I learned an extremely valuable lesson when I read The Darkness is Light Enough by Chris Ferris, one I try to keep to the forefront of my mind. To remember that animals and wildlife are a source of joy.
This is not a book for the faint-hearted or the sentimental. For many years, Ferris spent her night-time hours in a local woods, observing and getting to know the wildlife there: badgers, foxes and owls. Unfortunately, the woods were also a draw for those who would conduct other business under cover of night - hunting the wildlife or dealing drugs.
Ferris found herself under threat more than once as she tried to protect the creatures she had come to know and love. She showed more fortitude than me. About halfway through the book I decided I couldn't read any more. It was too painful, too heart-breaking, I had come to care about these animals too much.
I assumed that Ferris had also reached her limits and given up. I turned to the end of the book to read of her resigned defeat and instead found this last paragraph, where she writes about being able to observe a badger and her cubs.
How privileged I am to be trusted so. For the next half hour, I sat amongst the leaves and brambles there, watching as she lay on her side in the trench feeding her cubs. They snuffled as they suckled. One let go of a teat momentarily, then whimpered as it sought to regain it. Traffic in the far distance, muffled fluting of the male tawny on the field below. Arms hugging legs, chin resting on my knees, I watched the second litter of the young badger so many people have helped me to protect - farmers, their men, Steve and the constables. Surely I must be the luckiest person in the world.
I take inspiration from Ferris and try always to remember that animals make me happy. It's easy to lose sight of it if you have any interest in wildlife, because there's a heck of a lot to be angry or sad about. Follow the posts on wildlife related social media and they are often dominated by stories about wildlife destruction and devastation.
It takes strong and deliberate effort not to end up seeing wildlife through this lens, not to reach the point where you equate thoughts of wildlife with thoughts of sadness, despair or anger.
Because that's actually the complete opposite of what wildlife means to those of us who love it. Wildlife means laughter and joy. It lifts us out of the mundane and gives us a sense of wonder and levity. This is what Ferris captured all too well in her book, the sheer loveliness of animals forming families and raising young, of sharing food and playing together. (And in good news - that same woods is now a nature reserve).
So, yes, be aware of the many challenges facing wildlife, and be a wildlife defender by all means, but don't become bitter and don't give in to despair. Those of us who know that we are on borrowed time when it comes to the world's wildlife, those of us who realise that now might be our last chance to stop and look and listen; we're the luckiest people in the world.
Author: Samantha Connolly (podcast host)