Sunday book review – Wild City by Florence Wilkinson

There is wildlife everywhere and that includes our big cities, towns and villages. This shouldn’t come as a surprise really, but we are so wedded to the idea that our own activities are driving wildlife abundance down (as they are) that we, perhaps subconsciously, believe that built up areas must be the worst possible places for wildlife. It’s not always the case – I see more birds per area on the parts of my Breeding Bird Survey route that pass through a small town in North Northants than I do in the countryside around it. Sometimes our parks and gardens are the refuges for wildlife and the farmed countryside is the desert. But it is still true, I think, that a Fox seen in a city seems more special than one seen in a rural field. We wonder how it manages amongst us all – maybe because we sometimes wonder how we manage, amongst us all.

This book is about much more than simply encounters with urban wildlife as it looks at what is happening to that wildlife, how it survives and what we could do to help it do even better.

The author makes a good case for putting more effort into protecting and celebrating urban wildlife and her 15-point manifesto for urban wildlife is spot-on in my view – a mixture of the obvious but important and the not-so-obvious.

i enjoyed this book more than I thought I would. It’s engaging and I learned some things.

The cover? I don’t like it. That doesn’t mean you can’t like it, but it does mean I’ll give it 4/10. And I’m not keen on the in-text illustrations either.

Wild City: encounters with urban wildlife by Florence Wilkinson is published by Orion Books.

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3 Replies to “Sunday book review – Wild City by Florence Wilkinson”

  1. “It’s not always the case”

    Reassuring to know, following a recent trip up the A45 when I was struck by the appallingness of …. everything. Nice coppicing near Warth Park, though, which diverts my attention when I should be trying to avoid being killed.

    Perhaps the open water and wetlands resulting from gravel extraction influence the abundance of birds where you are. As do former peat workings in the Somerset levels. And the gravel pits in the Avon valley near Ringwood. These are just places I know of – there must be many other examples.

    But this post reminds me to search out a book about the nadural world beneath our feet that I bought years ago. It’s probably in the same place as the Yardbirds LP I bought in 1964 and can’t find. No doubt they will reappear like wildlife does given time, when you aren’t looking for it

  2. This May it will be exactly 35 years since what should have been the ground breaking tv series ‘The Wild Side of Town’ was shown (all be it rather late) on BBC1. I loved it and bought the book tie in – an exploration of how we can create fantastic wetland, woodland and meadow habitats for wildlife and of course people in places that are currently lifeless, dreary green spaces and nothing else in our urban areas. As a twenty year old about to leave college I was extremely excited at how obviously there would be a massive expansion in the opportunities for wildlife, and thereby bringing children into closer contact with nature throughout the country such was the incontestable case made for it in the excellent programmes.

    Well decades later and we’ve got a few scraps of meadow in the far corner of local parks which if we’re really lucky are actual real wildlife ones rather than the ultra gaudy variety trying to be acceptable to the less ecologically aware, more garden orientated section of the public. When SUDS (Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems) were brought in to reduce urban flooding they were supposed to be built to be wildlife oases, I only know one that is, dozens that aren’t. I met a teacher who was ignored by a ground worker when she pleaded with him not to mow her school’s wildlife meadow, a friend who works in the council confirms the ground’s teams don’t give a shit and nobody seems to point out they are supposed to be public employees not our bosses. And of course if a public consultation on woodland is carried out the standard response to comments about dead trees and wood ‘not looking nice’ is to cut them down and up, but if wildlife is fortunate they might be hidden under bushes so as not to offend delicate aesthetic sensibilities. Otherwise it ends up as ash in a wood stove. A spot of public education might have been worth a try, just a thought.

    Against the tremendous case for more urban wildlife there’s been for decades now, progress has been utterly, utterly pathetic. In the same period it’s been an even worse failure than in pushing reduce, reuse, recycle to fight planet killing waste, which is really saying something. Most of us pay council tax, but if anyone doesn’t like long grass then there can’t be any even for those who do, but if you don’t like close mowed grass tough you have to put up with acres and acres and acres of it. Hardly democratic is it? Instead of pushing the case for urban nature to oppose the apathy of bureaucrats and near rabid opposition of those who can’t deal with the natural and informal too many conservationists and conservation organisations try to accommodate the latter especially meaning that not only have anti conservation attitudes never been countered, the conservation sector has actually participated in, not fought, the marginalisation of urban habitat creation. Being a little better than it used to be is still far short of being where it should be.

    I’ve known those who no matter what you say will foam at the mouth to councillors about long grass in the park and a rotting log in a wood – the grave is likely the best friend conservation will have re these folks. On the other hand there’ve been others who’ve complained about ‘weeds’ and scruffy woodland that have completely dropped their objections when I pointed out they benefitted wildlife and what are we actually supposed to gain from sterilised, close mowed grass anyway? That’s all it took, a few words in a few seconds. Imagine what could happen if the RSPB, the Wildlife and Woodland Trusts REALLY went to town publicly with how fantastic nature is in fuelling children’s curiosity and joy which they will be deprived of by the nature haters? Taking the moral high ground just by stating the truth and not let it be subsumed so we can be everyone’s friend (impossible anyway), finally starting to fight our corner, what a breath of fresh air that would be.

  3. There is undoubtedly a lot of wildlife in our towns and cities and for many urbanites the glimpses they get of foxes, birds in their gardens and wildflowers clinging on in improbable crevices on the sides of buildings are important for their sense of well-being. As Les points out, though, things could be much better with a little more imagination on the part of the local authorities.
    I suppose that cities are patchy with regards to their value for wildlife and large cities will include some windswept concrete barrens that are pretty much bereft of life, as well as the richer areas but I was struck by your comment that you see more birds in the part of your BBS route that passes through town than in the part running through countryside. What an indictment of our countryside and the way years of agricultural policy has allowed the wildlife to bleed out of it!
    Sightings of foxes are always exciting I find, but for me the rural sightings seem more special than those in town. I have family living in London and in the neighbourhoods where they live, a stroll after dark (and even before) will inevitably result in close encounters with foxes whereas a country sighting of a fox seems a little harder to achieve and more precious as a result. Each to their own I suppose!

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