It was last Autumn that I read one of the most exciting pieces of natural history literature I have yet come across, The History of British Mammals, by the great mammalogist Dr Derek Yalden, who very sadly died earlier this year. Although it is a proper scientific text aimed at those with a keen interest in our native mammal fauna, it read like any great literary epic in my mind, chronicling the changing fortunes of our mammals from the Ice Age to the present day – and it’s what it had to say on the great megafauna that roamed our isles right into historic times that caught my imagination in the same way any piece of fiction could. The idea of wolves, lynx, wild boar and more roaming the woods beyond my garden once upon time has always fascinated me; complete with archaeological records and evocative illustrations, The History of British Mammals brought this almost fairy-tale like wild past into fantastic reality.
Now hold on, you might be saying, this isn’t a review of The History of British Mammals. But Feral is reads like a spiritual sequel to HOBM, and not just as a frequently-referenced citation. As a zoological reference point, HOBM had little opportunity to explore the wider implication of this untamed past of Britain – but with Feral, environmentalist George Monbiot does so with inspiring style. Of course, talking about the large mammals that used to be numerous in our countryside and the opportunities to bring them back is only a small part of Feral‘s mantra (it’s not just mammals anyway – just ask the giant sturgeons or dalmatian pelicans). For Feral is really all about accepting the true state of nature in a nation where it has become a distant commodity to be pruned and cut to anyway we see fit, regardless of whether we are trying to exploit it for commercial means or ‘protect’ it without really knowing what we’re protecting. The key word of course is ‘Rewilding’, both of our natural history and ourselves. Continue reading