Allen Lane, £20 Order at a discount from the Independent Online Shop

Feral, By George Monbiot

Let untamed nature back into our neat landscapes. We have nothing to lose but, well, a few sheep

George Monbiot's latest book stands in a long tradition of back-to-nature narratives, the most famous of which is Thoreau's Walden. It is also, at one level at least, a mid-life crisis memoir.

However, Feral is both more original and more important than such a description would suggest. Rather than providing another paean to the rural landscape, Monbiot confronts the awkward questions: who owns and therefore controls that landscape? What, exactly, is natural about it? And how might we return it to genuine wildness for the benefit of everyone?

At the outset we find the author, who has has lived with the Masai and the gold miners of the Amazon, trapped in a British urban setting. He is, he decides, "ecologically bored" – evolution has kitted him out to hunt and be hunted, to survive the rigours of a complex natural environment, yet he has found himself "living a life in which loading the dishwasher present(s) an interesting challenge". He is fairly sure he is not alone in this malaise. The British public's insistence they have seen pumas peering out of suburban hedgerows, he argues, reveals a deep-seated desire to reconnect with the wild.

Like Thoreau, Monbiot withdraws, not to the centre of a wood but to Wales. Bordered by mountains, his new home is also close to a shore from which he is able to launch his kayak in pursuit of encounters with the sea that leave him energised. The big beast of British eco-journalism has, we realise, himself gone feral, at one moment popping twitching grubs into his mouth, at the next slicing up and devouring his catch raw on the beach.

But his rural retreat is not all he might have expected. The slopes rising behind his house to the Cambrian plateau - promoted as one of our last wildernesses - are in effect a desert; once covered in rainforest, they have been mown naked by sheep and support fewer flora and fauna than a suburban garden. He discovers that this ecological disaster-zone is being rigorously protected by nature conservationists; the first example of "shifting baseline syndrome", whereby scientists argue for the retention of whatever natural state existed when they were young, even when it was itself the result of an ecological catastrophe.

Monbiot's evisceration of such idiocy is pitiless. He has form in upsetting those who might be seen as his natural allies, not least in his espousal of nuclear power as necessary in the face of global warming. Once again he is rattling cages.

Monbiot's answer to this devastation – in Scotland, where absentee landlords' vast herds of deer strip the hills of trees, as well as in "sheep-wrecked" Wales – is rewilding. Partly it is a question of standing back and letting nature reestablish itself; partly it requires the reintroduction of large fauna driven to extinction through human intervention since the Bronze Age. Lynx, boar, wildcats, beavers and, yes, wolves should, he argues, be returned to Britain's highlands, forests and rivers.

The wolf roams once more in mainland Europe and North America, why not here? We would lose a few sheep; but the reduced deer population would no longer decimate the Highlands, allowing its ancient forests to return. Such areas would be once more electric with possibility: wild. Such a transformation would require a shift in attitudes. To change the future of our countryside, we have first to change ourselves.

Monbiot's own rewilding is not achieved through geographical displacement but through a shift in vision as he learns to trace the legacy of a different Britain, in which elephants roamed the forests and hippopotami wallowed in the Thames, their fossilised bones a foundation for Trafalgar Square. Wolves, he tells us, are "necessary monsters of the mind"; perhaps the same could be said of Monbiot himself.

James Attlee's 'Nocturne: A Journey in Search of Moonlight' is published by Penguin

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam