Wild Hares & Hummingbirds, By Stephen Moss

Life cycles and sea changes for the wildlife on our doorstep

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The Independent Culture

Though the British profess a deep attachment to the countryside, they rarely have any great knowledge of the wildlife on our doorstep. This engaging account of the natural history around the village of Mark on the Somerset Levels should spark interest in country-dwellers and provide a transporting read for townies.

In monthly chapters, we learn about the annual cycle of creatures great (the badger is "about the same size as a fox terrier") and small, such as the hummingbird hawkmoth that flew 1,500 miles from North Africa to Moss's buddleia.

In his placid style, Moss is profoundly informative about our local fauna: with a population estimated at 75 million, the field vole is "the commonest mammal in Britain"; the boxing hares of March are "females testing suitors to see if they are up to the job"; the buff-tip moth is "one of the most remarkable creatures I am ever likely to see in my garden… The shades and markings exactly mimic a birch twig even down to the rough silvery film on the surface."

On reaching March, Moss introduces the great recurring theme of his book: "The greatest natural phenomenon on earth… Not just tens or hundreds of millions, but billions of migratory birds are involved." In April we can witness the dawn chorus, "one of the greatest natural wonders in the world… yet by the time we 60 million Britons have stirred from our beds, the show's over." By August, "almost all of Britain's 80,000 pairs of swifts are now on their way south… a bird that can catch 100,000 insects in a day and stay airborne for four years."

The book also contains a dark warning. Environmental changes have virtually eliminated species such as the cuckoo and eel. Moss suggests that if global warming breaks the pattern of the seasons, "the connections between us and the natural world may also be shattered". His magical book has certainly affected one reader. After reading about "a mysterious and elusive animal… which can run almost twice as quickly as the fastest human on earth", the idea of eating hare becomes distasteful.

Buy Wild Hares & Hummingbirds from independentbooksdirect.co.uk for £8.54 (RRP £8.99) including postage or call 0843 0600030