The Meaning of Geese is a book of thrilling encounters with wildlife, of tired legs, punctured tyres and inhospitable weather. Above all, it is the story of Nick Acheson's love for the land in which he was born and raised, and for the wild geese that fill it with sound and spectacle every winter.
Renowned naturalist and conservationist Nick Acheson spent countless hours observing and researching wild geese, transported through all weathers by his mother's 40-year-old trusty red bicycle. He meticulously details the geese's arrival, observing what they mean to his beloved Norfolk and the role they play in local people's lives – and what role the birds could play in our changing world.
During a time when many people faced the prospect of little work or human contact, Nick followed the pinkfeet and brent geese that filled the Norfolk skies and landscape as they flew in from Iceland and Siberia. In their flocks, Nick encountered rarer geese, including Russian white-fronts, barnacle geese and an extremely unusual grey-bellied brant, a bird he had dreamt of seeing since thumbing his mother's copy of Peter Scott's field guide as a child.
To honour the geese's great athletic migrations, Nick kept a diary of his sightings as well as the stories he discovered through the community of people, past and present, who loved them, too. Over seven months Nick cycles over 1,200 miles – the exact length of the pinkfeet's migration to Iceland.
Nick Acheson grew up in North Norfolk. Since early childhood, he has been fascinated by nature, a fascination which grew through his youth to become a consuming interest and a commitment to wildlife conservation. In adulthood, this has developed into advocacy for the environment and for a sustainable future. For the past fifteen years, Nick has worked for conservation NGOs in the UK, most notably Norfolk Wildlife Trust. He is an ambassador for both Norfolk Wildlife Trust and Pensthorpe, a trustee of Felbeck Trust and a recent president of the historic Norfolk and Norwich Naturalists’ Society. Nick has written for three of the Seasons anthologies, Red Sixty Seven, Low-Carbon Birding, British Birds, British Wildlife and BBC Wildlife. This is his first book.
"This book is an absolute treasure. Nick's attention to detail is astonishing, but he also writes with humour, humility and grace, seamlessly blending a lifetime of knowledge, insight and passion – not only for his beloved geese but for the entire natural world. I will never again look at geese without pondering their "meaning"."
– Brigit Strawbridge Howard, author of Dancing with Bees
"The Meaning of Geese shows us it is possible and necessary to know ourselves and our wild world through a deep intimacy with just one place under the sky – and the simple reach of a mother's happy red-darter-coloured bicycle. In an awe-filled and absorbing portrait, wild geese bring the world and its mysteries to us and our shared landscape. The warmth, humility, friendship and deep knowledge that exude from this book are infectious and necessary. It is a lyrical love letter to North Norfolk, its skies, people and the gleaming, binding, gossamer threads its geese trail across the globe and back. The Meaning of Geese shows us how we too can be explorers and pioneers of a deeper knowledge, from the seat of an old red bicycle."
– Nicola Chester, author of On Gallows Down
"Nick Acheson lives his life as he writes his books – full of clarity and passion. Only a man hefted so deeply to a landscape could bring the detail of wildlife to the page in such brightness. So much so that you feel you are riding on his handlebars as he toils up Norfolk's hills on his old bike in search of his beloved geese or shivering at his side as an easterly wind buffets the flocks that fuss and shout all around. Migrant geese bring with them the spectacle of the sunlit months of northern reaches, places like Iceland, Siberia, even Canada. As the days shorten, they are guided by the stars to whiffle and glide onto the mud of the North Norfolk coast, bringing in their wake a yearning evoked by meeting travellers who have seen what we never will. But for Nick, the geese are far more than natural wonders, they are the embodiment of a rich human history, the stuff of folktales, the creatures that bind nature-loving friends together, a consolation in the dark months, and they are feathered portents of a changing planet. The Meaning of Geese is exactly the right title. The details of Norfolk's wildlife, large and small, fall out of the page. As I read this book while winter nudges away the last warm days of the year, I am fired by a love for a world that still has geese sailing through the night to land amongst us and am grateful to those who wait for them to arrive and watch them with wonder."
– Mary Colwell, author of Curlew Moon