If you like the Northern Goshawk Accipiter gentilis, the New Forest, film-making, and have a lot of patience, you will enjoy this book, as I did. You would also love James’s job – if you had the head for heights and the physical and mental stamina. There must be worse ways to sit out a pandemic than to film a Goshawk nest in the canopy of a temporarily depopulated tourist honeypot.
Author James Aldred is an EMMY Award-winning cameraman, adventurer and professional tree-climber – ‘The Man Who Climbs Trees’, for those who have read his first published title. He mentions in passing that, on a previous assignment, he was nearly killed by a female Harpy Eagle Harpia harpyja as he inspected a chick in her nest. If he can survive that, he must surely have a chance with the New Forest’s Goshawks.
The narrative follows a detailed diary format and the ‘Goshawk Summer’ of the title ends in late June. The first Covid-19 lockdown ended before that and so, before the book’s conclusion, the crowds have returned, bigger than ever, in search of a change of scenery and a fix on the outdoors, with predictable frictions.
A feature of this book is its lack of index and bibliography, giving the sense that – a bit like a person in a hide, high in the canopy of a forest – it exists, appropriately perhaps for the times, in a bit of a bubble: self-contained, with little or no time for further reading. All focus is on the lived experience, finger poised on the camera button, waiting, watching, listening. This captures something of the mood of 2020: the isolation of lockdown, the way it encouraged most of us to shut out distractions and engage deeper locally.
The downside is, of course, that it’s often unclear where the extra information comes from and, in places, with a bit more research, the author could have answered interesting questions that he poses.
There are also some casual remarks on guerrilla rewilding that will make a few readers wince – how did those Czech-origin Pine Martens Martes martes get back to the New Forest?
It’s not all about the Goshawks; there are evocative descriptions of other forest creatures too, and sympathetic meditations on their place in our world, and our impacts on theirs. Aldred is a native of Hampshire, which adds another layer of significance to these thoughts and insights.
There aren’t many books about the Goshawk in these islands. All in all, despite its covering of some old ground, and repeating of answered questions, this is a fresh and enthusiastic perspective and a welcome addition to the fold. The resulting film was aired in autumn 2021.