Habitat depletion and the catastrophic decline in insect numbers means there are millions fewer birds in the country than when Lovatt was a child. As well as a big ecological problem, this impoverished soundscape is “a great loss for our sense of who we are as human beings”. Our idea of summer was once defined by the sound of birds such as cuckoos and turtle doves, “the aural equivalent of a heat haze, the gentlest corrugation of air, always just on the edge of your hearing”.
This is a joyous and profound meditation on birdsong and what it means to us, a book that brings to life an essential part of the natural world that most of us take so much for granted that we scarcely notice it.
This slim, beautifully observed book (his first) begins last March when Lovatt, a bird-lover since childhood, finds his old passion re-ignited on daily walks in his local park in a small town in South Wales, when his time is not circumscribed by family duties. Lovatt is no professional nature writer — he’s a down-to-earth bloke who looks and listens carefully, and as a result sees his own relatively humble locality afresh every day. Then he describes what he sees in exquisite prose that soars as high as his beloved birds.
Lovatt’s approach is fresh, joyful and uncomplicated. Birdsong in a Time of Silence recalls a spring we will never forget but also reminds us that the pandemic grew out of our disregard for nature, and could presage ecological disaster. In Britain alone, we have lost 50m songbirds since American conservationist Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring, her landmark 1962 book, which alerted the public to the environmental impact of widely used pesticides on insects and birds. Let the remarkable spring of 2020 not become the swansong before nature itself fades into silence.