George Monbiot – Feral (4 stars)

A poignant call to rethink the way we use and view our British landscape

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George Monbiot – Feral

(Allen Lane)

The restoration of the Earth’s ecosystems is a key topic in current environmentalism: a positive, hopeful practice in times of huge environmental stress following centuries of alteration and destruction by human hand. Guardian journalist George Monbiot approaches this process of ‘rewilding’ from a uniquely personal perspective, arguing that public engagement with environmental issues is most successful when led by emotional experiences of nature. Through a series of journeys across Europe, he sets out to find re-enchantment in a natural world from which he has become disconnected, finding hope in the potential to ‘rewild’ Britain with plants and animals lost in the past.

Monbiot visits the Trees for Life project in the Scottish Highlands, where an enterprising charity seek to reinstate trees, plants and animals across a wide swathe of land degraded by centuries of overgrazing. Elsewhere, he tracks (and rebuffs) tales of big cats with cryptozoologists in Wales and is inspired by Slovenian landscapes rewilded from degradation after the Second World War. Amongst numerous ecological revelations, we learn that some British vegetation may still be evolutionarily adapted to long-extinct elephants which once roamed the land; and that the reintroduction of large predators such as wolves and lynx may increase the overall health of an ecosystem, reducing the suppression of ecological diversity by grazing animals such as deer and sheep.

Monbiot’s writing is convincing and flecked with lyrical clarity. He deftly untangles and explains scientific concepts, tacking them to core emotional responses of ‘why’ the environment matters. He often gives short shrift to theories that do not run parallel with his argument without providing full explanation, but this is no objective academic text. Instead it is a manifesto: a call to rethink the way we use and view the British landscape.

At its core, this book argues that – with appropriate public and political support – Britain could be far more ecologically rich and diverse, supporting wider swathes of forests and animals such as wolf, lynx, sturgeon and beaver. Whether you agree or not with this environmental future – and many won’t, questioning the social and cultural impacts of such rewilding projects – the depth and breadth of research that underpins this book is impressive. Coupled with the experiential and highly personal prose that weaves this constellation of concepts together, the result is highly persuasive.

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