Posts tagged ‘environmentalism’

August 2, 2022

Spring Tides by Fiona Gell

by Team Riverside
cover of Spring Tides book

Hardback, W&N, £16.99, out now

What is it like to be a marine scientist and conservationist in the time of the climate emergency and the increase in species becoming extinct?  How do you keep going? Spring Tides is a well written combination of natural history and memoir that helps answer this question. “My energy comes from looking down into clear water through glossy kelp, studded with blue-rayed limpets, striped with iridescent blue; from swimming on my back at night making glowing wings of phosphorescence; from diving down into the magnetic blue beyond the reef; from drifting at speed past a carnival of coral in the company of mirrored jacks; from learning from a laughing fisherwoman how to find clams with my toes in the soft sand between the seagrass on a remote Indian Ocean shore”.

Fiona Gell left her childhood home on the Isle of Man to travel the world working on marine conservation projects, before returning to do the same work where she grew up.  Spring Tides is a useful primer for lay readers on the impact of climate change on our seas and sealife.  Her love for marine environments is infectious, and makes you want to get out onto the beach or dive “under water to get out of the rain” (as Trevor Norton had it in his wonderful book about diving, rightly subtitled “a love affair with the sea”).  Spring Tides appealed to me in the same way that The Gospel of the Eels by Patrik Svensson did, combining nature writing and memoir.

I liked reading about a woman scientist doing cutting edge work around the world, and also her candid accounts of dealing with family life alongside her work in recent years.  Gell explains that engaging with conservation successfully is complex.  I found her account of securing a Marine Nature Reserve compelling.  It is a story of doing the hard work of listening, advocating, and compromising.  She shows how a previous unsuccessful attempt in the Calf of Man area, which had failed to engage successfully with the concerns of local people who earnt their livings from the sea, had left scars: “It had become an example of how the most well-intentioned conservation plans can go awry and had left rifts between people.  I wanted to use what I’d learnt about marine protected areas to make protecting the sea possible again”.

Gell also gives a glimpse of Manx culture, and is clear about the impact of the sea on everyday life.  I am very envious of anyone who gets to go to the beach almost every day, as she does.  And as Olaf Falafel’s endearing new book Blobfish reminds us, we can help clean it up while we are there.

Review by Bethan

May 20, 2018

Our Place – Can We Save Britain’s Wildlife Before it is Too Late? by Mark Cocker

by Team Riverside

Hardback, Jonathan Cape, £18.99, out now

Mark Cocker OUR PLACEThe answer given by nature writer and environmentalist Mark Cocker is ‘maybe’.  This unusual book gives a brief history of attempts to protect nature in Britain over the last 150 years, told through the stories of some of the organisations and individuals involved.  It is framed by the catastrophic findings of the 2013 State of Nature report, which found that 60% of native species in the UK had declined over the last 50 years, 31% badly, and that over 600 species were under threat of extinction.  Cocker notes that the figures “don’t indicate the bottom of a curve: they chart the direction of an arrow.  It means that, however bad things are, they will get worse without major change”.

Cocker is critical of the largest of the environmental organisations, including the National Trust and the RSPB, finding them sometimes overly concerned with competing for members and also unsuccessful in critical campaigning.  He finds that failures to work together mean that whole-ecology approaches are being undermined by separate projects.  But he allows that their difficulties may reflect something of the British public’s own ambivalence towards nature.  He quotes a letter to the Daily Mail from a National Trust member apparently responding to the Trust’s campaign on climate change: “Thanks to Dame Helen Ghosh’s political agenda outside the true objectives of the National Trust, that’s £100 membership saved this year.”

He also gives due credit to individuals both within and without these groups who have been effective in seeking to protect nature, or who remind us to pay attention.  I loved the example of his friend and colleague Tony Hare, who on looking at “a square foot of turf dotted with miniscule scarlet fungi and prostrate lichens” reminded his friend that “what was happening here was the same as any rainforest”.

The approach taken is not straightforward polemic.  Cocker successfully mixes history with accounts of several localities as informal case studies showing how particular types of areas are faring.  As a result, Our Place is readable and interesting.

Where the book has limitations they are deliberate and mostly acknowledged.  There is not much about international frameworks or organisations working for the natural environment in my view, and marine protection is almost entirely missing.  But as a personal rallying call for a different attitude to nature protection in the UK, it works, and shows that any of us can choose to pay attention to this critical concern.  I echo his praise for those amateurs and professionals who study and protect even the unpopular or obscure bits of our natural world, and especially those who make this possible for children and young people.

Review by Bethan