It would be fair to ask what this book is about: and that is a question to which there is no easy answer. The first part of the answer is that it is not the book pictured above envisaged by booksellers (eg see here, here, here), and indeed Quiller (the intended publisher) who claimed Wild Farming: the challenge of re-wilding for food and wildlife would be an ‘…important contribution by Robin Page to the current debates on re-wilding and the preservation and restoration of the British countryside. Robin takes aim at those that he sees responsible for the crisis in the rural communities, from urban politicians and greedy landowners to, in his view, misguided conservationists and planners. This is very much a book of the moment which will greatly stimulate the discussion on both sides of the argument.‘. This book isn’t that book, because that book’s publication was abandoned. It’s still called Wild Farming but the stuff about rewilding has disappeared and Robin writes that the publisher wanted more on rewilding (you can see why from the quote above – it looks like that’s what they were expecting!) than he was prepared to write. Robin regards rewilding as ‘almost total nonsense’ and directs the reader on the last page of this book to ‘a BBC children’s programme that specialises in TV wildlife wallpaper’ for information about rewilding. I would have liked to read Robin’s carefully argued critique of rewilding, and I suspect that I might have agreed with parts of it and seriously disagreed with most of it. But perhaps it would have been worth reading. It would certainly be interesting to see whether Robin could write a serious critique of any of the things that he attacks – I’m guessing that he couldn’t.
We don’t have that book, instead we have this book:
The book is published by Bird’s Farm Books. A company of that name, which has published previous books by this author, with Robin Page as an officer, was dissolved four years ago although Robin says, again on the last page of the book, that he has resurrected it.
As founder of the Countryside Restoration Trust Robin Page ought to have something interesting to say about farming and in the introduction to his book, Page himself says that this might be his most important book and that he wrote it to reconnect the reader with where food comes from and why its production must take account of wildlife. But I failed to find much of that in these pages. There is surprisingly little about farming and very little about any successes of CRT but too much for my taste of the bees in Mr Page’s bonnet. That was disappointing. I don’t think this book is an important contribution to any debate except perhaps that about whether the freedom to speak your views in public carries with it some responsibilty to have those views firmly grounded in reality.
There are chapters in here about grouse shooting, Pheasant shooting, Badgers, predation, bird declines, Red Squirrels and quite a lot more. I’ve read every chapter and found the book entertaining in many places but I was laughing at the author as much as laughing with him. And it’s not all funny. And even where it is entertaining, it didn’t convince me.
There is a long list of people and institutions who get swipes through the pages of this book. Sometimes it feels to the reader, this reader anyway, that Robin goes out of his way to have that swipe even when it is pretty irrelevant to the subject. Who has Robin got it in for? Well, the list includes: MPs, Chris Packham, the BBC, Boris Johnson, urbanites, Nigel Farage, vegans, animal rights activists, the conservation Taliban (undefined and an interesting choice of terms), Natural England, the RSPB, the Wildlife Trusts and more.
Many of the people whom Robin slags off would probably sign up to the gist of the saying, inaccurately ascribed to Voltaire, that ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it’ but in the week when a mob invaded the Capitol building, incited by lies and prejudice, there are reasons to consider how much we should all allow unsupported views to persist without challenge. Robin’s book is full of anecdotes but pitifully short of any meaningful analysis of the issues about which he sounds off.
Many of the people that Robin does like are dead conservationists – so it’s a bit difficult to check whether the feeling was mutual or not. In the acknowledgements Robin thanks, among others, Songbird Survival, GWCT, Amanda Anderson, Geoff Eyre, Richard May, Lindsay Waddell and Richard Benyon – and the RSPB which has been slagged off mightily in the previous pages. But then, Tony Juniper is quoted, as Chair of Natural England, as saying ‘By farming as it does at Lark Rise Farm, the Countryside Restoration Trust has already given us a farming blue-print for the future‘ although I notice that quote was made before Tony became Chair of Natural England by quite some time. Those words are on the back cover of the book but we find little in the preceding pages to identify that blueprint.
It’s a pity that Robin didn’t write the book we were promised and it’s a pity that he wrote this poor one. But then again it is a pity that this book will get such limited readership because it deserves to be read widely as it gives a fascinating insight into what a real countryman thinks, apparently. It would be quite an eye-opener to many. I wonder whether that thought passed through the mind of Quiller when they were presented with Robin’s manuscript.
I didn’t buy this book – I’m grateful to the friends who bought it and are sharing it widely. I wouldn’t recommend that you buy it either, though it is an entertaining read but it isn’t a blueprint for farming, it isn’t a valuable contribution to any debate about rewilding and it isn’t really a book of the moment. You learn more about Robin Page in these pages than you learn about the countryside but I don’t think that was his intention.
Wild Farming by Robin Page is published by Bird’s Farm Books and can be obtained from Robin Page, Bird’s Farm Books, Bird’s Farm, Barton, Cambs CB23 7AG. The cover price is £12.99 but it is unclear whether that includes postage – you’ll have to ask. I haven’t spotted any other way of getting it.