Sunday book review – Wild Farming by Robin Page

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:

Cover photo by Chris Knights

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.


30 Replies to “Sunday book review – Wild Farming by Robin Page”

  1. I will be adhering to your guidance Mark and will not be buying this book. Mr Page, in my view, is very right wing in his views and as such is no real friend of wildlife, nature and conservation. I would very much doubt his views are constructive and objective in this respect.

    1. “as such”

      Holding right-wing views doesn’t stop others being friends of wildlife, nature and conservation. Indeed, some are revered as such.

  2. Bird’s Farm Books (is there only one bird on the farm?) also published his book on hunting. The defence relies heavily on Hitler, who is mentioned repeatedly. He was an animal lover apparently and so (according to Robin’s argument) anyone concerned about animal suffering must have deeper and worrying motives.

  3. I’ve seen figures for Lark Rise Farm and actually they are impressive. They were sent to me by someone who had had some professional involvement with attached comments which effectively said ‘ with results like these why does Robin have to behave as such a prat ?’ . It is interesting that ‘countrymen’ and ‘countryside commentators’ in my experience are always conservative (with at least one, but often two, C’s) , are always against lots of things and always start from the point we are at right now – no shifting baselines, other than a rose tinted nostalgia – and, of course, nothing else is possible except the way they see the world . Oh, and, like Robin, they’d rather play the man than the ball – so much easier and more entertaining, for them if not the rest of us.

  4. many years ago I made the mistake of buying a book by one R Page, it was total tripe and I’ll not make that mistake again. I have met the man twice, on both occasions he gave me the impression of being an opportunist who knew little about wildlife and cared even less about anything other than himself.

  5. Morning Mark. Oh thats made my January… Glad you enjoyed reading it, and I love your synopsis of it. I found the whole read a cringeing experience….
    Should anyone really want to buy it, the reprints are due in tomorrow (11th Jan) and its £15 inc p&p address as you state…yes, reprint, because there are so many folk out there who bought the first print run it sold out.

    I will come clean, I sent the book to Mark, It was bought by someone else who lent it to me. We tried to steal a copy from the office but my partner in crime bottled it…….so we had to pay up…..

    Yes, its true that the CRT has impressive bird numbers at Larkrise, testament to the tenant farmer and the volunteers who put the time in to count. Not anything to do with RP.

    I live on the edge of lark rise, and no longer set foot on their land….. meaning about 1/3 of the parish and local paths are voluntarily out of bounds. I have this view because I simply will not set foot on land where the influence of an opinionated, anti-science, right-wing bully has this level of influence over the farming. Oh yeah, and also because I agree with Mark and Chris P over far too many things (it was suggested by a page family member that I probably shouldn’t go on CRT land….).
    what were my thoughts on the book – it was just a stream of ranting thoughts and opinion…. low on fact, the only facts are probably those relating to the timeline of setting up the CRT. I actually started reading it whilst I was also reading Ian Newtons Upland New Naturalist, what a contrast.

    Robin rarely has a good word to say about anyone, a few people DO get positivity from him, including a couple of people who work for the CRT, volunteers who have released butterflies and other creatures without any specific re-introduction project backing, etc. His favourite folk are generally writers and old-school naturalists, never scientists. And his other favourite group to attack was townie ‘incomers’… ironically including most of the staff/volunteers of the CRT!! We started a list of people and topics in the praised/slagged categories by chapter but lost the enthusiasm as the negative column filled after page 11of the book and we needed a new sheet… with the positives column empty! he talks a lot of th enext book – personally, I can barely contain the excitement!!

  6. Ah Robin Page, the self-styled Skylark Warrior. (Other descriptions come to mind.)

    I first encountered him (I’ve lived a sheltered life) via a guest blog on this site which criticised one he had written in which he had expounded the utterly crazy and gratuitously insulting view that ‘country people’ were the victims of racism: ‘I disagree with those who say that Mr Packham’s attitude towards country people is a form of racism – in my view it is not a form of racism, it is racism – racism that is apparently supported by the BBC.’

    You make a deadly serious point though that recent events have highlighted what happens when views unsupported by evidence are allowed to persist without effective challenge and, as Marina Hyde highlighted in her excellent Guardian column, ( we have plenty to fear in this country with the imminent arrival of two news channels with agendas to push which are likely to be equally unmoored from objective reality.

