Reviewed by Wendy Lipke
This 273-page book, The Urban Field Naturalist Project, was produced through the collaboration of experts in the life and environmental sciences, design and digital technology who wish to help people notice and appreciate the wildlife in their urban environment. At the heart of the book is an effort to describe and playfully explore what it means to be an urban field naturalist in the 21st Century and therefore the book has been written to ‘cultivate our capacities for curiosity and wonder’ (11) rather than just provide data.
The only colours on the pages are green and red. The print is green with headings, boxes and most sketches in red, with a few in green. These standout on the crisp white background. The book is divided into four parts and the pages at the beginning of each segment are red. This allows the reader to quickly find the section they require once they have read the Table of Contents.
The first section talks about what being a naturalist means and reminding the reader that all cities are home to a diverse range of species. Sydney and its surrounding areas, as an example, have 400 different species, though most parts are dominated by just a few such as magpies, pigeons and lorikeets. There is a brief overview of the Naturalist Tradition followed by guides to collecting and feeding species. Acknowledgement is given to our first nations people and their contribution in recognising the importance of caring for the flora and fauna found on this continent. A few pages are also given to recognising some of the Trailblazing Naturalists including Beatrix Potter.
Part two, which comprises the largest section of the book, 139 pages, provides guides for appreciating urban creatures such as various birds, snails, deadly Australian animals, mammals, lizards and flowers and their pollinators. The information in this section is presented with many red or green sketches of the species being documented. The pages are dense with information presented in titled paragraphs or in columns or boxes. The print in some of these is smaller than the rest of the text. All the information is very interesting.
The reader learns that creatures often considered pests, like snails and bats, have a vital part to play in maintaining ecosystems. Other interesting facts included are that ibises can ‘see’ through the tips of their bills (82); and that Australia is a gecko hotspot with more than 140 species (174). It was also interesting to read how many of the creatures mentioned had such a strong link to history and culture such as the ibis, cockatoo, crow and snail.
The next section contains journaling and storytelling activities for budding urban field naturalists. Information is given, in a very readable form on how to build observational skills, document encounters, and record notes and transform them into compelling stories. There are also sketching activities to improve skills in this area.
The last major section (though only 18 pages) contains stories from the field accompanied by green photos of encounters experienced. This information is presented, in many cases, in column form giving one page or half a page to each report chosen. The colour of the photos is quite unusual but fits the complimentary colour scheme used in the whole guide. To complete the book there is a Coda containing tips, in brief paragraphs, for example If you’re scenarios: curious, looking for something to do, need some quiet time, like drama and a few others. The last one, If you’re self-interested, comes with a saying from an Australian politician, Jack Lang ‘Always back the horse named self-interest, son. It’ll be the only one trying’ (250). This is followed by the usual Glossary, Acknowledgements, Notes and Index. The information on the pages of this publication is well presented and easy to read for the everyday man. Though each page contains a lot of information, the paragraphs are well spaced on the pages.
The cover, I thought, looked overcrowded. The front and back of the book are on a green background with the spine red. All sections of the cover are divided into rectangular shapes (All the better to fit in the information). This means that part of the title is not on a horizontal plane. The complimentary colour scheme of the book is enhanced here with a deep blue in some of the illustrations.
Overall, I think this is a very useful book for our time when more and more people are becoming concerned about the extinction of species. “In this challenging context, the work of naturalists is at least in part an effort to actively hold open space for the many incredible natural phenomena and forms of life that are still found on this ‘damaged planet’’’ (25). For those who wish to contribute in this way, this guide will be very useful.
A Guide to the Creatures in your Neighbourhood
The Urban Field Naturalist Project