Feral – Searching for Enchantment on the Frontiers of Rewilding
|OUR VERDICT: For all its erudition and well-marshalled arguments, this is a very personal quest for a natural world that has meaning for the author. I thoroughly commend it.|
Usually when I read George Monbiot I get angry, and his new book Feral – Searching for Enchantment on the Frontiers of Rewilding is no exception. It’s not because I disagree with him – quite the reverse in fact. It is more the sheer compelling verve with which he unveils the pernicious idiocies of much that is wrong with the modern world. In Feral he presents the case for the rewilding of Britain’s countryside, primarily the uplands of Wales and Scotland, but also the seas that surround our shores.
Monbiot fingers the usual culprits – absentee landlords and Brussels bureaucrats, with their ensuing infestations of deer and sheep – but much current conservation thinking is also challenged. In particular it appears to suffer from ‘shifting baseline syndrome’, described by Monbiot as an affliction whereby expectations of what is not only possible, but indeed right, are so reduced by initial experiences and recent memories that sights are set all too low.
For example, if in the name of conservation we exclude all natural regeneration to protect a virtual monoculture of heather, what chance have we got of creating a landscape that contains European Beaver and Lynx? If we hark back to the halcyon days before the Common Agricultural Policy or even of Gilbert White, what chance have we of envisioning a landscape that is home to elk, bears and wolves, let alone the elephants to which our native trees’ ability to survive coppicing may be attributed?
But that is – with the exception of the elephants of course – what is happening in other parts of Europe, from Slovenia to France and from Germany to Spain. As Monbiot says, “even the tidy, busy Netherlands is allowing nature to reassert itself”. So why not Britain? Clearly our island status makes the task harder. Wolves may be no respecters of the land borders they are increasingly crossing westwards and northwards, but the Channel will defeat them. We humans will have to do our bit to undo the actions of our forebears.
Part natural history, part social and political history, this is a remarkably well-researched book, and Monbiot provides the source references that allow the reader to pursue a myriad of fascinating tangents.
Although much of the book examines the potential for mammals and megafauna in our wild places, there is enough for even the most monomaniacal birder – from the success of the Scottish White-tailed Eagles to the sad decline of upland waders in Wales. Indeed, the book concludes with a bizarre, almost redemptive encounter with a Corncrake. For all its erudition and well-marshalled arguments, this is a very personal, almost spiritual quest for a natural world that has meaning for the author – the ‘enchantment’ of the book’s sub-title – a natural world that does not exclude humans but enriches them. After the anger comes hope. I thoroughly commend this book.
• Feral – Searching for Enchantment on the Frontiers of Rewilding by George Monbiot (Allan Lane, London, 2013).
• 336 pages, no illustrations.
• ISBN 9781846147487. Hbk, £20.