What we’re doing: Reading about Natural History
In the latest in a new series of blogs where members of the Informed Choice team talk about what they are doing at the moment, financial planning director Andrew Neligan talks about his favourite experiences with wildlife.
I thought I would write my entry about a book I am currently reading; My Natural History by Simon Barnes. Simon Barnes is a journalist with The Times covering both sport and natural history, and as such has a job I envy greatly both being passions of mine.
My Natural History is an autobiographical account of his life and how wildlife has played an important part in it.
Experiences include watching a water vole from a pub garden with girlfriend, spotting a Marsh Harrier whilst on honeymoon on the Norfolk Broads (a extremely rare sight at the time given that in the 1970s there was only one breeding pair in the UK!) to the more exotic sights such as watching Sea Otters casually eating crabs in the Californian surf and camping to the roars of lion in Zambia.
The message Simon Barnes weaves into the books is how natural history can, and should, be part of all our lives.
He notes how as children we are fascinated by animals but seem to lose it in our teens when we start to question the world and our place in it. The lucky ones recapture that imagination and he quotes David Attenborough’s answer to the question of when his love of animals started: “when did yours stop?” (to paraphrase).
One chapter is a very moving piece on the joy his youngest boy who has Down’s Syndrome gets from Tigers and how this joy spreads to Barnes himself.
Reading the book led me to consider experiences with wildlife I myself have enjoyed. Here is a brief summary of the most memorable.
1. Seeing a Barn Owl with my dad in East Sussex when I was 7 or 8. Barn Owls were still rare back then and so it was a special sight, the way it silently swooped down from its roost is indelibly marked in my mind.
2. Stalking a Kestrel around the fields in my home in Devon when I was a similar age. Seeing this Kestrel probably kick started my love of the wild and seeing them hovering these days takes me back to those early experiences.
3. Stroking a Cheetah in South Africa. Granted the Cheetah was in captivity but being able to touch a big cat is a very special experience. The purring is quite something to behold too. And I did keep all my limbs.
4. Glimpsing a Peregrine Falcon fly across a Cornish cliff last summer. Peregrine Falcons are exciting birds of prey due to their hunting speeds. What made this so memorable was that I was on my own relaxing in the sun on a cliff overlooking a crowded Cornish beach so it was likely I was the only person to witness the Peregrine at that moment.
It is these highly personal experiences that makes them unique, much like the scene in Stand By Me when the lead character chances upon a deer when alone reading his book.
5. Hunting with Harris Hawks with my wife. Although we were not fortunate to catch anything (you may say fortunate not to) seeing a bird of prey in hunting mode and have them flying to and from your gloved hand is an experience I would recommend to anyone, bird lover or not (as my wife would testify).
Importantly, some of the most memorable experiences don’t have to be of rare animals in far flung places. Rather they can be ‘dull’ British animals that reflect a time of your life.
And that is the premise of the book. A book I would recommend to anyone who has, or used to have, a love of natural history and the great outdoors.