The New Nature
This book, which was republished by Penguin in January 2017, challenges conventional thinking about nature and conservation by showing that some native species are benefiting rather than suffering from human impacts, and exploring how these ‘winners’ sometimes go on to cause environmental problems. Examples include overabundant koalas killing eucalypt forests, and aggressive birds that benefit from forest degradation.
In an extended interview with ABC radio's Richard Fidler, Tim talks about the book's themes here.
Humanised environments are not necessarily shunned by other species, and often provide important resources, even for endangered species such as the green and golden bell frog, found today mainly in degraded wetlands, and cassowaries which now feed on the fruit of one of Australia’s worst weeds, the pond apple.
Around Perth, endangered Carnaby's black cockatoos have become dependent upon pine plantations as a source of seed, and the harvesting of these for wood represents a serious threat to the species, one that has attracted much public attention.
The book includes a chapter, ‘The Ecology of Sewage’, about albatrosses, waders, sharks and other animals that benefit indirectly from sewage discharges and other wastes. The book criticises the idea that wildlife-friendly gardening contributes to biodiversity conservation (garden frog ponds help common, not rare, frogs), and questions whether wilderness is a useful concept, when so many species are now bound to human impacts. It is fully referenced.
This book was listed by New Scientist (Australia) as a number 1 best-seller and by Who magazine as one of the books of the year. It won the inaugural Westfield-Waverley literary award, now called The Nib, for excellence in research, and received a special mention at the Centre for Australian Cultural Studies National Awards.
After reading this book, the then environment minister, Senator Ian Campbell, invited Tim to serve on his advisory committee (Biological Diversity Advisory Committee). The book gave its name to the second National Local Government Environment Conference and to an art exhibit in New Zealand that drew on its ideas.
Here is a quote:
“It strikes me that our concepts of nature often don’t match what we actually see. Native animals are taken to prefer their natural habitats and natural foods when often that’s not true. The words ‘nature’, ‘natural’ and ‘wilderness’ end up misleading rather than informing us about the natural world. We shouldn’t presume that nature, merely by definition, wants to be natural. This book is an attempt to redefine that difficult word ‘nature’ by putting people in the picture and taking wilderness out.”
This repositioning of the human-nature relationship has attracted much interest from humanities scholars, and also from visual artists.
“Low argues with a novelist’s zeal that the line we draw between ‘good, pure, harmonious nature and evil, selfish, destructive humans’ is as artificial as the blue plastic that bower birds seek out to decorate their forest boudoirs.”
"Low is to be congratulated." - Sydney Morning Herald
“This is the best book I have ever read, anywhere in the world, about how we save the planet.”
“Tim Low has some intriguing ideas”
“The new nature is packed with fascinating stories…”
“an important and timely book, full of good ecological common sense…Low’s great contribution is that he has presented complex concepts in a highly readable and provocative form. The New Nature should be read by all with an interest in nature conservation.”
“The New Nature is destined to be as successful as Low’s critically acclaimed Feral Future. The book brings something new to ecological literature by concentrating on issues not previously covered in books on the environment. It is full of descriptive content, which includes a vast amount of interesting and amusing anecdotes.”
“Read this book carefully, consider the qualifications on its bolder statements, and perhaps you’ll make some sense of the muddled state of this continent.”
"fascinating" - The Brisbane News
“a myth-busting explosion of information … Low is an ecological Indiana Jones”