Recent writings

January 7, 2023

Whether it's a brief view of a woodcock against the sunset, or a hundred years of conservation effort, writing up some stories from the field has been keeping me busy.

Nearly a year has passed since I retired from the RSPB. ‘Semi-retired’ is a better way of putting it, as I have a new ‘job’ as an RSPB volunteer, writing up the stories of some of our longest-standing species recovery projects.

The last UK native white-tailed eagle was shot in 1918. Since 1975, after two earlier failed attempts, RSPB, government agencies and other partners have been restoring this mighty raptor to British skies. It has been a monumental effort over 47 years, involving the translocation of some 265 Norwegian eagles to Scotland, followed by a projected 30 or more Scottish eagles to southern England.

white-tailed eagle conservation success
White-tailed Eagle by Andrew Astbury/Shutterstock

Restoring a species to health when it has been on – in the white-tailed eagle’s case beyond – the brink of extirpation is not a quick job. Embarking on such a challenge can mean being prepared to commit decades of focussed effort and a lot of money. Hundreds of people and many partner organisations may become involved. When key players move on, key events risk being forgotten. Starting with the white-tailed eagle, and including the cirl bunting, corncrake, bittern and red kite, I am compiling their stories.

I’ve been enjoying the chance stories-within-a-story that you sometimes uncover. I had to trawl the records to unmask the egg-thieving vicar who robbed one of the last white-tailed eagle nests, and discovered that he came not far from where I live. You can read that story in a blog on the RSPB website.

Initially, it is an internal exercise to document the history and collective experience of the RSPB’s most fundamental purpose – maintaining and restoring the health of threatened species. Much of the material will be published; when and in what form is still to be decided.

Recent essays

Timestream is an essay written in response to a call for works from Lancaster University Future Places Centre and published in an online anthology. It imagines the small stream that flows near my home and for another 113 miles to the sea, flowing through time. It becomes a meditation on rivers through history and place, and our changing relationship with them.

Into the Red was published on October 4 as a sequel to Red67, a collection of writings and artworks depicting the sixty-seven (now seventy) UK birds on the red list, the highest level of conservation concern. Each species is celebrated by a writer and an artist: my contribution is on the willow tit.

Saraband Books published North Country: an anthology of landscape and nature in November. It brings togather essays and peotry fron writers based in the north of England, past a present. My essay Weather Report 3 March 2022 anticipates the arrival of spring and reflects on the changing nature of the spring in the north, and the effects of climate change on migratory birds.

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