Last night I attended the first nature writing book club at the Royal Geographical Society, it provided a really interesting way to discuss a single book. The book in question was Ghost Trees by Bob Gilbert. The evening was chaired by Olvia, an editor for geographical magazine.
The format consisted of introductions, and a discussion about what we had taken from the book, without the author present (although all readers were complimentary), followed by a discussion with the author and two panellists, Meredith Whitten and Marcus Nyman.
I had not read the full book, I attended with my wife and we were sharing a copy to read pre-event, however I will finish it in the next few weeks. The event provided a fascinating discussion of a book that was based in Poplar, very close to my flat in Whitechapel.
The discussion about the book reinforced that there are a range of ways to interact with nature – through observing but also through, maps, routes, stories, and examining species. The book manages to explore an urban environment with a wide notion of nature.
The author as part of the book walks every street in the parish of poplar and the book embodies the idea that attentiveness is love; with a strong relationship to place. It challenges the idea that urban nature is not a good as rural nature. The nature in the city does not need to be compared to the countryside. 84% of the population of the UK live in urban areas so there is a need to value the nature there.
Gilbert talked about some of the developments taking place in both Popular and further afield -and he asked the question ‘development for the benefit of who?’. He said that benefits of development, even when they were considered were often only considered on a very local scale and there is a need to regard the city as a whole as the habitat.
He drew on his experience managing parks and green spaces for Islington stating that by many measures parks are one of the most sterile places in a city in terms of nature. You can find a greater variety of spiders in underpasses and range of wildflowers in wastelands. He went on to talk about how this is changing with areas being left uncut and set aside to become more wild. He also cautioned about the creeping commercialisation of parks. The fact that many parks are being used for fee paying events in a effort to reduce the cost of the parks to municipalities. However he stated we need to move on from a model where we can only measure value in terms of GDP.
Overall the evening was enjoyable and thought provoking, however the biggest benefit of the evening was that it got me to read the book, which probably would not have been on my to read list were it not for the evening.