Returning the Great to Britain

Whether mountain, fen, woodland, scrubland, heath, marsh or coast, Britain has so much diversity in such a tiny area. I have lived and worked in all kinds of incredible habitats around the world, but this little island relentlessly pulls me back.

There is, however, one hitch. Life, wildlife is draining from it. Its ecological potential, once great abundance and diversity of wildlife and habitats are vanishing.

The yellow hammer’s plea for a, ‘Little-bit-of-bread-and-no-cheeeeeeeese’ has been binned. The corn bunting’s jangling keys have been lost. Wellies can no longer be flung at the rasping corncrake. That most evocative of Spring calls, ‘Cuckoo’, is vanquished to a few uplands. Even the starlings, house sparrows and robber of chips; the herring gulls, are losing their beak-hold.

Hedgehogs, grass snakes, bumblebees, butterflies, wild flowers, glow worms, dormice, harvest mice, bats: the role call goes on and on.

So what on earth is happening? Well if you read, ‘Feral’, by George Monbiot, ‘Rebirding’ by Benedict MacDonald and ‘Wilding’ by Isabella Tree, you will find out. All three books brilliantly explain why our countryside is denuded and depauperate.

Monbiot reminds us of the mega fauna that once inhabited and shaped out countryside before Homo sapien hunter-gatherers and then settlers wiped them out. How key-stone species like the wolf, beaver and aurochs could be reintroduced to our country to breath life back into it.

Macdonald maps out a fantastic future where our national parks and windswept uplands morph from grouse, deer and sheep nibbled factories into landscapes heaving with life. That there is space in our little island to bring back the ghosts of our past; from lynx to elk to bison.

Argyll: Cuckoos, grass hopper warblers & sand martins sing. Occasionally a white-tailed eagle flies over. But imagine this without sheep? With wild boar, beavers, lynx and bison. Where the herds of deer are controlled by wolves? Where redstarts and pied-flycatchers sing again.

Tree reminds us fossil records suggest that Britain was not the dense wooded landscape depicted in fairy tales, but a hedonistic mass of scrub, woodland and pasture all jostling for autonomy as it was grazed, browsed and snouted by hoards of wild boar, cattle and ponies.

A rare valley on Exmoor where wood warblers, pied flycatchers and all our bat species still cling on.

As Macdonald reminds us, we are a nation who uniquely cares about our wildlife. Subscription numbers to our nature charities attest to this, yet we are living in a country whose wildlife is disappearing at an extraordinary rate. We are in an Ecological Crisis. We cannot accept this. Add your voice for the return of large scale functioning ecosystems that sustain wildlife in the UK here.

BTO’s Red Sixty Seven lists the species of birds declining in the UK. It’s a beautiful book of poems, writing and illustrations evoked by authors and artists. Each species has its own prose or poem and art work. A mix of magic, tears and hope.

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