David Barrie’s career has spanned from serving in Britain’s diplomatic service to being director of the Art Fund and being chair of criminal justice reform campaigning organisation Make Justice Work. Barrie’s latest book, Incredible Journeys, shines a light on the astounding navigational skills of animals of every stripe. We asked him 10 questions about his upcoming appearance at Hay Festival…
1. What are you in Hay to talk about?
My new book, “Incredible Journeys - exploring the wonders of animal navigation”, a work of popular science about how animals - large and small, including humans - find their way around.
2. What do you want the audience to take away?
Quite simply a sense of wonder and humility in the face of the astonishing things our fellow creatures can do. But at the same time I want to reveal the extraordinary ingenuity and dedication of the researchers who have shed so much light on this subject. I also hope to show people how much they’re sacrificing by turning their backs the old ways of navigating and relying instead on electronic gadgets. It’s not just that we’re rapidly losing the ability to find our way around unaided and thereby exposing ourselves to many risks. We’re also cutting ourselves off from the world around us. And that’s bad for us both physically and spiritually.
3. What’s the best question you’ve been asked in an event and how did you answer?
“Which animal navigator has impressed you most?” If I’m thinking about endurance, then the bar-tailed godwit’s non-stop migration from Alaska to New Zealand across 11,000 km of open ocean is pretty hard to beat. But then what about the October Flyer dragonfly that flies from India to East Africa? Or the bar-headed geese that fly over the Himalayas? But if we’re talking about precision, then birds - like swallows - that return to precisely the same place year after year, after flying for thousands of kilometres are astonishing. Or the turtles that return to the beaches where they hatched many years earlier after circling an entire ocean...
4. Which events, other than your own, have you seen and what stayed with you? OR Which events are you looking forward to seeing?
I’m looking forward to hearing Alastair Fothergill talking about making natural history films for the BBC.
5. If you could sum Hay Festival up in one word / a sentence, it would be...
A bit hard to say since it’s my first visit (sorry!), but I’m sure I’ll be stimulated and entertained in equal measure.
6. What is so special about Hay-on-Wye?
Probably the scale of the event and its beautiful setting in the shadow of the Black Mountains.
7. What was the last book you read and loved?
Sally Rooney’s bleak but brilliantly observed and elegantly written novel “Conversations with Friends”
8. What is the book you’ve most often given as a gift?
Thomas Traherne’s ‘Centuries of Meditation’.
9. Which book has most inspired you?
Hard to say! But I’ve been enormously influenced by the writings of John Ruskin, the great Victorian writer, artist and social reformer who was born 200 years ago.
10. Which piece of advice do you wish you could give your 16-year-old self?
Have more fun and work harder - there’s really no conflict!