Nature Writing: Birds & Words

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22-X090 Nature Writing: Birds & Words
Wed 02Mar
Virtual Event

Birds through Time, History & Culture

Facilitator: Stephen Moss

Event time: Wed 2nd Mar 2022 at 7:00pm - Wed 2nd Mar 2022 at 8:30pm

Naturalist and author Stephen Moss traces the complex and fascinating story of our close relationship with birds through time, via the written word and other media.

What have birds ever done for us? For millennia, we exploited them for food, created myths and legends around them, and hunted them for ‘sport’. Gradually, though, our relationship with birds changed: we protected them, saved the places where they live, and enjoyed watching them for leisure and recreation.


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Standard Ticket
£ 125.00

Time & Date

Wednesdays, 7:00 pm – 8:30 pm on the 2nd, 9th, 16th and 23rd March

Over four weekly sessions, Stephen delves into the long and fascinating history of our relationship with birds. The story begins in prehistoric times when humanity’s main concern was whether a bird might be edible. Gradually, a more nuanced relationship began to develop, with birds used for predicting the weather, and superstition, religion, myth, and legend. Later, the exploitation of birds led to the rise of the bird protection movement. Meanwhile, the hobby, and in some cases obsession, of birdwatching began to develop; fuelled by – and fuelling – popular wildlife TV programmes and the publishing phenomenon known as ‘new nature writing’. Week-by-week, Stephen traces the progress of the complex and absorbing story of how birds became the centre of our lives. Each week Stephen will present video clips from TV series and readings from nature books as examples.

At a Glance

  • A cultural and social overview of our relationship with birds
  • A journey through time, to understand when, how, and why this relationship developed
  • A close look at the way we relate to birds now, and how this might develop in the future
  • Illustrated with video clips and readings from nature books
"I've always been fascinated by the cultural history and importance of birds - especially to the British. My academic background is not science, but English Literature and History; and so, although I am rightly fascinated by bird behaviour, biology and ecology, I believe that the social, cultural and historical aspects of birds (and the way they relate to us) are equally important. That's the theme of this course."

– Stephen Moss

Stephen Moss Hawkwood



Session 1: Where are We Now?

The Present

This opening session will begin at home, focusing on what birds mean to you, and especially what does our relationship with the common and familiar birds in our garden tell us about us? I’ll focus on the surprisingly recent history of our relationship with garden birds, and especially on how that changed during the first lockdown; we’ll also look at why we often neglect the common in favour of the rare and unusual.

The British are more obsessed with birds than any other nation: we watch them, feed them in our gardens, chase them, save them and watch TV programmes and read books about them. But this is a relatively recent phenomenon, with roots in the social and cultural developments during the past 200 years.

Session 2: How did we get here?

The Past

In this session, we’ll delve back into the past to take a close look at how our relationship with birds has developed over time.

We trace the long journey of our relationship with birds – a journey that can be summed up in a four-word phrase: from Use to Delight. From prehistoric times, when birds were primarily used for food, through the mythologies of ancient and more recent cultures, the conservation and bird protection movement of the late 19th century, the rise of birding in the 20th century, and the focus on environmental issues in the 21st century.


Session 3: Where next?

The Future

In this session, we’ll look to the future – how will our relationship with birds develop at a time of climate crisis and biodiversity loss?

We may be more obsessed with birds than at any time in our history, but paradoxically birds are in more trouble than ever. How is that affecting the way wildlife filmmakers and nature writers present their work? We’ll also examine the nature of what we mean by ‘the countryside’ and how that affects our relationship with birds. At the end I’ll set a writing task for session 4.


Session 4: Workshop Session

In this final session we will ask you to read your short written pieces so that the rest of the group can make constructive comments about them, in a workshop.

Practical Information

The course will be held in real time with the tutor via the Zoom platform. Sign up to this platform is free. You will need a laptop, computer, tablet or a smartphone – with an in-built camera and microphone – and a reliable internet connection. We will provide more information and joining instructions in advance of the first session.

Recordings will be available for 30 days after course close as a way to support all participants in receiving the information.

Stephen Moss Hawkwood

Stephen Moss

Stephen Moss is a naturalist, broadcaster and nature writer, based in Somerset, who has travelled to all the world’s seven continents in search of wildlife. He was the founding Series Producer of the BBC series Springwatch, and has written a wide range of books on British birds and other wildlife, including The Accidental Countryside, Wild Hares and Hummingbirds, and biographies of the Robin, the Wren and the Swallow. Stephen teaches a low-residency MA in Travel and Nature Writing at Bath Spa University.

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