There are moments when your eye settles on a book on your bookshelf that you haven’t noticed for a while, and may not have opened for years. This was one such time, when I rediscovered a pair of journals I’d written as a teenager.

In 1974, I’d bought two A4 hardback notebooks (45p each) simply titled ‘Narrow Feint’. I’d named them, inside the front cover, then numbered all the pages, top right, in blue ink – from one, to one hundred and sixty.

Inside one I wrote: Animals of Britain and Europe, Northern Hemisphere, and in the other: Animals of the Southern Hemisphere and Sea Creatures. And in each I divided the pages into sections, by letters of the alphabet.

In Animals of the Southern Hemisphere I wrote all that I’d learnt about those animals, mostly in Africa. Take the letter ‘B’ for example: there were paragraphs on Bush Bucks, Bat-eared Foxes, a whole page on Baboons, then Bush Monitor lizard, Bush Master snake, and Bush Baby. All in precise, tidy, washable blue ink, much neater than I can write today.

For some animals I ran out of space and had to continue at the back. For example, Dolphins ran on to pages after 127, and Lions ran on to pages after 135. I’d written at least some five hundred words per page.

In Animals of Britain and Europe, Northern Hemisphere, I kept a record of all of my sightings of animals, including insects, from squirrels and foxes to butterflies and bumblebees (which I called humblebees). For example in 1975, sightings of bats, pipistrelle and long-eared from April 6th at home, to the 6th August in Brighton.

And the detail, for example for ‘F’: early morning of the 28th March 1975…I was cycling along Lower Road to the church (Maundy Thursday vigil) when I saw a dark cat-like movement. I recognised a thick bushy tail of a fox as it ran along the opposite path to me. It quickly took a corner into 149’s garden up some steps between two large hedges. There at the top it stopped, ears pricked as I came to a halt. I only then watched it, still, for about one second as it skipped out of sight across a garden. It was about five to five, and from what I could see was in a good state of health, not too urbanised. (And the geographical location: OS 468 672).

April 12th and 13th: I saw various numbers of Small Garden Humblebees on these days about four seven spotted ladybirds and on the last day a small Tortoiseshell butterfly Cocinella septempunctata, Bombus agorum, and Aglivis urticae…

April 28th: On arriving back home from school after seeing a small white in the woods I saw an Orange Tip.

Through the detail of these pages, and believe me there’s a lot of detail of time and measured place, there is a strong sense of the abundance of nature, and of creatures being far more common than they are now.

I was fascinated to record these varied aspects of nature. And now we know how much has been lost, since 1970, there is a record of all the species that have been erased, wiped into extinction, and the detail of the numbers lost, how many are close to the edge.

We speak in terms of biodiversity, and we know how much of Earth, of other beings, have been depleted, how we have torn great chunks from the web of life.

Fighting climate change is essential to the survival of all life on the planet, but also vital are measures to preserve and restore what we can of nature now.

And we learn today that a quarter of UK mammals are at risk of disappearing…

1971 World population 3.7 billion. Carbon in the atmosphere 326 parts per million. Remaining wilderness 58%.

1978 World population 4.3 billion. Carbon in the atmosphere 335 parts per million. Remaining wilderness 55%.

A Life on Our Planet, My Witness Statement and a Vision for the Future by DAVID ATTENBOROUGH.






The Bookshelf