Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories.
One of the reasons Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell is so sympathetic is that the reader of the Wolf Hall trilogy doesn’t just inhabit his thoughts; he inhabits ours. That, at times, he does so anachronistically doesn’t matter; it’s an effect over which his creator has full control. Your rewilding correspondent still remembers the moment in The Mirror and the Light when Cromwell receives a diplomatic gift from Danzig. To the surprise of Thomas Wyatt who has handed over the gift, he asks for its contents, ‘not seen since our grandfather’s time’, to be put in a pond. Wyatt has brought him three beavers and Cromwell would like to breed them, despite anticipating objections. To his mind, ‘It’s always the wrong bits of the past people want back. With their dams, these busy animals can divert and slow the streams of rivers likely to flood. No human ingenuity can match theirs, and it is a pity they were ever hunted.’
A pity indeed, but after the hunting of the native species to extinction, the recent reintroduction of beavers around the UK is one of the bright spots in a landscape badly in need of more. So imagine Rakewell’s delight when the Enfield Despatch reported a sighting of the first beaver kit to be born in London in more than 400 years.
The kit is thought to be three months old and seems to have got stuck into the dam-building and flood management programme its parents have been heading up since last winter. (We will pass over earlier unsuccessful attempts at reintroduction, but the details are here.) To quote Enfield council’s cabinet member for the environment, Rick Jewell: ‘The beavers’ hard work creating a natural wetland ecosystem will contribute to excellent flood defences, protecting the local area and hundreds of homes from flooding downstream to the south-east of the borough, while encouraging biodiversity.’
Dam-creation may not be to everyone’s liking, but at least the beavers are getting on with things. Headlines in the UK are currently dominated by the country’s inability to finish a new high-speed rail line. While a riverine species is no answer to a tunnel-based problem – and dam-building in the wild comes at a very low-cost – we could all learn from the famous industriousness of these newcomers to the capital. And perhaps we should think bigger. As Thomas Wyatt asks Cromwell in Hilary Mantel’s novel: ‘What else will you bring back? Wolves?’
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