Feral: Searching for enchantment on the frontiers of rewilding

10 September 2013 — The Fifth Estate columnist and author Michael Mobbs has penned an interesting review of environmental and political activist George Monbiot’s latest offering, Feral: Searching for enchantment on the frontiers of rewilding.

Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, Mobbs discusses Monbiot’s concept of “rewilding” – conservation that aims to restore and protect core wilderness areas. Though, as Mobbs discusses, it is also about rewilding ourselves:

I remember the joy in me 53 years ago when galloping my black mare, Biddy – I was 10 years old, she was six – and we raced to catch the sun setting beyond the farm boundary. I remember I gave Biddy oats, a rub down, slid the saddle on the peg to ooze its odours, then walked home in the dark, my bare legs thick with horse hair, horse sweat and fatigue. We could read each other’s minds and were happy to ride together.

In his book, Feral: Searching for Enchantment on the Frontiers of Rewilding, George Monbiot invites us to ”rewild” – to recover the animal in ourselves and in the Earth. He imagines forests returning where they’ve been cut down. And animals coming back to where they’ve been killed off. Monbiot is one of the world’s most respected environmental journalists and writers, living in Wales and with a column in The Guardian. He’s fearless in his passionate yet intelligent support of Earth’s ecology.

Here, Monbiot proposes a new way of seeing and conducting ourselves that both supports Earth’s natural systems and our bodies and minds.

Five years ago when digging in his garden in Wales, he leant on the spade and looked at the ground. ”I was struck by the smallness of this life. Somehow… I had found myself living a life in which loading the dishwasher presented an interesting challenge…

”I realised I could not continue to live as I had done. I could not continue just sitting and writing, looking after my daughter and my house, running merely to stay fit, pursuing only what could not be seen, watching the seasons cycling past without ever quite belonging to them.”

Without planning by humans some forests and animals are returning, according to Monbiot: ”In both Europe and North America a mass abandonment of less fertile land is taking place. One estimate suggests that two-thirds of those parts of the US whose forests were once cleared have become forested again, as farming and logging have retreated, especially from the eastern half of the country. Another proposes that by 2030, even without any change in the subsidy regime, farmers on the European Continent will have vacated about 30 million hectares of the land they were using in 2000… The number of brown bears in Europe has more than doubled since 1970. In the past 20 years, wolves have moved into France and Germany, and their numbers are rising rapidly.”

Monbiot’s argument is that we can ”enjoy the benefits of advanced technology while also enjoying, if we choose, a life richer in adventure and surprise”. Rewilding is not about abandoning civilisation, but enhancing it and ”the consequences of abandoning a sophisticated economy, supported by high crop yields, would be catastrophic”. Thus, it should not take place on productive land.

Read the full review at the Sydney Morning Herald.