‘This is the story of how Britain became a factory,’ Benedict Macdonald writes in this remarkable work of horror and hope.
This review was first published in The Great Outdoors magazine, February 2020.
Rebirding begins by outlining the millennia of damage we’ve inflicted on wildlife in Britain, from the early removal of our landscape stewards (wild cattle, horses, boar, beaver, wolves) to the wholesale slaughter of raptors and countless other species that continues to this day. Wildlife isn’t threatened in the UK – we’re killing it at an astounding rate. In making our landscapes hostile to wildlife (through chemicals, intensive mechanised agriculture, ‘Ecological Tidiness Disorder’, driven grouse shooting, and development) we have created one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world. The picture is far worse than most people think, and shifting baseline syndrome makes us blind to the richness that has already been lost.
It isn’t all doom and gloom. The book goes on to build a compelling case for large-scale habitat restoration. Although the main focus is on birds, it’s really about land stewardship; end the domination of driven grouse shooting and massive deer farms on our uplands, replace unprofitable pastoral farms with a more enlightened kind of farming fit for the future, have a long-term plan, and nature could bounce back in a big way. Crucially, the economic argument for rewilding is at the core of this book. The author presents compelling evidence that ecotourism could rejuvenate failing rural economies, and that in fact the status quo is actively strangling the economic possibilities of our land. Public perception and fear of change are the only real obstacles, but as the book shows, the British people love nature. We just need direction and boldness.
This is the best book on nature, conservation and rewilding I read in 2019 – perhaps one of the best I’ve ever read. I finished reading it with a real sense of hope for the future. It presents the best argument yet for rewilding before it’s too late, and shows us exactly how to do it. ‘The richer the world around us – the scruffier, messier, the more full of life – the more that life will reward us in return.’
Rebirding: Rewilding Britain and its Birds is published by Pelagic Publishing (£19.99, hardback)
The book mentioned in this review was provided free of charge by the publisher for the purpose of review.