Book Review: Wilding by Isabella Tree

I found the early scene setting chapters of Wilding interesting if frustrating. ‘Rewilding’ land is something I have known to work since a child, some thirty years ago. Anyone who has spent time in true wild places will understand that nature knows best and if you leave it alone, life finds a way (confirmed to us Millennials in 1993’s Jurassic Park). While I was reading I began to think, surely everyone knows this is how conservation works? Turn land back to the natural world.

Then Wilding bites, the early chapters are there to explain how the world really is and that, sadly, conservation efforts can be imperfect as well. Often focussed on saving a specific species without building back the ecosystems it needs longterm, perhaps harming other species in the process. Isabella Tree tells the story of a farming family struggling to make traditional farming pay the bills with her husband Charlie Burrell. With an overwhelming disappointment, Wilding taught me there and then – not for the first time recently – how little we know about our planet and its life. Blindly eradicating everything in our path.

I recently watched this profound Ted Talk by Allan Savory and in one heart stopping casual sentence, he expresses his sorrow at culling 40,000 elephants in the name of conservation. His intentions were good but the resulting actions a mistake through lack of understanding of nature (the cull made the situation worse). I hope his new direction – very close to the topics discussed in Wilding – works and ultimately brings him redemption. We are all capable of making mistakes.

From Chapter 7 Isabella is in full stride, laying the smack down in all directions with fact after fact in every single carefully chosen word. With each sentence she addresses myths and preconceptions from public, councils, Government, other farmers and even conservationists. Wilding, rewrites the rules for so many areas of life related to farming and ecology. From challenging the public’s perception of how countryside should look, questioning what baseline we should take our conservation data from, through to how we truly approach rewilding land.

If Wilding doesn’t contain or pretend to have all of the answers, it clearly demonstrates that no one else does either. What it does offer is a mindset for challenging data and self-research with helpful suggestions for new methodologies for conservation mixed alongside productive farming. This is something I can very much get behind.

Ultimately, Wilding offers hope by demonstrating agricultural land can largely be turned back to nature and work for humans too – a model that, if others follow, particularly in our “nature desert” in the UK as Isabella so perfectly puts it – could contribute to saving our planet and the beautiful life on it. As a gardener, there is a lot to learn here too about the way ecosystems around us could and should work and how they improve soils for plant life.

I’ve actually had this book for a year and started reading it a while ago before my own projects took over, so I took the opportunity over Christmas to listen to the audio book on my drive to and from Yorkshire. My first audio book and I can confirm it is beautifully ready by Isabella Tree herself.

One thought on “Book Review: Wilding by Isabella Tree

  1. Thanks for telling us about this AND for including the Teds Talk link. Moreover, thanks for mentioning your listening to this via driving to and from Yorkshire. Audio books are such a great way to multi-task.
    I just read about WW2 Victory Gardens in England, and I thought of your allotment and how it is cultivated and care for. Thanks.

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