Lockdown reads: DCRT’s Wildlife Book Club

“I’d never read a nature book like this before”
“It really opened up a whole new world of literature for me”

The 2020 Lockdown put much of our work at DCRT on hold. To keep us all safe, volunteer days and community events were struck off the calendar, to be replaced with a range of online activities. For those unable to leave their homes, the team wanted to help people stay connected to nature and we started the Wildlife Lockdown Bookclub. Our club of twelve readers got together each month to read and discuss four different wildlife-themed books: Here’s a summary of what we thought of them.

The firm favourite:
The first book we read and the favourite for most of our book club readers. Wilding follows the author, Isabella Tree’s journey as an estate landowner who is inspired to experiment with the landscape. Wild, free-roaming pigs, cattle and deer are slowly introduced to the Knepp estate, which together trigger the return of lost ecosystem processes and revive pesticide-ridden farm fields into organic, wild pastures. We learn that allowing herbivores to roam and browse the estate freely, physically changes the landscape at the Knepp estate, rebuilding lost habitats and attracting rare, threatened species. The estate now boasts some of the UK’s rarest animals such as the nightingale and purple emperor butterfly. Shortly after finishing the book, the first wild storks in centuries hatched at the estate, hitting the news and once again showing us readers the power of ‘Wildling’.

“I have really enjoyed all the books, although like the majority ‘Wilding’ was my favourite, it was quite inspirational and the estate’s on my “must visit” list for the future!”

River restoration also features in the book, a subject close to home for the DCRT team. The estate’s river is reconnected to the floodplain and its original meanders restored through the introduction of woody debris and removal of weirs that reinstate a natural flow. We learn how restoration not only improves water quality and habitat diversity, but reduces localised flooding.

Read this book if you: Want a new understanding of ecology and the loss of British wildlife, want to feel inspired, are a landowner or nature-enthusiast.

The relaxing read:
Still water: the deep life of the pond by John Lewis-Stempel
Split into the four seasons, the book follows the life of the pond and a year of our writer’s life, written as short diary entries. We hop between the UK and French countryside, learning the ecology and history of the pond through poems, quotes and vivid descriptions. The writer’s detailed and lyrical prose make this book feel like a love-letter to the pond, and it’s plight.

In the UK, the loss of countryside ponds is estimated by as much as 50% in the last 50 years. The ponds that remain are at risk from urban development, pollution and a lack of management, slowly filling in and becoming dry. The ponds that have lasted are also changing; 2019’s State of Nature Report noted that since the 1990s, ponds in protected landscapes have lost 25% of their wetland plants and are much less diverse. We find out in the book that ponds are not only incredibly abundant, diverse habitats, but have a wilder environmental value, acting as magnets for wildlife living nearby. The writer implores to us for their protection and it works!

“Feel like I ought to get out there and dig one”

Read this book if you:
Want a relaxing bed-time read, you enjoy poetry, want tips to build a wildlife-pond

Facts & HisTory:

The long, long life of trees by Fiona Stafford
This book is a journey through time, exploring the folklore, culture and human fascination with trees that has lasted throughout the centuries. An exploration of paintings, poems and stories, the writer dedicates each of the seventeen chapters to a British tree. We discover humankinds use of different species for meeting points, for fuel and building and as symbols of devotion.

Read this book if you: Want never-ending knowledge of trees, enjoy flipping between chapters.

The wildlife thriller:
Another firm favourite and a special book for most of our team who have been working hard to create our own salmon stronghold on the river Don. The book follows life of the author’s cousin, Guido and his quest to save wild salmon. Although some of us felt that it had a slow start, most of us warmed to Guido as he grows up in the USA, taking his passion for the natural world into an incredible career in conservation. A few of us couldn’t put the book down by the end, devouring it in a few days! Guido’s desire to save the wild salmon brings him to Russia where he makes salmon-worthy leaps in protecting whole river systems, or ‘strongholds’. The writer’s comparison of America’s controlled and broken river systems with the untouched, stunning (and dangerous!) rivers of rural Russia, helpsthe writer weave complex ecological ideas, science and conservation theories, in an easily-digested way. The book also reveals fascinating insights into the world of angling and international conservation.

“Having made the effort to read them all I was amazed at how engrossed I became and how much I got out of each book – not just new knowledge but understanding of different aspects of ecology and our environment.”

Read this book if you: want to learn more about worldwide human-threats to salmon, want to be inspired to make change, are interested in angling.

All books were funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund as part of the Hidden Heritage Secret Stream project.

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