“Curlew Moon”, Mary Colwell

In 2016, Mary Colwell walked from Sligo to The Wash, a 500 mile epic to find out why curlews have declined so precipitously. She has written a book, Curlew Moon, about this odyssey.

Here is Caroline Crampton’s Guardian review:
he bubbling call of the curlew, heard across the fields at dusk, has long been a vital part of a traditional English landscape. Poets from WB Yeats to Dylan Thomas have immortalised this greyish brown wading bird in verse. Once a common sight across the UK and Ireland, the native nesting bird is now under threat from intensive agricultural practices and the loss of its habitat. In England and Scotland, the number of breeding pairs has declined by 60% in the last 20 years.

Mary Colwell, a natural history producer and ardent curlew fan, decided in 2016 to walk 500 miles from the west of Ireland to the east coast of England to raise awareness of the bird’s plight. This “Curlew Walk”, as she calls it, forms the spine of her book’s narrative. Along the way, she visits nesting grounds and joins eager birdwatchers in the field. There is something of the pilgrimage to her efforts: she writes that spending time watching curlews is “an inner experience, at the level of the soul, where the ordinary and everyday become extraordinary”.

In attempting to express the wonder she experiences when observing the birds, Colwell relies on poetic quotations and excessive praise of the conservationists, or “wildlife stars”, she meets along the way. The actual details of her walk are mostly omitted – there is no map of her route included, nor much description of the paths or the weather – in favour of tangential historical points and accounts of her meetings with fellow curlew enthusiasts.

The book comes alive at moments where the competing demands of rare species and landowners complicate the conventional “good versus evil” conservation narrative. Colwell’s account of Britain’s grouse moors is particularly intriguing: many bird devotees would instinctively deplore shooting as a sport, but big estates that are used for this purpose rather than farming often provide a haven for endangered wildlife. To save the curlew from extinction, its admirers might have to form some unlikely alliances.



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