Wild Hares and Hummingbirds: The Natural History of an English Village Paperback – 2 Aug 2012
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"Delightful, soothing and informative " (Daily Mail)
"An enchanting book, Wild Hares and Hummingbirds is a combination of celebration for what is and regret for what is passing. It is elegiac" (Daily Express)
"An enchanting month-by-month guide to "the natural history of an English village". As richly evocative of January as of June, Moss captures the flora and the fauna of his Somerset home with a grace and charm to warm the coldest winter night" (Independent)
"[A] charmingly produced book…readers are in the hands of an expert" (Steven Barfiel The Lady)
"This engaging account…should spark interest in country-dwellers and provide a transporting read for townies. In his placid style, Moss is profoundly informative" (Christopher Hirst Independent)
A Natural History of Selbourne for a new generation - nature-writing at its finest, expressed through the natural history of one very special place.See all Product description
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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.
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!
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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