Monbiot claims that removal of the top predator, animal or plant, changes the eco-system, for the worst. When, in 1995, wolves were re-introduced into Yellowstone National Park, elk numbers reduced significantly. And also they changed their behaviour, avoiding places where they were easily caught, including bare streams and riversides. Trees in those places quintupled in just six years. Many other beneficial changes occurred, increasing numbers and varieties of many plant and animal species.
He recounts many other examples.
His aim is not to intervene to recapture some past ecology, but to stand back, and see where nature goes. This has to be done with care; some changes are less desirable. For example, Sergey Zimov has shown that grasslands are sustained by the animals which graze on them. When the animals disappear, the dead grass drops over, insulating the soil, allowing moss to take over. So re-wilding of the tundra would break up the moss, which has trapped large quantities of methane in the permafrost. Release of this would have bad consequences for climate change.
He talks about the “Shifting Baseline Syndrome “ We all “know” that the world was “right” at the time we were growing up. I know this to be somewhat true of myself, and very true of many others. So, for example, the visual impact of wind turbines or fields of solar panels, are all wrong. Similarly we all think of the bare sheep-cropped mountainsides of Wales and Scotland as appropriate, although they are ecologically very much poorer than they could be, and when I have talked of the possibility of changing this to friends they are aghast. This situation is sustained by massive subsidy from the Common Agriculture Policy. Monbiot would like to see this changed.
He emphasises that re-wilding must happen with the consent of the local populace (even though, in the case of beavers this has proven to be impossible) In Africa this has not been the case, and maintenance of huge Safari parks requires input of expensive law and order force, and poor standard of living for the populace. In his estimation, this need not be.
The discussion, all of which is supported by extensive references, is interspersed by accounts of hair-raising adventures he has personally experienced. He sets out, in his “trusty” kayak, to catch an albacore. He gets trapped out to sea in a wind which was supposed to have dropped, but hasn’t. He survives, just. These are the times when he feels truly alive. He reckons that this is a genetic memory; that we are evolved to be wild, and to love the wild! Hmm!