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Good Reads  Ornithology  Non-Passerines  Seabirds, Shorebirds & Wildfowl

Bowland Beth The Life of an English Hen Harrier

Nature Writing
By: David Cobham(Author), Dan Powell(Illustrator)
207 pages, b/w illustrations
Bowland Beth
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  • Bowland Beth ISBN: 9780008251895 Paperback Aug 2017 Usually dispatched within 1 week
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Price: £16.99
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About this book

Please note that the publisher has cancelled plans for a paperback version.

The story of the short, tragic life of Bowland Beth – an English Hen Harrier – which dramatically highlights the major issues in UK conservation.

The Hen Harrier has become the conservation cause célèbre in the UK with only three nesting pairs in England it is seen as a totemic species in the battle between the conservationists and the ruralists. Extensive research has revealed that persecution is possibly the major issue highlighted by the death by shooting of a Hen Harrier called Beth. David Cobham, Vice-President of the Hawk and Owl Trust, has been at the centre of this research. In Bowland Beth: The Life of an English Hen Harrier he follows the short life of this Hen Harrier, interweaving her story with the story behind the species' plight.

Following the style of Henry Williamson's Tarka the Otter and Fred Bodsworth's Last of the Curlews, Cobham has dramatised Bowland Beth's short life between 2011 and 2012, entering her world to show what being a Hen Harrier today is like. He immerses himself not only in the day-to-day regimen of her life, the hours of hunting, bathing, keeping her plumage in order and roosting, but also the fear of living in an environment run to provide packs and packs of driven grouse for a few wealthy sportsmen to shoot.

As one of the key players in this emotive debate, David Cobham is uniquely placed to reflect on Beth's life and tragic death. In this powerful narrative, he provides us with a profound story which helps to illuminate the larger implications of the species' decline, highlighting the urgent need for conservation efforts to reverse this.

Read an interview with the author, David Cobham on the NHBS blog.

 

Customer Reviews (1)

  • A hen harrier up close
    By Keith 19 Jul 2019 Written for Paperback
    If, like me, you love to watch Hen Harriers, then you are not in a minority. In fact, I have yet to meet a birdwatcher who has told me that they do not enjoy seeing them as they swoop low across the ground in search of prey or sky dance looking for a mate. Perhaps the same is true for other birds of prey too, but right now, for many people, the Hen Harrier has become the chief flag-carrier for persecuted raptors in Britain. Indeed, while most of our birds of prey are doing comparatively well, the Hen Harrier is declining, and in the uplands of England it has almost vanished as a breeding species. The story of this decline has been the subject of many colourful articles in the press, while at the front line a team of dedicated conservationists devote all their time to finding out exactly why the Hen Harrier is doing so badly.

    As part of that ongoing research Natural England has been tagging juvenile Hen Harriers with satellite transmitters to understand where they go both in summer and in winter. One such Hen Harrier chick was a female given the name of Betty by members of the public, although to those working closely with her she was known as Beth. She was fitted with a transmitter while still in her nest in uplands of Bowland in Lancashire in the summer of 2011, and her subsequent movements were monitored until her untimely death in June 2012. Her body was found in the Yorkshire Dales – with clear evidence of her having been shot. This book is the story of Betty’s first year of life.

    David Cobham is a skilful story-teller. He is best known for his 1970s film dramatisation of Henry Williamson’s book, Tarka the Otter. Since then he has had many other film credits to his name, and his recent book The Sparrowhawk’s Lament also won much praise. In this new volume, he uses a mixture of fact and fiction to give readers an insight into the daily challenges facing a young Hen Harrier. My use of the word “fiction” here is not meant to discredit the authenticity of the story being told. David Cobham had good knowledge of Beth’s activities and when still in Bowland she was monitored daily by those who were tracking her. Her subsequent movements between Lancashire, Yorkshire and Scotland revealed how Hen Harriers will travel large distances in just a few days. In fact, on one day Beth travelled 125 miles in less than nine hours.

    Over the course of twenty-one chapters Beth’s story is told with great affection and to accompany the text there are attractive line drawings by Dan Powell. To bring us back to reality the fictional text (always in italics) is interspersed with known facts to explain what factors may affect Beth’s daily activities. Many of these facts are delivered through interviews with those who are working closely on Hen Harriers.

    The book closes with a discussion of some practical solutions that might enable more Hen Harriers to breed in England – such as brood management to increase the productivity of individual pairs and translocation of young birds to lowland areas away from the moors. Such methods are favoured by the Hawk and Owl Trust (of which David Cobham was a Vice President until recently), although other conservationists are sceptical about their chances of success. What is clear is that the story of Beth must surely mirror that of many young Hen Harriers. As this book was being completed news came in of yet another satellite-tagged Hen Harrier being killed in the Yorkshire Dales – again before it had even had the chance to breed even once.
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Biography

David Cobham is an internationally renowned filmmaker, well known for his films Tarka the Otter and The Goshawk. He is currently Vice-President of the Hawk and Owl Trust.

Dan Powell is a wildlife artist best known for the field guide to The Dragonflies of Great Britain. His drawings and paintings have appeared in numerous wildlife books and publications.

Nature Writing
By: David Cobham(Author), Dan Powell(Illustrator)
207 pages, b/w illustrations
Media reviews

"[...] As part of [...] ongoing research, Natural England has been tagging juvenile Hen Harriers with satellite transmitters in order to understand where they go both in summer and in winter, One such Hen Harrier chick was a female given the name of Betty by members of the public [...] She was fitted with a transmitter while still in the nest, in the uplands of Rowland in Lancashire in the summer of 2011, and her subsequent movements were monitored until her untimely death in June 2012. [...] This book is the story of Betty's first year of life. David Cobham is a skilful story-teller. [...] In this new volume he uses a mixture of fact and fiction to give readers an insight into the daily challenges facing a young Hen Harrier. My use of the word 'fiction' here is not meant to discredit the authenticity of the story being told. David Cobham had good knowledge of Beth's activities and when still in Bowland she was monitored daily by those who were tracking her. [...] Over the course of 21 chapters, Beth's Story is told with great affection and to accompany the text there are attractive line-drawings by Dan Powell. To bring us back to reality, the fictional text (always in italics) is interspersed with known facts to explain what factors may affect Beth's daily activities."
– Keith Betton, British Birds Volume 110(10), October 2017

"Bowland Beth manages to rise above the dark and contentious issues it covers to deliver an engaging read that transports the reader into the mind of one of the UK’s most controversial birds of prey. [...] With Christmas speeding up before we know it, I can see this book as a great gift for adults and teenagers interested in nature, and I am sure that it will inspire a new generation of conservationists in the future."
– Katherine Booth Jones, BTO book reviews

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