I’ve had this book for quite some time, and I have kept picking it up and putting it down. For me, that is usually a sign that it hasn’t grabbed me but I’m wondering whether it is me, or the book, or both. In this case I think it is mostly me. I’m not that gripped by urban wildlife as a subject.
I’m more interested in rural, for example farmland, wildlife than I am by urban wildlife. Even though, I acknowledge, there is sometimes more wildlife of interest in parts of our cities than parts of our countryside, and that is a view that is reinforced by reading this book.
But there are a few niggles with the book itself. First, it is a bit bird-centric. The author acknowledges his own personal interest and expertise in birds, but I’d hoped for a slightly rounder overview (not that there is anything wrong with birds, of course). More about plants? More about bats? Second, it is quite London-centric too. ‘Well’, you might say, ‘isn’t everything?’ but that’s hardly an excuse. This too is understandable as the author has worked with distinction in London for many years and is an expert on its ecology and wildlife. I wonder whether the publisher prevailed upon the author not to repeat Fitter’s Natural History of London but to attempt a wider canvass – if so, I’m slightly sorry they did. I would have liked either a greater focus on London or a greater amount of information from outside the capital. The book lacks a good assessment of the overall change in ecology of any city which I think the author could have written for the city he knows best and which would have been very interesting. Third, the photographs are badly chosen in places, and simply too small to illustrate any points in others. Fewer, bigger images would have been better.
But there is a lot of interest in this book. The author really is an expert and has the facts and the stories at his fingertips to spread through these pages. I enjoyed reading about the colonisation of London by foxes, for example.
The last third of the book grabbed me more firmly. It is about how, and why, we should design our cities, our buildings, our green spaces, to help get nature back into them. This is really the heartland of applied urban ecology and I enjoyed reading this very much. There are good examples and good ideas in here.
I’m glad I don’t live in a big city. But if I did, then I think I’d want those running the place to read this book and act on some of its good ideas. Boris Johnson may soon be not only London Mayor but also a London MP, he may be in Downing Street eventually. Does he have a copy?
Nature in Towns and Cities by David Goode is published by Harper Collins.
A Message from Martha by Mark Avery is published by Bloomsbury.