How many of us have been distracted during a Zoom call, teased on Teams or left goggle-eyed on Google Chat looking at the books behind the person talking to us from the screen?
Or perhaps been gripped by lockdown shelves envy watching interviews on TV, peering as best we can to identify the tombs stacked up in the background to compare with our own pile still stacked up on the floor?
And as the festive season kicks-in, who is struggling to think what the perfect title might be to buy the ecologists, conservationists or climate campaigners in our lives?
Fear not, for Kaitiaki Consulting’s expert team have opened up their very own libraries to share their favourite book recommendations.
Senior Ecological Consultant Simon Busuttil’s first pick was ‘Rebirding: Restoring Britain’s Wildlife’ by Benedict Macdonald.
He explains: “Focussing on birds, BM brings together a science-based history of the British landscape, current ecological theory, science-based facts of wildlife decline, an assessment of the role of current land-use in these declines and proposes some interesting and workable solutions.
“An easy optimistic read, this brought together for me in a cohesive way a stack of themes from over the past few years – farmland and woodland bird declines, the over-intensification of management, the disappointment in the UK’s National Parks, the richness of landscapes elsewhere in Europe, travels in Africa and my involvement in conservation projects in the UK. It felt deeply familiar but made connections that I had not fully articulated.”
His next choice was Isabella Tree’s ‘Wilding’ a popular choice with many for this list.
He says: “A very readable story of the journey at Knepp Estate from failed arable farm to re-wilded Sussex landscape. A really important challenge to much thinking about both lowland Britain and nature reserve management, it has been brilliantly marketed and is proving to be incredibly influential. Again, an easy optimistic and occasionally fun read, it’s a manual for the private landowner, particularly in the lowlands.”
Robert MacFarlane ‘The Wild Places’ makes Simon’s list too. He explains: “Anything by Robert MacFarlane would do (eg Mountains of the Mind, Landmarks) to remind us that wildness can be found anywhere including in our language.
“A personal book with a distinctive Scottish component this is a great mix of the personal, individual experience and geographic and cultural references that led me to pick up other authors – particularly Nan Shepherd.
“It’s a deep and thoughtful book and worthy of reading and re-reading. It’s made me appreciate cold, wet, wild and windy days wherever I am.”
“Roger Deakin is growing in influence as a nature writer and thinker – a biography is currently being written,” Simon explains about Roger Deakin as he lists ‘Wildwood’ as his next recommendation.
“His only book published in his lifetime was Waterlog – which has been a significant influence in the increasing popularity of wild swimming in Britain,” he goes on, “I prefer this book- published shortly after his early death.
“It’s a personal journey through the role of wood, woods and woodland in practise and culture from his Suffolk home through Britain and across Asia, full of interesting anecdotes and practical information and unashamedly a little bit wild and pagan.”
“My favourite book of all time,” is how he describes ‘The Birds of Heaven’ by Peter Matthiessen, “Beautifully illustrated, this is both a travel and a natural history book but more importantly a plea for the protection of cranes and the wild places that support them in a similar vein to the book he is best known for, The Snow Leopard.
“PM travels to see all 15 of the world’s crane species in some of the world’s great wild spaces travelling with the conservationists and researchers working on them and meeting the local people who live alongside them. It has influenced me, in particular to travel to the river valleys and wetlands of Mongolia’s eastern steppe where up to seven species of crane can be found.”
Our Head of New Zealand Operations Sonny Whitelaw, a published novelist and teacher in her own right (write?), chooses Our Stolen Future by Colborn, Dumanoski, and Myers (1997) as the first choice from her library.
She explains: “A segue to Silent Spring, this compelling insight into hormone disrupting compounds, how they’ve penetrated every level of the ecosphere, and how they magnify through the food chain and across generations, is staggering. Along with Ross Gelbspan’s The Heat is On, it goes a long way to answering the question I am often asked as a novelist: where do I get my ideas from?”
The Heat is On by Ross Gelbspan (1997) also makes’s Sonny’s list. She says: “Probably the most terrifying thing about this book is that the logical, science-based forecasts of social and economic impacts of climate change are now coming to pass because: “A major battle is underway: In order to survive economically, the biggest enterprise in human history—the worldwide oil and coal industry—is at war with the ability of the earth to sustain itself.”(p8)”
“‘Ever wondered why we have reached this point, where science is belittled, and unimpeachable evidence discarded as fake news?’, Ross Gelbspan summarised the problem in the above quote. Oreskes, a science historian, and Conway, an investigative journalist teamed up to hunt down how, with trillions of dollars at stake, oil and coal companies employed multi-million-dollar marketing campaigns to wage a disinformation war against scientists.
