When you visit a National Park, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty or an SSSI do you ever question the decisions behind the creation and management of such an area? Are there now so many ‘givens’ in the world of conservation that we blindly accept these as a justification for the many decisions taken on our behalf? Are our present conservation paradigms merely gardening on a grand scale? Is this a fight by pseudo environmentalists to keep the any real wilderness out of their lives?
George Monbiot’s book ‘Feral’ challenges many of the current assumptions about the purposes and ethics of the management of much of upland Britain as well as our coastal waters. Sheep are labelled a’ white plague’ that subdue our uplands leaving a green desert bereft of trees and rich wildlife habitats. Grouse shooting and excessive deer populations for stalking also contribute in the highlands to swathes of heather and waste. The ownership of land by absentee landlords and hill farm subsidies supported by the EU are blamed for the lack of enterprise and innovation in developing an upland species-rich wilderness. A wilderness for all, supported by a beneficial influx of affordable ‘safari’ tourism from all sectors of society.
George Monbiot claims many of our assumptions about the habitats we are trying to conserve are based on too short a time span and we should look further back into the past to envisage a wilderness that used to be Britain. The re-introduction of species, now extinct in Britain, such as beavers and wolves is seen as a positive contribution to the re-wilding of some of our uplands. Consequently contributing to flood control and, through predation, ‘balancing’ populations of both animals and plants.
As a keen kayaker, George bemoans modern methods of trawling and fishing, backed by EU subsidies, for the destruction of the sea bed and fish populations. He makes a strong case for the introduction of many more marine reserves and a re-evaluation of how we support what is left our fishing industry.
This is a book for adults, students, sixth formers, politicians and environmentalists. It challenges our present comfortable assertions and paradigms about conservation. The book opens up a long overdue debate about the future of those parts of our countryside which are only marginally productive and could be richly rewilded.
Feral. George Monbiot; ISBN: 978-0-141-97558-0; Penguin, 2014; pp 307; £17.99.