"Living wild species are like a library of books still unread. Our heedless destruction of them is akin to burning the library without ever having read its books" - John Dingell.
I had previously heard John Lewis-Stempel book ‘The Wood’ serialised on Radio 4 and had enjoyed the gentle nature of the book, interspersed with interesting snippets of information e.g who knew that you shouldn’t plant an elder tree by the front door in fear of bringing witches in according to folklore? Or that the word ‘hummus’ and ‘human’ come from the same origin, showing just how much the land and human survival are tied together?
However, The Running Hare was nowhere near as gentle. Firstly, it seemed to group any farmer who used pesticides or had ‘super tractors’ (a standard tractor to you and me) as the absolute enemy and went on to lament ‘modern farming’ for declining wildlife numbers. I think there is a balance to be had in everything. ‘Modern farming’ is a product of ‘modern life’, namely the need to supply cheap food to meet supermarket specifications. In fact, food now accounts for about a tenth of family spending, compared with a quarter of our spending 40 years ago. Farmers also do an awful lot for the environment which the book seemed to overlook, for example, through agri-environment schemes farmers have planted species rich buffer strips at the edges of fields, created skylark plots within fields, and created new habitats for wading birds (just to mention a few!).
What I liked about the book, was the concept of what John Lewis-Stempel was trying to do, just not the farmer bashing that went along with it. Basically, the book tells the story of John’s year of renting an arable field and turning it back into a more ‘traditional’ field e.g. to the fields he saw in his youth, with greater diversity of wildlflowers, an older variety of wheat and supplementary bird feeding. The book charts the highs and lows of doing such a task. The field yielded 5 t/ha- the average wheat yield in the UK being 8t/ha, and so I doubt his experiment is a local term feasible approach to land management for economic reasons, not to mention labour involved (alot of tasks he did by hand). However, at the end of the experiment, John scaled it down- instead of trying to ‘re-wild’ arable production on a commercial scale, he used the same techniques but in a much more accessible setting- a small garden. This to me was much more practical, but also inspiring as it is something that everyone (farmer or not) could do in their own garden whether that is a
city garden or allotment.
Overall, I recommend the book to a friend, no. But it has inspired me to order my own wildflower seeds from the internet and consider giving this a go in my own backgarden.