“Beak, Tooth and Claw” by Mary Colwell – A Book Review

It’s not often that I write a book review. But every now and then I come across a book that I really wish everybody I know would read. In my podcast, the subject of our difficult coexistence with wildlife is featured in many episodes. By far the most complex and difficult issue is our coexistence with predators. Since the dawn of time, our species has lived in danger of being preyed upon, while at the same time competing for prey. With the development of farming, this conflict continued as we protected farm animals from predation. This created a deeply rooted aversion to predators and, as a result, today almost all of their populations are severely depleted.

Nowadays, we are becoming acutely aware of our impact on the environment and that it is not always something to be proud of. A complex picture emerges. We are torn between the old animosity towards predators and the new urge to preserve them or even rebuild their populations. In her book “Beak, Tooth and Claw”, Mary Colwell goes deep into this complicated topic, carefully examining our past and present relationships with predators living in Britain. And although the book is focused on Britain I believe it is equally relevant to Ireland or any other country. It is about the human relationship with predators in general. 

After the introduction to what a predator is (we don’t tend to think about badgers or tits as predators), Mary dedicated a chapter to each species. Foxes, badgers, eagles, corvids, lynx, wolves and so on. From these chapters, the reader can absorb many interesting scientific facts. What makes this book stand out is that it presents and acknowledges arguments from people on both sides of the spectrum. Those who want to kill and control predators and those who oppose such practices. In this regard, Mary does an excellent job! Never once did I feel like she was arguing from a moral high ground and telling the reader what to think.

What struck me while reading this book is the same thing that I noticed during the conversation, on my podcast, with environmentalist and photographer, Peter Cairns. The presence or notion of reintroduction of any predator species is always controversial and makes some group unhappy. Whether birds or mammals, if they’re causing any inconvenience to humans, we want them gone. Or at least pretty close to gone. And while that is too extreme, because humans have modified the natural balance between species, some lethal control measures are required and even well justified.

I would really thoroughly recommend this book for anyone interested in nature, conservation, hunting, farming or rewilding. If you approach it with an open mind and without prejudice, it will serve some serious food for thought. It might be your springboard to a deeper understanding of these complex problems.

If and when the opportunity arises, I would love to chat with Mary on my podcast. Until then, do yourself a favour and order a copy of “Beak, Tooth and Claw”. You won’t be disappointed. 

Episode 98: Eco Defense Group with Nathan Edmondson

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Wildlife trafficking and poaching are huge problems for the conservation of the world’s most endangered species. They also present significant social and economic challenges. On one hand, big green organizations like WWF are criticised for “militarization of conservation” in their attempt to counteract the increasingly sophisticated and militarized wildlife trafficking cartels. On the other hand, members of local communities often find themselves caught in a conflict between those groups. That in turn leads to injustice and human rights abuse.

In this episode, we start a conversation on this difficult topic. Our guest is Nathan Edmondson, co-founder and President of Eco Defense Group. They primarily work with local African communities to empower and provide necessary training, consultation and equipment to the frontline rangers who face danger and direct conflict. The Eco Defense Group’s background is in military special ops and, given the nature of their work, a lot of what they do has to remain secret.

Wildlife trafficking is an incredibly complex and difficult topic and I hope to bring you more episodes about it. If you have any comments, as always, I encourage you to put them down below.

Episode 97: Human-Wildlife Conflict with Amy Dickman

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Dr Amy Dickman needs no introduction. She is well known and hugely respected in both academic and conservation communities. She’s a conservation biologist and works on resolving human-wildlife conflict on human-dominated landscapes. Amy is a Kaplan Senior Research Fellow in Wild Cat Conservation under Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit. She is also the founder of The Ruaha Carnivore Project where she works closely with local communities to mitigate the conflict.

During our chat, we explore the difficult topic of human-wildlife conflict and some of the related ethical and scientific issues. As it turns out, not everything is clear-cut and some questions are difficult to answer. If you are interested in wildlife conservation you will find this fast-paced episode fascinating. And as a result, you might find yourself questioning your own opinions.

