Live Kindly, Tread Lightly -Animals and Us

I am changing the nature of this blog, following the publication of THIS BOOK IS CRUELTY FREE: ANIMALS AND US, out now from Pavilion Books. Although I'll still post occasional book reviews, as before, and certainly my Best Books of the Year, my main focus will be on animal welfare matters and campaigns. In particular, I'll focus on positive developments that show the power of campaigning and the effectiveness of using our voices to provoke change for the better.

Animal Advocate interview: author Gill Lewis

I'm hoping to make this a regular feature here - interviewing people who campaign for animals in a range of ways. I'm delighted that Gill Lewis has kindly agreed to be my first guest.

 

Gill is a wonderful writer for young readers, many of her stories drawing on her experience as a vet and her travels to see wildlife in many countries. From her first novel, Sky Hawk, to her most recent, A Street Dog Named Pup, her books are thoroughly absorbing. There is always an animal ingredient, ranging from outrage at the poisoning of golden eagles on a shooting estate and the anxiety of following a tracked osprey on her flight to Africa and back, to the perils faced by the abandoned Pup on the London streets and the dependence of an exiled woman on her collection of birds. There's also a sense of wonder at the beauty of the natural world and its inhabitants. The humans in Gill's stories are equally important, with sympathetic portrayals of Eritrean refugees in The Closest Thing to Flying, the struggles of Scarlet to keep her family together against all odds in The Scarlet Ibis, and many more.

 

A Street Dog Named Pup  is already on my Books of the Year list! I haven't read all her books, but after reading several I know that she's an author you can depend on for a gripping story that will thoroughly involve you in her characters' worlds and the dilemmas they face.

 

Here she answers my questions about her writing and her campaigning for animals.

L: For A Street Dog Named Pup, did you consciously have Black Beauty as your model – I mean in terms of the episodic structure and the rise and fall of Pup’s fortunes depending on the people he comes into contact with?

 

G: I didn’t consciously have Black Beauty as a model for the story, although I did want the story to span the lifetime of Pup. That isn’t to say my subconscious might have been working very hard at this! I loved Black Beauty as a child, and as an adult I researched Anna Sewell for an essay about anthropomorphism and discovered that her story helped raise awareness about the welfare of horses. 

 

L: Through the various dogs Pup meets in the Railway Den, you introduce a range of topics of concern without being at all heavy-handed: puppy-farming, dog-fighting, ear-cropping, irresponsible pet-owning, ‘handbag dogs’. What would you like young readers to take from the book?

 

 

G: Ultimately, the story is one about the unique bond that we can have with dogs, about loyalty and trust and dogs’ unconditional love.  I hope the story enables young readers to see the world through dogs’ eyes, and to understand their physical and emotional needs. I would love young readers to understand the concerns of canine welfare and in doing so raise awareness of responsible dog ownership. 

L: I know that your work as a vet has made you particularly aware of the problems for dogs selectively bred to have flat faces (brachycephalic breeds such as pugs, bulldogs and French bulldogs like Frenchi in Street Dog) – these dogs often have serious breathing difficulties. Yet those breeds seem increasingly popular. Do you blame fashion for that – and if so, what can be done to discourage the trend?

 

 

G: The rise in brachycephalic breeds as pets and their associated health problems is the biggest companion animal welfare problem at the moment. Their popularity is driven by their cute face, which has much resemblance to a human baby – button nose and big eyes. Celebrities owning these dogs have increased the demand for them. But the grim reality for these dogs is that they are literally dying to breathe. They have shortened noses but have excess skin around their face and also excess soft tissue inside the nose and throat that obstructs breathing and eating. Many owners don’t recognise the signs of disease; such as excessive snoring, persistent tiredness and holding a toy in their mouth whilst sleeping to keep the airway open. Indeed, many of these signs of disease are seen as endearing. Dog food companies are changing the shape of the dog biscuit, so these dogs do not choke on their food whilst swallowing. We should be changing the shape of the dog, not the shape of the food. The British Veterinary Association runs a campaign to prevent the use of brachycephalic breeds in advertising. I believe we need to raise this awareness across society to enable children and adults to make informed choices. The pug breed is very commonly portrayed in children’s books, for the very reason that it is so childlike, but I believe publishers have duty to follow the British Veterinary Association guidelines and not use these breeds in children’s literature.  I did pose the question on Twitter and was met with tumbleweed silence from the publishing world. Maybe no one from publishing noticed, or maybe pugs are just too marketable as a money-spinner.  I would defy anyone to spend a day at a referral clinic for Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome and not change their mind. 

