Chaffinches with Their Beaks Pushed into the Soil, Woodpigeons with a Froth of Spittle at Their Open Mouths

Stephen Mills

  • Rachel Carson: Witness for Nature by Linda Lear
    Allen Lane, 634 pp, £25.00, March 1998, ISBN 0 7139 9236 0

I remember a nightmare walk in the Oxfordshire woods of my childhood. Among the trees, I stumbled on an eerie flock of birds: chaffinches – brilliant dabs of green, orange, blue and white – with their beaks pushed into the soil; woodpigeons, their wings and tails spread like fans for flight, a froth of spittle at each open mouth; greenfinches and reed buntings, tree sparrows and yellowhammers, hundreds of them, all dead, the last gleam soon to be washed from their feathers by the rain. This was pesticide-land, early 1962. For more than a decade the DDT and the other organochlorines that had kept armies disease-free and clear of lice had been at work on the crops and soils of Europe and America – doing their bit in the battle to feed the peacetime population.

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