Do we really want to bring back the wolf?

Near our house on the Derbyshire-Staffordshire border is a place called Wolf Edge. It is a raven-haunted slope set to the sounds of curlew song in high spring and I visit it regularly, not least because I imagine that within the deep peat soil there is some remembrance of the site’s eponymous predator, and the thought thrills me. A similar emotion appears to have gripped Derek Gow, and has led him to locate, over several decades, as many references to British and Irish wolves as possible. He has done a great job of researching the lore surrounding these much mythologised creatures and has unearthed plenty of arcane material – such

Life is a far richer, more complicated affair than we imagined

In 1982, the philosopher Karl Popper suggested that ‘science may be described as the art of systematic simplification’. In this mind-stretching book, Philip Ball seems to wish to prove Popper’s statement both wrong and correct. On the one hand, Ball is a clarifier supreme. It is hard to imagine a more concise, coherent, if also challenging, single volume written on the discoveries made in the life sciences over the past 70 years. The author is a former editor of Nature and has been privy to the flow of cutting-edge results coming from the world’s leading research programmes over the past decades. How Life Works has a sense of up-to-the-minute authority.

Putin’s ‘peace’ is a partitioned Ukraine

52 min listen

On the podcast: In his new year’s address this year Vladimir Putin made no mention of the war in Ukraine – despite missile strikes over the Christmas period – and now Owen Matthews reports in The Spectator this week rumours that Putin could be looking to broker a land-for-peace deal. Unfortunately – Owen says – this deal would mean freezing the conflict along its current lines and the de facto partition of Ukraine. Owen joins the podcast alongside The Spectator’s Svitlana Morenets who gives her own take on Putin’s ‘peace’ deal in the magazine this week. (01:21) Next: Former Sky News and GB News broadcaster Colin Brazier writes a farmer’s notebook in The Spectator this week about his new life

Would we welcome bears in Britain again?

In April this year, a jogger in the Italian Alps was mauled to death by a brown bear. This was reported as the first bear killing in Italy in modern times. But it probably won’t be the last. Bears have been reappearing in northern Italy as part of a rewilding project in the last two decades, returning to regions they had been driven from hundreds of years ago. More encounters between bears and humans are inevitable. The poor Sun and Moon bears are preyed on in Asia for their bile, valued in Chinese traditional medicine In Eight Bears, Gloria Dickie explores how we can coexist with the remaining bear species

Scotland’s deer are proving deeply divisive

On the face of it, a book about a woman stalking one red deer might not sound that exciting. Just one? It’s estimated that there are nearly a million in the Scottish hills and around 60,000 are culled every year. So why write about a single kill? But in Hindsight Jenna Watt goes far deeper into Scotland’s relationship with red deer. It may be a book about deer, but it’s also about people, habitats, history, landownership, grief and belonging. Watt’s interest in the animals stems from reading George Monbiot’s book Feral. From there she falls down the rabbit hole of rewilding, regeneration, conservation and environmentalism. As a born and bred

My revealing phone call from Ben Wallace

My phone buzzed and rang while I was doing the horses until I thought, fine, I’ll call the Defence Secretary back. I sat down on a picnic chair by the muck heap and dialled. He was extremely courteous. He just wanted to point out that he really didn’t want to be Prime Minister. The profile I had written of him was very good, he said, but the one thing he wanted to put me straight on was, well, the whole premise of the article. He didn’t want the top job, no matter what I had heard. I told him my sources were impeccable. He didn’t need to be so modest.

Rewilding will kill Waitrose

‘Do you care about the woodland? Do you care about the wildlife?’ shouted the bearded Woodland Trust volunteer from his table of tree-hugging paraphernalia set up outside Waitrose. He had pitched his camp – a trestle table covered in leaflets and bedecked with pictures of foxes and badgers – so close to the supermarket entrance on Cobham High Street that it was impossible for customers to get through the doors without running the gauntlet of his leaflets. No doubt these leaflets explained that the Woodland Trust is the largest woodland conservation charity in the United Kingdom and is concerned with the creation, protection and restoration of our native woodland heritage.

