Back to Nature - a Review
'Back to Nature How to love life - and save it' by Chris Packham & Megan McCubbin (published by Two Roads, RRP £20) is a book which was started during the first lock down & is dedicated to 'the wildcat, hazel dormouse, water vole, turtle dove, stag beetle, hedgehog and all the other species facing extinction'. I found it a riveting, if challenging, read & would thoroughly recommend it as essential second lock down/Christmas reading for anyone who wants to know why we live in one of the most nature depleted countries in the world. I should at this point declare an interest and say I've known Chris for a long time and he wrote the foreword to my book. So you would expect me to say it's a good book. But it genuinely is. Why? Because Chris speaks from a deep knowledge and love of nature & those characteristics shine through every page, as does his unique writing style. So we get flowery prose combined with sound science and a sense of urgency combined with some humour.
The story behind how the Self Isolating Bird Club was born & how Megan, Fabian & Cate got involved is fascinating - turning a 2 minute 22 second (as you would expect Chris is admirably precise in all his statistics) twitter video on bumblebees visiting a horse chestnut tree into a weekly hour long show which draws in 8 million viewers is truly inspiring. Like many people I tuned in to the SIBC every week but had no idea what went into putting the shows together or that it was all done on a shoe string and a prayer. And it should be remembered that Chris and the team didn't get paid but cobbled it together to help maintain our mental health during the Covid-19 pandemic - a huge challenge through which we are all still living.
Many of the other chapters are about Chris & Megan highlighting what is wrong with the way we live & what we need to do differently if we are to get back to nature. So there are chapters covering our denuded national parks, the cruelty of the badger cull, the illegal killing of birds of prey like the Hen Harrier, the rights and wrongs of reintroductions (wonderfully called beautiful zombies), the Climate Emergency and HS2 - all issues which Chris has been campaigning on for years. But there is also much hope in the book from managing our gardens for wildlife (I was one of the people who on seeing it on the SIBC sank our washing up bowl into the lawn during lock down to create a pond - my wife still swears by it as I didn't replace the bowl) to the success of big conservation initiatives like the Knepp estate and other rewilding projects like Cairngorms Connect. I also really liked Megan's science vignettes, for example making the case for why we should all love wasps.
The only addition I would have liked to have read is how lock down has affected the conservation movement and what we can all do to help. Many organisations like the National Trust, RSPB and the Wildlife Trusts have seen a big fall in their income & still have furloughed staff. From a personal perspective I would also have liked to see the adder get a mention as Britain's only venomous snake needs all the friends it can get! More poignantly if current trends continue it will become extinct across much of Britain by 2032. That aside Chris and Megan make a compelling case about why we all need to come back to nature (even if you're a signed up conservationist) and what we can all do to make a difference.
For me that included the very uncomfortable truth that through my own consumption and lifestyle I was part of the problem (time to come clean and say the book arrived within days of being published in excessive packaging from Amazon, a company with a poor record on the environment and workers rights). As the authors point out when the planet police swoop to arrest those who are killing our world, they wont be breaking down the door of the White House or Shell headquarters or even Amazon first (although I hope they call them to account), they will be walking up all our driveways. The final chapter is a call to arms in support of Extinction Rebellion, a campaigning organisation which has, like the Black Lives Matter movement, made a big impact on society. XR has put the Climate Emergency where it needs to be - on newspaper front pages and all across our digital media. However, Chris & Megan rightly point out that somewhere in all the noise about climate breakdown the biodiversity crisis has got lost. Chris and Megan's answer was to start Wildlife Rebellion, a grass roots movement which campaigns to restore nature across Britain and which you can find online. Sadly the launch of Wildlife Rebellion had to put on hold by the current pandemic. But its time will come. And according to much of the evidence presented in this excellent book it can't come too soon.