L: The dog-fighting scenes in A Street Dog Named Pup are particularly harrowing (even for someone of my age who already knows how cruel it is!)  Did you ever come into contact with victims of dog-fighting during your time as a vet? Did you find those scenes hard to write?

 

 

G: These scenes were really hard to write. As a vet I never came into contact with the victims of dog fights, because the people who run dog fighting would never consider taking a dog to the vet. However, I did speak to a friend who works in the police to find out about the criminal gangs who keep and breed dogs for fighting. I didn’t think I could be easily shocked but some of the cruelty is beyond belief. 

L: How can people (even, or especially, those who love animals) be discouraged from supporting tourist attractions such as dolphinariums, roadside zoos where visitors can pose with tiger cubs, and the like?

 

 

G: I remember when I was young, I was at Blackpool with a friend and we wanted to see the dolphin show. As an animal-mad child, I wanted to be up close and personal with such a charismatic creature. I’d watched Flipper on TV and harboured secret thoughts of swimming with dolphins. So, we paid to see the show. So I understand why people want tiger experiences, or visits to dolphinariums. It’s often a chance to see these incredible creatures close up and be in awe of them. But I remember that trip to Blackpool, and the reality of watching a dolphin in a tiny pool, going round and round and round. It had sores on its skin and it looked visibly depressed. My friend and I felt very sorry for it. I think if there had been a campaign at the time raising awareness about the dolphin, that we would not have paid our money and watched the show. Raising awareness is key, to show the mental and physical suffering and the impact on the environment of animals poached from the wild. Social media can help spread the work and raising awareness on some travel tourist sites like Trip Advisor can have a big impact. 

L:  When you began to write fiction, did you immediately see it as a way into campaigning with young people? Or has your work with Hen Harrier Day, Wild Justice and other organisations grown out of the writing, as people came to know and appreciate your books?

 

G:  When I started writing, I followed the advice about write what you love, and for me that was writing about animals and wild places and our human connection with them. My first book was Sky Hawk,, a story about an osprey connecting children in different countries. I didn’t intentionally start writing as a way into campaigning, but as my writing journey progressed, and I spoke with many people about concerns of the planet, I found my own voice to speak about these things. I feel privileged to know many other creatives: Jackie Morris, Nicola Davies, Lauren St John, Dara McAnulty and Piers Torday, who use art and story to raise awareness and empower others to make a difference too.

 

 

My involvement with Hen Harrier Action and Wild Justice is to be another voice calling for change. The UN has declared the next decade as the one of rewilding. We have to change our upland land use from   monoculture managed heather to a restored landscape of many habitats. 

L: Your books are critical of hunting and shooting, and the management of shooting estates that so often involves the trapping or poisoning of birds of prey, such as eagles and hen harriers. I liked your inclusion in Pup of Reynard, a foxhound who narrowly escaped being shot because he wouldn’t hunt foxes so was no use to the pack – one aspect of fox-hunting we don’t hear much about. Have you had any criticism from supporters of these ‘sports’?

 

G:  I have had criticism from the driven grouse shooting community, but I have researched this area so thoroughly from both sides of the debate that I can counter their arguments with facts and science. Most of the debate has been civil, although there are some abusive keyboard warriors out there who often seem to take umbrage, especially when a woman has something to say.

