This book is a ‘Must read’ and a ‘Good read’ but not necessarily a ‘Must agree with’ type of book. By which I mean that it is well written and has the right mixture of interesting facts and well-explained views mixed in with a few areas where I thought (you might not) ‘Hang on, I don’t agree with that’. And that’s the type of book that grabs and keeps my attention. I recommend it highly – you should read it and I think you may well enjoy it a lot.
This book now forms the third corner of a triangle of books that you should read if you want to get to grips with rewilding. At the other corners are George Monbiot’s Feral which sets the big picture and opened many of our eyes to the ideas and the possibilities on a grand scale, and Isabella Tree’s Wilding which is a more detailed account of a more constrained place by the team who are actually making rewilding work on their ground. MacDonald’s book is about the UK and paints a convincing picture of what rewilding could do for Britain’s birds (and other wildlife, and people, but the emphasis is certainly on birds which may irritate some). Places are named, species are named and the experience of other European countries is drawn on to illustrate what rewilding could do for our wildlife.
The writing is brisk and fresh and carries the reader along with purpose. A lot of ground is covered, but covered so well that one doesn’t feel knackered by the journey.
Lest there be any doubt, MacDonald is a fan of rewilding. He makes a very good case for a future which could be better for wildlife if only we adopted it.
He’s pretty sound on the future of grouse shooting – which gets a whole chapter!
The wildlife NGOS and government get a bit of criticism for not having got on with this rewilding solution nearly enough. That’s partly fair and partly unfair. But it is interesting. What is the Defra position on rewilding? Where does it stand in the 25-year so-called plan for the environment? Some of the things in that plan sound a bit like rewilding and some of the outcomes sound as though they could be delivered through rewilding, and some of them sound as though they would be best delivered by rewilding – but does the word ‘rewilding’ pass the lips of Michael Gove or Therese Coffey at all? Not that I’ve noticed. Isn’t that odd? I think it’s odd. They should read this book!
And the NGOs? Well, I think that George Monbiot was a little unkind to them in Feral because they would say that they are doing their bit and have been for long before books exhorting them to get active came along. The Wildlife Trusts and National Trust all have their sites but I still know the RSPB landholdings better and they could certainly point to Lakenheath Fen and say ‘From carrot field to Cranes in 15 years’ and Lakenheath was a bigger practical task than Knepp ever would be with Reservoirs Act, the USAF and millions of litres of water to deal with. Other RSPB wetland sites include Ham Wall and Otmoor as well as St Aidans and a host of others, many of them wetlands, but there is Abernethy too! You might say that these are too small (well, they are, but they are a start and represent tens of millions of pounds worth of effort) or that they are rewilding-lite because they don’t have enough Bison in them but that would be a little unfair. But it is fair, again, I think, to ask what the wildlife NGOs think of rewilding because I really don’t know their position. And as the author of this book says, it isn’t the wildlife NGOs who are at the forefront of this debate it is a host of individuals. And this book provides some leadership of its own to fill the gap.
Many books about wildlife these days make a good case for nature being in trouble but end with the ‘somebody should do something about it’ chapter or that thought is threaded through the book. This is true of several books, and excellent books, by friends of mine such as Curlew Moon, Our Place, The Moth Snowstorm, Wild Kingdom and to a large extent Feral. Wilding is an exception because the solution for that site is ‘keep giving us public money and we’ll keep delivering wildlife’ which is at least clear. But we do need something more than simply ‘somebody ought to do something about it’ and that requires deep understanding of the available mechanisms to engineer land use change in our real world starting tomorrow (although you had better leave it until we know where we are with Brexit). And this book fills some of that gap too. There are good suggestions and pointers to the way forward.
This is a book that I recommend highly.
[Note: I have an Advanced Review Copy so I cannot easily comment on the look and feel of the finished article – but I’ve read the words].
Rebirding: rewilding Britain and its birds by Benedict Macdonald will soon be published by Pelagic Publishing.