Episode 96: Blue Sharks with Simon Thomas

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My podcast listeners have heard, more than once, that there was a time when I was absolutely crazy about shark fishing. Among the many species of sharks present in my local waters, blue sharks (prionace glauca) have a special place in the hearts of sea anglers. These sharks are still relatively abundant and provide an opportunity to get a taste of true Big Game fishing without having to go on an expensive fishing holiday.

We already touched briefly on shark fishing during podcast number 41 with my friend, and a man with whom I did most of my shark fishing, Luke Aston. Today, however, we’re going all-in on blue shark fishing. Our guest is Dr Simon Thomas who is not only an expert angler but also works tirelessly on analysing scientific data related to blue sharks.

If you’re interested in marine biology or sharks or you’re just an angler who wants to learn more about shark-catching techniques, you will find this episode mighty interesting. No doubt!

Episode 95: Białowieża Forest with Marta Klimkiewicz

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Białowieża Forest is well known among environmentalists and wildlife enthusiasts around Europe and the world. It is the largest remaining part of the primaeval forest that once stretched across the European Plain. This region, spanning Poland and Belarus, steaming with biodiversity, is designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage site.

But the situation on the ground is rather worrying with continued logging and complex land management issues. To explain the current state of affairs and what can be done to further protect this living gem of natural history, I talk with Marta Klimkiewicz from the environmental charity ClientEarth. (ClientEarth – Prawnicy dla Ziemi)

During our conversation, we often go on tangents to discuss other wildlife management issues in Poland like the human-wolf conflict and how to transition local economies to more sustainable practices.

Episode 94: African Big Game with Steve Scott

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Hunting in Africa is on the bucket list of many hunters. But for many, that dream might seem very distant. Almost impossible. But as you will see in this conversation with Steve Scott, a veteran hunter, TV host, and producer of television hunting shows, this doesn’t have to be the case.

Problems caused by the pandemic and related travel restrictions made the prices of hunts in Africa hit rock bottom. This combined with the progressive rollout of vaccines means that now might be the best time to fulfil your dream and book your bucket list hunt in Africa.

Episode 93: The Amazon Rainforest with Alex Lees

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The Amazon rainforest is the largest and most biodiverse tropical rainforest in the world. It represents over half of the remaining rainforests. It is home to countless species of insects, birds, amphibians, reptiles and mammals. Not to mention the fish. Unfortunately, as we all can read and hear in the news, it is subject to unrelenting exploitation and destruction.

I decided that my podcast would never be complete without talking about the Amazon. So, it was my great pleasure to sit down with Dr Alex Lees who is a Senior Lecturer in Conservation Biology in the Department of Natural Sciences at Manchester Metropolitan University. Alex spent a long time in the Amazon while working on various scientific projects. He has a deep understanding of the Amazon ecology as well as the land use issues which underlie the progressive destruction of this unique ecological system.

Episode 92: Upland Ecology with Cathy Mayne

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In recent episodes, I have presented a whole host of views and opinions regarding rewilding, land management, and the need to change the way we coexist with nature. In this episode, we continue on that path, but with a guest, Dr Cathy Mayne, who has a particularly interesting perspective. That perspective might not be entirely aligned with the usual rewilding approach, but it is very well thought out, balanced and realistic.

Cathy is an ecologist with vast experience in environmental management. She has a deep knowledge of the challenges and opportunities in land management. She also has a strong background in deer management and is a hunter herself. Currently, she is the Principal Ecologist at the Mountain Environment Services consultancy.

This episode is an absolute must for anyone interested in nature conservation, rewilding, and sustainable living. Cathy, without a doubt, is one of a kind and I am sure that our conversation will be as fascinating and informative for you as it was for me.

Episode 91: Beaver Trust with Chris Jones

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In this episode, once again, we are going to talk about ecological restoration and bringing back species that were extirpated from their native range. Our guest is Chris Jones who is the Restoration Director at Beaver Trust.

During our conversation, we discuss the history of Beaver Trust, how it was found and why. Then we discuss beaver ecology and the role of beavers in the ecosystem. Chris gives us some real-life examples of benefits that beavers bring, not only to the environment but also to humans.

We finish our conversation by discussing the future of beaver reintroductions and broader, the future of ecological restoration. This episode is a must-listen if you are interested in ecology and habitat restoration.