“This has resulted in an ‘uniformed’ democracy that’s undermined the political will and social license to act meaningfully on climate change.”
Sonny’s recommendation of ‘The Last Generation by Fred Piece (2006)’ comes with its own reasons.
She says: “Aside from the odd space rock hitting us, and some impressive earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, we’ve long since accepted that geological processes are slow. And since past climate change is written in the geology, we’ve collectively developed a blind spot: the planet is so big, climate change must also be very slow. The processes used date geological changes inadvertently supports this mental bias.
“In this book, Fred Piece, a long-time contributor to New Scientist, spells out an unfortunate reality: when climate systems reach tipping points, they flip into a completely new mode. And it can happen within three to five years. Those tipping points are now being passed.”
“Brought to you by IPCC contributing authors, this is one of those geeky books that people like me (a coastal geomorphologist) like because the explanation help me refine and simplify my strategy for communicating the complexity of changing sea levels, and why restoring coastal ecosystems (dunes, wetlands etc) provides the most cost-effective buffer and egalitarian method to protect coastal communities and infrastructure”, Sonny tells us about ‘Understand Sea-level Rise and Variability by Church, Woodworth, Aarup, and Wilson (2010)’.
Based in New Zealand she has studied the lands and rivers closely, and recommends ‘Ghosts of Gondwana’ by George Gibbs (2006) ‘.
“Why is New Zealand’s ecology so…weird? How could a few mammals from Europe and Australia—which is just an ecological stone’s throw across the ‘ditch’—cause such appalling havoc to our native species? This is an essential illustrated read for anyone trying to understand New Zealand’s somewhat bizarre natural history, why Jared Diamond suggested that ‘New Zealand is as close as we will get to the opportunity to study life on another planet’, and the unique problems we now face.”, she says.
‘New Zealand’s Wilderness Heritage’ by Molloy and Potton (2007) is something of a visual treat, says Sonny, adding: “When I arrived in New Zealand, I bought this book because of Craig Potton’s stunning photography. Potton is one of New Zealand’s premier landscape and wildlife photographers.
“What I didn’t realise was that the author, Les Molloy was a renowned ecologist who already had published seminal books on New Zealand natural history and wilderness conservation.
“The result is both a stunning collaborative celebration of wild New Zealand and an essential resource for conservation ecologists.”
Ecological Consultant Nick Aspey says his list is born not out of looking at only rewilding, but the wider themes underlying it.
“I’ve made it an eclectic mix to cut through some of the ‘stodgier’ texts,” he says kicking off with ‘Karl Marx: Capital’ attributing his choice as being “the need to look outside the capitalist economic model for a different future”.
“The humanity of his writing,” is how Nik describes his reasons behind recommending ‘Dylan Thomas: Short Stories’ “Especially The Lemon,” he adds.
His third choice is ‘Albert Einstein: Relativity’ which he describes as being “A surprisingly short booklet written for the lay person allowing you to grasp the relative not absolute nature of the world.”
‘Franz Kafka: The Castle‘ is included because of “The relationship between the individual and their social environment” says Nik, who also adds Robin Attfield: ‘The Ethics of Environmental Concern’ describing it as “An historic overview of human ideologies shaping our notions of the environment.”
His final to recommendations, the classic ‘George Orwell: ‘1984‘ “…a critique of what underlies the social structure of the UK,” and Chief Seattle: ‘How Can One Sell the Air’ which he describes as “A view of modern western life from outside this bubble.”
Consultant Ecologist Erik Paterson jumps onto the list too, recommending ‘The Ecology and Life History of the Common Frog (Rana temporaria temporaria)‘ by Ronald Maxwell Savage.
He says: “This book, published in the 1960’s remains one of the most in-depth treatments of any British amphibian species. With research on tadpole development and spawn site choice presented in a simple format this book is inspiring to anyone who wants to understand frogs, and gives a great example of simple citizen-science style ideas for research.”
Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring he describes as an “Excellent precautionary tale about biodiversity loss focusing on the widespread declines in wildlife populations as a result of widespread DDT use.”
The Ancestor’s Tale by Richard Dawkins is another to feature, with Erik detailing: “Unlike a lot of his titles, this book isn’t vehemently anti-theistic. Instead, it is a fantastic and informative book detailing the evolutionary journey of humanity.”
