When I first read Tim Low’s The New Nature in 2002 it made me question what I thought of as the “natural” behaviour of native plants and animals. It also made me seriously rethink what would be classed as good habitat for different species. So it was with interest that I noticed a revised edition in one of my favourite book shops.
A large part of The New Nature covers the winners and losers when it comes to the new normal of the Australian environment. At times it can be a bit depressing reading repeated examples of just how much changes to land practices in the last 250 years have stuffed the environment up! But at the same time you could look at it as a celebration of how nature persists despite humanity’s best efforts to destroy it. And it is a critique on our assumptions that we are separate from nature rather than a vital part of it.

The idea that nature is separate from us and is somehow better for this is challenged by Tim’s many examples of plants and animals that are now heavily dependent on human modified landscapes. And it’s not just common species like Noisy Miners, Tim has examples of threatened plants and animals that are dependent on what we would perceive as negative human practices for their survival.

While those species that readily take advantage of urban environments – think Rainbow Lorikeets and the Australian White Ibis (aka the bin chicken) – are viewed as winners, Tim challenges us to consider the losers as well. Especially when the winners negatively impact on the losers, for example Noisy Miners on the edges of urban residential areas that aggressively exclude many species of smaller birds from adjacent bushland areas. The preface to the 2017 edition introduces the concept of climate change winners and losers. These may be species that are increasing their range due to a warming climate at the disadvantage of other native species.

The New Nature challenges our stereotypes of what it means to be natural. It urges us to take a realistic view of our environment rather than a rose-coloured version of nature that only survives in special places like national parks. While it was good to read the new edition, there’s not enough updates to the text to justify buying an updated copy if you already have one sitting on the bookshelf at home. While the new edition has some updates, mostly to do with flying-foxes, the book has not been thoroughly updated. However if you’ve never read The New Nature and you feel ready to be challenged on what is “natural” this book should nudge a few paradigms or at least confirm some of those niggling suspicions you’ve been having about what it means to be wild.

The New Nature, published by Penguin, 2017. Paperback, 416 pages. RRP: $22.99..
Available from CSIRO
Publishing or select online
and in-person book stores.

Review by Steph Reif


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