Sunday book review – After They’re Gone by Peter Marren

Peter Marren is friend of mine (although I haven’t clapped eyes on him for ages) and I have favourably reviewed several of his books here in the past (The Consolation of Nature, with Jeremy Mynott and Michael McCarthy, Chasing the Ghost, Where the Wild Thyme Blew, Rainbow Dust) and so it might not come as a surprise that I like this book too.

Whereas Peter’s books are usually educating me in a very affable way about flowers and insects this book tackles a subject about which I know a fair bit – extinction. Now extinction isn’t, on the face of it, the most uplifting of topics, it is, like death and illness, a fact of life. And like those difficult subjects, sometimes a light touch in discussion helps us get through the awkward bits more easily and helps us engage with the problems. That’s what Peter has done in this book. It’s not depressing but it doesn’t shy way from the issues either.

There are chapters about the global extinction crises of long ago, extinctions in the UK, what type of species go extinct, Extinction Rebellion, Lazarus species and much more. It’s a good overview with lots of facts, some great examples of species lost and found and wise words about nature conservation.

I read this book very quickly as the subject was of interest and the quality of the writing led me on through more and more pages very easily. It’s a good read, written by a thinking conservationist.

The cover? Not the best, I think. A couple of raptors and some squiggly birds (gulls?) in flight and a few trees and shrubs indicates – what exactly? I’d give it a mere 5/10.

After They’re Gone; extinctions past, present and future by Peter Marren is published by Hodder Studio.

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4 Replies to “Sunday book review – After They’re Gone by Peter Marren”

  1. I’ve currently got a 100 plus pile of unread books to get through (went rather overboard on ebay during the covid years) and it’s no accident that two of those are by Peter Marren, Rare Flowers and Chasing the Ghost. He’s a superb writer who has made some very perceptive remarks that I don’t think many others would have including the suggestion that there may well be a hidden agenda with a lot of the planting of native broadleaves in urban areas. He wrote that it’s perhaps more to do with supplying a future hardwood industry than for wildlife. We’re still planting trees rather than woodlands – there is a difference – when we were supposed to have moved beyond that decades ago and it just doesn’t make sense from a conservation/education/recreation viewpoint. Peter had raised a very important point that needs to be discussed, even if not by deliberate strategy much of our tree planting is better for producing wood than wildlife. Fantastic he’s written about extinction he’ll definitely have interesting and original points to make.

  2. The idea that urban trees are being planted with a timber objective is really rather exotic. Wouldn’t it be great if it were true ? People really thinking 150 years ahead , pretty well unheard of. I fear the truth may be closer to grubby reality-the people who pay for trees whether its Government or voluntary donors have little idea of costs. I’ve been horrified over the years by the costs – and profits – extracted from urban tree planting, In the early 2000s the Forestry Commission were developing a wide range of community forests and John Prescott’s ODPM became interested (and big supporters led by John himself) and were amazed when the costs Fc quoted were 5-10 times less than they were used to paying. As a result FC became their principal supplier, was showered with money and created some superb community woods led by people with biodiversity a high priority and timber very much a subsidiary objective.

    1. Yes it would be good if (necessary) material needs like timber production could be met, as much as possible, from the same urban areas where most of them arise. I’d even love to see areas of parks set aside and sown with flowers so the public could pick them for free rather than buy some flown in from Kenya or Colombia at a petrol station on the way home – better use of land than close mowed grass. However, first we really need to be lowering the demand in the first place, and seeing how much of what’s left can be met with reduce, reuse, recycle. If houses were insulated properly and Passiv designed they’d require little if any gas, electricity or logs to keep warm – a massive environmental and social gain. I’m positive the amount of wood used to make paper and pallets could be dramatically reduced and do we really need hardwoods for anything other than aesthetics now?

      As part of the multi million lottery funded Helix project some years ago some fancy hardwood benches and bins with fancy hardwood cladding were put in local parks and beside new trails. The wood seems to be of tropical origin and is cracking and decaying quite badly after only a few years. They could and should have been made from recycled plastic, from stuff that could have been recycled locally rather than sent to China in a shipping container to be ‘recycled’ there i.e dumped. It bothers me that a bit of rainforest somewhere had a chainsaw taken to it so people could plonk their arses on something exotic.

      I definitely agree about tree planting initiatives being expensive, and also have to repeat that mainly they’re pretty crap. I remember reading nearly thirty years ago now that we were about to move on from the bog standard community tree planting to ones that would involve putting in shrubs, woody climbers and wild flowers too. Well all these years later and we’re still waiting for them. The FC staff I’ve dealt with have been excellent and so I’m not surprised that the community woodlands they were responsible for were excellent.

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