“This recent book brings together research about all of Scotland’s herpetofauna species in a clear, concise, and understandable way which will give the reader a thorough overview of species ecology, distribution, and conservation threats throughout Scotland,” is how he describes his choice of The Amphibians and Reptiles of Scotland by Chris McInerny & Peter Minting which he says is available as a free PDF.
Sean Clancy, Ecological Consultant, describes ‘Oaks, Dragonflies and People’ by Norman W. Moore as being “A fascinating and immensely readable account by a Chief Advisory Officer of the NCC during the early 1980’s of his project to create a small private nature reserve, and a personal insight of wider conservation issues, many of which are even more pertinent today.”
He also chooses ‘A Summer of British Wildlife by James Lowen’ saying: “James Lowen writes with such enthusiasm about his journeys around Britain discovering some of the natural wonders to be found, who could fail to be inspired to get out into the great outdoors. A book for the more casual naturalist and possibly a bit rudimentary and superficial for the specialist.
“Nevertheless the accessibility of books like this are of huge value in getting the message across to the wider population that there is a need to look after the environment and all it provides.”
Talking of ‘Enjoying Moths by Roy Leverton’ he explained: “Although we are increasingly being told of the benefit of introducing insects into our diet, this is not a recipe book. Rather this is a detailed introduction into the world of moths describing the huge variety of species, strategies and opportunities provided by this group of insects; liberally scattered with many of the author’s excellent photographs.”
‘Climate Change and British Wildlife’ by Trevor Beebee makes it to his list too. He describes it as “An interesting and relevant look at how climate change is affecting British flora and fauna, and placing this into the context of the extensive dataset available due to the work of dedicated natural history recorders stretching back nearly 300 years,” adding, “The author reviews the evidence for changes in the phenology, distribution and frequency of all the major species groups in an engaging and accessible way.”
His final pick is ‘The Natural History of Moths’ by Mark Young’ as he admits: “A bit of a theme here but another very readable and informative book on this diverse group of insects.
“Mark Young details many of the more specialised aspects of their ecology and describes the reasons this group can act one of the most valuable indicators of the health of the wider ecosystem.”
Consultant Ecologist Rozanna Shah digs deep into some of the books that made her decide on her career. She highlights ‘Beyond Conservation: A Wildland Strategy by Peter Taylor’ as being instrumental.
She said: “This first introduced me to rewilding and has inspirational case studies of rewilding though a bit out of date now with so many new projects ongoing.”
‘Habitat Creation and Repair’ by Oliver L. Gilbert and Penny Anderson she hails as an “Excellent reference guide for habitat management.”
“Always nice to dip into the depth of knowledge here and crucial for anyone’s bookcase,” is how she describes ‘Woodlands‘ by Oliver Rackham adding that ‘Plants and Habitats: An Introduction to Common Plants and Their Habitats in Britain and Ireland’ by Ben Averis was something she found “Essential when first learning botanical identification, essential along with Francis Rose I’d say for getting into botany.”
Her next choice seems to be one that could be more influential than ever given current global circumstances, as she lists ‘How to Conserve Conservationists by Jessie Panazzolo’ as her final recommendation.
She says:”This is a really important book from the Lonely Conservationists movement, blog and podcast addressing mental health and the industry, feeling alone, volunteering and working for free, fighting for changes from an inspirational woman.”
Ecological Consultant Chris Bradshaw is another who selected ‘Wilding’ among his reads, but also includes Benedict Macdonald’s ‘Rebirding – Rewilding Britain and Its Birds’ to our 50 recommended reads.
Chris said: “This is a most engaging book. The author summarises the wildlife, and in particular birdlife, we have lost over a timescale extending back thousands of years.
“He explores how rewilding fits in with attempts to reverse some of these losses. There are some ambitious ideas for restoring significant habitats on a large scale, including woodlands and scrub, uplands and wetlands. Ideas are presented for putting back species we have long since lost.
“Importantly, and unlike some other titles in this genre, it makes some genuine attempts to suggest how such ideas and large scale schemes could be funded and might actually pay for themselves.
“For me it was an inspiring read and if just some ideas are embraced our wildlife will benefit.”
For Senior Ecological Consultant Paul Kirkland, his go to book was ‘English Pastoral’ by James Rebanks.
He explained: “This moving book by Cumbrian farmer James Rebanks is a passionate account of his determination to buck the trend of increased intensification and ‘rewild’ parts of his family’s farm, while still trying to make a living producing high quality food.
