Sunday 17 September 2023

Nature & Conservation Book Reviews: Reflections by Mark Avery, The Lost Rainforests of Britain by Guy Shrubsole, Regeneration by Andrew Painting

Three books I've read recently each throw a different light on the complex subject of rewilding, conservation and the nature crisis (or biodiversity crisis if you prefer - I don't as the word biodiversity needs explaining so often). I think the contrasting approaches are complementary and the three books together give an interesting and important overview of where we are now. Mark Avery's Reflections is about wildlife throughout the UK, Guy Shrubsole's The Lost Forests of Britain is about a specific habitat, and Andrew Painting's Regeneration is about the recovery of a specific area. All of them are about the restoration of nature and how to achieve it. 

The three authors all write well and their books are highly readable. They're also informative, inspiring, and optimistic, something we need right now. I recommend them to everyone concerned about the state of nature and what can be done about it.

Reflections by Mark Avery

Covering all wildlife on land and water in every environment Reflections is the most general and wide-ranging of the three books. The author, an experienced conservationist and campaigner who worked for the RSPB for 25 years, starts with an overview of the dire state of wildlife. This section is depressing. The dismal effect is somewhat leavened by a chapter on wildlife conservation successes but that finishes with the question of why such success is hard to achieve on a large scale. Then there's a damning chapter on the failure of wildlife NGOs and the government to protect and enhance wildlife. This could lead to despair that anything can change but Mark Avery is not one for that and the book finishes with his look at what can be done. He puts forward some radical proposals, but his most important suggestion comes right at the end when he calls for readers to "play your part to the full .... engage your brain and then engage your muscles and get things done". 

The Lost Rainforests of Britain by Guy Shrubsole

Recently awarded the 2023 Wainright Prize for Writing on Conservation The Lost Rainforests of Britain describes Guy Shrubsole's exploration of the last remnants of rain forests left in England, Wales and Scotland after he first discovered such lush places existed when he moved to Devon. His wanderings in the forests, his meetings with others concerned about them, and his infectious delight in the wonders found in them make for an entertaining read. As well as visiting the last rainforests the author also looks at the richness of life they contain, analyses why so little of them is left, and finally considers how they can be restored. 

Regeneration by Andrew Painting

The final book of three isn't about the problems and what can be done but about what is being done on one big estate, Mar Lodge in the Cairngorms, which was bought by the National Trust for Scotland in 1995. The NTS set out to repair the damage done by centuries of abuse and mismanagement and Regeneration tells the story of how this is happening. The author, who works as an ecologist on the estate, goes out with botanists, naturalists, stalkers and more and visits the forests, moors, and mountains that make up this magnificent land - one I know quite well as I live not far away. The detailed and intense work undertaken to study and monitor and in places restore the wildlife and plantlife is fascinating and impressive. This is rewilding at work. This is what needs to happen in so many other places.


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