We are very excited to host two writers working at the intersection of the natural/human world for a night of conversation about rewilding, trees, and every day ecology.
Joining us from Knepp Castle in Sussex is Isabella Tree, whose new book, Wilding: Returning Nature to Our Farm was listed as one of the "Ten Best Science Books of 2018" by Smithsonian Magazine.
And joining us from NY, where he is the founder of Urban Arborists, is William Bryant Logan, whose lastest book, Sprout Lands, unravels the long history of human interaction with trees.
For many years Isabella Tree and Charlie Burrell struggled to make a go as farmers, doing everything they could to make the heavy clay soils of their farm at Knepp in West Sussex as productive as possible, while rarely succeeding in making a profit. By 2000, facing bankruptcy, the couple decided they would try something new. They would hand their 3,500 acres, farmed for centuries, even millennia, back to nature. They would let it go wild.
This was no simple matter. What form did the land have before it took on the one that human beings gave it? The answer to that question was controversial and required real, and fascinating, research. The land had once been open to whole hosts of animals that had since been prevented from running wild, if not killed off or made extinct. These animals had been crucial actors in the landscape and its ecology, and how were they, or their likes, to be reintroduced? And finally there were the neighbors, often appalled at the sight of once tidy fields now running riot with what they considered dangerous weeds.
The experiment, however, was a success. With minimal human intervention, and with herds of free-roaming animals stimulating new habitats, Knepp is now full of new life. Rare species such as turtledoves, peregrine falcons, and purple emperor butterflies breed there. The fabled English nightingale, heard less and less in modern times, sings again.
The Knepp project has become a leading light for conservation in the United Kingdom, demonstrating how letting nature take its course can revive both the land and wildlife, reversing the cataclysmic declines in biodiversity that challenge Britain and the world. The story of rewilding Knepp points the way to a richer future—a countryside that benefits farming, nature, and us. Wilding is an inspiring story of hope.
About Sprout Lands
Once, farmers knew how to make a living hedge and fed their flocks on tree-branch hay. Rural people knew how to prune hazel to foster abundance: both of edible nuts, and of straight, strong, flexible rods for bridges, walls, and baskets. Townspeople cut their beeches to make charcoal to fuel ironworks. Shipwrights shaped oaks to make hulls. No place could prosper without its inhabitants knowing how to cut their trees so they would sprout again.
Pruning the trees didn't destroy them. Rather, it created the healthiest, most sustainable and most diverse woodlands that we have ever known. In this journey from the English fens to Spain, Japan, and California, William Bryant Logan rediscovers what was once an everyday ecology. He offers us both practical knowledge about how to live with trees to mutual benefit and hope that humans may again learn what the persistence and generosity of trees can teach.
About Isabella Tree
Isabella Tree is an award-winning author and travel writer, and the manager of the Knepp Wildland Project, along with her husband, Charlie. She has contributed to National Geographic, Granta, The Sunday Times, and The Observer, and her articles have been chosen for The Best American Travel Writing and Reader’s Digest Today’s Best Nonfiction. Tree is the author of several books, including The Living Goddess and The Bird Man. She lives in England.
About William Logan
William Bryant Logan is the author of Sprout Lands, Oak, Air and Dirt, the last of which was made into an award-winning documentary. He is on the faculty of the New York Botanical Garden. He has spent the last three decades working in trees. He is a certified arborist, and founder and president of Urban Arborists, Inc., a Brooklyn-based tree company. Logan has won numerous Quill and Trowel Awards from the Garden Writers of America, and was a contributing editor to House Beautiful, House and Garden, and Garden Design magazines, as well as a regular garden writer for the New York Times. He won a 2012 Senior Scholar Award from the New York State chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA), as well as a True Professional of Arboriculture award from the international ISA. He also won an NEH grant to translate Calderón de la Barca and has published many translations from the Spanish, including the work of García Lorca, Ramón del Valle Inclán, and Calderón.