“It shows clearly that if the public and Westminster politicians continue to demand cheap food (that doesn’t pay for its environmental costs), then such farmers will struggle to survive in the absence of tax payer support.
“Without such farmers we would loose much of the wildlife of the hills that is dependent on grazing, species of pastures, meadows, bogs and open woodland, not to mention the quality food they produce and their pivotal role in rural communities.
“Guess I should confess that the book is all the more poignant for me having lived for 10 years in the wonderful Eden Valley where Rebanks farms.”
Senior Ecological Consultant Chris Rodger chose books themed at exploring modern society’s relationship with nature.
Among them ‘Ghost Bears: Exploring the biodiversity crisis’ by R.Edward Grumbine. Describing he said: “It’s a very readable and a pioneering book describing the need to look at conservation at ecosystem/landscape scale, within which people are simply another species.”
With ‘Ecological Literacy’ from David W.Orr he describes it fairly as “Dense /not an easy read – but a classic text on the role of education in addressing challenges of sustainability ”
Another important book on the list is his choice of ‘Soil & Soul: People vs Corporate Power’ by Alastair McIntosh. Chris says: “Based around the stories of early Community buy-outs (particularly Eigg) but explores concepts of place/economics/ecology-centred spirituality etc.”
“Essentially a text book but readable and full of examples/principles on how current economic models fail to work within ecological limits & how this can be changed for the better,” was his take on ‘Ecological Economics – Principles & Applications by Daly & Farley.
He also plumps for ‘The Invention of Nature’ by Andrea Wulf as his final choice, adding: “A bit off-piste here but I recently read this and it’s an absolutely brilliant book. Centred on the life of Alexander von Humboldt – fascinating in itself – the scope of the book is huge & explores the human relationship with nature through the ages.”
Ecological Consultant Eleanor Shield highlighted ‘Bird Cottage’ by Eva Meijer with a personal touch.
Described in notes as: ‘Len Howard was forty years old when she decided to leave her London life and loves behind, retire to the English countryside and devote the rest of her days to her one true passion: birds.
‘Moving to a small cottage in Sussex, she wrote two bestselling books, astonishing the world with her observations on the tits, robins, sparrows and other birds that lived nearby, flew freely in and out of her windows, and would even perch on her shoulder as she typed.
‘This moving novel imagines the story of this remarkable woman’s decision to defy society’s expectations, and the joy she drew from her extraordinary relationship with the natural world.’
Eleanor said: “I was amazed when I got this book to find that Len Howard lived in Ditchling at the same time I was there with my family during my secondary school years in the area.
“The book includes comments from Michael Alford – who was our neighbour on the farm next door and remembers her well, and I wish I had known her and perhaps been able to carry on what she was doing.
“I particularly liked her debunking of what I’d call entitled learning and opinion, which has not served us well and is not going to. Eva Meijer has created the book around what she has found out about Len Howard, but it all rings true to me.”
Managing Director Alex Foulkes was among others flagging up George Monbiot’s ‘Feral’ as required, essential reading, predicting: “I suspect that a lot of people have given you this one but this book wonderfully highlights what we have lost and what we need to do to address the catastrophic biodiversity loss.
“It was only after reading this did I become to fully understand the importance of rewilding.”
‘The Poor Had No Lawyers by Andy Wightman is another important piece of work he highlights, saying: “This encapsulates the injustices that we see in Scottish society and explains why we have this awful pattern of land ownership and land use that continues to this day.”
“I read this while working as a Primate Ecologist in the Peruvian Amazon,” is how he explains his next choice of ‘A Neotropical Companion’ from John Krischer, “It is a beautifully written book and the best introduction to neotropical ecology that anyone can get.
“It is an ecological tour-de-force and has become the go to book for anyone interested in the wonderful wildlife in South and Central America.”
A journalist rather than ecologist, Head of Media and Marketing Shaun Milne opted for books that reflect some of the wider issues around nature and the environment and how society causes or responds to the challenges.
First on his list was ‘Doughnut Economics’ by Kate Raworth’. He says: “Too many of our mistakes are caused by not realising less is more. This book is a refreshing look at modern economics, over indulgence, and how we can make choices that put society and nature first rather than being an afterthought of profit driven madness and consume, consume, consume driven addiction.”
In a similar vein, he places ‘This changes everything: Capitalism vs the Climate’ by Naomi Klein as a book everyone should read., describing it as: “One of those books where the craziness of it all suddenly becomes clear.
