Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Silent Fields

This book is not an easy book to read, for it makes grim reading, but it is a book that I can thoroughly recommend.

It is a long, comprehensive and detailed book by Roger Lovegrove detailing the long decline of the wildlife of Britain.

I believed that the decline of wildlife in Britain was a result of the overuse of chemical fertilisers and chemical pesticides in Britain after the war. And whilst it is true that this has certainly exacerbated the situation, it was not the start of the decline, not by a long way. The book details the long and systematic destruction of the wildlife of Britain. Lovegrove has meticulously researched a diverse number of historical sources dating back to the Tudor times to the present day.

The records show that the history of the persecution of some of what were supposedly the best-loved species of  wildlife (and, indeed amongst these, some of the rarest) has left our countryside all the poorer. It points out how churches took part in the most barbaric and ruthless extermination of many, many species on the vague idea that maybe they might be responsible for the loss of some crops.

 It contains details of infamous huntsmen like Charles St. John. Lovegrove quite clearly despises Charles St. John. And with good reason, too. For he is revealed by the research of Lovegrove to be a despicable hypocrite who: "hid his wanton killing behind crocodile tears and pretensions of moral respectability. He had an insatiable appetite for killing and was responsible, among many other despicable acts, for the final elimination of the Osprey in Sutherland."  

Other creatures destroyed include the Bullfinch, the bat, Red Kite, Brown Hare,  House Sparrows, Tree Sparrows, etc. In fact, many villages had Sparrow Clubs and they were paid for the number of Sparrows that they killed. Church wardens kept detailed records and these records helped Lovegrove in his research.

One quote in the book reveals how one observer was watching the so-called glorious spectacle of the Sparrow shooting, yet felt pity when he look down and saw the birds, blasted and twisted at his feet. A fine example of hypocrisy if ever there was one!  

This book makes uncomfortable reading. It seems that our ancestors had the following rules regarding wildlife: If it flies, shoot it (or trap it) and if it runs, crawls or walks, trap it (or shoot it).

It is published in hardback by Oxford University Press in hardback and is 404 pages long. It is well-illustrated with photographs (one of a group of badger baiters in the 1920s) and many line drawings and maps showing, for example, a map showing parishes killing Bullfinches in the 17 and 18 centuries.
There are also detailed appendixes showing tables of 'vermin' payments taken from churchwardens' accounts. The book costs £25.00.

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