Book Review – Back to Nature: How to Love Life – and Save It

In contrast with the last book we reviewed, Chris Packham’s is an angry and unsettling book. Part memoir, part scientific study, and part polemic, this book excoriates the dysfunctional way in which the natural world is managed in the UK, in particular in respect of land use and land ownership, wildlife crime, unsustainable practices such as the farming of salmon and the raising and shooting of grouse, and lobbying by big chemical companies.

The book is studded with inset blocks of text, separate from the main argument, which have been written by Megan McCubbin, a zoologist and also Chris Packham’s step-daughter. These insets examine separate topics such as marine protected areas, the usefulness of wasps, communication between trees via fungal networks, the return of storks to Sussex and tree planting. Trees are not just for Christmas: we need the right varieties in the right place, and they need to be watered and cared for until they are established. The authors describe how thousands of saplings were planted along the route of HS2 to replace the many hectares of ancient woodland that are being destroyed. However, these saplings died of drought, so the contractors grubbed them out and replaced them, explaining that it is cheaper to plant new trees than to water the old ones. Not a very constructive mindset.

Often, the message is about how resilient the natural world is, and how it can recover very quickly if left to itself. The authors describe some remarkable initiatives for bringing our depleted ecosystems back from the brink, notably at Knepp in Sussex and in the Cairngorms. Marine habitats recover remarkably quickly when protected from threats such as over-fishing and bottom trawling, and they become refuges for the survival of fish stocks.

This is a challenging book, but one we need to read. Chris Packham insists that we are not talking about the loss of biodiversity, but about its wilful destruction. He asserts that the conservation agencies both in England and the devolved countries are not fit for purpose due to massive budget cuts, the absence of scientific expertise in senior management and political interference. He concludes that, as members of the public, we have a duty to inform ourselves of how bad things have become, and to take active steps to halt the decline – steps which include everything from feeding our garden birds, writing to politicians and joining street demonstrations.

Back to Nature: How to Love Life – and Save it, by Chris Packham and Megan McCubbin, Two Roads 2020. ISBN 978-1-529-35039-5

Book review written by Pippa Stilwell, CFWI Climate Ambassador

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