Feral by George Monbiot

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.

Feral by George Monbiot

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.

13 responses to “Feral by George Monbiot

  1. Pingback: Feral by George Monbiot | info and tips healthy for living

  2. Monbiot is a hero, writes an excellent column in the Guardian on Tuesdays, which is generally very sensible. Though I don’t agree with his current campaign encouraging Scotland to vote ‘Yes’ but that is another story.
    On the subject of large charismatic species: we had a Transylvanian carer who turned up with bear salami. I thought this sounded highly illegal and wondered if her pronunciation was awry and asked if she meant boar salami. But apparently bears are thriving in Transylvania. This is thanks to the fact that Ceausescu had reserved shooting bears just for himself and his cronies. It was lovely!!

  3. This is going to be a must for my collection, it sounds right up my street, a proper scholarly work. Bringing back wolves would also add a bit of drama to a walk in the countryside.

  4. I’m a big fan of Monbiot, though I wonder how he’s reconciling this with his climate change work? I was reading an article recently about the anticipated impact of climate change on Florida, where the point was made that efforts to improve the ecosystem in the Everglades are essentially pointless as current models have the Everglades as already pretty much irrecoverable given anticipated sea level rises. We’re not joined up on this stuff.

    Monbiot once wrote a column in the Guardian in which he essentially said that we’re fucked, that we’re not going to take action in time (arguably it’s already too late), that we’re not going to address the issues, he ended saying he didn’t know how to look his children in the eye. A week later he was writing something else, but I still wonder if perhaps deep down he does think we’re fucked and is just trying to do what he can in the hope he’s wrong.

    • I can’t speak for Monbiot but speaking personally, I haven’t given up hope yet. Back in the 1980s when I was at school, I believed that environmental destruction would happen at an apocalyptic rate, and yet thirty years later, many ecosystems are still surviving to some degree. So we can stop things from getting worse. The United States is leading the way in this in their success regarding rewilding national parks, supporting the blue whale population in California and, this week, enlarging their protected areas in the Pacific Ocean.
      What I find inspiring about Monbiot is his ambition. In this book, he talks a lot about Shifting Baseline Syndrome, whereby each generation believes the natural state of the countryside is the one they encountered as children. As a result, each successive generation has a lower expectation of how mush space should be given over to nature than the one before. This leads to situations where people can look at farmland and call it getting back to nature, when in fact they’re looking at a denuded wilderness given over to food production.
      Feral really has changed my view of the world, even if I don’t agree with everything Monbiot says.

    • Yes, he does. His focus is mostly on the UK and he talks a lot about the Highlands and how we could improve the forest cover there. He’s as good on flora as on fauna actually.

  5. I only just learned last week that Scotland used to be covered in trees- all cut down for human use a hundred or more years ago- I had no idea…

    • That’s right and even now, the great estates are managed more for hunting than to protect their natural environment. I have to say that I am more positive about the British countryside than Monbiot is, but he makes a very strong case for how we have devastated our environment, often in the name of “conservation”.

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