Sunday book review – Wild Isles by Patrick Barkham and Alistair Fothergill

This is the companion book to the recent TV series. Reading its pages didn’t really take me back to the wonderful moving images of the TV episodes and, I’m afraid, it didn’t take me on very far. There are many great images, and quite a few moving passages of words, but it seemed to me to be a veritable coffee-table book. It might be an ideal Christmas present for someone you love (ask them in July whether they have actually read much of it). The book is an entirely attractive and inoffensive book. I’d probably have got on better with it had it been a more offensive book.

What follows is not really a review of this book – it’s a review of what RSPB, WWF and the National Trust seem to think is the way forward in saving UK wildlife.

At the RSPB online AGM just over a month ago, we few attendees were told that this book and the TV series would be pivotal in launching a wildlife recovery – I really don’t think so.  If that forms any important part of the RSPB’s theory of change then it really has lost the plot. Part of the trouble is that we have the RSPB and WWF Chief Execs telling us on its back cover what a great book this is, when their logos are on the front cover, and the examples within the pages are quite slanted towards particularly the RSPB, so this feels like rather gratuitous self praise. There is a two-page Epilogue which sets out what you might do if you want to help nature. It’s very limp, but you are given the RSPB, WWF and National Trust websites funnily enough, and that of the #wildisles ‘campaign’. You might try visiting to find out how you can save UK wildlife but don’t get your hopes up because the right link is The position of The National Trust is odd in this book – it’s almost as though it were intended to be an equal partner with RSPB and WWF but then left the party – no quote on the back, no logo – but if you find your way to the Save Our Wild Isles website then there is the National Trust snuggling up to RSPB and WWF and making a triumvirate.

Do I sound grumpy? I guess I do, and that’s because I am grumpy. We have three major UK organisations, ones who really could make a difference to our wildlife, who are pinning their faith on a book and some films when saving nature is rather more difficult than that. Do the people involved, including the trustees, not realise how feeble and vapid this looks? Or have the public relations and membership teams so taken over the hearts and souls of all three of these organisations? that would explain why their brains don’t seem to be working so well, these days. If this were a WWF/NT production then I’d simply shrug and move on, but I expect the RSPB to do so very much better than this.

Losing faith, that’s what I am doing.

The cover? Not bad – I’d give it 7/10.

Wild Isles by Patrick Barkham and Alastair Fothergill is published by William Collins.


6 Replies to “Sunday book review – Wild Isles by Patrick Barkham and Alistair Fothergill”

  1. I think you’re being a bit harsh Mark in labelling this is being at the core – in reality – of what the RSPB is about. For sure, in terms of claims about it being a ‘gamechanger’, Wild Isles was overhyped, massively – including by the wonderful Megan McCubbin & others outside the ‘triumvirate’.

    More concerning for me is the huge & costly rebrand of the RSPB including having to replace all of its clothing including for the thousands of volunteers.
    I’m guessing the RSPB has been suckered into it by some external slick marketing consultancies.

  2. I haven’t read the book, but I did see all the episodes on which it was supposedly based and also the bonus one on the internet about what we should actually do to bring back our wildlife. The latter was generally underwhelming and I found it incredibly frustrating, not once was the fact that we throw 30 to 40% of our food away even mentioned, far less stressed. If you’re going to push for changes to farming, making it better for wildlife, but fail to mention very basic facts like that then you’re backing a loser. The situation in Ukraine and other factors has definitely bumped food prices up and the world’s population is still growing so under the circumstances asking for agricultural production in anyway to be reduced isn’t going to help especially when they’re are groups going around spouting that we can’t rewild for food security issues. There was absolutely nothing in the prog to counter that though in reality there’s loads that does.

    I can only assume conservation bodies are trying to push this through without ruffling anybody’s feathers and that just won’t work. There’s been an extensive consultation process in the Cairngorms National Park about reintroducing beavers there this year. The response was generally very positive, but surprise, surprise once the consultation closed several local farmers came forward to claim that they weren’t consulted, this is just being foisted upon them which is utter rubbish, but helps the victim narrative I suppose. The Fieldsports Channel made the same claim re the sea eagle reintroduction on the Isle of Wight, so this is becoming standard ammunition against conservation. This is the background against which we’re trying to restore biodiversity and nothing’s going to change until the backbone is found to push back, insipid and inoffensive for anybody doesn’t work.

  3. I was given the book by a well meaning relative and you are right Mark, it is a coffee table book. My reason for responding though is to support your comments about the RSPB which sadly I think of as a corporate entity instead of as a campaigning group of enthusiasts determined to give wild life a better deal.

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