 

Some of the criticism has been from a minority of conservationists who feel some of my comments are outspoken about driven grouse shooting. I firmly believe that driven grouse shooting needs to be banned because it is underpinned by wildlife crime and by degradation of vast landscapes to produce heather for grouse production. We have seen many working examples where rewilding and restoring these landscapes is reversing biodiversity loss, mitigating climate change and boosting rural economies. However, for too long, a softly, softly approach has been taken by some in conservation seeking compromise and middle ground with some landowners, thus perpetuating driven grouse shooting. Some of this appeasement is preventing progress towards the wild restoration we urgently need. With some debates, especially those concerning human or environmental rights, there is no middle ground, although I believe that finding a way forward is to be able to show that everyone can benefit from change. Banning driven grouse shooting and restoring the landscapes will create more rural jobs with long term security for people and the wild.

 

L: You seem to have a special affinity with birds of prey. Were these birds and their habitats a particular love of yours before you began writing fiction?

 

G: When I was a child, I desperately hoped a golden eagle would land in my suburban garden. Of course, one never did, but I have always loved the elemental ferocity of birds of prey. Where I live in Somerset, we see many buzzards, but each time still fills me we awe, listening to their wild cry, reminding us that we are all part wild. 

L:  Did you always write stories, and / or want to be a writer, while you were training and working as a vet?

 

G: I loved writing stories as a child, but my handwriting and spelling were pretty awful and so I never considered being an author. However, when my children came along, I took them to the library and fell in love with books again. I saw the powerful impact they had on my own children. I loved making up stories to tell them at bedtime or on long car journeys and re-ignited my creative side.

 

L:  Have you any plans to write a non-fiction book about animals and the environment?

 

 

G: I would love to and have several ideas to pursue. If someone could find a way of expanding time, that would be great as there are not enough hours in the day! 

L:  As far as I’m aware, The Closest Thing to Flying is your only novel so far to be set partly in the past. Did you enjoy using a historical setting, and will you be tempted to do so again?

 

G:  I really enjoyed writing a historical setting. However, it meant much research into a time and era I knew little about. The Closest Thing to Flying is in part set in 1891 when women begin to campaign against the use of feathers in fashion. These women were the founders of the RSPB, yet they are only just being recognised now. I found it fascinating to see how ideas and attitudes have changed. I expected these progressive women to be part of the suffragette movement, but in fact some were vehemently anti-suffrage. I think reading and writing historical pieces helps us to revaluate our own belief and opinions. I wonder if they would have changed their opinions on suffrage with the benefit of hindsight. I would love to write a historical piece again and think it might be fun to go way, way back when Britain was joined to Europe by a land bridge.  

 

 

I have toyed with the idea of writing an imagined future story - a ‘sliding doors’ story to continue Sky Dancer:  one future where Minty, the aristocratic daughter of Henry Knight, the moor owner, decides to rewild the estate, and the other future where her brother continues driven grouse shooting. Or maybe there is the third option in the story where the community buys out the land and rewilds it, as has happened with the Tarras Valley Nature Reserve in Scotland.

 

L:  Your books are deservedly popular with readers, and I’m sure they change lives and attitudes. What are some of the best responses you’ve had from young readers?

 

G:  Hearing from readers is always a huge privilege. I’ve been particularly touched by young people who have had cake sales raising money from moon bears to ospreys or writing to MPs about the state of the seas. I have had emails from young people who have gone onto study ecology and marine science from reading by books when they were younger. One letter really moved me to read that because I had written from the perspective of a child with a parent with mental illness, they felt less alone knowing other children lived with that too. 

 

L:  And you’re an illustrator too! I loved the cameo portraits of all the dogs in A Street Dog Named Pup. Is this something you’d like to build on, with more illustrated books or even a picture book? 

 

G:  I really enjoyed illustrating Pup’s story. Drawing is always essential to my first drafts to find the characters and landscapes. I’m a very visual writer and have to see the story unfold in my head to write it. I’d love to do more illustration, and also find time to experiment with different mediums.

L:  What do you find most upsetting in the ways humans treat animals today? And what gives you the most hope for a better future?

