BACK TO NATURE
By Chris Packham and Megan McCubbin
In my review of Elegy for a River, I started with one of those one-word reviews that publishers seem to love scattering across a book’s cover. If I had to do the same for Back to Nature I’d have to use ‘rushed’, but it’s a criticism of the editor not the authors.
This book has had strong reviews from many quarters, so let’s not get carried away. It’s an approachable, friendly book that’s easy to read and is aimed at those who have started to connect more with nature since the COVID-19 pandemic.
It’s made up of chapters of free text written by Chris Packham, with boxed inserts of natural history facts and science from Megan McCubbin. Both are zoologists, and the information in the book is engaging and fascinating. There are new things to discover even if you’ve loved natural history for a long time.
There are also some great insights into important social parts of conservation; for instance, in relation to farming, the role of the National Farmers’ Union, the virtue of the Nature Friendly Farming Network, and the need to recognise and reward farmers who are making a positive difference to how agriculture affects biodiversity in the UK.
Helpful, practical advice crops up too, like how to sow a wildflower meadow. The book’s also a great introduction to the movers and shakers of the conservation sector, mentioning many key organisations, individuals, books, projects, and studies. Politics also gets some attention, with Packham suggesting changes to the law and policy on various issues.
The reason I labelled the book as rushed is because (in my edition at least) the editing leaves a lot to be desired. There are relatively frequent mistakes and grammatical errors that, if you’re a pedant like me, are a distraction from the narrative.
The structure is also a little disjointed. The text flows backwards and forwards between issues freely, meaning you meet an issue, think it’s over, then revisit it pages later, which makes it difficult to consider the matter and collect your thoughts. The chapter names are a bit cryptic, and there are no subheadings, so reading the book is much like having an unstructured chat with a conservationist – enjoyable, but a little frustrating if you’re more familiar with the topic or are looking for a resource to reference or come back to.
The boxed facts from McCubbin are interesting but inserted at random intervals. I’m a fan of inserts with extra information, but the inclusion of a box about things wildly unrelated to the text you’re reading can be disorientating and make it difficult to maintain your concentration.
On the flip side, I’m sure many people will find the conversational structure endearing and engaging, and information boxes about unrelated topics might help to capture the imagination and keep the fire of interest burning for lots of readers!
Overall, this is a great book if you’re looking for an informal introduction to conservation and natural history. Its combination of natural history facts, politics, sociology, history, and current affairs (with a large smattering of opinion thrown in for good measure) makes it the perfect way to ease yourself into the topic – which is exactly what it’s designed for!
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