Boris’s rewilding obsession could backfire

Does Boris Johnson have the faintest idea what he and his government are trying to achieve anymore? I ask because of the Prime Minister’s ‘grow for Britain’ strategy which has been leaked to the Daily Telegraph. The strategy, due to be launched on Monday, apparently demands that farmers grow more fruit and vegetables to make us less reliant on imported food, especially in the face of the Ukraine crisis – which has created the headache of how to continue production and exports from one of Europe’s most agricultural nations. To this end, the grow for Britain strategy will, it is said, commit to ‘changes to planning rules to make it

The politics of trees

Trees glorious trees. People can’t get enough of them. They don’t want to take care of trees, they just want to plant more and more of them. We have so many trees not being cared for by our local council that I was utterly amazed to see volunteer do-gooders planting saplings around the village green and surrounding common land when I was out walking the spaniels the other day. Surely they can’t want more trees not to pollard, coppice or treat for processionary moth, I thought. But perhaps I should not be surprised. I wouldn’t say people round here are naive when it comes to land management, but I saw

The problem with rewilding

The government has gone wild. Under new plans, just announced by Environment Secretary George Eustice, farmers and landowners in England could be paid to turn large areas of land into nature reserves and restore floodplains. In place of the old EU subsidies, farmers will be rewarded by the government for how much they care for the environment. It sounds like a wonderful idea — a return to a glorious, prelapsarian wilderness. But it’s a little more complicated than that. Eustice referred warmly to the poster boy of rewilding, the Knepp estate in West Sussex. I’ve been to Knepp and it is indeed glorious. Nightingales have returned, accompanied by clouds of Purple

Some jolly TV artifice and a rare moment of authenticity: C4’s Miriam and Alan – Lost in Scotland reviewed

Thanks to Covid, the days are gone — or at least suspended — when a TV travel programme meant a thespian in a Panama hat wandering around souks and bravely trying some funny foreign food. Instead, we now have shows in which the presenters, often operating in pairs, drive around picturesque parts of Britain cranking up the bantz, with plenty of aerial shots of their car bowling along an abnormally empty road. Take Miriam and Alan: Lost in Scotland — by my reckoning approximately Exhibit P. The premise here is that Alan Cumming and Miriam Margolyes are seeking to reconnect with their proud Caledonian roots, which is why the first

Beavers, not concrete barriers, can save Britain from floods

As the start date of COP26 draws closer, and just when we are assailed by daily proof of climate chaos, it is easy to think that this is the only threat to the global environment. It is not. Systemic biological loss assails the world and, while it is closely related to the issues of climate, it is a standalone matter with many separate antecedents. The English in particular should know all about it. On what is called the Biological Intactness Index we are judged to be the seventh most degraded national environment on Earth. Species loss here originates from many causes, but primarily from 80 years of intensive agriculture. This

Bright and beautiful: Double Blind, by Edward St Aubyn, reviewed

Edward St Aubyn’s ‘Patrick Melrose’ novels were loosely autobiographical renderings of the author’s harrowing, rarefied, drug-sozzled existence. Despite their subject matter, they managed to be uplifting through the beauty in which they expressed their melancholy sentiments. After At Last, the final novel of the pentalogy, St Aubyn published Lost for Words, a prickly satire on the literary prize culture that seemed narrowly parochial for such a classy novelist. Now we have Double Blind, his tenth novel, which has what is typically referred to as a rich cast of characters. We open with Francis, a kind of St Aubyn avatar, working at Howarth, a rewilded Sussex estate clearly based on Isabella

Carrie Symonds and the cult of rewilding

Carrie Symonds is to join the Aspinall Foundation as its new head of communications, in a move very much on-brand for the Prime Minister’s squeeze. Symonds has been credited with Boris Johnson’s metamorphosis from pro-liberty, free market Brexiteer to environmentalist — a strategy that she may have spotted as working rather well for disgraced former Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi, who changed his image from that of a love rat to rat lover, frequently sharing snaps of himself with adorable animals on Instagram.  So what will Carrie’s call to the wild entail? The Aspinall Foundation works with conserving and rewilding endangered animals, and runs two centres in the UK, whilst also