Feral is utterly inspirational. This book is George Monbiot’s manifesto for rewilding Britain and the world, with particular emphasis on Wales. Monbiot argues that it is not too late to halt the march of environmental destruction. In fact, his ambitions are much greater than those of most conservationists. Monbiot doesn’t just want to return nature to its state of a hundred years ago. He believes we can reintroduce extinct species of animals and flowers, and then allow nature to run its course to bring life back to the blasted earth.
What is particularly compelling in Monbiot’s writing is that he does not allow himself to be cowed by received wisdom. He dares to dream. Some of his ideas are outlandish. For instance, he wants to reintroduce wolves to Britain. Cue gasps of horror.
Monbiot is not a fantasist, however. He argues his points with hard science and figures, but he uses real-life examples:
Almost everywhere, except Britain and Ireland, large charismatic species are returning. Wolves have spread across most of Europe. Between 1927 and 1993, the wolf was extinct in France. Now, helped only by the restraint of people who might otherwise have killed them, there are over 200 wolves there, in at least twenty packs, some of which have spilt into Switzerland… Since they were almost exterminated in the 1970s, wolf numbers in Spain have quintupled, to around 2,500. They have also grown rapidly in Italy and Poland.
You might wonder what is the point of reintroducing wolves, but Monbiot, a trained zoologist, explains that top predators have a key role to play in an ecosystem. It’s down to a process known as trophic cascades. Basically, top predators keep an ecosystem healthy via such means as reducing the number of herbivores, thus providing carrion for animals further down the food chain.
All over the world, people have found that eliminating a top predator does not mean more food for humans. For example, fishermen once believed they could enlarge their catches by reducing the numbers of animals such as whales and seals, leaving more fish for human consumption. In fact, the opposite occurred, because you cannot remove one piece of an ecosystem without creating catastrophic knock-on effects that occur elsewhere.
Alongside his campaign for rewilding and regaining control of the British countryside for the British people, Feral will open to your eyes to a world that has seemingly gone forever:
When Trafalgar Square was excavated in the nineteenth century… the river gravels the builders exposed were found to be crammed with hippopotamus bones; these beasts wallowed a little over 100,000 years ago, where tourists and pigeons cluster today. The same excavations … also revealed the bones of straight-tusked elephants, giant deer, giant aurochs and lions.
As that passage shows, this beautifully written book is a passionate defence of the natural world. It is not a hectoring ‘doom and gloom’ list of numbers of animals killed through hunting, overfishing, farming and habitat destruction. Feral is a message of hope, showing that life can return to the wasteland that is the British countryside today. As one of Monbiot’s critics, a sheep farmer, says in the book:
The environmental movement up till now has necessarily been reactive. We have been clear about what we don’t like. But we also need to say what we would like. We need to show where hope lies. Ecological restoration is a work of hope.
Monbiot does just that in this epic rallying call for us, possibly the last generation that can save the scattered fragments of nature in its raw, uncultivated state.