Neil Gartshore grew up in Leicestershire where an interest in natural history developed at an early age. His local patch in these early years centred around the Swithland Reservoir area but coach outings with the Loughborough Naturalists' Club soon introduced him to other parts of the UK, particularly to the north Norfolk coast.
Leaving school at 18, he started working in a bank and spent holidays volunteering on RSPB reserves including Loch Garten, Minsmere and Leighton Moss. In 1980, a week on Handa Island started a fascination for seabirds and in 1981 he transfer to a bank on Shetland, continuing his growing interest in seabirds. This experience eventually led to a career change in 1983 when he took up his first conservation post on the Farne Islands in Northumberland.
He returned to the Farnes for the 1984 and 1985 seasons, spending the 3-month break in between travelling in South Africa. After this visit he was hooked on the country and returned in early 1986 to work as a research field assistant for the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology. Based in Cape Town, the post included 14-months studying seabirds on Marion Island, one of the two sub-Antarctic Prince Edward Islands.
Back in the UK, he took up an RSPB contract on Coquet Island in the summer of 1988 and returned to the Farne Islands to run the 1988 seal work. In January 1989 he began a 17-year stretch with the RSPB. Annual contracts on the Mawddach Valley and Minsmere were followed, in March 1991, with an Assistant Warden’s post on the heathlands at Arne in Dorset. Over the next 14 years he progressed to Senior Warden at Arne before becoming the Dorset Reserves Manager.
Neil’s interest in natural history books began on the Farne Islands with regular purchases adding to a growing collection. This collection now includes many books on Southern African and Spanish birds (where he has visited on many occasions) and a complete set of New Naturalists. In 1997, a thinning out of his library saw the establishment of Calluna Books.
In June 2006 Neil made the decision to leave the RSPB to develop his interests around bookselling, giving talks and bird/natural history guiding but has kept in touch with his conservation roots by working as a freelance bird surveyor - this work has included wind farm surveys in Brechfa Forest (Wales), Balearic Shearwater surveys in Lyme Bay, bird disturbance work on The Solent, The Humber and the north Kent coast as well as work on a number of projects around Poole Harbour and The Fleet in Dorset.
He has travelled in search of wildlife for over 30 years, visiting South Africa, Kenya, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia, USA and many parts of Europe, and has led trips in the UK and to Lesvos, Mallorca, Spain and South Africa. He has been involved with the Dorset Bird Club over many years, including terms as County Bird Recorder, Chairman and as a Trustee.
After writing a number of articles about bird books for ‘Birds Illustrated’ and other magazine titles for Buckingham Press (website), the editors commissioned Neil to write the ‘Best Birdwatching Sites: Dorset‘ which was published in 2011. In February 2015 Neil took over 'The Birdwatcher's Yearbook' title from Buckingham Press. Now in its 44th year, the yearbook has been an essential work of reference for British Birdwatchers since 1981.
At the end of 2023, Neil left Dorset after 32 years and re-located to Northumberland.
The name of 'Calluna Books' came from the fact that Neil was working on the Dorset Heathlands at the time the business started - the heaths are dominated by Calluna vulgaris (Heather or Ling). It was then easy to find a logo, it had to be a Dartford Warbler. The picture is a wood engraving by George Lodge taken from 'The Birds of Dorsetshire: A Contribution to the Natural History of the County' privately published by the Rev JC Mansel-Pleydell in 1887.
Of the Dartford Warbler Mansel-Pleydell wrote "It was frequently seen previous to the severe winter of 1880-81, which it is to be feared nearly exterminated the species. Mr O Pickard Cambridge saw one in 1886 at Bloxworth, but in all probability this and other survivors succumbed to the severity of the past winter of 1886-87, and it is doubtful whether we shall any longer see our heaths enlivened by this active little bird." They did hang on but after the severe winter of 1962-63 only 11 pairs were left in the UK (in Dorset and Hampshire, including two pairs at Arne). Fortunately since then their numbers have increased, and they have spread to other parts of southern England, as they have benefited from the protection and management of heathland, but numbers still fluctuate (especially after severe winters).
Photo below: Dartford Warbler, Morden Bog, Wareham Forest
Banner pictures: Bearded Tit ~ Firecrest ~ Common Dolphin ~ Lulworth Skipper ~ Lesser Spotted Woodpecker ~ Sand Lizard