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Book review: Urban Mammals – a concise guide

Matthew Chatfield
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In 2010, the People’s Trust for Endangered Species produced Britain’s Mammals – a concise guide, which I said was “a rich delight to read”. So when I heard that another book in the same series was on its way, I was naturally interested. That book is Urban Mammals – a concise guide. Unlike its predecessor, the cover credits the author, former biochemist and erstwhile Edinburgh Fringe performer David Wembridge, who works as Surveys Coordinator for PTES.

Urban Mammals, a concise guide (PTES)

Urban Mammals is an interesting and well-presented tour through a selection of mammals that might be found in Britain’s urban environments. In the introduction, it gives the striking example of Jennifer Owen of Leicester, who in 30 years managed to identify over 2,500 species of plants and animals in her own suburban garden, including four that were new to science. This leads on to an interesting discourse on the extent and value of urban habitats, and the inevitable difficulty in defining them. Then it is onto the guide, which forms the main body of the book. In this, a selection of mammal species are given a page or more of description. Interspersed amongst these guide pages are various boxes and case studies which add background – for example, two pages on bats in buildings by another author. These are valuable but sporadic, and do make it difficult to know whether the book is best used as a guide that one should browse, or a reference book to read through systematically and enjoy.

Towards the end of the book there are some chapters of discussion, with in a few pages a surprising number of graphs and quite detailed analysis of selected issues, including an unexpectedly wry look at domestic pets and the effect they can have on wild populations: “Cats have gone one better than many mammal species; rather than adopting an urban lifestyle, cats have adopted us”.

Urban Mammals, a concise guide (PTES)

Had I not already had two years enjoyment out of Britain’s Mammals – a concise guide I would be welcoming this new volume with similar unqualified praise. Like the 2010 volume co-authored by David Wembridge this book has a succinct but hugely informative style, enjoyably readable design, and authoritatively thorough grounding in sound science. It even looks very similar and shares a fair number of the same photographs. The problem is that, as the title might suggest, it’s essentially an urban-themed subset of the previous book, rearranged in a slightly more arbitrary way and expanded out with a lot more background material. This doesn’t make it a bad book – far from it. Nor is the extra material superfluous. It is excellent and well worth reading; but the reader who already has the equally excellent Britain’s Mammals may justifiably consider that there is no pressing need to purchase this next volume. I trust that David Wembridge will be working on a further book in this promising series, and with any luck, focussing his considerable expertise on a new topic.

Urban Mammals – a concise guide by the Peoples Trust for Endangered Species (published by Whittet Books) RRP £9.99
Order directly from the publisher here.
The book is also available from most bookshops and internet retailers.

Matthew Chatfield

Uncooperative crusty. Unofficial Isle of Wight cultural ambassador. Conservation, countryside and the environment, with extra stuff about spiders.

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