Book Reviews


The Titles

Lichens: An Illustrated Guide to British and Irish Species, by Frank S. Dobson
Pollution monitoring with Lichens, by D.H.S. Richardson
Understanding Lichens, by George Baron



The Reviews

Lichens: An Illustrated Guide to British and Irish Species

by Frank S. Dobson

Published = 2001, updated 2005
Review written = 11/April/2001
431 pages
400 color photos and numerous b/w figures

This is the definitive color guide to lichens of the British Isles. It supplies keys for the identification of 700 of the more common of the 1700 lichens recorded from the British Isles. Given that in most cases and by definition it is the common species we most often encounter, this will be ample for most peoples needs. In addition, because of the cosmopolitan distribution of lichens, at least throughout Europe, I have found this book to be eminently useful here in Northern Greece. This suggests that it will be a valuable resource to anyone identifying lichens throughout Europe, though undoubtedly it will be less useful outside of a temperate environment.

This is in fact the 4th edition of this much used and well loved book. This edition is enhanced not only by the inclusion of up dated taxonomic information, but also by the addition of 400 colour photos. These colour photos, illustrating more than half of the 700 species included in the book. These illustration are distributed throughout the book relating to the appropriate species descriptions rather than being collected in a series of plates. An excellent editorial decision as it makes the book eminently easier to use.

The book includes an introduction to lichens and their biology and ecology and includes a guide to the use of chemicals as aids to identification and hints on collection procedures. It also includes the Hawksworth and Rose Zone scale for the estimation for the mean winter sulphur dioxide levels in England and Wales. The keys in the front of the book are to genus in most cases, pointing the way to the systematic section which comprises the bulk of the work and includes keys to species.

This section also includes the species description, habitat preferences, distribution maps and illustrations of microscopic characteristics where these are useful for identification. The distribution maps based on a 10 km grid, and are omitted if deemed unreliable. There is a reasonable glossary, but no bibliography to speak of.

All in all this is an excellent and useful book which must be an essential component of the library of anyone considering lichen identification for whatever reason, at least within Europe.

Highly recommended

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The Reviews

Pollution monitoring with Lichens

by D.H.S. Richardson

Published = 1992
Review written = 5/June/2000
92 pages
4 colour plates by Claire Dalby, numerous b/w figures

The Naturalists' Handbook Series is an excellent and extremely valuable series of books aimed at helping amateur naturalists in, and out of schools to contribute productively to our understanding of and research into the world around us. They are specifically aimed at British users, though because of the widespread distribution of many common lichen species that does not effect this volume as much as many of the others. I think it useful to quote from the editor's preface to volume one.

"Sixth formers and others without a university training in biology may have the opportunity and inclination to study local natural history but lack the knowledge to do so in a confident and productive way. The books in this series offer them the information and ideas needed to plan an investigation, and the practical guidance needed to carry it out. They draw attention to regions on the frontiers of current knowledge where amateur studies have much to offer".

This then is the originators aims, and it is pleasant to say that in most cases they have achieved there aims (taking into consideration the passage of time which changes not only what is known ecologically but also our understanding of taxonomic relationships). There are 27 books currently in the series with more to come and generally speaking they are all very strong on the ecology. They are all extremely useful for schools and even undergraduates, in fact I still use many of them myself, some of them I have been using for years.

Lichens are very beautiful organisms, and the fact that pollution has driven them out of many of our cities is a real shame. However air quality has improved considerably over the last two decades and in many towns and cities the lichens are returning. Just which lichens you can find in your local area is in part then a result of your local air quality, and using lichens in this way is both fun and informative.

This book guides the reader into understanding, pollution in its many and varied forms, lichens and their responses to the various pollutants. It offers a series of techniques which if followed should supply interesting information on the local air quality. Many of these simple experiments could be set up by schools and monitored over several years by a succession of classes. Thus supplying a continuum of data which would grow yearly more interesting. The book includes a key to the species used throughout the book.

Chapter Headings include:-1)Introduction; 2)Natural history; 3)Sulphur dioxide and acid rain; 4)Ozone and nitrogen compounds; 5)Fluorides; 6)Aromatic hydrocarbons; 7)Metals; 8)Transplant studies; 9)Radioactive elements; 10)Invertebrate fauna; 11)Identification; 12)Original work: techniques and approaches.

Highly recommended

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Understanding Lichens

by George Baron

ISBN = (pbk) 0 85546 252 3
Price = (pbk) £8.95 UK
Published = 1999
Review written = 28/Feb/2000
92 pages
24 colour plates 49 b/w figures

Lichens are available to everybody to observe, because of the lack of information, and poor identification resources has led most people to ignore them. They are, however, fascinating and every amateur naturalist should include them within the remit of their joys. I will be the first to admit that identification, beyond the commonest 50-100 species, is still quite tricky, especially if you are only a part-time enthusiast, or a beginner.

However, before you can even think about rushing around in a flurry of recording, it is better to develop a solid ground level understanding of what a lichen is, what it does and what you can expect to see when you start observing them. George Baron's lovely little book is a much needed addition to the all too sparse like literature. It takes you gently by the hand and leads you inexorably into a land of wonder and fascination that is the world of lichens. Well illustrated with b/w photos and numerous clear line diagrams the overall experience of reading this book is very pleasant.

Chapter include: 1) What is a Lichen?; 2) The Lichen thallus; 3) Growth forms of Lichens; 4) Reproduction and dispersal in Lichens; 5) Lichen physiology; 6) Lichens and their environment; 7) The amateur study of Lichens; 8) The uses of Lichens; 9) The classification of Lichens; 10) The literature of Lichenology.

All in all this is a very nice little book which should be welcomed in any school or college library as well as in any enlightened home. It is important to stress, however, that it is not an identification aide - for that you will need a local or regional guide.
Highly recommended

This book is currently out of print.  As an alternative we recommend Lichen Biology by Thoms Nash, which is available at








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