch is taking place on the 30 – 31 January and all you have to do is spend one hour counting the maximum number of each type of bird that you see at any one time, either in your own back garden or in a local park. For RSPB members there should be a survey form with your February edition of Birds magazine that should be dropping through your letter box at any time (weather permitting!) or you can go online and submit your results on their website.

The Birdwatch is very much something that can be done together as a family and there are other bird related activities that the whole family can get involved in – making bird feeders from recycled materials or making bird cakes to put out on your bird table. Instructions for both of these can be found here on the RSPB website.

This year there is also a Big School's Birdwatch running from the 18 January to the 1 February and a Little School's Birdwatch especially created for the under 5s. Teachers can get resources to support this involvement in these school's birdwatches by contacting the RSPB, again via the relevant page on their website.

If you're stuck for how to keep the kids occupied for the New Year weekend and the rest of the Christmas holiday and also want them out of the house for a bit then look no further.

The Woodland Trust's Nature Detectives site has some great resources for kids and there's a whole section of winter related sheets that you can print out for children to use at this time of year. There are hunt sheetsas well as indoor games and crafty things for them to make.

No excuses for the kids being bored this weekend! Happy New Year!