The Long Spring: tracking the arrival of spring through Europe

Published on 19 July 2018 in Book reviews

By Laurence Rose

Bloomsbury, 2018

Hbk, 272pp, ISBN 978-1-4729-3667-7

£16.99 buy it from the BB Bookshop

The Long Spring takes us on a fragmented journey through Europe: from Spain in February to Norway in May, via France, the UK, Sweden and Finland. As he travels north, the author remains in a ‘perpetually incipient spring’, which is a nice idea, captured perfectly in these three words.

Laurence Rose is an experienced naturalist with a particular interest in birds (reflecting a long career at the RSPB). He is also a patient, careful observer and has an enviable talent for being able to absorb and describe the essence of what he experiences. A sky in Spain ‘mixes all the colours of a Woodpigeon’s plumage’, while a Dupont’s Lark Chersophilus duponticall ‘seems to have evolved acoustically to be an instrument of the lark’s evasiveness’. The book is full of such details, keenly observed and skilfully transferred to the page.

There are evocative descriptions of the landscapes that he visits and frequent digressions into the arts, language, local culture, people and history. It often has the feel of a travel book and there are pages at a time where it’s easy to forget about the book’s title and the project he has set himself. Yet he always returns to the wildlife and the way humans interact with it, weaving the various threads seamlessly together. If there is a weakness in this approach, it is that the book deals with a vast area, hopping erratically from site to site, country to country. It’s not a book you can take with you on your next trip to help you understand a place more completely – or perhaps it is, but no more than one chapter will be relevant.

Throughout the book, he touches on conservation issues as and when they become relevant to the location. They are approached gently and the reader gets a sense of his views without them being forced or laboured. Intensive grouse-moor management in National Parks, windfarms in sensitive areas, forest (mis)management, development and habitat fragmentation are among the subjects dealt with. There are also regular gems of information based on the latest research into threatened species, each triggered by a relevant encounter in the field and adding to the richness of the text.

For the final short chapter, he changes tack and reflects on the current state of habitat and species conservation in the UK and Europe. He makes full use of his long experience in various roles with the RSPB to suggest how we might do things a little better. It is a thoughtful and, I thought, a powerful end to a thoroughly enjoyable book.

Ian Carter