The prospect of my garden’s designation as a Site of Importance for Nature Conservation demonstrates that even small spaces can have significance for biodiversity. It also highlights the importance of keeping and submitting wildlife records – had I not done so, designation would not have been possible. It also emphasises the important role that Local Environmental Records Centres play in safeguarding biodiversity for the future. In my case that meant the Hampshire Biodiversity Information Centre.
The garden and its wildlife are the subject of my latest book The Biodiversity Gardener, which was published recently by Wild Nature Press & Princeton University Press. It is available at the usual outlets, and here is a link to one.
The book is a tale of the decline of nature on the one hand, and the potential for reversing the trend at the local level on the other. It is not a book about rewilding as such and it is certainly not about conventional gardening. Instead, it encourages people to understand the ecological complexity of the man-influenced environment around them, their impact on it, and their potential to do good.
The story reminds us how our ancestors altered and shaped the English countryside. As a consequence of rural economics and the way the land was used through the ages, inadvertently our forebears gave rise to the biodiversity richness that still flourished until the mid-twentieth century: rural history and natural history are inextricably linked.
Fast-forward to the present day, and The Biodiversity Gardener allows the reader to grasp just how catastrophic the decline in wildlife has been since that time and to recognise the role played in that ruination by modern rural economics.
During my lifetime, erosion and degradation of native wildlife in the British countryside has reached such a level that there is an urgent ecological imperative to safeguard pockets of biodiversity as legacies for the future.
From my experiences, no plot is too small when it comes to biodiversity restoration and anyone who cares about wildlife should consider using at least part of their land for genuine biodiversity enhancement. The only other ingredients required are an enquiring mind and an environmental conscience.
The Biodiversity Gardener is a story told through the prism of my north Hampshire cottage, in the context of its half-acre plot as well as its place in the surrounding countryside. The background spans four hundred years or so from the cottage’s construction in the late-sixteenth century to the current day and illustrates how rural history and land-use helped shape the area’s natural history. With recent environmental loss in the surrounding countryside, we discover the role the cottage and garden might serve in the long-term recovery of local natural history.
The book provides evidence for biodiversity recovery in my garden, with historical background and an abundance of photographs to help set the scene.
Although The Biodiversity Gardener is a personal tale, the story will resonate with others who live elsewhere in Britain and hopefully, in some small way, inspire and empower them to embark on their own natural history journeys. After having reflected on the advice ‘Ask not what nature can do for you, but what you can do for nature’.
For anyone so obsessed with the accumulation of wealth that every scrap of land they own must earn its keep, The Biodiversity Gardener is not the book for you. Nor is it a book for anyone who sees the role of their garden or plot of land as something to provide them with a route to happiness. Biodiversity gardening demands a commitment and in some senses a sacrifice: only by compromising some of our aspirational wealth and a desire for personal gratification will meaningful benefits for wildlife be achieved. By way of a bonus though, it is a route to genuine fulfilment in life.