The Book of Wilding: A Practical Guide to Rewilding Big and Small, by Isabella Tree and Charlie Burrell

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Reviewed by Liz Dexter

Even if the ‘Rewilding your Garden’ chapter seems the only one of practical use to you – or, indeed, if you only have a window box – the principles of rewilding discussed in the earlier chapters, such as restoring vegetation and natural water systems, and using large herbivores as rivers of recovery, are still relevant. By beginning to understand how nature works at scale, in the wild, we can learn how to replicate some of those processes and maximise conditions for biodiversity in smaller, confined spaces.

Isabella Tree is best-known for her book, Wilding: The Return of Nature to a British Farm which was published in 2018. There, she detailed the efforts she and her husband Charlie Burrell had gone to to return the field of his family farm to more natural environments and the flora and fauna that returned as a result, over of course a number of years. In that book she visited other rewilding projects and spoke to other proponents; during the time she describes and particularly after the book came out they started to run courses and residentials to explain to other people how they did it. This culminated in this beautiful book, which covers the whole gamut of rewilding, from an entire country or landscape down to cityscapes and then an urban garden. My impression was that it covers the Western European type of landscape with which Tree is most familiar, although she does mention that she based their low-impact ecotourism business on safaris in Africa she’s been on. However, this book is already massive and perhaps it’s best kept to one kind of ecosystem, as long as experts in other countries and ecosystems get their place in the publishing sun, too. 

The principles remain the same as in Tree and Burrell’s own work and that of a number of other prominent rewilding proponents: it’s the large herbivores, whether the original ones or species we have now that can fill in for extinct ones (notably, Pablo Escobar’s escaped hippos are proxies for extinct megafauna!), that do the work of rewilding, wallowing, digging and scratching, taking out a certain proportion of saplings, making bushes use their resources to become thorny and protective, which then allows birds to nest within them safely, etc. It goes through types of animal, where they can be introduced and how, etc., and then as promised in that quotation above, explains how their work can be replicated in smaller spaces by tramping around in your wellies to make a mud patch, and other activities. Connectivity is important, too, whether that’s gardens joining up between suburban streets, corridors between wildlife reserves or nature bridges over motorways. 

The book is positive, putting forward the idea that by doing our bit we can relieve the stress of seeing ecological disaster everywhere, and talks about how the local farms have got together to work as a team and repeating stories of organic wildlife return not engineered by people, such as the bird successes on their own farm as well as the employment opportunities they’ve increased. It’s immensely practical, explaining planning laws and systems and funding to apply for and income streams that can be developed, and exactly how to rewild your farm / river / back garden. 

The book is lavishly illustrated and I particularly liked the drawings of the succession of rewilding that has occurred and could occur in various landscapes – manicured farms with a river tidily running through them, grouse uplands in Scotland, a standard suburban garden – which vividly illustrate the textual explanations. 

The only tiny issue I have with the book is that it’s a big (massive), white-covered hardback, which makes it not that suited to a working farm office or garden shed, while bursting with practical information. Maybe people keep a copy for “nice” and download the Kindle version to lug around in the grubbier places!

The notes to the book can be found on its accompanying website – which does of course mean they can be kept right up to date in terms of planning and funding, etc. Of course there’s a comprehensive index, and also a thorough resource list for each chapter and more generally, and a glossary.

This is a beautiful and fascinating book that would make a great gift for the nature-lover in your life!

Liz Dexter has quite a wild garden and a bucket pond she didn’t mean to develop, but now she can say it’s all intentional. She blogs about reading, running and working from home at http://www.librofulltime.wordpress.com.

Isabella Tree and Charlie Burrell, The Book of Wilding: A Practical Guide to Rewilding Big and Small (Bloomsbury, 2023). ‎ 978- 1526659293, 559 pp., ill. hardback.

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1 comment

  1. Sounds glorious, and if it comes up with ways we can help on a small, individual basis, that’s brilliant! 😀

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