The wolf’s strange imaginative hold over us is reflected in the wealth of spurious falsehoods that persisted about it long after the species had been hunted and hounded to the dark edges of the British landscape. There seems little certainty about when the wolf became extinct here, though Anglo-Saxon place names that refer to wolves are relatively commonplace, indicating the species was still widespread (or at least recently had been) during the period; this is backed up by the considerable numbers of successfully hunted wolves recorded as late as the second-half of the tenth century.
Already on the wane as a British species, however, the increasing penchant of the monarch and the ruling class for the pursuit of deer led to an escalation of wolf-removal efforts after the arrival of the Normans. In 1281 Edward I commissioned Peter Corbet, a Shropshire knight, to bring out about the final extermination of the species from England – a feat he is said to achieved nine years later (though there is written documentation of eight cattle being killed by wolves at Rossendale in Lancashire at the start of the fourteenth century); by this point wolves had already likely long-vanished from Wales. Canis lupus lingered much later north of Hadrian’s Wall (and later still in Ireland), with a 1427 law passed during the reign of James I of Scotland making wolf-hunting a compulsory activity there. This did not lead to a nine-year removal like the purported extirpation south of the border, as Mary, Queen of Scots was still enjoying the hunting of wolves in the Forest of Atholl during 1563. However, the intensive forest exploitation of the period would have meant that any remnant wolf populations still clinging to Caledonian survival must have been approaching their final days by the end of the century. Perhaps the animal’s last stand was made in 1743 along the lonely middle stretch of the River Findhorn, thirteen miles east of Inverness. There, according to Victorian accounts composed nearly a century later, a six-foot seven-inch giant of a man named MacQueen slayed a huge black wolf: the last of its kind left in the land.
Derek Gow is a farmer and nature conservationist. Born in Dundee in 1965, he left school when he was 17 and worked in agriculture for five years. Inspired by the writing of Gerald Durrell, all of whose books he has read – thoroughly – he jumped at the chance to manage a European wildlife park in central Scotland in the late 1990s before moving on to develop two nature centres in England. He now lives with his children at Coombeshead, a 300-acre farm on the Devon/Cornwall border which he is in the process of rewilding. Derek has played a significant role in the reintroduction of the Eurasian beaver, the water vole and the white stork in England. He is currently working on a reintroduction project for the wildcat. Derek’s book, Bringing Back the Beaver: The Story of One Man’s Quest to Rewild Britain’s Waterways, was published in 2020.
Your host for this event will be the writer Edward Parnell, author of ‘Ghostland: In Search of a Haunted Country’. Edward Parnell lives in Norfolk and has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia. He is the recipient of an Escalator Award from the National Centre for Writing and a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship. Ghostland (William Collins, 2019), a work of narrative non-fiction, is a moving exploration of what has haunted our writers and artists – as well as the author’s own haunted past; it was shortlisted for the PEN Ackerley 2020 prize, an award given to a literary autobiography of excellence. Edward’s first novel The Listeners (2014), won the Rethink New Novels Prize. For further info see: https://edwardparnell.com