Photo by JFP/ Getty Images
The above photo is from the cover of George Monbiot's book "Feral: Searching for enchantment on the frontiers of rewilding," which is a rather compelling journey into the possibilities of encouraging true 'wilderness' in landscapes such as Britain's countryside and within ourselves; for the sake of ecology and for the sake of our sanity. ('Encouraging' might be the wrong word here, 'let happen,' might be better terminology, as Monbiot argues human intervention is the last thing the wilderness needs.) While the book doesn't dive too deep into ecopsychology, it is clear it is one of the driving forces behind Monbiot's research and adventures.
Monbiot spent about five years living in the Cardigan Bay area of Wales, close to where I went to university, contemplating the devastated landscape and the true definitions of 'wilderness' and 'conservation.'
If you've experienced the much celebrated British countryside, you'll be able to speak of endless hills and fields devoid of trees, plant variety and large mammals. It is shocking to think that most people accept that the landscape has always been so sparse and monotonous. As a child, I always assumed that was what the Welsh landscape was supposed to look like. However, there are legends abound of forests so dense that a squirrel could travel the length of wales without ever touching the ground. What you are seeing in Wales and most of the UK, is a 'second countryside,' deforested by agriculture, the propagation of monoculture and kept that way by stunted ecological and conservation policies. One of the key revelations of this book is, what Monbiot calls 'Shifting baseline syndrome,' which essentially means our standards and expectations are skewered by our lack of real understanding of what the 'baseline' for our land base once was. In other words, most ecological policy sets standards and measures successes based on an already depleted standard. Measuring fish stocks in comparison to the 1970s is ridiculous considering they'd already been devastated by then. Or being convinced that the treeless, grassy landscapes, grazed by sheep is 'natural' or when considering that elk, boars, wolves, bears and even elephants once roamed much of western Europe. Our baseline is nowhere near the potential level, of flora and fauna abundance and diversity that our land can handle and even thrive with.
Monbiots also spends some time but not enough for my liking, discussing our isolation, in particular modern children's isolation from the wild and how this affects their intellectual, emotional development and dare I say, spiritual well-being.
Ultimately, he advocates for a rewilding of Britain's countryside and uses case studies to show how rapidly nature can thrive when simply left alone. This is also a worthy treatise on how interconnected and interdependent plants and animals are on each other and how 'the wild' perfectly establishes a sustainable balance by itself.
Monbiot will no doubt dissapoint the likes of Green Anarchists/ Primitivists and anti-civilization writers such as John Zerzan and Derek Jensen, as he is not advocating for the end of industrial civilization or that we all return to a permanent wild primitive existence. Perhaps, he is naive in thinking true re-wilding can happen within this techno-centric, industrial based, capitalist run civilization.
However, this is the first piece of radical ecology that offers some practical ideas, tangible efforts and genuine hope for the health of our planet and our sanity.
One thing is for sure, if you're Welsh, you'll hate sheep after reading this.