Flicking through the Sunday papers, I came across this review of Edgelands, a new book by poets Michael Symmons Roberts and Paul Farley which looks at those scrappy, scratchy, scrubby places that divide town and country yet are neither one thing nor the other.
Minutes later, trawling the web (what an energetic life I lead), I discovered this new volume from Shearsman - The Ground Aslant: An Anthology of Radical Landscape Poetry. From the accompanying blurb, I'd expect it to touch on at least some of the same territory.
One is the fact that many of those previously common bird species which are declining here are doing just fine over there. A good example is the Corn Bunting, now vanished from large swathes of the UK, but whose distinctive jangle was the soundtrack to almost every waking minute spent outside of the centre of Trujillo, where we stayed.
Number two was the 'messiness' of the landscape there, compared to the UK. It's beautiful, and there are plenty of areas that are unspoiled, as well as others such as the dehesa that are, although shaped by man, managed with the intention of maintaining some sort of natural balance.
Back over here, on the other hand, roadside verges are being mown for no apparent reason, and hedges are being stripped so bare that there's no prospect of them being used by nesting birds this year. You'd think that, in these straitened times, councils and landowners would welcome the chance to cut back their maintenance budget and restrict work to those areas where it's absolutely necessary (at junctions, for traffic safety, for example). Apparently not. If it's not farmland, a park or a nature reserve, it has to be neatly manicured.
That has to be one of the major reasons for the decline of so many of our small birds (as well as larger species such as Lapwing). It's nothing to do with predators (the third thing you notice in Spain is the much greater density of raptors), but instead because by eliminating these marginal landscapes, these 'edgelands', we eliminate major sources of food and shelter for all sorts of birds. Instead of pursuing the absurd cull of corvids (and, potentially, raptors) being piloted by Songbird Survival, a body dominated by hunting interests, we should be looking at the root of the problem.
So, if either or both of these two books can do anything to change attitudes, that has to be a very good thing. The Shearsman anthology contains several names - Colin Simms, Elisabeth Bletsoe, Helen Macdonald, Mark Goodwin, Peter Riley and editor Harriet Tarlo - whose inclusion would make it a must for me anyway, but they both look worth a read. Might have to wait a while, though.