Recently I had to read a nature/scientific novel based somewhat within my field and write a 600 word review on it. The purpose of this I think was to allow us (young scientists) to better engage with the biological world around us as well as to introduce us to the world of scientific based writing and critique.
Out of the list of about 10 books I chose to read Feral by George Monbiot as I had learned in previous lectures about the theory of Rewilding and was absolutely fascinated by the topic and the future benefits that it could potentially reap, not only for the animals themselves in reclaiming what should be theirs but also for us. We would be allowed not only to reconnect with nature but also to slow climate change, increase productivity and restore declining ecosystem function through the introduction of a few key species. It was safe to say that I was pretty excited for this book.
After reading the book I thought I would share with you what I thought of it. I apologize for the word count (I went waaaaay over my allocated 600 words) but to me every single word and point is valid and it would be a shame to omit them.
So if you will, please see below my review of Feral by George Monbiot. If you have read the book please feel free to let me know what your thoughts on it were 🙂
FERAL: REWILDING the LAND, the SEA and HUMAN LIFE
Written by George Monbiot
Reviewed by Michelle Lee
George Mobiot, an environmental journalist and long-time enemy of sheep, writes a compelling narrative that illustrates the need for rewilding the Earth with creatures either feared or hated by all including wolves, bears and the deadly beaver. He believes that not only will this benefit various ecological systems and lead to possible landscape rehabilitation but will also realign humans to their natural pre-industrial state increasing and conserving our relationship with nature as well as allowing us to engage with our wild and feral side.
Mobiot seems to be perfectly suited to the role of environmental writer having gone through many trials and tribulations on this subject matter. In his early twenties he obtained a degree in Zoology from Oxford University. In 1985 he began working for the BBC as a radio producer of wildlife programmes where he received a Sony award for an investigative piece regarding the sinking of a bulk carrier along the coast of Cork. From there he delved into the world of environmental and political writing where he travelled to places such as Indonesia, Brazil and Tanzania in order to write about the injustices, struggles and assaults on the lives of the indigenous and nomadic people that the world seemed to forget. Thereafter he moved back to the United Kingdom where he continued his life as an activist, rallying against timber companies and the government to ensure the protection of the environment and rural people. It is in this capacity based off truth and personal experience that Monbiot is able to write a comprehensive novel that captivates and enthrals the reader rather than leading them to a deep and unyielding slumber.
The main premise of Feral is the implementation and future focus on rewilding the unproductive and historical landscapes of the United Kingdom and Europe. Rewilding, being a controversial topic in many scientific circles, is in theory the reintroduction of organisms into their historical habitats before human intervention came about. Mobiot believes that the reintroduction of these species, especially top predators and keystone species, will resume trophic cascade and ecological productivity seemingly lost within these regions.
He goes on to explain the void of nature that is seeming to spread throughout Britain being incorrectly offered up as historical and cultural landscapes to the unsuspecting tourist and landowner. He attacks the subsidy system put in place to protect landowners and farmers explaining that without them the farming community in Wales and Scotland would be in major financial deficit. This he believes can be fixed by the reintroduction of wolves, beavers and various bird species which in will lead to an increase in diversity and productivity promoting ecotourism within the region which he has shown to be a lucrative endeavour.
Sheep and deer, we find out, are his worst nightmares and ultimate enemy, eating up most of the natural lush vegetation before it has time to establish, leading to the symbolic and picturesque grass plains we come to know and love. He goes on in his hatred by explaining that as a result of shifting baselines we assume these beloved creatures are natural to the landscape when in fact they are an “agent of destruction” introduced to the region long ago in the hopes of increasing income by farming their wool and meat.
His scope of work is not wholly theoretical however, with him including his own personal experiences and observations on the decline of nature around him. From the decrease in fish within local estuaries, birds within farmlands and forests within the highlands he notes down the historical and cultural heritage slowly being lost. He explains how nature interacts with humans, allowing them to release their wild side, find solace in an undisturbed place and to relive genetic memories.
All is not lost however and in small doses of hope he tells us of the current programmes and NGO’s aimed at rehabilitating and revitalising natural ecosystems. He speaks of the progressive works being done by eastern European countries in bringing back the bear, wolves and lynx species as well as the works of Zimov in Siberia and its potential climate change implications. He shows us the benefits of bringing back what was lost long ago. Through careful research and real world examples Monbiot paints the perfect picture of current happenings and offers up constructive solutions to what otherwise seems an impassable obstacle.
Mobiot offers up a very relevant novel focusing on topics and personal experiences that we as the readers can connect with on a personal level, irrespective of our careers or lifestyles. He highlights topics that are not only relevant in today’s society but also often dimmed by major media outlets and their respective governments. His writing style is eloquent and easy to follow, for both academics and the general public, allowing us to breeze through chapters whilst engaging with them at the same time. He writes with a fervour and passion that not only captivates the reader but prompts them to think about the subject in a much wider perspective, often applying it to their own environments, increasing public awareness and participation. Though he focuses mainly on issues facing the United Kingdom Monbiot’s scope of work is wide, covering various topics from the reintroduction of the grey whale in the Irish Sea to radical economic agricultural reform (i.e the subsidy system).
With the novel lacking geographical diversity and focusing mainly on the problems facing Europe it appears that ignorance is indeed bliss. With the radical transformation of the uplands being front and centre Mobiot seemingly forgets to include the social and cultural implications that would face local people who through centuries of working the fields and tending the crops have come to develop a history not written in textbooks or stored in libraries but rather “passed on through word of mouth and anchored to the land”. On the establishment of wilderness areas where would these people go and how can you justify their eviction? On these points we are left in the dark. Other topics however, never seem to die down with us being constantly reminded of their importance and influence in Monbiot’s life. So much so that it becomes akin to being repeatedly lectured by a school teacher for your incompetence and general lack of knowledge. A more objective approach on the subject at hand would have offered up a greater perspective of the issue, including all arguments for and against with a more resounding conclusion. In this regard, ironically Monbiot was tame.My main issue with this book however was the fact that Monbiot indirectly put across the notion that nature is there only for man’s pleasure and acts as a buffer for his anger and frustration. He seems to believe that we as humans need to revert back to our wild state in order to truly feel at peace, however once we’ve attained that peace it is perfectly acceptable to go back to our day to day lives. In this way nature is seen as a materialistic object that serves us rather than an interlinking and complex system of which we are a part of.
Despite this I still highly recommend this novel. Through personal experiences and academically sound knowledge Monbiot has constructed a highly relevant and compelling narrative that appeals to readers of all backgrounds. It is an accurate and informative novel that with the help of compelling storytelling indirectly invites the reader to further explore the world around them and contest environmental injustices that go on unpunished and often rewarded within our government systems. With the help of dramatic and passionate wordplay and character connections Monbiot draws the reader to a magical and enchanting world that may have gone unnoticed in our monotonous day to day lives.
Some may say that Mobiot is an idealist in every way with his ideas and solutions being incompatible in today’s ever growing society. I believe this to be false. With increased education, public participation, open-panel discussions and a little bit of hope Monbiot’s dream can be accomplished. With us finally living in amicable coexistence with those deemed feral and wild.