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Review of ‘Late Light’ by Jo Earlam, CAPS member

“When something in the wild disappears, something in the wild departs from us too.”

Just one of the many thought-provoking lines in a new nature book ‘Late Light’, written by first-time published Michael Malay.

As an Indonesian-Australian, relocated to and making the UK his now home, this inspiring young author brings a wondrous newcomer’s curiosity to the northern hemisphere landscapes he discovers across mainland Britain from Westcountry lanes and the Avon’s estuary mud to Scottish rivers, and abandoned Welsh mines.

He focuses not on the cute and the popular, what he terms ‘charismatic species’, but on four disappearing members of the animal kingdom – eel, moth, mussel and cricket, as he writes: “Animals who exist on the margins of our attention and who consequently struggle to find a place in our hearts.”

This is not just a piece of whimsical writing, each subject is carefully researched and facts referenced in comprehensive chapter notes.

Through his detailed studies, with expert help, of how these creatures live, breed, feed, immersed in both our waterways and skies, and with his lyrical, poetic writing style he draws the reader into their rich complexity and hazardous survival, illustrating how the more we tame the wild and natural world, the more it recedes from us.

Writing of the deserted Welsh colleries, a refuge now for plants and insects struggling elsewhere, including crickets, he says: “Damaged by our attentions, they have flourished because of our neglect.”

Later in the book he notes that: “96 per cent of mammals on the planet are now livestock, while a mere 4 per cent are wild… and as more wildness disappears, the threads connecting us to the deep past begin to unravel.”

Back to the spoil heaps in Wales, he concludes that what serves best for nature might not always be the most attractive to look at, citing the grouse moors of Scotland, “celebrated for their beauty, but biologically denuded by artificially maintained cutting and burning”.

“As for the great British farm,” he continues, “many of the UK’s farmlands, for economic reasons beyond the control of most farmers, have become ‘green deserts’, drained of their ecological vitality. All too often, though, it is our chemically saturated, over-fertilised and all-too-managed land that is seen as worth preserving and fighting for, while species-rich brownfield sites are written off as ‘wastelands’ in need of development.”

There is hope he says in nature’s ability to rewild itself, bring about its own recovery: “In a million innovative ways, life can find a way of becoming abundant again in a damaged world. All we have to do is step back – the opposite of extraction”.

‘Late Light’ is published by Manilla Press, an imprint of Bonnier Books UK, it came out in hardback July 2023.