Book review – The Law of the Wild by Ian Swingland

Ian Swingland is a friend of mine and it’s his 74th birthday tomorrow, so I thought I’d mention his recently-published book which is an autobiography.

Ian came into my life in my 20s in the late 1970s in Oxford through a friend of a friend and we were in the same circle of Oxford-associated biologists for several years before our spheres of operations ceased to overlap much. And then it was about 30 years later that we reconnected through our mutual interest in wildlife and nature conservation.

Ian might seem like an unlikely friend of mine given that he was a policy advisor to the Countryside Alliance many, many years ago but he is a great example of someone who is so multifaceted that you could not possibly and reliably pigeon-hole him. Most of his life has been spent in biological research and nature conservation.

Ian set up the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology at the University of Kent in Canterbury, and that body has helped trained many conservationists who are doing good all over the world. He has met and worked with many of the movers and shakers in the conservation world and his great assets are a huge range of contacts and the charm and enthusiasm to get people together to do good.

The book is littered with meetings with famous biologists but also with Presidents of countries and UK politicians. If you mention an issue to Ian he will tell you who you should talk to; if you mention Ian’s name to others some might roll their eyes but most will immediately smile.

Ian’s mother was in the Special Operations Executive, a colleague’s family were murdered in a famous incident, he himself was convicted of conspiracy to commit fraud – all these things are in the book.

I enjoyed reading the book but then I know Ian (and I learned a lot about him in these pages) and I know some of the people who pop up in these pages. It’s a series of stories told with verve and enthusiasm.

Would you enjoy the book too? I think many would – you’d be carried along by the author’s enthusiasm for life and for the natural world. The text could do with some editing in places.

Any young or aspiring biologist would do well to read it to see where a PhD in behaviour and ecology might take you, and to learn that sticking power, enthusiasm and bounce-back-ability can take you a long way and deliver a very valuable and fulfilling life.

The Law of the Wild: an ecologist’s life by Ian Swingland is published by Ian Swingland.


3 Replies to “Book review – The Law of the Wild by Ian Swingland”

  1. I am in the process of reading this book and I am enjoying it. Ian is a well known British conservation biologist whom I have known since the early 1980s. A complex, contrary and driven character whose enthusiasm and self-belief have helped him achieve great things. Ian has never had a purist approach to conservation and has long embraced the sustainable utilization of wildlife and a free-market approach to the trading of carbon, which got him into serious trouble.
    The book follows his career as a naturalist, academic, conservationist, consultant and businessman. The sections on his fieldwork on Aldabra, working on Giant Tortoises are the highlight for me.
    The book is full of fascinating tales and Ian is not afraid to let the facts get in the way of a good story. A part of the book is around the development of the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology, that he founded, and is his greatest legacy.
    A good read by a colourful and controversial character.

  2. Many thanks Mark. I am well and in lockdown here in mid Wales, and enjoying the extended time at home to enjoy the ravens, goshawks, buzzards and kites. In the spring we had crossbills and a polecat in the garden.
    l am a lurker on your blog which I always enjoy. I felt I had to comment upon Ian’s book which is so very entertaining, more so when you know the author and his bold, driven and untamable personality.

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