Outwardly normal people are walking the streets of Britain harbouring peculiar passions. Like superheroes in mufti, at a moment’s notice they will shed their outer shells and reveal the passionate hearts beneath. Whether leaping to the rescue of fallen swans, arguing the case for otters or creating space for humble bumblebees, there are folk throughout this land who care passionately about wild animals.
Most of our non-human relationships are with pets or domesticated animals. But what Hugh Warwick investigates is something very different. He wants to find out what it is, for instance, that motivates members of the species Homo sapiens to work so hard for Cygnus olor, Turdus philomelos or Bombus terrestris.
After all, there doesn’t seem to be much evolutionary logic in expending vast resources on other species in return for nothing. Foxes don’t often buy you a meal, owls aren’t great at regular meetings and toads are all too often greeted with disgust. Few wild animals allow you to get nose-to-nose with them and fewer still are going to curl up on the sofa with you as you snooze in front of the television.
So, he asks, why?
To find the answer, Hugh Warwick enters the worlds of the many passionate advocates he has found. He spends time with owl, swan, bumblebee, otter and fox folk. He joins them as they educate, research, conserve and proclaim the importance of these animals. This will be an unnatural natural history of these islands: an eclectic, unrepresentative and entirely personal choice of twelve species that is as much about the people who love and support them as it will be about the animals themselves.
Hugh Warwick is an environmental writer and photographer. His work ranges from freelancing across the print spectrum, from BBC Wildlife and New Scientist to the Daily Telegraph – for whom he was unofficially hedgehog correspondent for a while – to radio documentaries for BBC Radio 4 and appearing as the ‘Eco-Worrier’ on Fred McAuley’s Radio Scotland show. He was also the field producer on Robert Greenwald’s film ‘Walmart: The High Cost of Low Price’. In addition, Hugh has studied hedgehogs, off and on, for over 20 years, and has most recently been responsible for stopping the great hedgehog massacre of Uist in the Outer Hebrides. He’s also spent months radio-tracking them around the West Country; searching the shingle beaches of Dungeness for their paw-prints in vain; and living under canvas when monitoring them on Ronaldsay and Uist.