animal as a refractor of cultural value, and both make sense in terms of the versions
of animal—human already considered. One is a bird, the other a rodent. One is
deemed native, the other alien. The native bird is unreservedly valued, but we also
find some welcome for the alien rodent. Categories of native and alien do not play
here in the way in which we might expect from recent conservationist arguments
against invasive plant and animal species.
Bittern: Broadland bird
The bittern, a bird which nests in reedy places, has long been presented as a symbol
of Broadland; a rarity, a talisman, a curiosity, an indicator of ecological health.
We begin by returning to Day. In 1935 Day turned his hand to urban ecology. His
A Falcon on St Paul's: Being a Book about the Birds, Beasts, Sports and Games of
London received an excruciating introduction from Viscount Castlerosse:
My friend Mr James Wentworth Day has, after much close study, discovered
the fact that since time immemorial there are other sports in London besides
the hunting of rich men by poor women. Jimmy Day has turned day into
night. Read his topic and you will be bitten.
Bitterns boom. I have been bitten by Jimmy Day, that is why I am
booming his topic.
Jimmy Day knows his subject, which is rare amongst authors.
Castlerosse, Brook Street, W.1
(Day 1935a: Introduction, no pagination)
In Day's writing, as in Ellis's and many other commentators on Broadland, the
bittern is a symbolic bird of the region. In 1954 there were estimated to be sixty
'booming males' in Norfolk, concentrated around Barton and Hickling Broads and
Horsey Mere (Ellis 1965:202). The bittern's chosen habitat matches those zones
upheld by conservationists for ecological and cultural value, areas spatially close to
but culturally far from the tourist centres of the upper Bure and lower Thurne; the
heart of what today's Broads Authority term the 'Last Enchanted Land' (Matless
1994). The bittern's distribution helps it stand for one culture of nature against
another, and its habits and demeanour also lend symbolism. The bittern is presented
as a curious, vulnerable bird at one with an environment itself secretive, enchanting,
enigmatic and fragile. Blending in with its reed bed habitat to the point of
invisibility—'A bittern when it assumes the freezing attitude is extraordinarily
invisible in reed stems' (Buxton 1946:155)—the bird is ungainly on dry land but
nimble in the marsh. And it is valued as much for its sound as its look, a weird
booming call deemed strangely to fit a place of mists, mystery, enchantment: