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An acknowledged classic of narrative nature-writing, Donald Watson's The Hen Harrier was the culmination of a lifetime's study of this beautiful upland bird. A gentle, warm and wonderfully written book, The Hen Harrier stems from an age of 'amateur' conservation, from the pen of a man who cared deeply about birds and their habitats, especially of the Scottish borders where he conducted much of his research and painting. The book was among the last of a dying breed; it would be thirty years or more before writing on our natural history would again reach the heights of accessibility to nature-lovers exemplified by Donald Watson and his peers.
The Hen Harrier starts with Watson setting down more or less everything known about harriers – which at that time often consisted of information sent by letter to the author, rather than published in a journal – before moving on to the story of Watson's years studying nests in the south-west of Scotland.
With a foreword by conservation champion Mark Avery, this edition of Watson's greatest work is particularly timely. The conflict between grouse-shooting interests, which has overseen the virtual extinction of the harrier as a breeding bird in England through illegal persecution, and an increasingly vocal conservationist lobby is the number one conservation issue in Britain today.
Donald Watson's narrative soars like a sky-dancing harrier throughout The Hen Harrier. Read it, and be taken back to a simpler age of nature conservation by a true master of the art.
Donald Watson was renowned as both a pre-eminent artist of wild south-west Scotland and as a talented field ornithologist. Following service in the Burma campaign from 1944 to the war's end, Donald put his talent as a bird artist to good use, illustrating many books, and producing a number of superb paintings of wild places – moors, estuaries and heaths. Meanwhile, he continued his scientific studies, becoming president of the Scottish Ornithologists' Club, with this culminating in his great masterpiece, 1977's The Hen Harrier. Later in life he continued to paint and publish, with his last book, In Search of Harriers, published shortly after his death in 2005.