moth snowstormBy Michael McCarthy John Murray, 2015; hbk, 262pp; no illustrations ISBN 978-1-4447-9277-5, £20.00 The title of this book might be lost on younger readers but those in middle age or beyond will remember the blizzard of moths, picked out by car headlights, on warm summer evenings in the countryside. This was taken for granted a few decades ago but it doesn't happen anymore and this book is, in part, a eulogy for all that has been lost through recent drastic declines in our wildlife. At the same time, it is a celebration of the wildlife and wild places that remain and a passionate argument for their defence - not, primarily, on the grounds of 'sustainable development' or to provide 'ecosystem services', which he argues are unlikely to succeed, but simply for the pure joy that the natural world can bring us. Although it was butterflies that first sparked his interest in wildlife, birds feature prominently throughout. There are evocative descriptions of childhood visits to remote parts of the Dee Estuary (armed with The Observer's Book of Birds), and of his later experiences as a national journalist covering stories about declines in farmland birds, the demise of London's House Sparrows Passer domesticus and the loss of the moth snowstorm itself - the 'great thinning' as he calls it. Farther afield, there is the depressing tale of the Saemangeum Estuary in South Korea, which he witnessed at first hand. Once three times the size of the Dee Estuary and a magnet for migrating waterbirds, it has now been consigned to history. The author's views about the natural world have clearly been heavily influenced by his own experiences, including some challenging times when wildlife was a sustaining force in his life. While joy in the natural world is a recurring theme, there is certainly no shortage of sadness and anger. This is something of a delicate balancing act and whether the book's ultimately hopeful message can survive the sobering accounts of losses (and the knowledge that more are inevitable) will depend on the temperament, or even mood, of the reader. The book, I think, poses an interesting question. When thinking about the current state of the natural world, do you focus primarily on all the amazing wildlife that we have lost, or on all the amazing wildlife that we have yet to lose? Either way, this is a thoughtful, engaging and deeply moving book and is highly recommended. Ian Carter
Issue 12
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