Sophie Pavelle has been busy. A science writer, presenter, maker of podcasts, ambassador for the Wildlife Trust and adviser to the RSPB, she’s also spent much of the last two years roving from Cornwall to Orkney in search of 10 species whose fortunes have been affected by human-induced climate change. More impressive still, she’s done so in the middle of a pandemic and while eschewing wherever possible high-carbon forms of transport – and she is still only 27. Plug this woman into the grid.
Forget Me Not is not a hymn to those species – nothing so reverent. It’s an openhearted, superbly nerdish fan letter. With apologies for the spoiler, she doesn’t always find the species. But what she does find is a detailed perspective on the interconnectedness of the climate and biodiversity crises and ways to solve them. In short: it’s complicated, and we’re messing up big time. We have, Pavelle tells us as kindly as anyone can, created a world that “can barely continue to absorb our mistakes”.
You probably knew that already. But you might not know that coastal seagrass beds protect our shorelines by absorbing storm wave energy while simultaneously sequestering carbon up to 40 times faster than pristine tropical rainforest. You may also be startled by the importance of “carcass deadfall” (in which fish and whales die a natural death and sink to the deep ocean floor) in carbon capture; or the astonishing, all too rare, fiesta of life in an organic cowpat and the revelation that Britain’s 60 species of dung beetle require a smorgasbord of diverse excrement in order to play their part in the national carbon sequestration effort. You will, I think, enjoy some lugubrious detail of the sex life of the marsh fritillary, “a flirtatious world of interpretive dance and promiscuity”; marvel at the heroics of Atlantic salmon and the exploits of our smallest and most furious falcon, the merlin. You’ll find out what a restless atmosphere means to a black guillemot; the risks of a shrunken gene pool for grey long-eared bats; why natural capital fails to value our furriest insect, the bilberry bumblebee; and you’ll grasp the sartorial crisis facing the otherwise astonishingly hardy mountain hare, betrayed in warming winters by its seasonal white coat.
While Pavelle emphasises her own lack of specialist expertise, it’s clear she is a top-notch communicator, scientifically literate with a knack for exposition that makes data delicious, dung delightful and daunting truths digestible. Forget Me Not lays bare the “tits-up of a trade-off” between human development and the interconnected wild lives and systems of which we are part, but with a lightness of touch that belies the weight and scale of the crises. The prose is as lyrical as it is sassy, as insightful as it is impassioned.
Pavelle clearly finds hope and motivation in connecting with fellow crusaders and there are dozens in the book – scientists, conservationists, activists, rewilders. Many are as young or not much older than she is. And that is really something. Like the captured sunshine she describes persisting in a seagrass meadow even on a cloudy day, she has captured a different kind of light here, that of youth and love and hope.