The Children’s Author BB Had the Right Idea about Man’s Part in Nature

The BBC’s Chris Packham should read the great amateur naturalist’s books and learn a few things.

Wild Lone is one of the most violent books I’ve ever read. It was published just before the last war and it doesn’t pull its punches: mothers are slaughtered with their babies; brothers and sisters are eaten alive; callous parents look on indifferently as their sick children die slowly beneath them; the few survivors almost invariably succumb to disease, cold or starvation. Every child should read it, for it tells you how the world really is.

The natural world, I mean. It was written by one of the last century’s great amateur naturalists, Denys Watkins-Pitchford, under his nom-de-plume ‘BB’ and it purports to be the biography of a ‘Pytchley fox’ called Rufus.

Rufus is simultaneously the book’s hero and villain. Because it’s written mostly from the fox’s perspective you root for him all the way — even in the dismal scene when (based on a true story, this) he manages to drown five couple of foxhounds by luring them onto the thin ice on Fawsley lake.

But you can never love him, because he’s such a ruthless bastard. Night in, night out, he kills relentlessly and indiscriminately: hens in their coops, nesting partridge, duck, moorhens, Old Zank the heron, hedgehogs, a grass snake (only once because the taste is awful), lambs, rabbits, mice, tree pipits, a kingfisher…

Now let’s fast-forward 75 years and meet one of BB’s modern-day counterparts. The naturalist Chris Packham is standing in a wood very much like the ones described— with considerably more eloquence — by BB. He is hymning the glories of what he’d probably call its ‘biodiversity’: ‘every bug, every butterfly, every bird, every mammal that comes together to make this … our greatest natural treasure.’

Warming to his cod-Churchillian theme, Packham tells us: ‘We want this place to prosper, complete, rich and wonderful for the next 500 years.’ Yes, I’m sure we can all agree with that. But possibly not with the bizarre non-sequitur that follows: ‘And the only way we’re going to do that is if we respect all of the life that lives here.’

All of it? Really? What about, say, the grey squirrels that kill off the red squirrels and wipe out the young trees by ring–barking them? What about the self-seeded sycamores that create congestion and steal the light from the undergrowth? What about the deer that eat the saplings, the badgers that eat the hedgehogs, the magpies and the jays that predate on other birds’ nests? What about the foxes that kill everything that moves?

Read the rest at the Spectator.