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A requiem for birdsong?
on 5 August 2009
The real quality of this excellent book comes not from its well written and researched text, or even from the way the saddening, but hardly surprising, conclusion is reached. It comes from the choice of birds the author uses. In all but one example the birds are (were?) to be found in close proximity to humans or play a significant role in folk law. In other words, they are the everyday birds, the familiar birds, the birds of story and for me at least, the birds of a summer childhood : Cuckoos in the hedge across the road, a spotted flycatcher catching a butterfly that I had worn as a living brooch for almost 5 minutes, swifts and swallows.
The book examines a number of species of summer migrants - the so called "spring bringers" and seeks to explain why each species is important - initially not in an ecological sense, but why they are important to us as people. The ecological importance of the birds comes later. Here the famous lines of Ted Hughes are to the fore - the swifts are back, so the worlds still working.
The summer migrants form an important part of the soundscape of the British country side - they form a good part of the river of sound that runs through it. The central question posed by this book is this : What will happen it that river runs dry?
This is an important and highly recommended book. Read it yourself, buy it for others and talk to your friends about it - the songs of our remembered and future summers depend on the birds that fill the pages of this book.