Mark Cocker points out in his foreword to this thought-provoking anthology the significance of biodiversity loss for our cultural heritage. Birds in particular have long been embodied in the arts; Vaughan Williams, Shakespeare and Yeats have all drawn on avian inspiration. Curlew Calling brings together poetry, prose and artwork to highlight not only the plight of these waders but also to remind us of their contribution to our lives. This iconic bird is etched into our personal histories, for many its arrival heralds the seasons, and is an indication of the health of the countryside.
Given the decline of these instantly recognisable birds, many of the pieces in the anthology are quite sobering, lamenting their loss. In particular, the poems ‘Real’ and ‘Shropshire Curlew’ are almost chilling in charting the disappearance of the birds, and the very real prospect of the once familiar call being unknown to future generations. The prose extracts often describe people’s own Curlew experiences, lending a personal touch to the anthology, and highlight the bird’s evocative capacity perfectly summed up in the piece ‘The Power of Curlews’. The artworks by members of the Society of Wildlife Artists are charming additions to the anthology, complementing the writings well, showcasing an array of compositions and media.
The common theme throughout the work is the threat to these birds; even if not explicit in a particular excerpt, one cannot help but read each against this backdrop. This lends quite a haunting feel to the whole collection, which seems appropriate for work pertaining to a bird itself often described as ghostly. However, an underlying message percolating through the anthology is that of hope; although these and other birds emblematic of our countryside are in peril, it is not too late. Vital research into the causes and prevention of further declines is being carried out, to which sales of this book directly contribute.
This anthology would be a wonderful addition to the shelves of not only birders, but anyone with an interest in conservation or natural history. By dipping into this collection of work, the reader can conjure up an image or revisit a memory of this icon of our landscape; an icon which we must ensure is not consigned to the history books.