  7. I have met Robin Page a few times and I was somewhat entertained by his strongly held views. However, it was important that I did not disagree with him as it was not a discussion – it was a series of statements. Also he regularly stated that he hated scientists, townies and nature conservation professionals and as I’m all three I was continually ‘under attack’. I think he felt that his views should be taken more seriously, but his dismissal of any science meant that I couldn’t. There was some common ground about the narrowness of agribusiness, but much less than there should have been on nature conservation topics. I won’t be buying the book!

    1. Stuart… His views cease to be entertaining after many years of being in the same village.
      Socialist, leftie, a woman with a chip on her shoulder big enough to supply Harry Ramsdens, opinionated scientist who knows nothing of the countryside, incomer, … hmm… trying to remember if he every said anything nice or even vaguely factual (apart from maybe the leftie bit!) about me to my face or behind my back.

      1. Hi Louise, He was anything but complimentary to me and worse about the organisation I worked for! (NT). He was especially rude about the wildlife of the Wimpole Estate, but admitted he hadn’t visited for many years. He was ‘entertaining’ as he was so far away from making any solid evidence-based points.
        My wife volunteered to shear one of his sheep on a demo day and the shearer was kind, even if RP wasn’t!

  8. A book from Psycho Robbie? Nah, don’t think so. His previous opinions are enough for me to dismiss it. I wouldn’t put a penny in his pocket even if someone had a gun to my head.

      1. I think given his views and way of expressing them and mine, I would get the same sort of treatment Louise, I might consider euthanasia in your situation, for him of course. He is odious in small doses I cannot imagine what it is like all the time.

        1. Interesting that you resort to mentioning euthanasia…..rather closer to right wing views than left?

  9. Funny how only Gilbert avoids nasty comments.
    Guess everyone else is a correct left wing conservationist.

    1. Sorry Den, we forgot that, like all farmers, Page is a paragon of virtue, and above all criticism.

  10. Mr Page always comes across to me as a classic, self-promoting, rural bully boy. There are many like him but the more discerning members of society treat them with contempt.

  11. Wow! A lot of very rude people on here but I guess anything positive about Robin Page wont get published, sad really that people can’t see both points of view but blindly follow their heroes.

    1. Mrs j Telford – it is somewhat ironic that you didn’t say anything nice about Mr Page either, you just slagged off other commenters here for slagging off…

    2. Given that Robin Page himself is one of the rudest people on the planet, I’m confused by your point. Rudeness is his principal form of communication.

  12. Strange things happening at CRT. I feel a bit sorry for Robin Page. Whatever passion, experience and good ideas he has to offer are buried under the bile and vilification he aims at anyone who takes a different view. It’s clear Robin does not handle conflict well. Unfortunately several comments here betray the fact he is not alone in that. And that is so sad because, ultimately, it’s the rural environment that suffers.

    And now he has aimed his vitriol at Nicholas Watts a farmer for whom I hold a huge admiration. I grew up in Spalding and his land has been an oasis of wildlife in the fenland epicentre of agribusiness for years while still getting food to our plates which, lest we forget, continues to be the primary purpose of farming.

    So people who actually work the countryside in a restorative way now falling out. There are no winners here.

    1. Robin Page is now 78 years old, he has always been what used to be called a maverick, and probably will not change now. It was that streak that encouraged him to stand up against agribusiness and champion the cause of nature conservation thirty years ago or more and in that he was quite some way ahead of the now much more popular science of conservation. A lot of people joined the Countryside Restoration Trust because of him and his ideas, and indeed left the Trust a lot of property in order that it could be managed sympathetically. I would suggest that perhaps some of his behaviour now is provoked by the loss of authority that old age brings, and a feeling of powerlessness against the avalanche of regulation that charities have to follow. I think you are right to feel a bit sorry for him as he is evidently feeling the loss of something he did a lot to create.

  13. Why all the fuss? he is just a normal embittered old white man, there are plenty of them about.

  14. There’s always been an extreme right-wing element in conservation, small in public voice but large enough on the ground. I get emails from a ‘Stand up 4 Moorlands’ group, a fake ‘astroturf’ organisation which includes some very nasty people hiding behind the image of a charming farmer’s wife and her lovely spaniel who, we are told, organises the whole operation from her kitchen. It’s funny that Mr. Page refers to Songbird Survival, a similar astroturfing outfit who I thought had disappeared- they are another of those hunting’/shootin’ groups artfully pretending to be concerned about bird conservation, who’s main idea is that the decline in farmland bird populations is entirely due to excessive raptor numbers.
    Page and the like may be a dying breed, but the wealthy promoters of these sorts of organisations certainly aren’t.

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