Sir,—Travellers from all parts of the world tell us that one of the things that strike then when they land upon our shores in early summer is the variety of our wild bird life, and the abundance of those “wood notes wild” that have inspired so much of the best of our English song. They do not remember that that we have entirely lost 13 or 14 varieties from the list of English birds within historic memory, some within the memory of this generation. Nor that from our wild bird chorus have vanished the clang of the crane and the deep bass of the bittern’s boom.
But these same visitors to England are often struck with the comparative rarity of birds of bright plumage in our woods and gardens and by our streams. They see plenty of jays’ wings in ladies hats, and here and there a green woodpecker and a kingfisher under a glass case upon some stairway landing; they, perhaps, ask to be taken a country walk that they may watch these birds at their work. It is ten chances to one that they will walk all day in some parts of England that used to be haunted by these bright presences and see none. The fact is that the same hand that has robbed our shores of the great auk, our plains of the bustard, our moors of the hen and marsh harrier, and our marshes of the “ruff and reeve” have been cruelly busy against jay and kingfisher and woodpecker. The birdstuffer is robbing England of its winged jewelry; the bird-fancier is stealing our singing friends from hedgerow and from field.
It is not only from the artist’s side that one complains of this destruction of beautiful bird-life. It is from the ethical side also. Those of us who feel that it is a duty to the nation to keep as much of English life that can be kept in country air, and within reach of country sight and sound, feel that any diminution of the joy of the countryside and the interest of a country walk is a danger to our body politic, for it affords another reason to bid men forsake a duller countryside and swarm into the towns.
Nor can one forget in this time of depression of agriculture that the farmer has foes against whom we are helpless, but the birds of the air are all-powerful. What is the reason of the late plague of voles in Scotland, of rats in Shropshire, of rats and mice in Lincolnshire, but that, in in their ignorance of the habits and feeding of owl and kestrel, a shortsighted war of extermination at the and of the gamekeeper has been going on against the farmer’s truest friends.
Again, who knows how much of the blight in our orchards, of oakleaf destruction in our woods, has been the direct result of the shooting off of the caterpillar-devourers. Who can tell how much of the grouse disease upon our moors has been in part the result of allowing feeble birds to live and perpetuate their race that would else naturally have fallen a prey to the hawk? We have destroyed a beneficent balance of nature, and where is the remedy?
It is possible that it may be found in the Wild Birds’ Protection Amendment Act, a copy of which with a letter from the Secretary of State, has just been issued to the County Councils…. It is sincerely to be hoped that county councils will consider the matter, and, advised by experts, will, if possible, take concerted action with adjacent counties, not only for the preservation of the rarer birds, but with the hope of giving some of scarcer visitants also a chance of building and nesting in our island.
The interests of agriculture, harbour sanitation, sea-coast fisheries, forest and garden culture, as well as the joy and charm of our native land, seem to require of our county councils that they shall give the Wild Birds’ Protection Amendment Act their most careful attention.
(Times, 28 November 1894, p. 14)