By Mike Dilger & Christina Holvey | Harper Collins | 2012 | Paperback | ISBN: 9780007457700 | 357 Pages | 36 Black & White Illustrations
After the best part of forty years spent either living under his parents’ roof, in the tropical rainforests of three continents, a vast array of student digs or most recently a one-bedroom flat, Mike Dilger has at last bought a house – and with it, a (potentially) glorious garden. Since an early age, Mike has had an intense desire to own and manage his own personal nature reserve. A keen birder throughout his childhood, he has a clear memory of asking his father as an eleven-year-old if he would find out who owned the lovely meadow he used to pass on his daily newspaper-round in the West Midlands, intending to purchase it with his pocket money to conserve the spotted flycatchers which nested there each summer. Needless to say – and despite his best efforts – ‘flycatcher meadow’ never was purchased and has since been consigned to history underneath a mini-housing estate. Now his opportunity has come, and Mike is determined to make the most of it. Despite the fact that the vast majority of gardens often tend to be petite, they need not necessarily be lacking in either interesting species or biological diversity. The lawn and shrubs in his new garden initially look tired and unloved, but ‘potential’ was definitely the one word that sprung to mind the very first time Mike and his partner Christina viewed their new ‘house-and-garden-to-be’ in the small rural village of Chew Stoke, some eight miles south of Bristol. Of course on Christina’s first viewing, the adjectives that sprung to her mind were ‘dilapidated’, ‘over-priced’ and ‘abandoned’. True, the house was an ex-council property, with a pebble-dashed facade the colour of boiled shite and an interior stuck in a 1970s time-warp, but the long, uncared for lawn which ran down to a tree-covered bank revealing at its base a small, tinkling stream, offered huge promise under the right stewardship. Illustrated throughout with beautifully evocative black-and-white line drawings by Christina Holvey, Mike Dilger’s partner-in-crime, this light-hearted, amusing account of their journey to create their very own wildlife sanctuary will appeal to anyone interested in quirky nature tales with a twist, and wildlife enthusiasts generally.The Author:
Mike Dilger is an enthusiastic naturalist and freelance presenter. He spent four years as a research biologist in the tropics of Ecuador, Tanzania, and Vietnam and is a regular presenter on nature programmes. Having birded, botanized and entomologised in a huge range of countries, he has accumulated an encyclopaedic knowledge of British and South American wildlife and a strong familiarity with the nature of Vietnam and Tanzania. Mike is also a member of many wildlife charities and has trained as a PADI open water diver.
I’ve always liked Mike since we first met as fellow panellists on ‘Just a Linnet’ at the British Bird Fair. I liked him even more the following year when I was unwell and did not take part as he said he missed my ‘viper like wit’! So I look forward to reading his books and expect them to be as ever cheerful and ebullient as the man himself. This tome doesn’t disappoint. To be super critical it is, like Mike, a tad on the garrulous side. We all tend to string together clichés when in full flow and these sometimes bury the best writing gems so I blame the editor here for not taking a slightly harder line… the book would have slimmed but, like me, that would do it no harm.
Otherwise its more love story than anecdote, as it is a man falling in love with his garden as he turns it from a semi rural retreat into a virtual wildlife sanctuary. As a story it holds up well, but, as one might expect from someone as well educated in wild lore as Mike it also positively drips with pearls of wildlife gardening wisdom.
Mike’s TV persona is of the slightly quirky birder willing to play the fool to get his points across and very entertaining he can be. Underneath this kid glove lays a naturalists steel fist full of learning, lore and lesson. Like the best of such efforts it can be read on several levels. An autobiographical account of taking on a new garden, a lyrical stroll alongside someone whose enthusiasm is contagious, or a serious treatise on what we must all do in our daily lives to be able to pass on the natural world of wonders to the next generation.
Mike would walk naked through Antarctica if he thought it would help stop global warming, or climb a volcano to save rare plants. What is more he would gladly be filmed doing so if his humour or enthusiasm would turn on just one more person to the need for conservation. If you enjoy Mike’s contributions to TV magazine shows you’ll love this.