“It’s an understanding and reflection about what has not only caused climate chaos, but why we have fundamentally failed to do more about it.”
“This book more than most should be required reading,” he says of ‘Climate Justice: A Man Made problem with a feminist solution by Mary Robinson, “It not only highlights the issues around the challenges by women in developing nations, but it tells real life stories with compassion and astute observation.”
‘The Story of More’ by Hope Jahren makes it onto his list after he discovered it while learning Norwegian, as the author is Professor at the University of Oslo’s centre for Earth Evolution and Dynamics.
He says: “I love this book because it explains, in fairly short chapters, how we got into this mess with climate in the first place, the consequences of doing nothing and some of the ways we can mitigate the damage done to give ourselves a chance of avoiding the catastrophic consequences of no.”
‘The Sinking of the Rainbow Warrior’ a newspaper investigation by The Sunday Times into how French commandos sunk the Greenpeace flagship before it tried to stop more nuclear testing was, Shaun says,: “The book that inspired me to become a journalist and take an interest in our environment and justice. It might not be about rewilding, but the devastating testing of nuclear weapons has had a massive, shameful effect on so many places and weapons remain here in Scotland today.”
“Some folk may laugh at this choice,” he says of Greta Thunburg’s ‘No One Is Too Small To Make A Difference’, “But I don’t care.
“In years to come I think we will come to revere some of the speeches that tumble from the pages and they will in part be what inspires not just leaders of tomorrow but people of today to take action.
“It should be given out to every school kid, left in every hotel room and stocked in every public library to make sure it is read.”
50 must read books for ecologists, nature lovers & climate activists
- Rebirding; Restoring Britain’s Wildlife – Benedict Macdonald
- Wilding – Isabella Tree
- The Wild Places – Robert MacFarlane
- Wildwood – Roger Deakin
- The Birds of Heaven – Peter Matthiessen
- Our Stolen Future – Colborn, Dumanoski and Myers
- The Heat is On – Ross Gelbspan
- Merchants of Doubt – Naome Oreskes and Erik Conway
- The Last Generation – Fred Piece
- Understand Sea-level Rise and Variability – Church, Woodworth & Aarup
- Ghosts of Gondwana – George Gibbs
- New Zealand’s Wilderness Heritage – Molloy and Potton
- Capital – Karl Marx
- Short Stories esp The Lemon – Dylan Thomas
- Relativity – Albert Einstein
- The Limits to Growth – Donella Meadows
- The Castle – Franz Kafka
- The Ethics of Environmental Concern – Robin Attfield
- 1984 – George Orwell
- How Can One Sell the Air – Chief Seattle
- The Ecology and Life History of the Common Frog (Rana temporaria temporaria) – Ronald Maxwell Savage
- Silent Spring – Rachel Carson
- The Ancestor’s Tale – Richard Dawkins
- The Amphibians and Reptiles of Scotland – Chris McInerny & Peter Minting
- Oaks, Dragonflies and People – Norman W. Moore
- A Summer of British Wildlife – James Lowen
- Enjoying Moths – Roy Leverton
- Climate Change and British Wildlife – Trevor Beebee
- The Natural History of Moths – Mark Young
- Beyond Conservation: A Wildland Strategy – Peter Taylor
- Habitat Creation and Repair – Oliver L. Gilbert & Penny Anderson
- Woodlands – Oliver Rackham
- Plants and Habitats: An Introduction to Common Plants and Their Habitats in Britain and Ireland – Ben Averis
- How to Conserve Conservationists – Jessie Panazzolo
- English Pastoral – James Rebanks
- Ghost Bears: Exploring the biodiversity crisis – R.Edward Grumbine.
- Ecological literacy- David W.Orr
- Soil & Soul: People vs Corporate Power – Alastair McIntosh
- Ecological Economics: Principles & Applications – Daly & Farley
- The Invention of Nature – Andrea Wulf
- Bird Cottage – Eva Meijer
- Feral – George Monbiot
- The Poor Had No Lawyers – Andy Wightman
- A Neotropical Companion – John Krischer
- Doughnut Economics – Kate Raworth
- This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate – Naomi Klein
- Climate Justice: A Man Made problem with a feminist solution – Mary Robinson
- The Story of More – Hope Jahren
- The Sinking of the Rainbow Warrior – The Sunday Times Insight Team
- No One Is Too Small To Make A Difference – Greta Thunberg