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Islands Beyond the Horizon
Rats have rarely had a good press, but in these fascinating accounts of the near destruction and ultimate survival of the remotest wildlife environments we learn of the key role played by these indiscriminate killers.
The case against the much derided rodent is fatally flawed, claims Roger Lovegrove in Islands Beyond the Horizon (Oxford University Press, £16.99) as he highlights man’s ecologically negligent approach to the sustainability of 20 of the world’s most remote islands over hundreds of years.
The author of The Red Kite’s Tale, whose work for the RSPB helped to reintroduce the bird into the wild, laments that after centuries of environmental abuse, society is only now beginning to act.
The desire to collectively cleanse our guilty consciences is nowhere better exemplified than on the islands of Mauritius and Isle aux Aigrettes in the Indian Ocean.
The Mauritius kestrel may not resonate in the public’s imagination as much as the Dodo, but direct action prevented the lesser known bird from going the way of its flightless ancestor from the neighbouring island. On Isle aux Aigrettes, the Mauritius kestrel was reduced to a single breeding female in 1974. Yet today there is a stable population of around 600 birds, thanks to the work of conservation groups.
This book is about more than man’s reckless disregard for nature — it is about the triumph of the human spirit.
The author’s admiration for these unique islander characteristics is encapsulated by the people of St Kilda, On August 29, 1930, the last 36 inhabitants of this remote Atlantic outpost finally conceded to nature and left for the last time.
For centuries before that fateful date, though, these fowlers and natural cragsmen had so perfectly adapted to their island’s environment that their ability to climb the cliffs barefoot, to capture the seabirds which they depended upon for their survival had resulted in their feet developing the unique feature of having prehensile gripping toes, writes Lovegrove.
Charles Darwin may have raised a knowing smile at this news but ultimately it’s the author’s optimism and hope for nature’s survival that shines through this book.
Roger Lovegrove will be speaking at the Oxford Literary Festival at 2pm on Saturday.