Worcestershire Record No. 22 April 2007 p. 14

SILENT FIELDS. The long decline of a Nation’s Wildlife. By Roger Lovegrove, published by Oxford University Press 2007 ISBN 978-0-19-852071-9.

This fascinating book documents the persecution of mammals and birds regarded as vermin over the last 450 years. Most of the information comes from a search of parish churchwardens’ annual accounts up to the time of the enclosures, augmented thereafter by estate records kept by gamekeepers. The author points out that destruction of many species is often blamed on Edwardian and Victorian gamekeepers but the onslaught on species considered to conflict with man’s interests started much earlier. “… the programme of structured vermin control starting in the sixteenth century was enshrined in law, encourage by remuneration, and pursued with intent”. “….. several hundred years ago, organised vermin killing gradually became big business. Under the Tudor monarchs Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, it assumed national importance, the legacy of which persists to the present day”. The numbers of mammals and birds killed over the years was high and although the list of species contains the usual suspects there are some surprising targets: Kingfishers and Green Woodpeckers for example

Before I bought the book myself John Hodson drew my attention to the section on Green Woodpeckers following on from the notes published in Worcestershire Record recently of woodpecker attacks on a wooden shed at Cleeve Prior; on a house with wooden shingles near Elmley Castle, another at Kemerton, and attacks on beehives at Wilden, Apparently in times past Green Woodpecker hole drilling became a considerable nuisance in some parishes through damage to shingle-clad church steeples and continues today.

In researching for this book Roger Lovegrove examined the records for each county and in so-doing checked 31 out of 218 parishes in Worcestershire. From our local point of view a great deal of research remains to be done in Worcestershire to compile all the records. Can anyone rise to the challenge? Interestingly Terry Knight (2004) found the first Worcestershire record of hedgehogs in a South Little archive for 1685 and John Dodge (2005) found many similar records for Beckford and Ashton-under-Hill. Examination of all the Worcestershire records would certainly add to our knowledge of the county’s mammals and birds over the last 450 years.

The book is well-written, readable, and fascinating, and only costs £25 (probably cheaper at Amazon)


DODGE, JOHN S 2005 Old records of ‘vermin’ in south Worcestershire. Worcestershire Record 18:27
GREEN H 2006 Woodpecker work. Worcestershire Record 20:27
GREEN H 2006 Woodpecker Work. Worcestershire Record 21:21.
KNIGHT T 2004 First record of hedgehogs in Worcestershire? Worcestershire Record 17:7
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