Book Review – Human, Nature

When I put this book on my nature writing ‘to read’ list I hadn’t realised I had seen versions of some of the content before. The essays in Human, Nature have appeared in British Birds and other publications, or earlier incarnations of the arguments in them have.

There are four sections to the book. ‘Close To Home’ looks at nature on the doorstep and close to home, and how it enriches life. The eponymous second part minus the comma ‘Human Nature’ takes the earlier issues and explores interactions with the natural world further. ‘Conflicts’ as the name suggests looks at where opinions and attitudes on wildlife issues and remedies diverge. Lastly ‘Wild Places’ looks at the increasing difficulty of finding true escape from humanity in nature.

I completed Human, Nature in a couple of days, and whilst it isn’t a dense read with most chapters only a few pages long this reflects the fact it’s generally absorbing. Ian isn’t frightened of holding and expressing unpopular opinions, notably defending licences issued to shoot Buzzards for protection of released and non-native Pheasants. He also acknowledges contradictions in his own attitudes and behaviour, including owning a dog that kills wildlife when he accepts he wouldn’t approve of this in others. This candour is engaging not least because we are all contradictory in the way we think about and interact with nature.

Generally the writing is factual rather than lyrical. There is some humour in the insights that I appreciated. For example in terms of the same bird being called White-billed Diver and Yellow-billed Loon ‘it’s mildly irritating that we have different words to describe the same bird on each side of the Atlantic, but it beggars belief that we can’t even agree on the bill colour’. I also like the observation on urban Pied Wagtail habitat choice that ‘it’s almost as if they are selecting the sites that are most in need of cheering up’.

It’s unfortunate that a number of proofing failures are evident in the text, including a couple in the same chapter (‘Meddling With Wildlife’). I couldn’t really see a reason why the American names cited weren’t in the index either, to assist readers from that country. In summary though if you want to read something that challenges and maybe changes how you think about wildlife and nature this book is definitely recommended.

Section heading, the photo is from my copy of the book and you can see the page behind

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