James Aldred, an Emmy award-winning documentary cameraman and author of The Man Who Climbs Trees, has written this account of lockdown last year, based on his field diaries-kept while he was filming a documentary about the New Forest.
His book’s subtitle, ‘A New Forest Season Unlike Any Other,’ is more revealing about the subject of this highly readable and informative book, for it is not just a book about goshawks. These birds have a darkly glamorous appeal as top predators- they wear their dinosaur ancestry on their wing- and you will learn much about them here and probably find yourself awestruck by their stealthy and efficient savagery, but Dartford warblers, foxes and intrusive mountain bikers all contribute to a celebration of landscape and place.
Aldred succeeds in bringing his childhood home to life. For me, as a child, the New Forest was ‘the forest’. Growing up in the south midlands, where woodland was plantation and copse, it was thanks to my father’s occasional work journeys to Southampton that I got the odd glimpse of this wilder place. Since then, I have walked parts of it and even been lost in it, but never really been able to get to grips with its scale and its significance for nature. This book has opened my eyes to its scale and richness as a habitat- 150 square miles of heath, woodland and mire- and the diversity of life it sustains. A National Park that comes pre-wilded!
The author is aware of his privileged situation in being able to visit such a place when it is uniquely undisturbed and observe elusive creatures. He writes beautifully of the goshawk and other animals
‘Goshawks dwell in the corners of time. The moment we blink or turn our heads they’re gone.’
But he notices the insects, the trees, and the geology too in their isolation from visitors, and laments the return of interfering humans. One of the delights of this book is that the author shares the journey we all took last year and the dilemmas caused by our retreat and sudden return to places for a while left unhindered by our interference.
- Goshawk Summer by James Aldred is published by Elliott and Thompson (£14.99). To order a copy go to eandtbooks.com
Ian Tattum is a priest in the Church of England who writes occasional pieces about the people who shaped the history of science and human and animal travel-real and fictional.