A SHADOW ABOVE: THE FALL AND RISE OF THE RAVEN

JOE SHUTE, BLOOMS­BURY WILDLIFE, £16.99

Countryfile Magazine - - Lazy Days -

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

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