The Best Rewilding Books
Our best pick of the rewilding and regenerative agriculture books.
Whatever your background, there’s a rewilding book for you. Over the past few years, the genre has exploded, but here are our top 5 books for rewilders – perfect Christmas gifts for people interested in rewilding.
Rebirding – Benedict Macdonald
With Ben’s history working in Natural History TV, there’s a strong sense of story here with some astonishing statistics thrown in to emphasise quite how badly we need a conservation rethink. This is an inspiring read, though, with the final section giving a real sense of hope and building concrete ideas for the future. It’s a book I always recommend to nature enthusiasts who want an introduction to rewilding.
For anyone unfamiliar with rewilding science, Rebirding is a great place to start, as the author gives a great outline of the key literature. There’s obviously a focus on birds, given the title, but it’s tied in to the effects of wider restoration – there are almost no birds without insects, as he points out, and no insects without the plants and habitats they need to survive.
There’s no shortage of opinion in this book, but it’s always supported by facts and figures, and Ben is more inclusive in his suggestions for farming reform than other rewilders. The book can be poetic at times and some may struggle with the dense content – for those, I strongly recommend the Audible version, which is well-performed, and perhaps my favourite audiobook of them all!
Wilding – Isabella Tree
Topic: Rewilding Farms
The Knepp project is probably the UK’s most famous rewilding site at this point, so, for those familiar with the site, you might imagine that you’ve heard it all before. But Isabella’s captivating storytelling, evoking the sounds and sights of her and her husband Charles’ journey towards restoration, do a lot to pull you into this great book.
For those in the farming community who are feeling skeptical about the benefits of rewilding farmland and the financial impact it might have, this book may be of interest. The Knepp Estate went from a relatively high yield, high intensity area of farmland which was going into the red, to an enterprise which had a 22% profit margin in 2021.
The book itself is deeply steeped in science, with plenty of interesting and useful insights into the ways in which wild landscapes function, from fungi to Oak trees. There are plenty of great characters, too – you can see why ‘Wilding’ became the book that really helped to popularise the rewilding movement.
Rooted – Sarah Langford
Topic: Regenerative Agriculture
You might be surprised to find a farming book on this list, but regenerative agriculture and rewilding are two sides of the same coin, and Sarah does a beautiful job of telling us why. This is a tale of agricultural awakening that will completely transport you to a farmer’s perspective. It is an honest and fascinating glimpse into the real lives behind the patchwork quilt of fields that shrouds our countryside, which shocks and delights with equal measure.
You’ll learn about the delight of factory-farmed cows discovering grass for the first time and the horrors of crushing debt. About the joy of running barefoot through stubble and the pain of losing livestock. We are a nation that has lost its connection to the roots of our food system, and this is a book that will ground you firmly in reality. Beautiful, painful, captivating reality that will keep you turning page after page.
There is an overarching story here – the tale of a family rediscovering the countryside – but it is often simply a canvas on which the detail of other, sharper lives are painted. It is crucial that rewilders understand farmers – the countryside is a shared space, and we must share a language, too. This book is like a travel guide to the farming landscape – uncovering the stories behind the hedgerows, trees, livestock and fields. It is not only compelling, but necessary – not just a tale, but a companion that will teach you things you wish you had always known.
Rewilding: The Radical New Science of Ecological Recovery – Cain Blythe, Paul Jepson
Taking a more concise approach to rewilding, and acting as a sort of ‘primer’ for those new to the concepts, this is nevertheless a surprisingly good read. The highly-experienced authors cover a lot of interesting topics, including the potential of using ancient DNA to recreate extinct species, and even dry subjects are livened up with colourful stories of people and places.
The way this book is structured is very helpful for rewilding novices, with confusing jargon demystified and competing theories explained. The authors also make sure to cover the most common case studies, so you’re not left feeling embarrassed when someone brings up the Oostvaardersplassen in casual conversation.
If you’re wondering about how to manage the community response to a rewilding project, then the discussion of Patagonia’s rewilding experiment in S America is very informative. There is also insightful guidance into how rewilders might navigate choppy political waters, and some predictions of future industry growth.
Land Healer – Jake Fiennes
Topic: Rewilding Farms
Jake is very much a bloke’s bloke. He’s the kind of guy you might meet down the pub on a Saturday night chewing over what that stupid politician did now, or talking incessantly about the weather. A gamekeeper for many years, after a short, successful stint in the London club scene, he’s not someone you would expect to be at the forefront of rewilding. I met him at an event and he was exactly how I expected – honest, enthusiastic and raw. That’s what makes this book so bloody brilliant – it’s relatable.
Without giving too much time to the obvious topic of his family (brother of Joseph, relative of Ranulph Fiennes), Jake launches into a matter-of-fact tale that explains his slow evolution from gamekeeper to rewilder. Through this process, you’ll develop an appreciation for gamekeepers that you might not have expected.
An interesting and provocative book, Jake talks passionately about the poor results of conservationists, contrasting them with the abundant biodiversity on his own land. He now manages a large estate, and describes in detail how he has used livestock in a positive way to increase the abundance of ground-nesting birds, orchids and butterflies. He also demonstrates a moving appreciation for the history of the landscape, and how the ancestors of its current owners shaped modern agriculture.
While it’s a great book, which stands on its own merits, it’s also ideal for getting skeptics interested in the concepts behind rewilding.
Other Rewilding Books
There are so many good rewilding books out there that it’s hard to cut the list down to size. These are some other rewilding books that we can personally recommend:
Bringing Back the Beaver – Derek Gow
The rip-roaring tale of a maverick pioneering conservationist who was thwarted at every turn, but finally became a respected member of the rewilding community.
Cornerstones – Benedict Macdonald
A helpful and interesting guide to the role of keystone species which form the basis of the UK’s biodiversity and the benefits they have for humans. This is a great book for anyone involved in land management, from farmers to estate owners.
British Woodland – Ray Mears
The acclaimed TV forager and adventurer brings British woodlands to life in this romp through the native trees of our green and pleasant land. It’s a great reference for those interested in restoring a biodiverse rural landscape.
Orchard – Benedict Macdonald / Nicholas Gates
This very nearly made it onto the top 5 list – a great read, which explores the history and cultural importance of orchards, alongside the role they play in biodiversity. After reading this book, you’ll want to plant your own orchard – in fact, I actually did!
Wildwood – Roger Deakin
An evocative journey through the history and natural history of the woodland. A beautiful and poetic book, which shines a light on many unfamiliar stories from across the world.
On My Reading List
Emergent – I’ve been slowly reviewing this for a while now and have enjoyed its holistic approach to the idea of rewilding. The author condenses the science of rewilding and presents her practical ideas for how to tackle the major crises of our age.
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English Pastoral – James Rebanks: I’ve been ploughing through this incredible, moving and poetic book for a year now – I find it hard to read as it inspires so many different ideas. Have just purchased the audiobook to get through it faster!
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Forget Me Not – Sophia Pavelle: Someone much younger than me wrote a book about rewilding – and by all accounts it’s really good (this makes me feel like perhaps I’m being left behind!). Will read this soon!
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We Are the Ark – Pioneer gardening rewilder, Mary Reynolds brings her warm and enigmatic style of rewilding to a wider audience in this captivating illustrated edition. Her thoughts align closely with my own on rewilding gardens, so I look forward to reading this one.
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