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SCOTLAND – A Rewilding Journey
Susan Wright, Peter Cairns & Nick Underdown (plus contributor essays)
Wild Media Foundation, 216 pages
Hbk £25 ISBN 13 978-0-9568423-3-6
Review by Clarissa Richards
Scotland – A Rewilding Journey takes the reader on an expedition from the top of the mountains, through the glens and to below sea. It explores how ecosystems have changed over recent centuries as a result of agricultural, social, economic and political cultures. As well as documenting what has happened in the past, this is a book for the here and now which encourages us to act swiftly for the long-term restoration of nature and, ultimately, our own future.
The main body of the text is written by Susan Wright and Peter Cairns, with one chapter being contributed by Nick Underdown. Each chapter focuses on a different aspect of Scotland’s natural heritage: trees, forests and their ecosystems; the decline and loss of many animals particularly predators and keystone species; the effects of deer hunting; re-peopling the Highlands; the need for rewilding our seas; an exploration of ‘thinking wild’; and a summary of projects which are already beginning to bear fruit, for example the regenerating pines in Glenfeshie as part of the Cairngorms Connect initiative.
The final chapter is entitled ‘Making it Happen’ and is an urgent call for action. The style of writing is clear and accessible. I found that I was able to appreciate the complexities of issues such as deer hunting and its associated problem of over grazing at both a wider and deeper level because of the breadth of information presented in an easily digestible form. I also enjoyed the many fascinating facts I discovered in the book, for example did you know that there are 40 words in Gaelic for ‘hill’?
Beyond the text this is a photo-book and the photographs are more than stunning. They play an invaluable role in eliciting both an emotional response from the reader as well as enhancing the message in the accompanying text. After reading this book, do not hide it away. It is a visual banquet and deserves to be at hand when you need some inspiration, hope, or relaxation and can turn to these photos for nourishment.
As well as the photos and main chapters, additional writers have provided short essays on a variety of topics related to rewilding and nature restoration. These ‘Wild Words’ include work by Duncan Halley on lessons from natural regeneration of woodland in Norway, and Stevie Christie who writes about wilderness adding value to Scotland as a global tourist destination. As a result of the many authors, photographers and artists being involved in its creation, this book gives a broad, balanced picture of the rewilding issues facing Scotland as well as ideas to address them. It also underlines the importance of everyone pulling together and playing their part.
Although the book concentrates on Scotland, the issues explored and developed within are pertinent to every country and person. The famous quote by Aldo Leopold to “think like a mountain”, to appreciate the whole of existence and the interconnectedness of every living organism, is a key message of the book.
As stated in the book, environmentalism is “now inextricably linked with public health, food security, disaster management, defence and the economy” and in the words of Cristiana Paşca Palma, UN Assistant Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the UN Biodiversity Convention, “bio-diversity is the infrastructure that supports all life”. It is imperative that we take part in the debate on the future of nature, but we mustn’t debate for too long – we need to act. Yet, despite the huge loss of habitat and the plundering of riches from the different ecosystems recorded in this book, there is a message of hope. The book shows evidence of small-scale rewilding projects across Scotland like the Cairngorms Connect Initiative and Coast (the Community of Arran Seabed Trust) where nature is once more taking the lead and restoring itself and perhaps, in the long term, us.