Silent Fields: The long decline of a nation's wildlife Paperback – 15 Nov 2008
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The facts are often fickle - which is why this is such an important book. Lovegrove has done a remarkable job. (The Times.)
This is a work of diligent science, rather than literature, but that is exactly what we need. (The Times.)
The future success of wildlife conservation depends on an understanding of the catastrophic failures of the past and Lovegrove's remarkable book makes a huge contribution to that understanding. (Sunday Times.)
Since time immemorial mankind has taken it upon himself to wage war against nature -- against those species of birds and mammals which he believes conflict with his livelihood. This remarkable book is about that war of attrition against the native mammals and birds of England and Wales from the middle ages to the present day. There is widespread knowledge about the huge declines in popular species such as song birds, farmland birds, otters, and pine martens, however, there is less understanding about the deep-rooted causes of these losses, or about the complex relationship between mankind and these species. Roger Lovegrove has undertaken years of unique research: by searching through parish records of 'vermin' trapped, hunted, and killed over the generations, he has revealed an unprecedentedly accurate and detailed picture of the history of a nation's wildlife, and of the often devastating impact and extinction that we have forced on our ecology.Consisting of species-by-species accounts, accompanied by beautiful, specially-commissioned illustrations, this book outlines the history - and often the future too - of a wealth of wildlife species, from badgers, bears and beavers, to wolves, kingfishers, the golden eagle and the humble house sparrow.The geographical scope is British, but the subject will be of interest to conservationists around the world because of the unique historical material that will be included. The topic has enormous relevance today, as public concern about the environment rises, and controversies rage about hunting, wildlife management and reintroduction of ancient species. See all Product description
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Also, there was a mistake - Saltash is, of course, in Cornwall, not Devon. The other thing which really grated was the use of the word Schizophrenia to describe two conflicting views (on three occasions). This not only demonstrates a lack of understanding of the term, but also is disrespectful to people who suffer this serious psychiatric disorder. The other puzzle about this book is the title - a very good geographical spread, but no mention of Northern Ireland. So probably not the correct title. Overall a very good book which creates a sense of the determination of our ancestors to obliterate our wildlife and shows how attitudes have changed over the years.
There are no two ways about it, this book will open your eyes on Britain's changing relationship with the wild landscape throughout the ages.
The book is arranged by species and attempts to give the history of our attitudes towards each. Here you'll learn that the Red Kite was once protected by Royal decree due to it's ability to keep the city streets clean of refuse (in 1465 it was a capital offence to kill a kite); then was persecuted to the brink of extinction; before the battle began to change attitudes and begin it's restoration to it's former range in the 21st century.
Throughout the author will support his statements via data gleaned from original documents - the text of laws and decrees, newspaper articles, lists of destroyed 'vermin' numbers kept in gamebooks and parish records (and the bounty prices paid - 1 penny for a kite in 1566) and intersperse this with the reasonings given for each change in attitude.
The book is arranged by species but the comprehensive index allows you to search by geographical area. The whole country is covered but there is perhaps more detail given for England and Wales due to the greater number of surviving records.
Beyond the horrific toll of slaughter given in the vermin lists I also found the book fascinating in it's revelations about historical attitudes and beliefs. The author points out that before electric light it was very difficult for people to really know what was going on in the dark beyond their homes. Hence the historical slaughter of hedgehogs (2d per head in 1566, twice the price of a wildcat!) because they were often seen in cattle pastures in the morning and it was believed therefore that they stole milk from cows in the night.
Likewise dippers were killed as they were believed to be female kingfishers and had taste for salmon. Choughs were hunted as their red beaks were 'stained with lambs blood' and they deliberately started fires in thatch (hence the scientific name pyhrrocorax, the fire crow)
I will never again believe anyone who talks of the wisdom of the ancients and how our ancestors were closer to nature!
Recommended to anyone with an interest in nature and Human relationships with the natural world.