Sunday book review – Sky Dancer by Gill Lewis

This is a book about Hen Harriers too (see reviews of The Hen Harrier and Bowland Beth)! But this book takes a different perspective – it is a novel about the impacts that Hen Harriers, and their persecution, have on a local family and the community in which it sits.

In theory, this is a book for young people, aged 10+ I feel, but since I am older than 10 years I felt qualified to read it, and enjoyed it hugely. It’s well-written and the story zips along. The characters are believable and I felt I understood the perspectives of them all.  And the details of the habitat and the wildlife all ring true.

I won’t disclose the story, but it is clever and provides a good vehicle for getting messages across about conservation conflicts, personal conflicts but also the ecology of the uplands and character of fieldsports.

This book is fiction, but only in the sense that it takes imagined characters acting out imagined events in an imagined place; the events are those that really occur on the grouse moors of the UK all the time.

I’d like many young people to read this book – and older non-children too but I doubt whether the National Gamekeeepers’ Organisation or the Moorland Association will be recommending this story to their members.

I thoroughly recommend this book as a refreshingly new take on the conflict between grouse shooting and the law, particularly wildlife law. The book is published in October and would be an excellent Christmas present for a young naturalist, but, as I’ve said, I enjoyed it very much. So much so that I plan to read others of Gill Lewis’s books, most of which have a wildlife theme.

Sky Dancer by Gill Lewis will be published by OUP in October.


Last week I reviewed David Cobham’s Bowland Beth, and the week before, Donald Watson’s classic book, reissued as a second edition: The Hen Harrier.




Will readers of this book provide the attendees at Hen Harrier Day events in future?  This year events are planned for 5th August and 6th August – here is a list of venues across England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

And will readers of Sky Dancer be the up-and-coming Findlay Wildes and be producing their own thunderclaps for the Inglorious 12th?





Inglorious: conflict in the uplands by Mark Avery is published by Bloomsbury for reviews see here. ‘A powerful indictment of the grouse-shooting industry and its illegal shooting and propaganda war against the Hen Harrier‘ – The Guardian





And there is this event in London on the Inglorious 12th.



Tim Melling – Bearded Tit


Tim writes:  I suppose the most unusual thing about this photograph is that it was not photographed in a reedbed.  In winter they are supposed to feed mainly on the seeds of Common Reed (Phragmites australis) but I found a flock feeding in a rough field near to a reedbed in North Lincolnshire.  It wasn’t a small number either.  There were about fifty of them all feeding on what I think is Ragwort (Senecio vulgaris).  That is two benefits of this much-maligned plant as it is also the larval foodplant of the beautiful Cinnabar moth.

Its scientific name Panurus biarmicus is an interesting one.  Panurus means it has a large tail, which it does, though perhaps not the feature I would home in on if I were naming it.  Biarmicus it shares with Lanner Falcon (Falco biarmicus) so you would expect it to refer to a moustache which both birds have.  It is thought to be a mistake by Linnaeus who named the  Lanner biarmicus first thinking it meant “with two beard stripes” but he missed out an s (should have been bisarmicus).  Temminck presumably thought it meant bearded when he used biarmicus for Bearded Tit, but the word now refers to an old region in Northern Russia on the White Sea called Biarmia.

Taken with Nikon D500 Nikkor 300mm f4 with 1.4x converter (420mm) set at f5.6  1/1600   ISO 2200



And here are the results of last week’s poll…





An Unreliable History of Birdwatching (17) by Paul Thomas


Paul’s website


Previous episodes:

An Unreliable History of Birdwatching by Paul Thomas (1)

An Unreliable History of Birdwatching by Paul Thomas (5)

An Unreliable History of Birdwatching by Paul Thomas (6)

An Unreliable History of Birdwatching by Paul Thomas (13)

An Unreliable History of Birdwatching by Paul Thomas (15)







Some news and some blogs

Things that have caught my eye in a busy week:



  • Martin Harper, RSPB takes a similar line to my own on Gove’s speech; A reflection on Michael Gove’s first major environment speech
  • Raptor Persecution UK posts a series of articles on the enormously expensive and ill-starred proposed southern reintroduction of Hen Harriers to Wiltshire, no, Exmoor, no, hang on, Dartmoor with birds from grouse moors, no, Scotland, no, Spain, no, maybe France, and if not France then we’ll try the Moon; start here and work back for a full bag of laughs at Natural England
  • Finn’s a mum!: by Findlay Wilde and by RSPB Skydancer

Saturday cartoon by Ralph Underhill