Thursday, 8 September 2011

The way things were

Browsing in a second-hand bookshop I saw this little paperback, by the influential birder and author James Fisher, with illustrations by Fish-Hawk, and it was published in 1947. I dare say some of my readers cut their teeth on it.

It's "only" 60-odd years old, but there are some striking changes in breeding locations. Stone-Curlews are recorded as breeding quite widely across the south-east (although even then this was a substantial contraction from the previous century, shown on the right-hand map.
Now there would be just a blob on the Brecklands.

Similarly the map of Little Tern breeding shows a continuous line around the coast, indicating that breeding might occur on appropriate habitat almost anywhere. No longer, regrettably.
There are, however, some improvements. Little Ringed Plovers had just started to breed at Tring Reservoir, paving the way for their subsequent expansion along reservoirs and gravel pits across Britain now.
Fulmars are now such a frequent sight around the coast that we hardly spare a glance. This map, however, records the years in the first half of the Twentieth century when Fulmars started to breed at locations away from St Kilda, which until the 1890s was their only breeding-ground.
They had reached southern Ireland and Bempton cliffs by 1930, but were only "taking an interest" in Wales and Cornwall by 1939. When the book was written, the author could not have conceived of Fulmars or Kittiwakes on the White Cliffs.

An almost contemporary book (The Flower in Season - 1952) by Jocelyn Brooke understandably shows more that plants are in much the same place, but unwittingly and sadly illustrates losses to our natural world.

The chapter on September includes a paragraph on "an Autumn species, Galeopsis ladanum, the Red Hemp-nettle..... which covers large areas in stubble fields with its bright, rose-pink, white-spotted flowers, and is rather local, though common enough in many places."
That must have been before the post-war devastation wreaked by agricultural weed-killers.
"It is not to be confused with the true Hemp-nettle, a much larger, coarser plant found in the woods."


Mel Lloyd said...

Apposite. Coincides with the RSPB announcing an expert panel to look at the staggering decline of willow tits and lesser spots in Kent (and elsewhere). Overall we have lost more than we gained.
I think I would have liked to have gone for a walk with Mr Brooke.

Greenie said...

Steve ,
Striking changes indeed on both the bird and plant populations .
Very interesting .
Can't match your bird book , my Observer Birds and Bird's Eggs are dated 1975 and 1962 respectively .