A SHADOW ABOVE: THE FALL AND RISE OF THE RAVEN
JOE SHUTE, BLOOMSBURY WILDLIFE, £16.99
Ravens are the comeback corvids. Driven to remote uplands by centuries of dogged persecution, our largest crows staged an astonishing recovery (the British population has near doubled since 1995) and today thrive in many lowland farming areas, even nesting on town halls and the White Cliffs of Dover. Nevertheless, ravens remain divisive; to some rural folk they will always be vermin.
Joe Shute sees something else in these birds: “An emblem of my own age – a symbol of its darkness and yet still somehow one of hope.” In his first book, the Telegraph writer deftly explores the way in which ravens lie “at the heart of Britain’s history”, as birds of omen for Celts, Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Vikings, Normans and more. Numerous place names honour ravens; we learn too that Shakespeare mentions them more times than any other animal.
A Shadow Above is a blend of nature and travel writing, as Shute roams the country in search of raven obsessives, from archaeologists to retired dentists and convicted criminals. He has a journalist’s ear for a great anecdote and revealing quote, and some exquisite turns of phrase.
The ravens emerge as fascinating creatures. Highly intelligent with complex inner lives, they will fly upside-down and play in snow for what seems like pure joy. They’re one of the few species that mourn their dead and plan for the future. Never was the insult ‘bird brain’ less deserved. Ben Hoare, BBC Wildlife features editor
Intelligent and highly adaptable, ravens are able to live in a variety of habitats