By Peter Marren
Published by HarperCollins in the New Naturalist Series, 2002
A brilliant tour-de force, one of the latest in the renowned New Naturalist series attempts to summarise the history of the nature conservation movement in Great Britain. It is a very brave attempt, and without wishing to sound churlish, it almost succeeds. I say almost, because, by the very nature of the subject, it is impossible to succeed entirely: the subject is simply too large. It would perhaps have been better to omit entirely Britain’s role in international conservation, since by including it, only superficial and incomplete coverage is given, and many other issues are not given the detail they merit. And since international conservation happens to be my main interest, I am perhaps hypercritical.
Inevitably when looking at a book such as this, one goes to the index to find key organisations and key events. Unfortunately the index is far from comprehensive, but I still found it very surprising that no mention was made of the Fauna Preservation Society (now Fauna & Flora International), nor were Lord Cranbrook (father & son) indexed, despite the present Earl having written ‘Fifty years of statutory nature conservation in Great Britain’, which is in the bibliography, and his father being instrumental in much legislation.
An overview is necessarily cursorial, but I found the bias towards the activities of government bodies, at the expense of the NGOs irritating at times. The role of Friends of the Earth in the passing of wildlife legislation is largely ignored, with almost no mention of the 1975 Act, despite a detailed history of the legislation that replaced it. These are all serious omissions, and there are many others, but it would be churlish (as I wrote earlier) to be hypercritical, of what is after all a very brave attempt, and well worth a place on any conservationist’s book shelf. As Dr Johnson famously said in another context, it "is like a dog’s walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all". But that sounds far too unkind – it is a very readable account. And I do thoroughly recommend it.
Review by John Burton