City Critters by Helen Ross Russell

City Critters bills itself as a fine general introduction to a natural world that is often ignored. In her general introduction Russell covers sparrows, starlings, pigeons, seagulls, mice, rats, squirrels, earthworms, and house pests. Each chapter provides an overview of the creature’s presence in the city, how it came to be there or to adapt to life in the city, as well as its habitats and mating habits. Russell also looks at the various methods used to control these “pests”. She seems to be in favour of measures to limit their numbers, but she also recognises the value they bring to the city and doesn’t want them to be eliminated completely. Not only do many of these species provide people with pleasure, but they (and we) are also interrelated:

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London’s Natural History by R.S.R. Fitter

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London’s Natural History charts the natural history of London from its pre-historic, geological formation, through the Romans, the medieval period (when kites were a common London bird), the expansion of the city from the fifteenth century onwards, and on to its final bursting point in the mid-nineteenth century. It then looks at the various human impacts on the city’s flora and fauna in the present day (the present day being 1945), including the influence of traffic, refuse disposal, agriculture and the recent war. Whilst the history of London is interesting, it is the snapshot of London in 1945 that I find the most fascinating. For example, Fitter mentions the abundance of sparrows in London, according to Fitter they are the only London bird considered to be a Cockney. Since then the number of sparrows in London has drastically declined – by 60% between 1994 and 2004 according to the RSPB. On the other hand, he mentions the recent increase in the number of gulls in London, a bird that is still increasing in urban areas.

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