Author Q&A: George Monbiot

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Combining his personal account to find a new life closer to nature with the exhaustive research he is known for, George Monbiot persuasively argues for the restoration of lost eco-systems and animals in the UK in Feral (Penguin, £8.99). This is not just conservation but something much wilder, ultimately asking humans to cede control. He discusses rewilding with Sarah Hall at Manchester Literature Festival, 25 Oct.

What are your reasons for wanting to rewild the country?
We live in an amazingly bare and depleted land. Our naked hills are not, as many people believe, natural, but the result of centuries of overgrazing, mostly by sheep. They eat any tree seedlings that raise their heads, ensuring that forests gradually die out, then cannot re-establish. There is hardly any habitat for the wonderful wildlife that could thrive here. There are no substantial areas of land in the whole country in which we can get away from intensive human impacts. This limits the scope of our experience and, I believe, our

Why is Britain “the most zoophobic nation in Europe”, as you write?
Mostly because we are now so unused to living with large and interesting animals that we have developed irrational fears about them. In Europe, wolves, bears, lynx, beavers, boar, moose and bison have returned to many countries, often in large numbers, and many people (though not all) are delighted to have them back.

Which big predator should we start with?
The lynx. They prey mostly on roe deer, which, because they have no predators, are greatly overpopulated in this country. They are entirely harmless to people. And, well, they are just amazing. Beautiful sleek spotted cats with yellow eyes and tassels on their ears.

Which parts of the UK are best suited to rewilding?
It can take place at many different scales: there are even a few inspiring projects in city centres, like the restoration of the River Wandle in London. But for introducing animals that require wide territories, like lynx, you need a lot of land. The Scottish Highlands is the most obvious place to start, especially in the Cairngorms, but there are interesting possibilities in all the three nations of Britain.

How do you address the views of farmers that believe rewilding would be just the next stage in a process that drives them from their land?
What will drive farmers from the land is the end of farm subsidies – £3 billion a year – as it is loss-making. It’s hard to see how these payments should be sustained in an age when essential public services are being cut. Rewilding might offer farmers a way out; a different way of making a living from the land. It has to work for them – some of us are looking at ways in which it could.

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