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4.7 out of 5 stars33
4.7 out of 5 stars
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on 4 June 2014
Ostensibly I bought this book as a present for my hare-loving wife. When it arrived and I had a chance to take a closer look I changed my mind - only a brief mention of hares, and I'd done that thing where I'd bought her a present because it was something that I really wanted for myself.

Anyway, this is good quality natural history writing and an admirable homage to the 'home turf' in the tradition of Gilbert White. If I'd read it a year ago I probably would have rated it as 5/5. However, in the past year I've read all of the writing of Roger Deakin and most of Richard Mabey's natural history writing and this book doesn't quite measure up to their standard. If you haven't read the posthumously-published 'Notes from Walnut Tree Farm' by Roger Deakin, read that instead of reading this book. If you haven't read Gilbert White's 'The Natural History of Selborne' then read that instead of reading this book. Read anything by Richard Mabey, instead of reading this book. If you've got enought time after doing that that then you can give this book a go. With Deakin and Mabey you feel like you're getting a unique personal insight into the 'natural history' of places, tolerably eccentric like a late-night Radio 4 programme. With this book the voice in my head sounded like a rather polished BBC Four natural history programme - not bad, just not as special as the premier league writers.

Before buying I also read the 'most critical' review I could find on Amazon. The reviewer pointed out that Stephen Moss is obviously a spring-lover, and with that seed of a thought planted it tainted my reading of the book. And although the mood is mostly upbeat and postitive, I'm sure he was lamenting the fact that the swallows would soon be leaving only days after they first arrived.

In summary: if you want something cozy and BBC-professional then this hits the spot. If you want something a little more challenging and profound then read something by Richard Mabey or Roger Deakin.
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on 4 November 2011
This is a wonderful book for any keen or budding naturalist. Stephen Moss is well known to many for his distinguished career with the BBC Natural History unit and the ideal author of a nature diary. Here he follows in Gilbert White's footsteps, with a 305 page, one year nature diary about his home village of Mark, in the Somerset Levels. Having moved from London for a better quality of life in rural surroundings "the best thing we ever did", most folks in Mark must own a copy of the book. However, it is for any nature lover in the UK or abroad, the style of writing will inspire and inform. Even the most avid naturalist will learn new snippets of information on animals, insects, birds and plants. Hares and Hummingbird Hawkmoths are just two of the village inhabitants featured. There are no photos in this book, but there is an attractive cover and several scraperboard illustrations. Do not let this put you off buying this book, but let us hope that, like Gilbert White's book, illustrated version(s) appear in future!
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 1 February 2012
Wild Hares and Hummingbirds is a rather wonderful book that draws inspiration from the classic The Natural History of Selborne (Penguin English Library)

Wild Hares takes us through a calendar year in the Somerset village of Mark. With the Mendips in the background, Exmoor just over the horizon and waters of the Bristol Channel washing at its feet, Mark in a village on the Somerset Levels. In many ways it is - to quote Piglet - entirely surrounded in water.

The Levels are a manufactured landscape, but for all of that they are rich in wildlife. This book is a beautiful introduction to the rhythms of this landscape and its wildlife. While not being a book only about birds, they are heavily featured in the book - but given their importance as markers of the turning of this year this is hardly a surprise.

The book is a gentle walk through a special part of the UK - and the use of the term "gentle" here is not a criticism. The writing clearly shows the affection the author has developed for his adopted home county.

For all that enjoyed the book I did notice I few sentences that I think are worthy of comment. The author poses the question that if we lose species that our grandparent took for granted can we still call anywhere the countryside? Well, I would say the answer is clearly `yes'. It's a different countryside, one that needs protection and help, but its countryside none the less. It's true that most of the changes that have occurred since the end of WWII have damaged it from an ecological point of view - but it is still a wonderful and precious place. The presence of egrets on the Levels may be a sign of problems yet to come - but they would have never been seen by our grandparents. And are they not a remarkable thing in their own right?

For all the concerns the author raises, near the end of the book he concludes that he will "never get bored with what I see, hear and find in this country parish". I many, many ways this is a sentiment I could apply to this book.

Highly recommended.

