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Title: Silent Fields
Author(s): Roger Lovegrove
Date of Publication: 2007 Publisher: Oxford University Press
Pages:xii + 404 ISBN: 978 0 19 852071 9
Price: Format:Hardback
Target Readership Sen Secondary







Content: Introduction; 1 – Lost animals: early elimination by man; 2 - The social background to persecution; 3 - To kill a rat or catch a kite: methods of control; 4 - Killing in Scotland; 5 - In on the Act - searching the record; 6 - Birds - individual species accounts; 7 - Mammals - individual species accounts; 8 - Local patterns of persecution - England and Wales; 9 - The return of the natives; 10 - Modern control - legal and illegal; 11 - Vermin control and wildlife management: where next?

Review: There are some books - too rare it could be considered, that take a completely new slant on a familiar topic. When done well they hit you with their new approach and the 'why-didn't-I-think-about-that' question. This book is just one such a rarity. It follows a very simple idea that we've all seen before but in the classic shoeshow hare/lynx mode. Here, the author has used what records still exist of wildlife-as-vermin in the UK and used it as a proxy to examine attitudes to wildlife through the last few hundred years. We don't come out of it looking good!

We start with a basic overview that basically describes the methods used and the types of results obtained. It also gives some indication of the sorts of errors inherent in these type of data. Chapter one starts the story a little earlier than we expect to point out, briefly, that the sudden surge against wildlife was just the more recent in a long history of wildlife extinction stretching back into the Ice Ages. Chapter two puts wildlife control into the social context of the time. This is important because wildlife loss was not a random event but a serious attempt to control something seen as a major threat to human existence. It wasn't a luxury but a response to dire circumstances in many cases - highlighted by the links with food shortages and an upsurge in control. Chapter three describes some of the methods use to remove wildlife - a set now illegal but seen in the context of the times as useful. Lest this should be seen as an English activity we are next shown that Scotland could both match and overtake them in the wildlife removal stakes! That much of this coincided with English estates in the highlands and that this continued until the very recent past shows we are still involved. Chapter five looks in more detail at the records of wildlife loss and the parameters and quality of the information. It's made very clear that we have a far from complete record but that wherever we look the data say the same thing. The next two chapters follow individual stories of persecution in terms of birds and mammals respectively. Here there's a chance for each story to be told and for some chance to bring the picture up to date (either for permanent loss of some sort of recovery). Chapter 8 does the same sort of review but for areas with a brief summary of loss by district. The final three chapters focus on the current scene: the extent to which destruction has been reversed, the new types of vermin control and the future of (and for) wildlife in a vermin/friend dichotomy.

This is a remarkable book. It's beautifully written at a time when too many books look like stock products. It recalls the early Collins New Naturalist series with their drawings and prose when the story was as least as important as the facts. As such it makes a great model for students. It's also, because of this, highly accessible which should broaden its reader base. Finally it covers an area too long neglected in the UK wildlife conservation scene - the fact we've had a chance to conserve of eliminate and that for far too long, the latter has prevailed. This is definitely one for the library shelves.





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