Root & Branch Reform

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Jungle feels as if it has been written by two different incarnations of Patrick Roberts. The first half of the book provides a fascinating account of life on Earth, from the first appearance of primordial slime to the ascent of Homo sapiens. Here, Roberts’s insights are based on his training as an archaeologist and anthropologist […]

#MeatToo

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

You might think me eccentric for feeding my cat the highest-quality pet food, made with free-run chicken and turkey, freshwater fish and cage-free eggs. But I should not be considered the weird one. It is bizarre that in a supposedly animal-loving country, where half of all households have a pet, so many feed them on other animals that have lived miserable lives in factory farms. Walk down your supermarket pet food aisle and you’ll be hard pressed to find

Blooming Marvellous

Posted on by Tom Fleming

The female fig wasp is only two millimetres long, with wings finer than a human hair. She is programmed to leave the fig in which she is born and undergo a sequence of ordeals that makes a commando’s training look like a walk in the park, fertilising one particular species of fig in the process […]

When Terminator Pigs Roamed

Posted on by Tom Fleming

Some thirty million years ago, Europe’s plains and forests were populated by entelodonts, colloquially known as ‘terminator pigs’. Weighing in at four hundred kilograms or more and easily able to outrun Usain Bolt, they were carnivorous in the extreme, their heads ‘garishly ornamented with bony warts the size and shape of a human penis’. Entelodonts […]

What Did the Iguanodon Ever Do for Us?

Posted on by Tom Fleming

At not quite two years old, Offspring#1 knew the names of at least ten dinosaurs and could say words such as ‘tyrannosaurus’ and even ‘parasaurolophus’. This should not be a surprise. Most parents rapidly become familiar with palaeontology for the pre-potty-trained (it has to be said, though, that Offspring#2 managed to reach adulthood without ever […]

Putting Down Roots

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The English love for ‘our’ woodlands runs deep and strong. Witness the astonishing furore a few years ago when the government proposed selling off some Forestry Commission land. Middle England united in a howl of outrage at this monstrous threat to our beloved woods (despite the Forestry Commission’s lamentable record of stewardship) and the government […]

Mixing with Vixens

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Lucy Jones has plunged headfirst into the bitterest dispute in Britain. Nothing is more astonishing than the virulence of the Great British Fox Debate. Before I make any further comment, I must declare an interest. I worked for ten years as a gamekeeper and have killed my share of foxes. I am therefore on the […]

Peter Davies Enjoys Birds

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Birdwatching, and the accompanying concern for the conservation of bird populations, has never been as popular and widespread in Britain as it is now. In an age rich in excellent field guides, we have ample means of familiarising ourselves with the wealth of species that can be seen in this country.

A Forest of Delights

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

At the time I read Stephen Hawking’s Brief History of Time I understood his explanations of astrophysics, but was quite unable to repeat them afterwards. Others have said the same. But physics is not easy – some minds can do it and others not; and however good the writer, the substance will not necessarily stick. […]

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Lost Arcadia

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Here are two delectable, serious and beautifully illustrated books describing between them the history of fourteen English gardens over nearly four hundred years. In This Other Eden all seven gardens are still alive and well, some better than they have ever been and still changing along with their times and owners. In The Riverside Gardens […]

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Elegant Taxonomy

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Around two thousand years ago, a Greek doctor named Dioscorides described a plant that he considered to be medically useful. It was called ‘crocodilium’, he said, and it was supposed to help people who were splenetic. When boiled and drunk, it ‘causes copious bleeding at the nose’. Other characteristics, apart from the shape of its […]

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TV’s Socrates

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

I must declare my connection to Louis Theroux. I was in the year below him at school and university. He hasn’t changed very much. He was just as gentle then – dopey even – as he was on the telly in Weird Weekends, when he investigated the strange American sects he writes up in this […]

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