Book Review: Rebirding: Restoring Britain’s Wildlife by Benedict Macdonald

Book Review: Rebirding: Restoring Britain’s Wildlife by Benedict Macdonald

Spanning geological time and charting the changes to Britain’s landscape as a result of human activity, Rebirding is a journey of discovery of the sorry havoc wreaked on our landscape & wild species.

Macdonald tells us that 8,200 years ago the land bridges between Britain & Europe were lost to a huge sea level rise as the result of a Norwegian continental shelf breaking, causing huge tsunamis, and so Britain truly became an island. He describes how large mammals had shaped our landscape & its effect on the habitats of birds. Superstition & myth had protected most species, but the hunting of wild birds on a colossal scale became systematic from the 16th Century – 18th Century with money paid to those who killed a whole range of species even though few were birds that damaged crops. Consequently many bird species began to disappear from Britain. Apparently, as late as the 17th Century golden eagles were still nesting in Derbyshire’s Derwent Valley. By 1800 they had vanished.

Benedict Macdonald follows the fortunes of our bird species as land was settled and vast areas of woodlands destroyed and wetlands drained.

Habitat loss is the single most devastating reason for the decline in our present day bird populations. The destruction of hedgerows to create larger fields for monocrops plus intensive farming, with its widespread use of fertilizers, insecticides and weedkillers have destroyed  the biodiversity of plants and insects and, in doing so, the food sources & habitats of many birds. Soils become sterile and nothing can survive in them.

Benedict Macdonald says we need a much broader approach and a more ambitious vision if wildlife is to recover, one that doesn’t just focus on niche species but on our entire bird population. This means that conservation efforts are needed to protect & rewild large areas of our countryside and also preserve what remains of our ancient woodlands (108 of which are at risk from the proposed HS2 according to the Woodland Trust).

This erudite and well-researched book is packed with deep knowledge of our wild birds. It should be essential reading for anyone trying to understand the British countryside and the strategies needed for our wild birds to survive.

by Jo Kirk

Rebirding: Restoring Britain’s Wildlife by Benedict Macdonald, Pelagic Press, 2019

2021

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