George Orwell and wildlife

George Orwell had a surprising and deep interest in wildlife and nature, going back to his childhood. In letters from school he wrote about caterpillars and butterflies and he had a keen interest in ornithology. He wrote about wild flowers and birds in England, the wildlife of Morocco, even frogs in Spain. He recorded many interesting diary entries from his cottage at Wallington. Here for example is an entry to his diary from 16 April 1939. Many more entries on nature here at the Orwell Diaries

Rather chilly with sunny intervals, not much wind. A very light shower in the morning.
Cowslips in flower here & there. This I think is rather early. Bluebells also beginning, a few almost in full bloom. This undoubtedly is unusually early. Wild cherries in full bloom. Sycamore leaves opening. Apple blossom almost about to open. Another thrush sitting [on] eggs in the hedge. Found a blackbird’s nest with eggs. These are the only nests I have found hitherto.
The pond up by the church has become so stagnant that it no longer has duckweed, only the scummy green stuff. Nevertheless there are still a few newts in it.
Summer time began today, M’s morning yield consequently small, but picked up in the evening.
Ten eggs (price of eggs sold yesterday 1/9 a score).

And on 24 October

There are now 2 barn owls which live in the stumpy elm tree, & evidently it is they that make the sawing noise. I suppose these are the ones that used to be called screech-owls, & the ordinary brown owl is the one that makes the to-whoo noise.

And 5 November

Some wind in the morning, then nice sunny weather. Ground has dried up somewhat. In the evening violent wind & a few drops of rain. The wind actually blew the roof off the small henhouse. Enormous flocks of starlings, some tens of thousands at a time, going over with a noise that sounds like heavy rain. The leaves are mostly down now. Elder leaves just coming down. As I remember it the elms are being stripped much earlier this year than most.

Later after reading a newspaper article about the slaughter of barn owls and kestrels, supposedly to protect pheasants, Orwell countered in his own newspaper column in Tribune of 5 May 1944 entitled ‘We Are Destroying Birds that Save Us’,

 ‘beneficial birds suffer from human ignorance. There is senseless persecution of the kestrel and barn owl. No two species of birds do better work for us.’

Unfortunately it isn’t even from ignorance. Most of the birds of prey are killed off for the sake of that enemy of England, the pheasant. Unlike the partridge, the pheasant does not thrive in England, and apart from the neglected woodlands and the vicious game laws that it has been responsible for, all birds or animals that are suspected of eating its eggs or chicks are systematically wiped out. Before the war, near my village in Hertfordshire, I used to pass a stretch of fence where the gamekeeper kept his ‘larder’. Dangling from the wires were the corpses of stoats, weasels, rats, hedgehogs, jays, owls, kestrels and sparrow-hawks. Except for the rats and perhaps the jays, all of these creatures are beneficial to agriculture. The stoats keep down the rabbits, the weasels eat mice, and so do the kestrels and sparrow-hawks, while the owls eat rats as well. It has been calculated that a barn owl destroys between 1,000 and 2,000 rats and mice in a year. Yet it has to be killed off for the sake of this useless bird which Rudyard Kipling correctly described as ‘lord of many a shire’.