Thursday, 19 September 2013

Review:Otter Country by Miriam Darlington

This is the first book I read in my quest to find women nature writers. It details Miriam Darlingtons year long quest in search of the wild otter in Britain. She fell in love with otters as a child after reading Tarka the Otter by Henry Williamson and then Ring of Bright water by Gavin Maxwell, The book is packed with information and descriptions and little bits of knowledge about history, geology, ecology as it pertains to otters and their habitats.

It could have tipped into romanticism but it didn't it stayed very grounded in the reality and harshness of otters life cycles and their complicated relationships with human environments. Darlington writes a lot about land management and mismanagement and the book is shot through with the understanding that all land, even those places we think of as "wilderness"  have at some point been managed by humans sometimes to the detriment of wildlife and sometimes to the benefit

She talks a lot about how otters in an ecosytem are a symbol of how healthy the eco system is because otters being largish predators are at the top of the food chain and can't survive if the rest of the food chain is unhealthy or non existent. She writes about the need for otter "corridors" rivers and marshlands that run all the way through the country without being blocked by human construction so otters can spread out throughout Britain, which is something I never thought about before and is true for all non flying wildlife and so would make ecosytems healthier all over
Much of the book is taken up with her travels to find otters and her waiting, watching, at the side of riverbeds, pools, marshlands, and her beautiful  detailed descriptions of those moments. It struck me that if you want to know about otters how much else you need to learn. She writes about the life cycle and flow of rivers, about plants, about weather, about rock formations, about the other animals that effect the otters environment

something that really jarred me about the book was that all the otter experts she spoke to except two were men, which is not the fault of her or her book, but a fault of society that doesn't support or encourage women to get into those positions. (Also possible there's something about how society  is much more accepting of obsessions around nature in men than they are in women)

It took me a while to get into the rhythm of her writing style, she writes lyrical descriptive passages that flow interspersed with more knowledge heavy passages. It's not a style of writing I am used to but it is necessary and appropriate for the book

One of my favorite passages was her writing about going to Cardiff Universities  Otter Project , which is headed up by Dr Elizabeth Chadwick , to assist in an otter post mortem. It was a beautiful haunting passage that emphasised that the biggest dangers to Britains otter population are humans in cars.

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