 

G:  Turning a blind eye perpetuates many harmful practices. For example, choosing the ‘cute’ face of a dog over the potential life-threatening reality of a severely shortened muzzle, or to the fate of foxhounds that are no longer deemed ‘fit for purpose.’ Many people know that farmed salmon are kept in crowded sea cages, and yet may not pay any mind to the physical suffering and diseases of these fish.

 

We are more aware and open about addressing mental health issues in humans, but I think we should be more aware of animals as sentient beings. If animals are denied any of the five freedoms, they are prone to suffering mental distress. When someone buys a pup on a whim, and rehomes it a few months later they have failed to see the mental anguish of the pup. Watching dolphins perform for entertainment in small tanks is turning a blind eye to the mental and physical torture of captivity.

 

 

Hope for the future comes from knowing that we have many in the younger generation who are more engaged with welfare and environmental issues. More people are changing away from eating animal flesh and animal products to a wholly plant-based diet, hence reducing our reliance on the livestock industry.  

L:  Are you working on a new book now, and if so can you tell us a little about it?

 

G: I have just finished a book on beavers for Barrington Stoke.  Beavers are landscape engineers and change rivers, creating wetlands, improving water quality, increasing fish-stocks and reducing flooding.   The story is about a girl who realises that if a river can change its course, then she can change her life too.

 

The book I’m writing at the moment is very different. I think last year I felt a sort of ecological grief and after 10 years of writing conservation-based stories, I felt so despondent with the state of the planet and so I’m writing a sort of wild fantasy about rats – and these rats wear clothes! However, there are many parallels to human greed. I’m having a lot of fun writing it.

 

L:  Thank you, Gill - we'll look forward to those!

 

 

Find out more about Gill Lewis’s books and work, and also about the background to her stories and the various campaigns she supports, on her website: www.gilllewis.com

Why my birthday is a bad day for wildlife

I was born on the 12th of August, a date known to shooting enthusiasts as 'the glorious twelfth', because grouse shooting starts today. From this day and for the next few months, these unfortunate birds will be driven from cover by dogs to be blasted at by people who take pleasure in killing as 'sport'.

 

As if killing for fun isn't bad enough, there are other evils associated with driven grouse shooting. The practice is inextricably associated with wildlife crime - to protect the grouse (until people want to slaughter them), birds of prey such as rare hen harriers are poisoned, snared or shot. This is illegal - but somehow shooting estates continue to get away with it. Foxes and mountain hares, too, are targeted - and of course snares and poisons kill indiscriminately. 

 

Then there's the matter of peat. A lot of 'game' shooting (quotation marks because I hate the term 'game', as if living creatures exist purely for human amusement) takes place on peat uplands. To keep the land clear from scrub and to promote the growth of heather, which grouse use for cover, peat-burning is a regular practice. This is highly damaging - not only does it endanger and kill wildlife, it destroys the peat which is a precious carbon store and should be protected. So it's needlessly adding to carbon emissions at a time when we urgently need to reduce them.

 

All this to make money and provide 'sport' for a wealthy minority.

 

It's time for a ban on driven grouse shooting. Support Wild Justice to learn more and add your voice.

 

I will enjoy my birthday far more when it really is the 'Glorious Twelfth' - when this barbarous, outdated, wasteful bloodsport is finally consigned to history.

 

Eat for the Planet!

Like many (or most?) vegetarians, my reason for stopping eating meat, long ago, was because I didn't want animals to suffer and die so that I could eat them. 

 

But now, even without considering the cruelty that goes into meat production, there are compelling reasons to cut down or stop eating meat and dairy products.

 

The IPCC report just out makes it clear that we HAVE to reduce our carbon emissions if the planet is to avoid dangerous levels of heating, with the severe disruptions to weather patterns that would result. Governments must act far more urgently than they have done so far.

 

But our individual actions and habits are important, too.

 

What's on your plate? is one of the sections of my book, and although I look mainly at animal welfare issues, I also look at the carbon implications of eating meat. The planet can't sustain meat-eating as the norm, yet many people still eat meat every day.

