Yesterday we posted a review of upland campaigner Bob Berzins’ wonderful new novel ‘Snared’. In this guest post Bob explains why he wrote ‘Snared’ and what he hopes it might achieve.
Snared – Why It Matters
“Prime Minister Harold Macmillan was photographed with a grouse shooting party in North Yorkshire on 20th August 1960. The location was Barden Moor, owned by the Duke of Devonshire and this was a typical scene for the ruling classes. This was just a few months after I was born and it’s taken nearly the whole of my lifetime for us to understand what grouse shooting is all about.
What we’ve found is a culture that manipulates and damages the environment – harming us all. Any wildlife that might affect grouse is eliminated, along with a few other species that happen to be on the moors, just for the fun of it.
Headlines sometimes make the national news but the wider public still struggle to understand why this is important. Campaigners hold a range of views from relatively minor changes such as licensing, through banning driven grouse shooting and all the way to rights for sentient creatures. But one thing everyone seems to agree is that grouse shooting has a rotten core and real change is needed. We’ve been fooled for too long.
Everyone who has taken an interest in promoting that change has already played an important part, but how can that message be spread wider? For me it’s been the challenge of writing a longer piece of work, something that will hold a reader’s attention. I’ve had to learn how to be a writer, but that’s not important – it’s all about the final result.
Snared is a novel – why fiction?
The simple answer is I struggle with non-fiction and biographies. I need a story to hold my interest and once I get into the characters, I want to keep turning the pages. The best fiction takes me to a different setting, sometimes a different period of time as well. Non-fiction lays down facts and events but tells us nothing about what might be going on in someone’s mind. The scenes in Snared are very realistic but the characters and how they act are something that I’ve created. I trained and worked as a counsellor. That doesn’t make me a mind reader but I do have some insight into how people might react to stress and unbearably painful emotions; then as a writer how this can create the most dramatic of scenes. And there are more secrets in the countryside: A 2019 report from the National Rural Crime Network Captive and Controlled tells us “Bucolic rural life, characterised by gentle living, tradition and close-knit communities has a dark side”. That is domestic abuse – “The hidden underbelly of rural communities. Hidden under our noses. Hidden by abusers who like to keep it that way”. Yet more to hide for some of the characters I’ve created and I’ve balanced that against a different, loving relationship, which shows compassion and offers hope.
Why did I write this book?
Over the years I’ve run around the grouse moors of the Peak District and seen them change – not for the better. Swathes of impenetrable undergrowth have been burnt and burnt again and bogs have dried out. The measure for me is if I need to wear tough all-terrain fell running shoes. Instead I can now follow quad bike tracks and square after square of recently burnt heather. “You could go round in carpet slippers” said one conservationist.
Then there’s the wildlife, or lack of it. Most people’s idea of a National Park is a place of sanctuary for animals and birds. But grouse moor owners are not most people – they have a different set of morals. So it’s about gaps in the sky for missing raptors, day and night – short-eared owls really struggle here compared to a few years ago. And once you get an eye for it (thinking like a gamekeeper does make me queasy), finding those trap sites is not too difficult. Often I see the aftermath of something that’s happened – the fox carelessly tossed onto the stink pit surrounded by snares. The huge holes dug by badgers as they struggle in the same traps. Then there’s the propaganda and gamekeeper myths such as “Animals don’t struggle in snares, they sit there quietly. They know the game is up.” The few laws we do have are often drafted in such a way to make prosecutions virtually impossible, such as having to prove “Intent” to show a badger has been snared illegally. “They’re just collateral damage Bob,” one Police Officer told me, as if it was really something not worth his attention. And who drafts those laws? The people who own the grouse moors really do have a lot of influence. My work with monitoring groups has highlighted local people are fed up with the whole grouse moor culture but are too afraid of intimidation to speak out. So we need to find ways to publicise all this.
Grouse moors are under pressure. Last winter, it wasn’t disappearing hen harriers but continued burning of moorland which caught the public imagination. A huge cloud of smoke is something that’s very easy for everyone to understand and then pour scorn on landowners’ claims it’s all done for our benefit. Then there are the lockdown criminals responsible for a wave of raptor persecution; this builds on the steady drip of the news feed with all those incidents of wildlife crime. Why now? – The public deserve to hear the truth.”
Words and photos Bob Berzins June 2020
From Bob Berzin’s website (bob-berzins.co.uk
‘Snared’ exposes the pressures of rural life and tackles the brutal reality of countryside crime.
Set against the beautiful backdrop of England’s moorland, Snared dramatically lifts the lid on a spectrum of interconnected illegal activities, ranging from raptor persecution to dog ﬁghting and money laundering. This is the story behind the facade of heather-filled moors and skies full of red grouse.
Driven by the wealthy and privileged, rural families are broken and discarded, as activists unravel their secret world. Layers of restraint are stripped away until a man who holds life and death in his fingers has nothing left to lose.
As events build to a breathtaking climax, who will survive – and will justice ever be served?
With a plot to appeal to the social media generation, Snared comes at a critical time for the English countryside, with much native wildlife under threat, and the far-reaching effects of the climate emergency keenly felt.
It is available for sale at https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B089267Z6G