4 out of 5 stars
A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.
He is used to some of the more exotic regions of the planet but a commission is a commission and he agrees to take on the filming of a pair of Goshawks in the place that he remembers from a childhood growing up in Ringwood on the edge of the New Forest. He meets up with one of the rangers who takes him to the locations where he knows they are nesting. The first is the best with regards to location, but there are no birds around. They spend longer looking at the other sites but have no luck. A hunch takes them back to the original one and there on the nest is a female. He has found his pair.
There is a sublime chaos about ancient woodland that speaks of perfect natural balance, and for me, such places nourish the soul like no other environment.
Just as he is preparing the site the lockdown is announced in March 2020. It looks like he won’t be filming them anytime soon, but a few weeks into the lockdown he gets the permissions that he needs to undertake the filming. HE is in the forest at a time when it feels like the world has stopped. Gone is the constant rumble of traffic across the A31, the skies are silent and empty as nothing is flying out of Southampton and Bournemouth. There is just him and this pair of Goshawks.
So begins a spring and summer of studying these birds in perfect peace, as well as the pain and pleasure of climbing 50 feet up in the air to sit in a cramped hide all day to film a pair of Goshawks. He managed to get 400 hours of filming in the end. But there is much more to that book than this. He takes time away from the Goshawks to see Curlews, a much-endangered species as well as filming a family of fox cubs in a ditch near where their earth is.
For most, the tangled web of a forest canopy is a dangerous, impenetrable barrier. Even a peregrine wouldn’t enter it at speed. Yet – as we have come to see – goshawks aren’t like other birds.
As the restrictions are slowly lifted after the first lockdown the people return to the New Forest. Then as restrictions are eased again the forest fills with cars and people. They are taking their lockdown frustrations out on the place and leave litter, block roads and driveways and generally get angry anyone for no apparent reason. He worries that the noise will cause the Goshawks to abandon the nest, but they are more of stronger stuff, they are not the alpha predator for no reason at all. He carries on the filming, watching the chicks consume vast quantities of small birds and mammals.
There is much more depth to this book than just the diary of his filming. It is also the story of a thousand-year-old forest during one of the strangest times in our recent history, but it is a collection of thoughts on our wider relationship with the natural world and how we need to change to make it better, rather than just ruin it all the time. I did like this book a lot. It is a short book so his prose is taut and considered; there is not a wasted word here, however, he still manages to convey the brutal beauty of these fantastic birds. The diary format works really well too, it is a reminder that whatever happens in our own little worlds, the earth keeps turning and gradually changing each and every day. There was a brief eulogy to his late father, Chris, at the end of the book; he shared happy times with his father in the New Forest and lockdowns and work commitments meant that he never spent as much time with him in that last year. His life was cruelly taken too quickly by cancer at the end of 2020.