THERE’S A SCENE in My Family And Other Animals where the boy Gerald Durrell eavesdrops on his family as they discuss how to educate him. Novelist brother Larry prescribes a heavy literary reading list; his sensitive sister urges dancing lessons; for his other, open-air brother the skills of sailing and shooting suffice to make a man. The sole thing they agree on is that his obsession with natural history must be curbed. As I recall, there had been a mishap involving a pregnant scorpion in a matchbox on the dinner table.

None of their plots worked, for two reasons: one, Gerald was to acquire a mentor who helped to focus his raw enthusiasm; two, from the outset he was so single-minded that nothing ever dissuaded him from the path he chose so early. Mix in the boy’s almost total freedom to explore the natural world in Corfu, and you can see why his story has exerted such a strong influence on so many: we would all like to have been him, following our own way through the enchanted world of animals and birds, ignoring or surmounting obstacles. I know that my own youthful imagination was stirred by his books; I am sure that generations of conservation professionals have been actively inspired.

What David Alderton’s appreciation on page 10 reminds us is that Durrell’s blend of tall-story adventure and conservation passion was new: this man was a pioneer as well as a populariser. His influence for good, as David makes clear, can still be felt in the conservation world and, via that, on the modern hobby of birdkeeping also.

■ How good to hear that Bernard Williams has taken on the presidency of the NCA (News, page 2). As our news story points out, Bernard has a broad overview of the whole fancy by virtue of his years as show manager of the former National Exhibition. Congratulations to the NCA on this astute appointment.

■ Editor’s Nightmare of the Week: “They were kept under a heat lamp and force-fed for 10 days on a mixture of pinkies, crickets and dog meal until they were able to pick up food from a dish.” Hand-rearing chicks is always a ticklish business, but I couldn’t help a twinge of sympathy for the baby wood hoopoes under New York Zoo’s feeding regimen! For much more about these fantastic birds, see Bill Naylor’s article on page 10.

Have a great week, even if you’re hand-rearing!

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