Reviewed by Ian Carter
This new book is not about the Monbiot version of re-wilding but its personal equivalent – the ‘re-wilding of the soul’ rather than the landscape. Lynx, Wolves and Beavers do get a few mentions but it is much more about what people can do to get closer to nature in everyday situations; how we can learn to make best use of senses honed by millions of years of evolution but much underused in the modern world.
His approach is to focus on each of the senses in turn, using examples from his own experiences in Britain as well as more exotic locations. He describes how our senses work and, in particular, how the linkage between our sensory receptors and our brains leaves scope for improving the way we utilise them, given a bit of knowledge and practice.
He covers subjects like ‘jizz’, ‘pishing’ for birds, ‘search image’, and maximising the effectiveness of night vision. If you already spend a lot of time outdoors, watching wildlife, then not much of this will be entirely new. But there is no harm in being reminded of these things, or in getting someone else’s take on familiar subjects. There were a few more surprises in the chapters exploring touch and taste and I was delighted to see that he goes one (actually more than one) better than Chris Packham in tasting wildlife, though the obligatory tadpoles are, of course, involved. Although the book deals largely with familiar subjects, his comprehensive knowledge of wildlife means that if you are mainly interested in one taxonomic group you may well learn a thing or two about how to engage with the other groups – he is surely as close as it is possible to get to being the complete, all-round naturalist.
The text is lively and engaging, with lots of short, punchy sentences and quirky but apposite descriptions: He suggests that sonograms ‘give us a scaffold of visual shapes on which to pin the unique qualities of a bird’s song…..’, and in discussing camouflage he notes that ‘lichen only just does lichen better than a leaf-tailed gecko’. I did find quite a bit of repetition in the book as he tries to drive home his main points and I’ll admit to skim reading a few sections rather than taking in every word.
His great hope is that if more people learn to use their senses fully and enjoy the experience of getting back to nature then there will be more interest in protecting it. To advance that cause the real trick will be in getting this book into the right hands. It needs to reach people who have lost touch with the countryside, as well as younger readers who lead what he calls ‘i-phoney’ lives; people who are less familiar with the way our senses can work and the magic that our wilder spaces have to offer if only they are given a proper chance. If a GCSE on natural history ever sees the light of day, this would make a fantastic course book.
ReWild: The art of returning to nature by Nick Baker is published by Aurum Press.
Nick Baker is at the Bird Fair this weekend – certainly on Saturday and Sunday as he is a contestant in A Question of Stork on Saturday and Birdless Pointbrain on Sunday!