Cockles of the Heart

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

On quiet nights in the BBC Radio newsroom, a former colleague of mine used to supplement his income by churning out features for an old-fashioned news agency. The agency was more interested in quantity than in-depth research, and one of these features – I forget if my friend was responsible – concerned the alleged extreme […]

One for the Pot?

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

There are two angles to this unusual book, both of great interest. First, however, a word about the authors, Bob Tovey (born in 1938) and his son Brian (born in 1963), who share the chapters between them. They despise education. Bob has only one criminal conviction (for which he was fined a fiver) but he […]

The Great Thinning

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Here are new books by three of Britain’s leading natural history writers. Peter Marren and Michael McCarthy have long been controversialists, increasingly alarmed by the collapse of wildlife populations. Matthew Oates has worked in butterfly protection for forty years, becoming a public expert and adviser to the National Trust. All are well known for their […]

Biosphere Blues

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Election ‘fever’ is mounting as I write and I marvel as always at the triviality and the moral timidity of most of what is being said. None of the major parties – apart from the Greens – engages seriously with the all too obvious fact that the stage on which humanity struts and frets is […]

Names Writ on Water

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Robert Macfarlane’s singular talent as a ‘nature writer’ is to combine intellectual rigour, thematic clarity and structure, and leaven these with experiential, personal narratives. His books are philosophical in foundation and scholarly in their scrupulous, generous acknowledgement of sources and influences – things that many writers, for reasons of ego or insecurity, prefer to obscure. […]

Ecological Wrecking Balls

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Our folly with regard to animals knows few bounds. These days it tends towards the sentimental. We support sanctuaries where donkeys are pampered and where swans can have their broken wings mended. We lavish money on the RSPB and on the cats that eat the birds that the RSPB protects. The Scottish Wildlife Trust has […]

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Heat of the Moment

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

‘The life of the lookout’, Philip Connors writes in his account of a season as a fire spotter in New Mexico, ‘is a blend of monotony, geometry, and poetry.’ This proves an apt description of Fire Season as well, which features acute observations of nature and a fascinating history of North American wildfires, but is […]

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The Peace of Cod

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Although as an angler I may spend a hundred days a year on the water, I kill very few fish. I don’t much like eating them, and have never done so since those stinking prep school kippers of yesteryear. But, like many other sportsmen, I love fish for their other qualities – their vitality, elegance, […]

Peter Davies on a Clutch of Bird Books

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

In this beautiful study, The Wisdom of Birds: An Illustrated History of Ornithology, Tim Birkhead traces the history of ornithology as it has developed from the faltering first steps taken by the philosophers of classical times to our present levels of understanding of avian behaviour and motives. It is, to an extent, the story of […]

Tom Fort Makes Four Natural Selections

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Chris Yates is an elongated, somewhat cadaverous individual, with a forehead that seems to slope upwards for ever, a scrubby beard flecked with grey, and a gentle, humorous voice inclined to break into neighs of laughter. In the angling world he is famous as the man who caught the largest ever carp (a record since […]

Death of the Baiji

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

The cover photograph is the saddest part of this sad book. Gracefully curved in the water, showing his unique long bill, is Qi Qi, one of the very few Yangtze River dolphins (or ‘baiji’) ever photographed. Now dead, Qi Qi was a rare captive.  You will probably never see another, in the Yangtze or, like […]

On Broken Wings

Posted on by Tom Fleming

The story told in this strange and beautiful book is, at heart, a simple one. Helen Macdonald’s father died when she was in her mid-thirties; she missed him painfully; so, for reasons she could not entirely explain to herself, she decided to buy a baby goshawk and train the creature. In her own words: ‘I […]

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