Sunday book review – Wild Island by Jane Smith

9781780272696This is a lovely book about a lovely place – the island of Oronsay.  I’ve seen Oronsay from afar but never visited.

This book  by artist Jane Smith opens the door to the island and its wildlife. Since Oronsay is an RSPB nature reserve I know some of the characters in the pages of this book – it’s a long time since I met Mike and Val Peacock but I remember them well, and I certainly remember Choughs, Tysties, Rock Doves and the thinking man’s Linnet, the Twite.

I’ve probably seen Jane Smith’s artwork at SWLA exhibitions, I’ve probably liked it too, but her name hasn’t stuck in my mind so I came to this collection of work afresh. Her art is simple but accurate and sympathetic.  She captures a lot of the personality of birds in her illustrations – check out the Starlings on p88, for example.  There are lots of birds but seals, Otters, butterflies, Thrift, bumblebees too. Note: the jacket illustration above gives a good idea of the style but the actual colours are softer and more pastel than they appear here in this download.

The words wrapped around this lovely artwork are good too – although I think there might be better candidates to be the Audrey Hepburn of the bird world than…well see for yourself 0n p146.  But I recommend that you read the very last paragraph of the book as it neatly encapsulates one reason why we should bother about nature conservation.  It’s a short paragraph worth reading every few months and pointing out to other people.

You will learn about island life, a bit about farming and something about birds such as the Corncrake – one of the RSPB’s many conservation success stories.

And the Foreword by RSPB’s Scotland Director, Stuart Housden, is a good read too.

But the artwork is a delight and if you know the Hebrides then this collection of images will remind you of landscapes of machair, sandy beaches, seaweed-bedecked rocks and meadows buzzing with insects.

Wild Island: a year in the Hebrides by Jane Smith is published by Birlinn Books. Jane Smith has an exhibition at the Scottish Ornithologist’s Club centre at Aberlady.


Inglorious: conflict in the uplands by Mark Avery is published by Bloomsbury – for reviews see here.

Behind the Binoculars: interviews with acclaimed birdwatchers by Mark Avery and Keith Betton is published by Pelagic – here’s a review.

A Message from Martha by Mark Avery is published by Bloomsbury – for reviews see here.

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7 Replies to “Sunday book review – Wild Island by Jane Smith”

  1. Thanks for the review, Mark. Will be on the lookout for the book.

    A Twite for the thinking man? There must be a woman’s equivalent?
    Perhaps it's the Red Necked Phalarope with its ‘reversed courtship’ and liberated nesting behaviours. Possibly the bird breeds on that island.

        1. On the contrary, Francesca Greenoak, in her book on the lore and literature of British Birds gives us the derivation of those two names:

          Linnet comes from the Old English, ‘linece’, which in turn comes from the Latin ‘linum’, meaning flax. The small seeds of that plant used to be an important food for the bird. Its Orkney name is a wonderful confirmation of this fact; Lint White, from OE, ‘linetwige’ or flax-tweaker, because of the way the bird twists the fruiting capsules to release the small seeds.
          Twite ‘probably comes from the bird’s call’. The SOED is more emphatic and puts the derivation as ‘imitative’.
          So there’s the choice: tweakers versus twitterers.
          (Just food for thought.)

  2. 'the thinking man’s Linnet, the Twite'

    Very good - although I prefer the name 'the Pennine Finch'.

    Every time I think of Twite, I'm reminded of a former colleague who when giving a presentation to a large group of farmers on 'Birds of the Moorland Fringe', made a most unfortunate spoonerism, not once but twice!

  3. What a delightful book judging by the cover and the review. Do you think Oronsay would be a good place to escape from the EU referendum?


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