Silent Fields: The Long Decline of a Nation's Wildlife

Silent Fields: The Long Decline of a Nation's Wildlife

Silent Fields: The Long Decline of a Nation's Wildlife

Silent Fields: The Long Decline of a Nation's Wildlife


Since time immemorial mankind has taken it upon himself to wage war against nature - against those species of birds and mammals which he believes conflict with his livelihood. This remarkable book is about that war of attrition against the native mammals and birds of England and Wales form the middle ages to the present day. There is widespread knowledge about the huge decline in popular species such as song birds, farmland birds, otters, and pine martens, however, there is less understanding about the deep-rooted causes of these losses, or about the complex relationship between mankind and these species.

Roger Lovegrove has undertaken years of unique research: by searching through parish records of 'vermin' trapped, hunted, and killed over the generations, he has revealed an unprecedentedly accurate and detailed picture of the history of a nation's wildlife, and of the often devastating impact and extinction that we have forced on our ecology. Consisting of species-by-species accounts, accompanied by beautiful, specially-commissioned illustrations, this book outlines the history - and often the future, too - of a wealth of wildlife species, from badgers, bears and beavers, to wolves, kingfishers, the golden eagle and the humble house sparrow.

The geographical scope is British, but the subject will be of interest to conservationists around the world because of the unique historical material that will be included. The topic has enormous relevance today, as public concern about the environment rises, and controversies rage about hunting, wildlife management and reintroduction of ancient species.


This book charts the history of Man’s deliberate killing of terrestrial wildlife in Britain—specifically native birds and mammals—from about 450 years ago, up to the present. It is the story of his attempts to control, and at times to eliminate completely, species that he has deemed to be undesirable or unnecessary. the story that links past campaigns of vermin control to the modern practice of wildlife management (which is, in fact, control by any other name), is traceable from the very earliest organized records in the sixteenth century, through to present times. Thus we can follow the vicissitudes and effects of Man’s relationship with some of the most familiar species of wildlife with which he has shared this island since those times. There would only ever be one winner. Wildlife has suffered to an extreme extent, never more so than since the middle of the nineteenth century, when an onslaught on predatory species began with little or no regard for long-term consequences. We have moved full-circle now, into an era when public opinion demands a very different set of priorities and principles. Since the middle of the sixteenth century, four distinct phases in our approaches to wildlife management can easily be identified. Phase one was the 250-year period which lasted from the first legislation (1532) relating to vermin control, up to around 1800, throughout which time organized vermin control was carried out in the parishes of England and Wales, based on a system of financial rewards. the second phase was an indiscriminate war of attrition against predatory species embarked on by the new sporting estates in England, Scotland, and Wales, from the late years of the eighteenth century up to the time of the Second World War. in the post-war decades, the third phase was characterized by an upsurge of public concern about wildlife. One of the results of this was a labyrinth of twentieth-century legislation that was designed to respond to this concern, and to protect many species that had previously been subject to a permanent open season. Finally, in the early years of the twenty-first century we enter a difficult period of growing controversy about what constitutes the legitimate control of wildlife species. Man has never accepted that nature can be left to look after itself without his intervention; that belief is as true today as it was in the distant past. However, nowadays wildlife management becomes an ever more sensitive topic and the longer we fail to address these difficult issues, the more difficult they will become to resolve.

Several hundred years ago, organized vermin killing gradually became big business. Under the Tudor monarchs, Henry viii and Elizabeth I, it assumed national importance, the legacy of which has persisted through to the present . . .

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