Wilding: The return of nature to a British farm. Isabella Tree
By Ian Baker, July 2020
Reading Isabella Tree’s popular book in the middle of a global pandemic feels timely. Although she could not have foreseen the perfect storm that 2020 has become, this book provides wisdom aplenty to help us consider our wider plight regarding nature and its recovery.
In the words of the author; ‘Forced to accept that intensive farming of the heavy clay soils of their farm at Knepp in West Sussex was driving it close to bankruptcy, in 2000 Isabella Tree and her husband Charlie Burrell took a spectacular leap of faith and handed their 3,500 acres back to nature.’
Wilding is an honest assessment from a position of significant privilege, from someone who sees their role of stewardship of the natural world with utmost seriousness. It is thought provoking, sincere and full of useful references.
The return of nature
Wilding shows that it is possible to stand back and trust nature. The land, our flora and fauna all still have enough fight in them to reset the clock of recovery in certain circumstances.
The Knepp experiment provides some astounding examples of recovery, for instance in bird and insect species and it will be interesting to see if Isabella’s can avoid SSSI designation, as she hopes, if Knepp establishes itself as an oasis for some of our rarest lowland species.
Isabella Tree describes how ‘rare species such as turtle doves, peregrine falcons and purple emperor butterflies are now breeding at Knepp and biodiversity has rocketed.’
However, do not look here for a blueprint if you are looking to follow a rewilding path. This is an account of a very specific set of circumstances and is not rewilding as most would understand the term. If anything it is yet another demonstration of the limitations of rewilding in its purest sense. There is a lot of intervention going on. That is not a bad thing in itself, Isabella and Charlie’s experience is probably that where you have a good idea how to achieve your objectives, you act. Where you are unsure, stand back and see what happens, you will often be pleasantly surprised. And the rest.
Woodland owners and managers will find much food for thought here, it is certainly a book that justifies its place on a naturalist’s book shelf.
To read more book reviews by Small Woods staff visit our Small Woods blog.