4 out of 5 stars
A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.
On the 23rd March 2020, the UK entered lockdown. Overnight everything changed for the country. Travel for essential items was only permitted, everything except food shops and a handful of others deemed essential were open. We were allowed an hour of exercise per day outside but we were to stay and work from home.
Even though Stephen Moss mostly works from home now, but in normal time there are events in bookshops, Birdfair and other foreign trips that were all cancelled as the pandemic swamped out lives. Whilst he has seen many birds on his local patch, he would normally be of look elsewhere for all manner of different birds. Life for the foreseeable future would be different.
Written in a weekly diary form, this is his account of life under lockdown and the rediscovery of his local patch and accounts of the many walks and rides that he took around what he calls the loop, a three-mile. After a week of lockdown, he noticed that the volume and intensity of birdsong whilst cycling around the loop. But he didn’t know whether it was that the regular distractions of modern life would normally stop him noticing or that the silence of planes and cars made their songs sound louder. He was not the only one to notice this and he appeared on the Today programme to talk about how the dawn chorus was soothing the nation.
After a couple of weeks he had developed a routine, he would emerge from his garden office having completed some work and join his wife, Suzanne, and their dog, Rosie for morning coffee in the garden. They would scan the skies for raptors and they would often see them in the distance wheeling around on the thermals. A few days later he heard a tawny owl hoot just as he was going to bed, something that he wasn’t sure he’d hear again after finding a dead one nearby.
Being confined to his locality was becoming special in lots of ways, rather than passing things by in the rush to get somewhere else, he was taking the time to get to know his local patch intimately and gain that deep-rooted sense of place that naturalists like John Clare experienced. As lockdown begins to ease, he is able to move further afield and meet up with friends elsewhere on the Somerset levels. But it is the regular trips around the loop that he grows most fond of. Moving at a slow walking pace with Rosie he starts to learn individual birds habits, when and where they will be singing from as well. It is a tonic for his soul every day.
It has been one of the strangest periods of my life, and whilst it feels that we are getting back to normal, there is still a way to go. Moss’s book on how he coped with the pandemic is a wonderful response to this strange time and I really enjoyed this book. Moss is on top form in his prose as ever when writing about the wildlife that he sees on his walks and cycle rides. It is probably his most political book too; he gets really angry about the response from the government to the pandemic fairly often! Highly recommended.