ECOS 38 (5)

REWILD

The Art Of Returning To Nature

NICK BAKER

Aurum Press

2017

271 pages

ISBN: 978 1 78131 655 9

eISBN: 978 1 78131 735 8

Hardback RRP: £16.99

Review by Peter Taylor

Recovering the wild human

“Rewilding your attitude to nature, culturally appropriating its qualities, could just as easily be described as ‘rethrill’, ‘rezest’, ‘resense’, ‘reincentivise’ and ‘rejoy’.” These, the author's words, are a succinct description of what Nick Baker's book attempts to do. He leads the reader into his imagined nature, teaching the unpractised eyes and ears how to see and hear, and even the feet how to walk - but with full awareness. I guess it is really aimed at armchair nature watchers, which leaves me cynical because the author is a well-known TV presenter whose employer depends upon him riveting people to their couch instead of getting out more. Nevertheless, it is an endearing well-written field guide to the watcher's skills and one can hope that Baker's popularity will stimulate people to walk and see with wilder eyes.

Baker’s book does not offer much for the seasoned explorer of real nature, but I found a little gem relating to rewilding the eyes. Baker explains the role of the fovea - a relatively small area of the retina that allows us to pick up high resolution information, and which would naturally cause the eyes to “flick around a bit, rotate our eye in its socket by tiny increments, training this highly sensitive part on various points of interest within our field of view”. He tells us that the oculomotor system makes these discrete shifts of gaze two to three times every second - something known as a saccade, where the eye pauses before jumping on again. This is what the eye naturally does, and then crucially  “staring at a single point and fixing on it for more than a few seconds feels highly uncomfortable and exhausting”.

Very few naturalists can avoid a computer screen, and we have bemoaned often enough in these pages the lack of immersion in real nature that afflicts the younger generation. Baker quantifies an observation that many of the older generation will have made - he took a walk into the city and counted the number of people he passed - 87 in total, 46 of whom had their eyes glued to a mobile screen.

It is all basic stuff - eyes, ears, taste, and the quiet walk, but salutary none-the-less, especially for myself, an author now de-screening my time and working to recover my damaged eyesight. The author ends with a telling note: “It can be daunting to to be suddenly expected to have an informed opinion on ecological rewilding, if you don't understand what is happening in your own window box, garden or park. How can you conceivably tolerate wolves at large in the landscape if you can't do your own thing by creating a space and habitat for a wolf spider?”

Whilst in agreement, I am left with some scepticism. This is a book populated with tales of the exotic - such as forays in the Madagascan forests, and I detect  a sense of nature tourism of the kind that afflicts so many conservation efforts - the preservation of nature for it to be 'enjoyed' yes, but essentially watched briefly before returning to the steering wheel, comfy armchairs and desks of daily screen experience. How far is the human psyche rewilded? For that I would want to lead people into an indigenous experience, with tribal peoples who live in nature and experience no separation. However, even that can be turned into a flying visit, with the return ticket safely stowed in the security belt.

 

ECOS 38 (5): Contents

Inheritors of the Earth by Chris Thomas

Review by Peter Shirley

The Nature Fix by Florence Williams

Review by Andrew Blewett

Rewild by Nick Baker

Review by Peter Taylor

Re-enchanting the Forest by William Ayot

Review by Peter Taylor

Woodland Development by George Peterken and Edward Mountford

Review by Simon Leadbeater

The Red Squirrel by Neil McIntyre & Polly Pullar

Review by John Savory

Camera Trapping for Wildlife Research by Francesco Rovero and Fridolin Zimmermann (eds.)

Review by Rick Minter

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