 

Why does meat cost the Earth? There are several reasons:

 

- land (including rainforest) is cleared of natural vegetation either for cattle-grazing or for growing crops which are then fed to animals

 

- feeding grain to animals isn't the most efficient way of using crops. It can take up to 10kg of grain to produce 1kg of beef, and up to 4kg of grain for 1kg of lamb. That grain could be used directly to feed people.

 

- cattle and sheep burp and fart methane, which is a greenhouse gas 23 times more potent than CO2.

 

So by eating meat, especially beef or lamb, we are consuming far more than the planet can afford. 

 

By making individual changes, we can shift what's seen as 'normal'. Being vegetarian or vegan is common now, but in wealthy countries like the UK, the USA, Australia and others, those of us who choose not to eat meat are still in the minority. Can we think differently, and see plant-based diets as the norm? 

 

If going vegetarian or vegan is too big a step for you, can you at least eat less meat - perhaps by having #MeatFreeMonday or by choosing plant-based meals whenever possible?

 

Can you Eat for the Planet?

My books of the year

These aren't necessarily books that were published this year, though several were. They are books I've read, or in one case re-read, during 2020. It was hard to choose - like many people I've read more than usual during lockdown, and also I've begun listening to books on Audible, a new experience for me and one that now enables me to 'read' two books at once.

 

So: quite a few historical novels, a gripping thriller set in Oxford, one sci-fiction, six about the natural world and/or our relationships with it, one about reading and writing and one remarkable book about nearly everything! Three of the fiction titles are by good friends. About that I will say that I'd only choose books by friends if I thought they really were excellent reads, and these three most certainly are.

 

My Book of the Year, though, if I had to pick just one of these, is Maggie O'Farrell's brilliant HAMNET. That's the one I'm saving to re-read as a treat I know I'll enjoy just as much, and probably even more, on a second reading. It's such a superb imaginative feat, fleshing out what little is known of Anne Hathaway (or Agnes, as she is here), so utterly engaging and with rich detail of domestic life in Stratford and a glimpse of the London theatre. And a pitch-perfect ending. 

 

 

WINNING, LOSING

- a poem for my Dad, five years after he died

 

On family evenings the Scrabble came out.

Board on table, racks placed squarely,

Scorer poised with notepad and pen.

Tiles clatter in their bag as fingers grope.

We sit forward in chairs, frowning, plotting.

Eyes flick from rack to board. Serious business.

Letters form syllables or nonsense,

Furtively anagrammed, re-aligned.

A possibility? … if only … next go …

Our collaborative crossword reaches out

To tantalising Triple Word squares at the edge.

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear! Dad grumbles

When his letters won’t oblige;

He likes to win. But then

His attention quickens. An eager hunch,

Theatrical reticence in the placing of tiles –

Five, six - then a flaunted seventh.

All out, for an extra fifty. Fifty!

We trail behind, resigned to losing.

 

Inside the box-lid, fading pencil recalls

Best score:  Dad, 347.

He’s five years dead. We still play;

My own best score nudges close,

 

But no, no closer.  Dad’s record stands. 

 

 

Ronald Trevor Newbery, 1923 - 2015

 

My Book of the Year, 2019

A little late, but here it is at last. I read so many excellent books last year that it would have been hard to choose six or so, though I did post my favourites on Facebook as advent books throughout December. Here, though, I'm going for just one. What follows is the piece I wrote for WRITERS REVIEW in the autumn.

 

What a fascinating book this is! It covers so much, overturning several preconceptions along the way, that I hardly know where to start. So I'll begin at the end, where Isabella Tree comments on the benefits of natural surroundings for mental health, and the sad fact that many people nowadays have little exposure - through choice or circumstance - to wild nature. Readers of this blog probably know that Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris were spurred to work together on The Lost Words - a beautiful book which won Jackie Morris a well-deserved Kate Greenaway Medal for illustration - by news that the Oxford Junior Dictionary was ditching such words as acorn, bluebell, wren and otter to make space for  terms deemed more relevant to today's world: celebrity, blog, broadband and suchlike. Macfarlane and Morris's widely-acclaimed collaboration is a timely and important book, and so in its different way is Wilding. 

