Rachel Carson is said to have sparked the modern day environmental movement with the publication of Silent Spring in 1962. She made vivid the gloomy prospect of life without birdsong. But have her warnings been heeded?
Fifty years on, Conor Jameson reflects on the growth of environmentalism since Silent Spring. Using a particular style of nature writing that could be dubbed 'biogumentary', with its engaging narrative momentum, this revealing tale plots milestone events in conservation and cultural/political history to evoke the five decades since 'zero hour', 1962.
Around this, Conor weaves touching personal observation and two decades of notes from his own roles in conservation. It is an attempt to answer the fundamental question: are we silencing the spring? 'It's been an eye-opening exploration of the recent past,' says the author. "It has been startling in places, for me and for colleagues I've spoken to. I think others may be a little startled too."
"A vividly told, beautifully written account of the environmentalist movement of the last fifty years and his own involvement in it [...] the author takes his place among the pre-eminent nature writers of our times. His clear, vivid writing skillfully weaves political and cultural history, personal observation and passionate advocacy for the conservation of our diminishing wildlife to create a book that will endure in the annals of natural history."
– Marie Winn
"If Nick Hornby loved nature, he might write a book like this."
– Martin Harper, RSPB Director of Conservation
"A lively read [...] what makes Jameson's work especially enjoyable is the personal slant [...] "
– Matt Merritt, Editor, Birdwatching
"A fine writer, who brings together an artist's sensibility with a conservationist's sense of reality [...] a vital read."
–John Fanshawe, Birdwatch
"Jameson [...] has skillfully stiched together a narrative that reveals the highs and lows of conservation, and will, I am sure, convince many that the good fight is still worth it."
"A clear and concise historical overview of the failures and successes of the conservation movement since the 1960s; and it will rightly find a place on many a conservationist's bookshelf."
– British Birds
"Fifty years ago American scientist and author Rachel Carson published the seminal Silent Spring, making vivid the prospect of life without birdsong – and so launched the modern environmental movement. Conor Mark Jameson reflects on this legacy and asks the question – are we still silencing the spring?
Every one of the years since 1962 is examined in detail to plot the growth of environmentalism. This annual summary of important milestones is staggeringly thorough and all – embracing: synthetic insecticides, bird-catchers, egg collectors, CBC, the Big Freeze, oil pollution, loss of hedgerows, Dutch Elm Disease, formation of the Department of the Environment and the US Environmental Protection Agency, launching of The Ecologist magazine, the Ramsar Convention, the BBC's fictional series Doomwatch, stubble burning, acid rain, package tourism, founding of the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group, the Wildlife and Countryside Act, excess production and food mountains, SSSIs and ESAs, the Geneva Convention on Transboundary Air Pollution, the EU's Birds Directive and Habitats Directive, the ploughlng and planting of the Flow Country, Chernobyl, the Common Agricultural Policy, set-aside, the Green Bill, the Rio and Johannesburg Earth Summits, CITES, the UK's Biodiversity Action Plan, the Newbury bypass, the Kyoto Climate talks, genetic identification, Nature Deficit Disorder, the Marine and Coastal Access Act [...] And not only does he itemise every possible environmental issue, but he weaves into this narrative autobiographical details, personal experiences, and such general topics as the capture of Che Guevara, the Prague Spring, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King and the current hits in popular music. All this evokes the year in question for every reader and gives a relevance and immediacy to the conservation issues.
How on earth has the author remembered or researched all this so thoroughly? The clue comes on page 112. He was inspired to become a 'dedicated diarist' by some words of Laurie Lee: 'Autobiography is also a celebration of living and an attempt to hoard its sensations [...] The spur for me is the fear of evaporation – erosion, amnesia if you like – the fear that a whole decade may drift gently away and leave nothing but a salt-caked mudflat'.
Conor Mark Jameson has ensured that the last five decades have not drifted gently away. This significant half-century is summarised for posterity, the debt we owe to the ever-vigilant and campaigning RSPB is clear, and the message is obvious. We are still silencing the spring. But there are isolated beacons of hope. ln the words of Birdlife's US partner Audubon: 'Only citizen action can make a difference for the birds and the state of our future'."
– Bryan Bland, Birding World 25(12), January 2013.
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Conor Jameson is an author who also works for the RSPB. Among his many writing credits are sections in The Private Life of Birds (BBC) and Exploring the Secrets of Nature (Readers Digest). He has a regular column in the RSPB's Birds magazine, on which he is currently New Editor. Conor won BBC Wildlife's Nature Writer of the Year award in 2010.