Sunday book review – Wild Service edited by Nick Hayes and Jon Moses – Mark Avery

You should take it as a measure of my fairness that even though I think large parts of this book are poorly argued (hardly argued at all, really) I believe that it is so wonderfully well written, and so exquisitely irritating, that it will certainly be vying for my book of the year for 2024.

Luckily for me, it isn’t all irritating, much of it is very sensible, and almost undeniable. The great thing about the book is the quality of the writing and that is almost uniformly high.

This book is a compilation of chapters by 13 individuals with another 13 shorter accounts as working examples of how things might be different.  The book wants to be the first step towards a new cultural relationship with nature, where we focus not on what rights we have over nature but on what responsibilities and deference we owe nature. That is quite an ambition.

The 13 chapters have one word titles: Reconnection, Recommoning, Stewardship, Guardianship, Kinship, Reciprocity, Culture, Education, Healing, Homage, Belonging and Inheritance which give a flavour of the wide scope and perspective of the book.

This concept of how our relationship with nature needs to change has been crafted by the pioneers of the Right to Roam campaign but, despite the words on the cover, ‘A Right to Roam call to action‘, this book is definitely not a manifesto for enhanced access to the countryside. It feels a bit like a diversion from that way forward to me and we are promised that another book will follow, one that is ‘…a practical guide to overcoming the pragmatic problems of public access to the countryside‘. I’m looking forward to that book and my expectation is that you won’t have to sign up to the vision sketched in this book to be able to support much of the manifesto in the next book – but we’ll see.

I wonder whether this is a mis-step by the Right to Roam campaign because if we need the huge culture change envisaged in this book before we can have more access to the countryside then that greater access will be a long way away, but if we don’t need the culture change for greater access to be achieved then why produce this book? One of the answers to that question is that the book is a very stimulating read and I guess that is justification enough.

This is not really a book for me except that I enjoy the challenge of competing ideas and views. It may well be a book for you, and I can imagine that for some people this is the book they didn’t know they’d been waiting for until they read it. I recommend that you read it.

Beautifully illustrated by Nick Hayes throughout. The cover? Gorgeous, isn’t it? I’d give it 9/10.

Wild Service: why nature needs you edited by Nick Hayes and Jon Moses is published by Bloomsbury.


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