Skip to main content
Beak, Tooth & Claw: Living with Predators in Britain (cover)

Publisher: William Collins, London

Publication Year: 2021

Binding: Hardback

Page Count: 312

ISBN Number: 9780008354763

Price: £ 16.99

Beak, Tooth & Claw: Living with Predators in Britain

If you firmly believe that no fox should ever be shot or equally firmly believe that foxes should always be controlled then you may think that this is not a book for you. This is a book full of nuance. Mary Colwell explores predation by talking to people who are actively involved in land management and conservation. She encourages the reader to learn from people trying to face complex conservation challenges which don’t have simple solutions.

Beak, Tooth & Claw starts with our cave-dwelling ancestors. This seems strange but it’s the only way of getting back to a time when our ancestors lived with predators – some of which could eat them – and did not have the tools to control their numbers. ‘Civilisation’ has lifted us above the animals and conferred an ability to try to be both masters and stewards of all that we survey.

As one might expect of a maker of documentaries, Mary researches her material thoroughly, by talking to witnesses and exploring the evidence that they present. Like a war correspondent, she joins a marksman attempting to deal with a fox insurgency and accompanies a gamekeeper as he checks his Larsen traps and shoots decoyed crows. There are some stranger encounters too, as with a man who has tried to live like a badger and a couple who train corvids for film roles. Alongside these interviews, she describes the recovery of the UK badger population and the control of 3,000 Ravens in Scotland over a four-year period. It’s an interesting mix.

I came out of the book feeling that we humans are the problem, as we farm intensively and leave little space for nature to function naturally, feed Red Kites in our gardens, rear an excess of pheasant poults and espouse views of individual species based on characters created by Beatrix Potter.

Beak, Tooth & Claw made me question what I thought that I knew about species ranging from seals to wolves. One thing that is clear is that we need to talk more about predation and to be upfront when control is the only way to meet conservation goals. As it says in a BTO report that is quoted in the book, "A polarised and adversarial approach to our understanding of predation only serves to perpetuate the problems".

Book reviewed by Graham Appleton

buy this book

Related content