I think it is only fair to see that this review may have been influenced by the fact that as migrant from the UK I found the description of my home county to be wonderfully accurate. The landscape in the book was as familiar as the one I explored and fished in for many years - I may be biased - but at least I'm honest!
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on 14 February 2012
Highly interesting, a worthy read. I have learnt many new facts regarding nature.
I would recommend this book to anyone who are especially interested in the British countryside.
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on 6 February 2013
A month by month diary of a village natural history. Interesting to read, and informative, particularly if you have an ordnance survey map and bird or wildflower guide handy, to check out the references within. The illustrations are good but would have been better in colour.
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on 27 January 2012
I am seventy years of age and absolutely loved this book. It brought back many memories from my own childhood, having been brought up on my parents farm on the outskirts of a small village. Superbly written book! Thank you Stephen Moss!
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on 28 September 2011
Taking his inspiration from Gilbert White's landmark 1789 book The Natural History of Selborne, Stephen Moss spends a year watching the wildlife in one particular country parish -- in this case, centred on his home village of Marsh, in the Somerset Marches. "By looking in depth at what happens here", Moss writes, "I hope to reveal a broader truth about the current fortunes of our countryside, its people, and its wildlife." His knowledge of, and sympathetic understanding of, the countryside and the natural world suffuses every page of this charming nature diary.
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on 20 January 2016
At first, I was quite taken with this pleasantly laid-back celebration of our wildlife, especially as it appeared to be refreshingly free of the overwritten, overly poetic prose that seems to be almost ubiquitous in nature writing, and which I find irritatingly self-indulgent, even pretentious.

However, as the book progressed, what I had initially found quite charming started to become increasingly dull, and I slowly found myself losing interest and becoming more and more bored - both with the content itself and also the rather flat, matter-of-fact writing style. In the end, all I wanted to do was finish the book as quickly as possible, and had it not been a gift from my wife, I think I would have been tempted to simply give up.

As I recall, the author (or was it the editor?) also seemed to have a rather bizarre habit of inserting semicolons where they didn't belong, or at least where they felt quite abrupt and very much out of place. For me, this totally ruined the flow of the prose, to the extent that, in the end, my already bored mind was almost starting to drift into a game of 'spot the annoying semicolon'.

I also found it quite odd that, again as I recall, the author neither went to see nor discussed (except perhaps in passing) the huge starling murmurations for which the Somerset Levels are famed. Maybe he felt that waxing lyrical about such a renowned wildlife spectacle would have been a little cliched, or maybe, as a local, he had simply been there and done it all before, and therefore didn't feel the need to include it in the itineraries that formed the basis of the book. Or perhaps these murmurations occur beyond the confines of the author's local patch, though I also seem to remember that he wasn't averse to venturing further afield when it suited him. In any event, having visited the Somerset Levels and witnessed the starlings' jaw-dropping performance for myself, I can't help thinking that its inclusion would have rendered a fairly uneventful book somewhat more interesting, plus also given the author an opportunity to move beyond his rather bland writing style.

I also found the title of the book rather odd, as I don't remember either hares or hummingbird hawkmoths featuring very prominently at all.

In summary, this is a gentle, easy-going book which will undoubtedly appeal to many readers. However, for me, and without wishing to be unkind, it was ultimately quite dull and boring, not to mention being written in a style to match. The illustrations were quite nice, though ...
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on 2 January 2015
I had intended to read this book a little at a time, but I enjoyed it so much I finished it in a few days. It is packed full of interesting, entertaining and informative titbits about British wildlife in general and that found in the author's parish in particular - particularly poignant reading in the light of the terrible floods suffered by that area shortly after. Much of the description is delightful - I particularly liked his image of a line of sheep 'shuffling slowly forward like pensioners waiting to board a bus'! Harry Brockway's evocative illustrations are the icing on the cake - I found myself looking forward to seeing what the picture would be for each month.

There were one or two repetitive incidents, but not enough to jar. I see that some reviewers have been put off by the author's anticipation of autumn, but for me, this added to the books authenticity. Anyone who lives and works in close connection with the countryside is sharply aware of the changes in the seasons. We begin to anticipate spring as soon as the shortest day has passed, while the end of June reminds us that we need to start planning for colder weather and shorter days. If you only use the countryside for leisure, then it's fine to pretend that summer lasts until it's too cold for picnics. Those who earn a living from it need to be more aware of the slow decline to winter.

The only part I disliked was when the author questioned whether, if we lose a particular species from the countryside, it is still countryside. Our countryside has gained and lost countless species over the centuries and still remained countryside. Yes, it is sad to lose any species, but overdramatizing does not help the situation.

Another reviewer has compared this author unfavourably with Deakin and Mabey. I know the following opinion will be regarded as criminal by some, but having read all three, I prefer Moss! A lovely book that deserves a second, slower rereading before long.
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on 30 April 2013
This is a fantastic book if you love wildlife, particularly the two creature who feature in the title. It takes you through each month, through the changing seasons in a typical English village and the stories are told with charm and wit and an incredible knowledge of the natural world. A must for wildlife lovers, highly recommended.
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