top of page
  • Writer's pictureCrone


When Iain Dowie was manager of Crystal Palace Football Club he coined, or at least popularised, the word "bouncebackability". The meaning is obvious. [Ability to bounce back after a disappointment? - Ed.] [Well, yes. Obviously. - Crone]

My boucebackability seems to be somewhat limited. If not nonexistent. Still, as I write (3rd June - last seen 31st May), no sign of Tengu. And I am uber-pissed off.

Clearly robins, and indeed wrens (of whom more imminently), have the ability - as species - to bounce back. They are are most common birds. Wrens the most common in this country, and robins up there. But I wonder at the bouncebackability of the natural world.

Where shall I start?

So, the trees have said, give us millennia, and it'll work out. And, sure, that's no doubt true. But I have read some confounding facts. First of all, the absence of many species - large ones, especially - limits the pace of recovery. The trees say, yes, but given millennia, there will be large species! that's fair enough in tree time, but is tree time the right timescale to be thinking on? Maybe it is, maybe it isn't, but tree time is a whole lot longer than you might have thought.

I knew that the soil profile of ancient forests took hundreds of years to generate. But I was wrong. It takes thousands. In Sophie Yeo's Nature's Ghosts, she reports on a scientist who has discovered that where there were Roman villas and farmsteads two thousand years ago which were then abandoned and naturally reforested, the flora is still more closely aligned with meadow than woodland species.

This is the abstract from one of the scientific papers:

Combined archaeological and ecological investigations in a large ancient oak forest in Central France have revealed a dense network of ancient human settlements dating from the Roman period. We demonstrate a strong correlation between present-day forest plant diversity patterns and the location of Roman farm buildings. Plant species richness strongly increases toward the center of the settlements, and the frequency of neutrophilous and nitrogen-demanding species is higher. This pattern is paralleled by an increase in soil pH, available P, and delta(15)N, indicating the long-term impact of former agricultural practices on forest biogeochemical cycles. These extensive observations in a forested region on acid soils complement and confirm previous results from a single Roman settlement on limestone. Ancient Roman agricultural systems are increasingly being identified in contemporary French forests; the broad extent and long-lasting effects of previous cultivation shown in this study require that land-use history be considered as a primary control over biodiversity variations in many forest landscapes, even after millennia of abandonment.

Yet Yeo also reports on how the practices of mediaeval farming benefit the UK's native species - with farming in this way in a sense mimicking the role of the lost megafauna. She writes:

In a paper published in 2018, two academics – an anthropologist and an ecologist – argued that, for most of history, humans should be regarded not as disruptors of the natural order but a part of it: a keystone species whose actions were as integral to the ecosystem as the creatures with which they coexisted. Other plants and animals had evolved alongside human activity – including digging, burning, travel and predation – and had come to depend on it for their own survival. ‘Just as with the loss of other keystone species, these co-evolutionary relationships can unravel when such societies are displaced via colonialism, or their interactions substantially and rapidly altered by radically changing political and economic circumstances,’ they wrote. To restore today’s ecosystems to an authentically natural state, they argued, rewilding must reinstate not only the lost ecological functions of megafauna but also people.

The questions arise: how long to bounce back and to bounce back to precisely what?

The Romans, as I learned recently, massively deforested most of Europe - and far further afield. But what they were cutting down had grown up as a result of the lost megafauna. The trees have it right, I guess: leave everything for say 100,000 years and we'll have a nice world. Except for goodness knows what the climate will be. Before human deforestation, the "natural process" would have led to another Ice Age. Instead, we have the Holocene. Now, with all the excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, rising temperatures are inevitable... we cannot bounce back to a before from where we are.

That's all big scale stuff. Let me get back to the wrens. Yesterday, the cat was dozing three gardens down and the wrens screamed for about half an hour. This morning, the wrens were screaming above my garden. I poked about, and saw the cat sitting at the bottom of the hedge where the wrens had nested. A well-fed house cat can afford to wait and watch as the little birds try to get close to feed their babies and the babies flutter and maybe fall. A house cat will not be moved on by some larger predator, because there are none in gardens. So this cat can just sit, for hours, as parents expend energy and babies slowly starve.

I moved the cat on - and from fierce alarms and displays, the father sang and the babies cheeped in response. The mother growled at me and I left.

But the cat will be back. A nest of baby birds is like a blockbuster movie combined with popcorn and peanut snacks.

How can a world bounce back when it's so out of kilter?

7 views1 comment

Recent Posts

See All

1 Comment

Jul 04

I don't know if things will ever stabilize.

Outdoor cats are a big, big problem for wild creatures :-(

bottom of page