Wilding: an inspiring story and roadmap for biodiversity

‘Wilding: The Return of Nature to a British Farm’ is a compelling book! It reads like a cross between a novel and a natural history textbook. Isabella Tree tells the story of the Knepp estate as it evolved from a failing livestock and arable farm into a vibrant wild landscape. Her husband, Charlie (Sir Charles) Burrell, inherited the estate (which had been in the Burrell family since 1789) from his grandparents in 1987. The estate includes Knepp Castle, designed by John Nash with a park in the style of Humphry Repton and the farm that was loosing money. 

Having tried to intensify the farm with the intention of making it profitable, Charlie finds that the hoped for profit doesn’t materialise and so he sells off the dairy business and puts out the arable land to contract. He manages to secure funding to restore the Repton park and introduces fallow deer. In 2002, he informes DEFRA of his intention to establish ‘a biodiverse wilderness area in the Low Weald of Sussex’. This is the beginning of the process of (re)wilding that is graphically described through its many phases throughout the book. 

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The Human Planet How We Created the Anthropocene

This is in many ways an excellent book, packed with information and ideas. Its central focus is to describe the Anthropocene, but the book, in working towards a definition of the period, both in terms of the criteria that justify it as a bonafide geological epoch and thus its timescale, touches on many interesting areas of the history of the Earth and the development of humankind as well as the formalities of geology and geological periods. There are some very clear diagrams which would serve as good points of reference, valid beyond the specific narrative of the book. 

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The Great Re-think

In ‘The Great Rethink,’ Colin Tudge embarks on a penetrating dissection of our current predicament, setting forth an ambitious manifesto for a balanced political, cultural and ecological life. The book certainly provides a good primer on the state of our society and its impact on the natural world. Combining his encyclopaedic intellect with a down-to-earth moral sensibility, Tudge lays bare the mismatch of current politics, culture and industry with a truly sustainable economy. 

He brings together sharp logic and real compassion to arrive at this manifesto for a better future. The structural logic, typical of Tudge, is set out in a diagram on the cover of the book (based on his own scribbled synopsis) that really sums up the rationale behind his approach. His formula for human success in the future is encapsulated in the statement of the goal of ‘a convivial society within a flourishing biosphere’. There is not much to argue against here, though our society seems intent on rushing in an opposite direction. 

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Small is Powerful

This is a very interesting book that takes a unique view of society and the difficulties it faces––still. It shouldn’t be confused with E F Schumacher’s ‘Small is Beautiful’ which, when it was published took a new look at economics. However the similarity in title of the two books is matched by a similarity of subtitle. Schumacher’s is ‘a study of economics as if people mattered’, whereas Papworth’s is ‘the future as if people really mattered’. Clearly there is influence here, as Schumacher’s book was published in 1973 and Papworth’s in 1995, and there certainly was. Papworth and Schumacher were both in at the beginning of Resurgence magazine, Papworth having founded it in 1966. He is one of those clearly influential and original thinking people who we don’t often hear about now. From an orphanage childhood through various jobs including service in the armed forces to becoming an Anglican minister, his voice & activities became ever more radical. 

The essential thrust of the book is a single proposition: that morality is an aspect of human relationships and that direct human relationships can only operate in communities, which are limited in size to the point where, due to numbers, human interaction starts to become impersonal, and therefore profit and/or power orientated and ultimately amoral. It is a strong argument that is pursued relentlessly through the book, somewhat repetitively, but turned over carefully in different contexts and scenarios. 

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Imperial Mud: The Fight for the Fens

I spotted this book about the Fens, having finished reading ‘The Fens’ by Francis Pryor, which is about the rich archeological excavations in the Fens that have been carried out over fairly recent years.  My interest in these books stems partly from being brought up in Peterborough and remembering weekend trips to the family caravan.  These trips meant travelling through the Fens, past Thorney and Guyhirn on long, level straight roads across the Fens to Heacham, Hunstanton, Wells and beyond, in the undulating countryside that adjoins the coastal salt marshes of North Norfolk. 

What became clear about Imperial Mud by James Boyce, is that it is a history of the Fennish (a word created by Boyce to describe the indigenous people of the Fens) resistance to the draining of the Fens. 

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The Making of the British Landscape

This is an extraordinary book, described by others as ‘ambitious’ and ‘magnificent’. It essentially tells the story of how the mark of mankind has shaped the landscape we now live in from the retreat of the ice and severing of the land bridge to continental Europe through distinctly differing epochs up to current times. 

For anyone interested in the ‘physical’ history of our island (as I am) this is a treasure house of information, both in its scope and in its detail. The social forces that created barrows, henges and other major earthworks at the dawn of The human occupation of Britain are described in their distinct periods and in the context of their differing social backgrounds and functions. Sometimes speculative, but always well researched the writing is as compelling as a good novel, leading the reader on from the earliest times, through the brief Roman era, on to the dark age decline and then the revival of feudalism. 

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Thoughts about an ecologically benign future from Molly Scott Cato

Book cover for The Bioregional Economy

Molly Scott Cato embarked on a mammoth task when she aimed to explain in depth the concept of a bioregional economy. Her book ‘The Bioregional Economy’ is subtitled ‘Land, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’. Somehow I expected a book about an economy that is entirely locked into a geographical region and its geology and landscape. I suppose I had in mind the country divided into watershed defined regions/economies. But that is not the whole story! While there is something about geography in the definition of bioregionalism as developed in this book, as is also explained in it, there cannot really be hard and fast boundaries in bioregionalism. Continue reading Thoughts about an ecologically benign future from Molly Scott Cato

Living Richly in an Age of Limits


This is Bill Deval’s third and best book about Deep Ecology. Starting with a semi-autobiographical history of the second half of the twentieth century, he recounts the cultural development of America, based on a confident profligacy that was ultimately increasingly questioned by the realisation of the environmental damage that it was causing.  

This sets the tone for the book, which aims to analyse various aspects of people’s lives so as to propose how they may be aligned as close as possible to Deep Ecology principles. In a chapter headed “philosophical Roots for Greening our Lifestyles”, Devall first examines the nature of the idea “lifestyle” and then goes on to draw on the various wisdoms of Deep Ecology proponents from Barry Commoner to Joanna Macy and from Arne Naess to Aldo Leopold. What is unique about this book, however, is the way it offers advice on how to experience nature in our lives, how to think on a grand ecological scale (Thinking like a watershed/bioregion) and then how to bring valid ecological principles into our home making. 

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Deep Ecology principles explained


The Deep Ecology Movement, An Introductory Anthology

Published in 1995, this anthology provides a very good comprehensive overview reference to the many facets of the Deep Ecology movement. The introduction by authors Alan Drengson and Yuichi Inoue provides a good synopsis of the main tenets, sources and issues that define the Deep Ecology movement. Following chapters start with the seminal papers of Arne Naess who coined the term ‘Deep Ecology’ and set out a formal philosophical framework encompassing the ecological principles that stem from the distinction between ecocentrism and anthropocentrism–deep ecology and conservation ecology. The book then broadens the subject with contributions from other Deep Ecology luminaries including Gary Snyder, Bill Devall and Warwick Fox. Continue reading Deep Ecology principles explained