Article published on June 8, 2017.
Ever since William Blake wrote the words ‘Englands green & pleasant Land’ in 1804 it has always been considered one of the best descriptions of the British countryside. For millennia humans have been changing the landscape in this country and the wildlife co-existed with us and the habitats that were formed. Now days only green could be considered correct; decades of industrial farming has wreaked untold devastation amongst the wild creatures and flowers that had once made our countryside so pleasant. Headlines scream at us from the papers about how our native wildlife is in trouble and the facts about what has been happening are frankly terrifying.
In amongst the grim news, there have been some success stories, species have been dragged back from the very brink of extinction or have been part of successful introduction programmes; these should be celebrated for good reason. But while we have been concentrating on the rare and the spectacular, our once common animals, house sparrows and the hedgehog and others have suffered catastrophic falls in numbers. Moss decides to find out for himself just what the state of our nation’s wildlife is. Starting with what is the largest land area in our country, farmlands, we go on a whistle-stop tour through our woods, seashores, and mountains. As wildlife is as much a part of the urban jungle nowadays, especially with the fox living off the waste that humans leave behind and peregrines hurling themselves from skyscrapers in the very centre of our capital.
The countryside is being exploited by self-appointed, minority-interest pressure groups whose claims to be the guardians of the countryside would be amusing, were the consequences not so serious.
This is another superb book from Moss, but more importantly is it timely too. The state of the wildlife in the country is at a tipping point after decades of pummelling from chemicals and dramatic loss of habitat. There have been some reintroductions of natives like beavers and the cleaning up of the rivers has seen the spectacular return of the otter that can be claimed as successes and there have been places where farmers and landowners have taken it upon themselves to re-wild the land which have proved successful. The points that he is fairly forcefully making are being echoed elsewhere too, most recently in Bee Quest by Dave Goulson and The Running Hare by John Lewis-Stempel, guys with their pulse of the countryside. This is a book to read if you care about the very future of our countryside and more importantly this should be a book that all politicians should be made to read.
Paul Cheney 5
Wild Kingdom: Bringing Back Britain’s Wildlife by Stephen Moss
Vintage, 9780099581635, pbk Apr 2017
Longlisted for the Wainwright Prize 2017 – find out more and read an extract
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