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Wilding: How to Bring Wildlife Back – An Illustrated Guide

Authored by Isabella Tree
Illustrated by Angela Harding 
Published by Pan MacMillan 

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Wilding: How to Bring Wildlife Back – An Illustrated Guide is a beautifully illustrated nonfiction picture book, with lino prints and watercolours by Angela Harding, of Isabella Tree’s fascinating real-life story about the rewilding of the Knepp estate in Sussex and the wonderful way it brought wildlife back to the landscape.

This is more than just a book about the rewilding that took place on the Knepp estate, although finding out about that is enthralling enough. It is also about what rewilding does for nature, the landscape, the wildlife that it attracts and practical advice of how we can all play a small part in contributing to it. Seeing and finding out about this project unfolding is nothing less than wondrous. Isabella Tree on Desert Island Discs in 2019 describes the land as ‘a kaleidoscope of habitats’ that have sprung up when they surrendered the area to nature and this book shows you exactly what these are. Filled with illustrations in watercolours and linocuts and photographs and maps, the balance of text and image is perfect to create a real sense of what Knepp looks like and what is happening across the 3,500 acres of rewilded land.

I love the fact that this book opens with an Artist’s Note. It captures the eye of the illustrator, Angela Harding, from when she first arrived at Knepp to illustrate the book and so we see the wilding initially from an outsider view, much as we are, the reader, going into the book. This draws you in from the start and also alerts your eye to the beauty of this wilding from an artist’s perspective.

It’s full of detail and facts. A book to pore over: the photographs and illustrations and the enormity of the project. Each double spread is a chapter in itself, covering every possible aspect of the wilding. At the beginning there’s a map with colour-coded footpath walks, a timeline and before and after photographs to set the scene. From here on each chapter tells us about all the nature and wildlife that has sprung up and been introduced: trees, pasture, birds, plants, English longhorn cattle, Exmoor ponies, deer, Tamworth pigs, insects and so much more.

All the way through you are aware of the connectedness of each species, plant and habitat: how one creates a habitat for another, how new areas are created by wildlife and all the benefits they bring. One example is how the rootling of the pigs has encouraged native wildflowers to germinate bringing protein-rich seeds that are important for birds, including turtle doves, desperately endangered in the UK. Thanks also to the pigs rootling for the purple emperor butterfly, who love the abundance of sallow. So many fascinating facts. Did you know in one teaspoon of soil there are more living organisms than there are people in the world. No, me neither.

Every page is bursting with these success stories and information. We also get to find out about other rewilding projects around the UK and world that would encourage any interested young reader to go off and research more into them: Cairngorms Connect, Wild Ennerdale in the Lake District, Kraansvlak in the Netherlands and the Yellowstone of Europe in Romania.

There is so much more I want to tell you but I’ll finish by saying that the chapter on the return of the white storks is a beautiful story about how they are now on their way of becoming a feature of the English landscape once again. The double spread photograph of them nesting high in a tree is stunning as is the double spread of the linocut by Angela Harding of a pair of storks entwined in their nest.

Wilding is a book for all ages. It’s as beautiful as it is informative. A book that I have read and reread since it arrived and has made me long to visit this incredible place and do more in my tiny corner of the world to rewild.