Wednesday, August 22, 2007


At the TLS, John Fanshawe reviews Roger Lovegrove's Silent Fields: The long decline of a nation's wildlife:
Underlining Lovegrove’s book is a patient study of parish records. (Scotland is excluded from the analysis, and has a separate chapter devoted to killing there, including a section on the “wanton slaughter by English ‘sportsmen’ in the nineteenth century”.) Writing in 1768, Robert Smith described stoats as “prone to wanton killing”, and in the Cornish coastal parish of Morwenstow, Thomas Trumble specialized in killing these remarkable little mammals, taking thirty-four in 1694. Amazingly, gamekeepers on the Elveden Estate in Suffolk accounted for 8,883 in the decade beginning 1920. Numbers like these pepper Silent Fields and are a constant source of surprise. From Elspeth Veale’s seminal 1966 study, The English Fur Trade, emerges parallel evidence of excess killing in pursuit of regal finery. Henry VIII passed a final sumptuary Act in 1532 – the same year as his vermin law – regulating a hierarchy of who could wear which fur. Not that he stinted on his own account, using 350 (albeit imported) sable skins to line a single satin gown in 1530. Even this pales by comparison with his forebear Henry IV, whose “splendid robe-of-nine garments was made from 12,000 squirrel and 80 ermines”.
And here's an interesting bit about rabbits:
Rabbits have become pests comparatively recently, swapping places with species like wild cat and pine marten – current red-list causes célèbres. Introduced to Britain by the Normans, knowledge of rabbits’ reproductive capacities meant that their warrens were first confined to offshore islands (another demonstration of changing times, given the massive efforts now dedicated to eradicating “aliens” like cats, hedgehogs and rats from many of those same islands). As land-based warrens were established, often by monastic communities, rabbits dispersed and colonized with predictable success.
Very Watership Down, eh? (Goodness, some of those covers are inappropriate. I loved that book when I was a kid, I read it again and again, but it's very dark--almost all I remember of it now are the violent fight scenes and also the really chilling episode where the main rabbits temporarily take refuge with the sinister other rabbits who have developed art and culture in exchange for letting themselves be snared, it had a very horror-story feel to me at the time--I wonder what I would think now? Must take a look and see...)

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