The flash of sparrowhawk wings alerts me to the raptor’s presence as I walk through my woodland in Wales. Coming closer, I notice feathers, then the headless corpse of a song thrush. I hesitate. Will it return to consume its fresh kill?
There was a hushed post-raptor air of tension but no sign of the hawk. I pick up the body, still warm to the touch. Shall I leave it – either the hawk will return (unlikely as they are prey hunters), a scavenging fox on it nocturnal patrol or, if still uneaten, the carrion beetles will feast. My Sméagol brain jangles. ‘But I am also part of nature’, albeit responsible for ‘knocking back’ nature in pursuit of commoditised food.
But still – within me at least – there lurks hunter-gather DNA. Perhaps related to my hunter-naturalist predilection, too often airbrushed from today’s sanitised environmental narratives. (see my talk at a rewilding conf in the David Attenborough Building).
I’ve dug deep – financially and physically – to create this ‘wildwood’ in which song thrush have a penchant for nesting in spruce trees. So if badger grubs up bumblebee nests, tawny owl hunts voles, is there not room for me to sample this protein-rich harvest alongside the fungi, cherries and firewood?
Hold the bacon
I confess. I’ve got form. When working for the National Trust as a young rural chartered surveyor, I came across a song thrush on a small icy country lane recently knocked dead by a car. It was fresh – the ice had melted around the body. Why let the next car flatten it or an already fat generalist predator snaffle it?
Anyway, I ate the song thrush on toast. Both of them. A sinewy earthwormy, snail infused liver-rich delicious taste of wildness.
This isn’t, obviously, about putting wild birds back on the menu as part of some pseudo paleo-diet. It’s about tolerating alternative connection to nature, often by a minority, which may not chime with a majority view.
The world is urbanising. The UK started it 150 years ago when ironically, skylarks were harvested to help feed a burgeoning post-Industrial Revolution urban population. By 1861, more people lived in UK cities than in rural areas. Globally this shift occurred circa 2007, perpetuating to which some refer to as the metabolic rift. (That’s for another blog about tensions over defining sustainable agriculture in the 21st C.)
Half earth – whole earth
As urban-dwelling citizens disengage with nature – raw in welfare, red in tooth, messy in action – and farmed food arrives bloodless direct to plate or door, some will view my behaviour as primeval or at least feral. ‘Stay away from nature, let it do it’s own thing, get out of the ecosystem, stay on the path, behind the fence’.
There is a tussle going on behind the scenes. Some suggest ( EO Wilson et al) that humans retreat to leave half the earth’s area to protected nature. Others promote that humans share the whole earth with nature. As the UK rethinks its national parks for nature over people, it could learn from Mongolia, which set up the world’s first national park (Bogd Khan Uul*) rather than America’s Yellowstone** model drawn up by a retrospectively flawed John Muir.
The former* seeking to integrate the needs of local communities with conserving the environment, as opposed to de-populating the land of permanent residents largely espoused by the latter**.
Wilderness: Origin. Old English wildēornes ‘land inhabited only by wild animals,’ from wild dēor ‘wild deer’ + -ness.from Indigenous knowledge and the shackles of wilderness
So why did I eat the songbird you ask? Because I simply wanted to remind myself of being close to ‘land inhabited by wild animals’.