Isabella Tree and her husband Charlie Burrell, inheriting his family estate of 3,500  acres, at first continued the arable and dairy farming already established there, but found that their hard-baked clay soil did not produce good yields. Could there be a way of letting their land fulfill its potential - not for commerce, but for wildlife? Inspired by a Dutch project on land earmarked for industry but then abandoned, they learned how the presence of grazing animals - greylag geese, then large herbivores - had produced surprising results; close grazing kept the water fringes clear and tree growth in check, providing habitat for a wealth of insects, birds and small mammals. It's often assumed that any fertile land, if left untended, will become mature woodland; but, as Isabella Tree points out, this notion overlooks the presence of grazing herbivores such as the ancient aurochs, tarpan and bison which preceded human intervention, later replaced by deer, domesticated cattle and pigs. Perhaps, she thinks, we have the wrong idea about ancient forests. She quotes Oliver Rackham: "To the medievals, a Forest was a place of deer, not of trees. If a Forest happened to be wooded it formed part of the wood-pasture tradition."

Wondering if this minimal-intervention approach would work with their own land, Isabella and Charlie sought grants from English Nature (now Natural England), the government's advisory body. Unlike most applicants for funding they had no clear plan for what was in effect an experiment: their plan was, over twenty-five years, to see what would happen if they fenced their land to make it deer-proof, a major expense, and introduced Longhorn cattle, fallow and later red deer, and Exmoor ponies. As in the Dutch project, they chose tough, sturdy animals that could fend and forage for themselves and withstand all weathers.

 

Of course the Knepp project couldn't fully replicate natural ecosystems without including apex predators - lynxes or wolves - to keep the numbers of cattle, ponies and deer in check.The Dutch project, leaving weak and elderly animals to die from illness or starvation, had met with justifiable opposition; at Knepp, with the land crossed by footpaths, such a hands-off approach couldn't be justified on humane, aesthetic or even practical grounds. So the grazing animals are culled, and their meat sold. Apparently grass-fed beef is delicious, and pasture grazing is certainly the most environmentally efficient way of producing meat, although it's a luxury few can afford.

 

The Knepp experiment, now sixteen years on, has produced inspiring results. Iconic species such as turtle dove, nightingale and purple emperor butterfly have moved in; beavers have been introduced, their dams creating marshy wetland which supports wading birds, amphibians and bog plants. The softening of water edges is so important for flood defences, another re-think: rather than funnelling water into hard-edged channels, it can effectively be dispersed and soaked up, to the benefit of pasture and wildlife. Another keystone creature is the humble earthworm, whose importance has been underestimated to the detriment of soil health.

 

Few individuals will be able to replicate the Knepp experiment - Tree and Burrell owned a substantial swathe of land and were able to recruit expert help and funding. But I hope their findings will influence government and NGO policy on land management and conservation. Among many revelations, perhaps the most significant is that if we intervene less, nature can be trusted to restore itself. Whether there's time, in the face of climate breakdown, to attempt this on a wider scale, is impossible to know - we may be too far into our reckless uncontrolled global experiment with the world's climate and ecosystems.

I'd say that Wilding is essential, even exciting, reading for anyone interested in nature, wildlife, ecosystems and climate change - and I think most readers will find surprises and revelations to make them see the countryside, and our role in it, with fresh eyes. And I don't want to end without giving a flavour of the writing: although packed with information, comparisons and statistics, Wilding also has moments of lyrical joy, such as this description of a nightingale's song: "It throws the ear with unexpectedness ... florid trills, first rich and liquid, then mockingly guttural and discordant; now a sweet insistence of long, lugubrious piping; then bubbling chuckles and indrawn whistles; and then, suddenly, nothing - a suspended, teasing hiatus before the cascades and crescendos break forth again ... these pulsating strains issuing from tiny vocal chords belting out like organ pipes, throwing the music of the tropics into the English night air."



