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Forget Me Not - Sophie Pavelle ***(*)

There was a lot to like in Sophie Pavelle's debut popular science title. In it, she visits ten locations in the UK (against the backdrop of the Covid lockdowns) where species that are in some way threatened by humans and/or climate change are found.

The writing style is extremely light and personal, while the content on the different species was both interesting and informative. I particularly enjoyed chapters on sea grass and dung beetles, which are accompanied by coverage of a species each of butterfly, porpoise, bat, guillemot, salmon, hare, bird of prey and bumblebee. There's a nice mix of three threads - writing about the species itself, about the visit to the location (so something close to travel writing, as Pavelle attempts to avoid driving and flying as much as possible) and about the environmental side.

I'm not sure the writing style is for everyone - I found it verged on arch at times, didn't endear me with several enthusiastic references to Love Island and had some comments that felt distinctly laboured, such as 'It's only natural that a group of animals would come in all shapes and sizes. One only has to take the midnight train from Bristol Temple Meads station to draw parallels with our species.' This baffled me - she's talking about how variable bats are - but their variation is very considerable and occurs between species. Humans are a single species and, in animal terms, have absolutely trivial variation. I know she was trying to be funny, but for me the joke fell flat.

Like many books with a strong eco-flavour, this one struggles to take in the big picture, telling us what's wrong but not offering a consistent alternative, or considering all sides of the argument. So, for example, Pavelle extols the virtues of good cow dung for the environment, but doesn't square this with the climate change activists' view that we should not eat meat, and so need to get rid of cows (making organic agriculture pretty much impossible as a result). 

Similarly, Pavelle tells us how harmless red kites are and how wrong farmers are to consider them a problem. I think this reflect the way she spent a lot more time talking to environmental activists than farmers. If, like me, she'd had a farmer show her a dead lamb with its eyes pecked out by a red kite, she might be less likely to dismiss the problems it causes with 'the devastating truth is that a red kite could barely kill a frog, so weak are its legs and feet'. I love red kites (which you can't seem to move for where I live) and foxes too, for example, but I do understand why farmers have a problem with them.

This is, then, a likeable introduction to a set of species we could and should do more to protect, with a very personal style - but it does suffer a little from naivety and lack of thinking through the issues.

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Review by Brian Clegg - See all of Brian's online articles or subscribe to a weekly digest for free here

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