This is the third book my best friend Emma and I have read together – we tend to do our Reading on a Thursday night, but it sometimes slips to the next Saturday if we have something we need to do. And we will be continuing this even after lockdown finishes, as we really enjoy it. We read “Rewild Yourself” first and followed it with “Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race” and for the last few months we’ve been working our way through this one, a chapter at a time, and very much enjoying it.

I bought this book at the Edge of the World Bookshop in Penzance the last time we went down to Cornwall – I always buy a few books there when I’m down, usually local or nature-y ones.

Isabella Tree – “Wilding: The Return of Nature to a British Farm”

(05 October 2019)

Somehow, nature had found us, homing in on our tiny patch of land from unseen distances, the momnet these few acres had become hospitable again. (p. 44)

This is the story of how Tree and her husband Charlie finally give up trying to farm his family property, Knepp, profitably, and decide to “Rewild” it instead. I read all about the theory of rewilding in a book fairly recently (review here) and now we have the detail of the practice. There is quite a lot of detail in this book and a lot of biology, so you learn about the way trees’ roots join them up underground and protect trees from danger, and about the way different plants colonise empty spaces, about giant herbivores and how they’re the most useful thing to reintroduce and the economics of farming and setaside subsidies. But the detail is broken up by very direct descriptions of their experiences (sometimes a little red in tooth and claw, but you can’t gloss over the icky bits of course) and lovely sections about the animals and plants that recolonise their little corner of Sussex.

After a timeline and an introduction that sets a positive tone for the book, we’re straight into measuring oak trees and not tidying them up, meeting one in a long succession of experts who help them to understand their land and what they’re doing. It’s not an easy process – some of the things they so are met with scorn and complaints by their neighbours, and some (allowing “weeds” to grow right to their boundaries and letting large animals die off and be left there to be used) are unconscionable and simply not possible. There are also hoops to jump through with the authorities – fencing off this land to keep animals in, etc., doesn’t come cheap and support should be available …

Having started with roots in the soil, we return to soil for the end of the book, showing how enriched everything is and the astounding number of animal, bird, insect and plant species that have re-established themselves. The final chapter is a call to “land sparing”, allowing the land to rest and water to clear, and not setting people in opposition to one another. A positive but practical and clear-eyed book which was a joy to read slowly.

One for Bookish Beck’s synchronicities: of course there are loads of overlaps with other wilding / rewilding books but I noted that both this, finished last Thursday, and Mike Pitt’s “Digging up Britain”, which I’ve been reading and reviewing for Shiny New Books, and which is about archaeology, mention the fact that 99% of human history has been spent as hunter-gatherers.

Have you tried doing a readalong with a friend – offline, not a blogging challenge? Would you consider it? Em and I think it’s great fun and a lovely connection – we chat about the book on messenger as we go but it’s mainly knowing the other one is sat there, too, having a Nice Read!