Feral: Rewilding the Land, Sea and Human Life Paperback – 5 Jun 2014
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George Monbiot is always original - both in the intelligence of his opinions and the depth and rigour of his research. In this unusual book he presents a persuasive argument for a new future for the planet, one in which we consciously progress from just conserving nature to actively rebuilding it (Brian Eno)
A Book of Revelations for our times (Farley Mowat)
Feral has really opened my mind to the history and possibilities of our landscape. It reflects a very real need in us all right now to be released from our claustrophobic monoculture and sense of powerlessness. To break the straight lines into endless branches. To free our land from its absent administrators. To rewild both the landscape and ourselves. It is the most positive and daring environmental book I have read. In order to change our world you have to be able to see a better one. I think George has done that (Thom Yorke)
Part personal journal, part rigorous (and riveting) natural history, but above all unbridled vision for a less cowed, more self-willed planet, this is a book that will change the way you think about the natural world, and your place in it. Big, bold and beautifully written, his vision of a rewilded world is, well, truly captivating (Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall)
It could not be more rigorously researched, more elegantly delivered, or more timely. We need such big thinking for our own sakes and those of our children. Bring on the wolves and whales, I say, and, in the words of Maurice Sendak, let the wild rumpus start (Philip Hoare Sunday Telegraph (Book of the Week))
This is prose style as auditory experience; what majesty the eye notes in the landscape is echoed in the vocabulary. ... This is nature writing prepared to go off at a tangent when it needs to, prepared to explore the byways of our passions. Yes, there is a wildness here and it's a welcome one (Independent)
About the Author
George Monbiot studied zoology at Oxford, and has spent his career as a journalist and environmentalist, working with others to defend the natural world he loves. His celebrated Guardian columns are syndicated all over the world. He is the author of the bestselling books Captive State, The Age of Consent, Bring on the Apocalypse and Heat, as well as the investigative travel books Poisoned Arrows, Amazon Watershed and No Man's Land. His latest book, Feral, was shortlisted for the Great Outdoors Book of the Year award. Among the many prizes he has won is the UN Global 500 award for outstanding environmental achievement, presented to him by Nelson Mandela.
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He does ‘not romanticise evolutionary time … Neither [does he] wish to return to the hallows and gallows of the civilisations we have left behind.’ Instead, the ‘rewilding of natural ecosystems that fascinates me is not an attempt to restore them to any prior state, but to permit ecological processes to resume.’ He contrasts this to mainstream conservationist movements which seek to ‘freeze living systems in time … to manage nature as if tending a garden.’
Rewilding, as conceived by Monbiot (drawing on other acknowledged thinkers such as Dr Mark Fisher), ‘is about resisting the urge to control nature and allowing it to find its own way. It involves reintroducing absent plants and animals … pulling down fences, blocking drainage ditches, but otherwise stepping back … The ecosystems that result are best described not as wilderness, but as self-willed … [with] no end points, no view about what a “right” ecosystem … might look like.’
As you can see, Monbiot writes admirably clearly. His passion is infectious, and his historical perspective is well-informed, with no rose-tinted glasses. Everywhere, he notes, is man-made (at least, in Europe). He traces convincingly the inter-connected nature of nature, most dramatically by looking at the top predators in a landscape and seeing how their removal by man leads inexorably to major changes in the physical landscape. For example, there is a link between the decline of vultures and the spread of rabies in India: a livestock drug, which remains present in dead cattle, kills the vultures (but not dogs) which feed on carcasses of diseased animals; the carrion is instead eaten by feral dogs, which have multiplied as a result; and because the wild dogs are far more likely to get rabies and because they bite humans frequently, human cases of rabies in India have rocketed.
Monbiot can back himself up some blind alleys, such as his obsession with the reintroduction of wolves into the UK – and he tends to jump about from pet topic to pet topic like an antelope on helium. He is also guilty of some gross exaggerations, such as his claim that ‘one ground sloth could have fed a clan of hunters for months’. This doesn’t matter, except that it makes it easier to dismiss him as a crank.
Looking beyond these self-indulgences, Monbiot does have something powerful to say about authenticity in our management of the landscape, and his enthusiasm for nature red in claw and tooth is a welcome antidote to the creeping suburbanisation and sentimentalisation of our planet.
In reality this is almost two books rather than one – the first is about developing a greater connection between people and the land on which they live. This is ‘re-wilding people’. The second is about taking a less interventionist approach to wildlife management, by allowing nature a freer hand to build new ecosystems.
The first is a reasonably well-trodden path - and is based on the assumption that people and the land do better when they are connected. Connection. Interest. Care. Passion. And in the end, survival. This all seems to make sense.
The second theme of the book – actually re-wilding landscape – is probably a little more contentious. Especially as one of the key things that the author suggests in terms of re-wilding the landscape is the re-introduction of large predators – such as wolves – to some ecosystems. While any such introduction would clearly rely on human intervention in its early stages, the idea is to re-establish the kind of ecological processes that have been removed from many ecosystems by humans.
There is little doubt that conventional conservation management is not always successful – with large areas (the book really takes most examples from the UK) being maintained in some sort of agriculture dominated state – the classic example here being the UKs uplands which are often just sheep, deer or grouse maintained habitats, which lack the diversity they once had.
I think there needs to a well informed debate about how land is managed into the future – and this book is as good a place as any to start thinking about what this debate could mean or should include.
I am not sure that I can write a review of this book that will be sufficiently worthy of it. It is quite simply excellent, (although I feel that this is not sufficiently effusive) not only because of its content, but also because of Monbiot's writing style: always hugely engaging and intelligent, lyrically descriptive in places, incisive, cogent, sarcastic and necessarily provocative and controversial in others.
It is the result of approximately 3 years of research and this shows by the depth and range of detail, information and examples that it contains. We need to know this information so that firstly we come to understand Nature's plight and secondly begin to care about it. Because unless we do and then are prepared to do something about it, we will continue along the destructive motorway we are racing along of 'live for today who cares about tomorrow' with an almost total dis-connect from nature, so the desecration will continue to its ultimate end. Let us not overlook the fact that we humans will suffer and possibly perish, whilst it is likely that Nature would recover minus the destructive apes.
Monbiot is brave for airing his beliefs and opinions because these are at such variance to the die-hard norm. No doubt the nay-sayers will have tried hard to undermine this book. But thank goodness that somebody is prepared to speak out for Mother Nature. He argues Her case forcefully without being overly dogmatic.
It should, I believe, be compulsory reading for all humans of 16 years and above because by this means, there might just be a sufficient number who agree with this book's central message so that a change can be effected and some re-wilding, on whatever scale, can be brought into being.
If you read this book you will never look at nature conservation UK's version of and the UK countryside and the relative paltry quantity of wildlife that there is within it in the same way again. To read this book is akin to having cataracts removed from your eyes. If you do not find this book thought-provoking, then I suggest to you that you be made of stone or so thoroughly dis-connected from the Earth that feeds you.
Just read this book, please.