Copyright Knepp Wildland


Copyright Knepp Wildland


Copyright Knepp Wildland

 

Fly me to the Moon

It’s been a pleasure to revisit this story, as we approach the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing and relive the excitement of those days. Girls on the Up, first published as Andie's Moon, is set in the exhilarating summer of 1969, when Andie’s family comes to Chelsea to flat-sit and cat-sit for her father’s boss. They’re staying just a few minutes away from the King’s Road – which, to Andie’s fashion-mad sister, Prune, epitomises the heart of Swinging London and her dreams of becoming a model. But Andie’s thoughts are on the moon, especially when she meets Ravi and his telescope and learns the joy and wonder of ‘skyhopping’. As I’m old enough to remember those days – like Andie, I was in Hyde Park for the free Rolling Stones concert – it was nostalgic to revisit 1969, the music, clothes, attitudes, expectations and excitement.

 

Of course we know now that the lunar astronauts would return safely and that others would follow, but then: their chances of a safe return were estimated by Michael Collins to be 50/50. Those are daunting odds!

 

Oh yes, Michael Collins. Often in schools I show a photograph of the three Apollo 11 astronauts and ask who can name them. Neil Armstrong, someone says. Buzz Aldrin. Then there’s a silence and a pause: or maybe one person can name the third, Michael Collins (in the middle of the photograph above). The reason he’s less well-known is, of course, that he didn’t walk on the moon like the other two. But what he did was just as astonishing and brave – alone in the command module, he orbited the moon. When the module swept round to the far side of the moon, he was out of touch with his colleagues and with mission control. Can you imagine being more alone than that? And his role was crucial to the mission. Just as much as the other two, he deserves to be remembered.

 

Our view of planet Earth, its atmosphere and ecosystems and what we’re doing to them, has changed drastically since those days – and needs to change. Given the chance to update the Author’s Note for the book, I wrote this:

 

‘No astronaut has set foot on the moon since 1972, though early this year a Chinese mission landed a spacecraft on the far side: another first. Back in 1969, it was confidently expected that the first exciting steps on the moon would lead to great advances in space travel for humans – but, so far, no habitable base has been set up on the lunar surface. I like to think, though, that during my lifetime we’ll see the first woman on the moon. Who will she be, and where will she come from? She may be a child now, growing up with no idea that she’ll make history.

 

The Apollo missions produced, almost by accident, a beautiful photograph that’s come to symbolise how precious and fragile our planet is. It’s the photograph called Earthrise, taken by astronaut Bill Anders on Christmas Eve 1968 while orbiting the moon. There’s our planet seen as never before, a small blue traveller in the vast silence of space. In the fifty years since Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon we’ve done serious damage to that vital atmosphere on which all life depends, through pollution and deforestation and by simply failing to realise the dangers of interfering with ecosystems. All this damage has been done in a frighteningly short time, and we know now that we can’t go on ignoring it.

 

In those years, too, there’s been increasing evidence for the likelihood of life elsewhere in the universe. But I hope we won’t send humans to live on other planets until we’ve learned to respect and care for our own. 

 

Meanwhile, I hope you’ll enjoy visiting 1969 and the heady excitement of those first footsteps on a place beyond Earth.’

Recent talks and events:

Recent talks and events:

Find me here in the Reading Corner - talking to the excellent Nikki Gamble of Just Imagine about my new book, about attitudes to animals and what one person can do to avoid cruelty and reduce carbon emissions.

I was delighted to take part in the YALC conference, talking to the excellent Gill Lewis - author of such great books as Sky Dancer, Scarlet Ibis, Eagle Warriors and more recently A Street Dog Named Pup (which is already one of my Books of the Year). Here we talk about the issues we raise in our books, how animal awareness can become part of everyday life and the small or larger changes everyone can make to improve conditions for animals. You can listen to our conversation here, on YouTube.