My strange obsession with extinction has recently taken me somewhere with a little change in tone. Usually, and quite rightly, the topic of extinction is accompanied by heavy feelings of despair. ‘What’s the point?’ we sigh morosely. ‘We’ve killed off so many species – there’s no hope for humanity!’ While I do understand these gloomy thoughts, to me it seems fairly silly to give up hope on the basis of poor past performance. I believe we need a little positivity, and one morning in April Charlie Elder’s latest book arrived on my doorstep: Few and Far Between: On the Trail of Britain’s Rarest Animals.
Whilst the book does contain the inevitable news of vanishing species and harmful human interference, there’s a certain freshness that encourages you to look past this and have hope. The pages are filled with intriguing conservation stories; from bats, rats and wild cats to the tiny pool frogs living in a secret location in East Anglia. Yet, more importantly, it’s not just the cute and cuddly creatures he focuses on; the attention he gives to moths, beetles and birds is equally important in a world where we pour millions of pounds into saving the delightful rhino, but spare no love for the bumblebees or hoverflies that pollinate our crops. While I care deeply for the plight of our elephants, rhinos and tigers, there are many species receiving very little financial help that provide greater support for our ecosystems.
By far the most charming aspect of this book is its ability to engage the common man. I tend to read a fair amount of environmental and nature writing, and although it’s usually captivating, it often seems to forget that many potential readers are not scientists or ecologists; they simply want to learn more about the natural world. Charlie Elder writes for experts and part-time naturalists alike; his writing is amusing, and he doesn’t shy away from acknowledging his own faults as a nature lover. He misidentifies dragonflies, admits prejudging a few minor species as boring, and is wonderfully honest about the gruelling challenges of nature watching, driving long distances in the early hours to sit on an icy cold beach for the afternoon. This wit and honesty is what makes the book so readable; he reminds us that nature watching isn’t always as easy as it seems on Springwatch, but more importantly that it is worth the wait.
Few and Far Between by Charlie Elder is available now and published by Bloomsbury.