When this book was first published in 1973 the idea that ecologically valuable sites could be found in the waste lands and dumps of our urban areas must have been rather novel. Today it seems remarkable that people could have missed the diversity and vigor that can spring from waste-lands.
However, such a change of perspective does not render this either an old fashioned or irrelevant book - far from it. In his sensible, lucid prose Mabey explores many sites in England's SE and finds wildlife to be abundant - often short lived, but still abundant.
He calls such areas the Unofficial Countryside, in clear contrast to the Official Countryside of national parks, nature reserves and ANOB's and such like.
Some of the things that he identified have been overtaken by time, - urban foxes, squirrels, Japanese Knotweed and such like, but the central message remains the same - given a chance, some form of natural ecosystem will form in most places over time.
This is still an important message. The official countryside, for all its protection (assuming it does not get sold off to the highest bidder!) is almost certain to lose species over time, that's what islands do. Other areas - the unofficial bits - are needed to connect these high value sites together. But beyond that the Unofficial Countryside has value of its own - but we may need to change our perspective to see it.
This is an excellent and insightful book which is worth reading in the light of modern habitat change, as well as being a historical insight into the development of the urban ecology movement.
This is a re-issue of one of Richard Mabey's early books and is well worth re-visiting. As he states in his new foreword, he has deliberately not updated the text as this is a document of how London and environs was in the early seventies, still with some bomb sites and dirty polluted streams and canals. And it sounds almost idyllic in a way, as Mabey shows us that there is beauty and interest in even the most unlikely places. It might be worth him writing a modern follow up to be honest because some of what he sees as interesting back then, grey squirrels and urban foxes for example, are now seen as pests as they have prospered in the intervening years. There have also been many developments in environmental care where the differences may be worth noting.
So well worth a read then, especially if you look for parallels or differences with today.
There are some decent enough black and white arty prints but I would have liked to see some more illustrations, which would be my only criticism.
on 9 February 2014
I stumbled across this book while looking for another, related title (Edgelands by Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts), and cannot recommend it highly enough - not only for anyone who is interested in 'nature' (at any level), but also anyone who enjoys outstanding writing. It is an account of a year observing the relationship between plants and animals (birds in particular) and the manmade environment, and one of the most enjoyable books I have ever read on any subject. The author has just the easiest, most effortless writing style, and I shall be seeking out more of his work. I love this book so much I want EVERYONE to know about it. And that is the highest praise I can offer.