Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

George Monbiot

George Monbiot
23 Nov
2015
George Monbiot is a journalist and campaigner. His book, Feral, documents his explorations into why he had become indifferent to our countryside

I think conservationists in this country have a dysfunctional relationship with nature. They’ve become afraid of it. They want to contain it and prevent it from getting out of control but the whole thing about nature is that it is out of control.

My book Feral is about ‘rewilding’ – allowing the natural world to regenerate and find its own way rather than managing and controlling it. Conservation in the UK is often about trying to preserve a particular assemblage of species, to let none in, to let none out, to prevent successional processes from taking place, and to keep the ecosystem in a state of arrested development.

‘Rewilding’, for me, isn’t an attempt to recreate a primordial wilderness; it’s an attempt to allow nature to have its head, to take down the fences, block up the drainage ditches, reintroduce the missing species, and then stand back and see what happens. We would never know how it will end up, but it will never end up, it will be forever changing and evolving.

For a long time I’d had a sense that I wasn’t engaging with most of the ecosystems in Britain. I found a lot of them, in a way, repulsive to me. And also that, in some ways, I wasn’t fully engaging with my own life; I wasn’t finding it sufficiently exciting or compelling.

We’re equipped to live in more interesting times. Each of us has ancestors who lived among ferocious wild beasts with tusks and horns and claws and fangs, and we had to survive in that environment. We had to catch our own food and not become food. Now we’re living in much tamer, more predictable circumstances and, judging by myself, I believe, a lot of the time that’s not enough for us. We have unfulfilled needs and desires.

I’m not an anarcho-primitivist. I’m not saying we should abandon civilisation and become hunter-gatherers; we don’t have the ecological space. But once we’ve created these more captivating environments and reintroduced wolves, lynx, beavers and wild boar, we can reintroduce people, and supplement and enhance civilisation by having a great place to go when we’re not working.

The western half of Britain was once a very lush and rich rainforest system, but due to a 6,000-year assault from sheep, it has been reduced to little more than a bowling green with contours. We fetishise this bare open upland environment but it’s the product of thousands of years of heavy grazing. And there’s almost nothing up there. Birds are a good indicator of the health of an ecosystem, and you can sit in a bushy suburban garden and see more birds than you would walking across any part of the British uplands.

Without those sheep you would have something much richer and much more interesting. You would also have fewer floods downstream and fewer droughts, and the river flows would be much more constant year-round. And you would have higher carbon storage in the hills and, most importantly, dynamic, vibrant ecosystems, as opposed to the endless sheep pastures that are cropped into, I think, ecological collapse.

The main problem with current farming policy is the subsidy system. I question whether we should be paying agricultural subsidies at all – a lot of the recipients in Britain are rich. And the perverse nature of subsidy rules promotes environmental destruction by insisting that land has to be clear of surplus vegetation before a farmer can claim the main subsidy.

Nature isn’t about destinations, it’s about continuing ongoing processes. The processes I find most thrilling are those that take place when we’re not intervening and we’re not seeking to manage. If we reintroduce trophic layers – top predators and large herbivores – then all sorts of fascinating and unpredictable things take place in the layers beneath.

Not knowing what’s coming next is part of what makes nature so fantastic. We’ve tried to manage it as if it’s any other part of the human economy, where everything is nailed down and under control and we know exactly what it’s going to be like year after year. That’s not nature we’re conserving, that’s something else.

I think we have the potential to enthuse more people about protecting the natural world because they would be protecting something that could be exciting. It wouldn’t be a slightly less bad version of what we have today; we would be calling for something fascinatingly and delightfully different, and invoking a world of wonder. I want to see our silent spring followed by a raucous summer.

 

CV

1963 Born in London
1985 Graduated from the University of Oxford with an MA in zoology
1985–87 Radio producer with the BBC Natural History Unit
1987–88 Spent six months researching social injustice in Irian Jaya
1995 Co-founded The Land is Ours in an attempt to revitalise public engagement in how land is used
2000 Published Captive State: The Corporate Takeover of Britain
2003 Published The Age of Consent: A Manifesto for a New World Order
2007 Published Heat: How to Stop the Planet Burning
2008 Published Bring on the Apocalypse: Six Arguments for Global Justice

Related items

Geographical Week

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox every Friday.

Subscribe to Geographical!

Adventure Canada

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The University of Winchester

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

DOSSIERS

Like longer reads? Try our in-depth dossiers that provide a comprehensive view of each topic

  • National Clean Air Day
    For National Clean Air Day, Geographical brings together stories about air pollution and the kind of solutions needed to tackle it ...
    The green dragon awakens
    China has achieved remarkable economic success following the principle of developing first and cleaning up later. But now the country with the world's...
    Hung out to dry
    Wetlands are vital storehouses of biodiversity and important bulwarks against the effects of climate change, while also providing livelihoods for mill...
    Mexico City: boom town
    Twenty years ago, Mexico City was considered the ultimate urban disaster. But, recent political and economic reforms have transformed it into a hub of...
    The Nuclear Power Struggle
    The UK appears to be embracing nuclear, a huge U-turn on government policy from just two years ago. Yet this seems to be going against the grain globa...

MORE DOSSIERS

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in PEOPLE...

Cultures

If you think you can escape the ballyhoo of the…

Cultures

As the world’s top footballers battle it out in Russia,…

Cultures

The US meat industry is attempting to officially define ‘meat’…

Explorers

After Michael Pugh quit his job as a law firm partner…

Cultures

As the world prepares for the next FIFA tournament in…

Development

Road collisions remain a leading cause of deaths and injuries…

I’m a Geographer

Lynne Corner is director of VOICE – Valuing Our Intellectual Capital and…

Explorers

The biological wonders of Mozambique’s mountains have only recently been…

I’m a Geographer

Lloyd Figgins is founder of LFL Global Risk Mitigation consultancy,…

Development

From plastic-eating enzymes and oil-sucking polymers to ‘deep learning’ robots…

Explorers

Children on the summit of Aconcagua are a rare sight.…

Explorers

A pioneering expedition in 2019 will search for the lost…

Explorers

In this exclusive extract from his newest book, founder and…

Cultures

Growing demands for dairy products from an increasingly wealthy China…

Cultures

Diamonds are perhaps the least modest of all jewels. But,…

I’m a Geographer

Kristy Leissle is a scholar of the global cocoa and chocolate…

Explorers

The southwest corner of Western Australia is bursting with unique…

Cultures

Influencing international peace through street art

Explorers

Mountain biking through mountainous Lesotho, Dan Milner found stunning landscapes,…

Refugees

New Zealand becomes the first country to propose humanitarian visas…