Richard Mabey

The word­smith dis­cusses his lat­est book and the im­por­tance of na­ture writ­ing.

BBC Wildlife Magazine - - Our Wild World -

Tell us about Turn­ing the Boat for Home

I wanted to put to­gether a col­lec­tion of pieces from the last 20 years that summed up a life’s work. The pieces I chose were ones that had an au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal as­pect to them – to si­mul­ta­ne­ously map out the field in which I have worked and to re­veal a bit about the sit­u­a­tions in which var­i­ous events and books happened, so they had a con­text. Some of those were po­lit­i­cal – I write about how I dis­cov­ered Rachel Car­son’s Silent Spring just after the Cuban Mis­sile Crisis. When I read it, it was the dawn­ing of un­der­stand­ing that eco­log­i­cal crises were po­lit­i­cal as well – peo­ple caused them, they weren’t just ac­ci­dents of fate.

As a genre, should na­ture writ­ing do more to high­light the prob­lems sur­round­ing the nat­u­ral world?

I think it’s very im­por­tant that the ex­pe­ri­ence of na­ture is put in­side the ex­pe­ri­ence of all other things in our life. To say that one en­ters a room called ‘na­ture’ and it au­to­mat­i­cally switches off all other things in your life is ridicu­lous. What I would like is to bring pol­i­tics into the very mar­row of what we’re writ­ing about. Books vaguely in this canon are of one or other sorts: ei­ther they’re mem­oirs or de­scrip­tions of the nat­u­ral world – en­coun­ters with it or jour­neys through it – or they are eco-po­lit­i­cal polemics. I think it’s very sad that these two are sep­a­rated. To try and ex­press both one’s joy, concern or re­sponse to the nat­u­ral world in­tri­cately en­twined with one’s po­lit­i­cal po­si­tion about its res­cue is very hard to do be­cause the tones of voice of the two sorts of writ­ing are quite dif­fer­ent. But to keep them sep­a­rate – par­tic­u­larly in the crit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion we’re in eco­log­i­cally at the mo­ment – al­ways runs the risk that purely cel­e­bra­tory writ­ing will be seen as ig­no­rant, in de­nial, or as quite wil­fully mis­rep­re­sent­ing the sit­u­a­tion.

Which themes would you like to explore fur­ther?

I’m con­cerned that cli­mate change is grab­bing all the head­lines – quite rightly in some ways – but it has over­shad­owed the ex­tinc­tion crisis. If one had to choose which is the more se­ri­ous, I would say ex­tinc­tion is more se­ri­ous be­cause if the fab­ric of life is un­rav­elled too much, the nat­u­ral world’s re­silience to cli­mate change is go­ing to be ut­terly di­min­ished. If we can main­tain the di­ver­sity of ecosys­tems on the planet, they will have solutions to cli­mate change that are as clever as ours, but if we al­low them to crum­ble for other rea­sons – agri­cul­ture and pol­lu­tion – the im­pli­ca­tions for things be­yond us is enor­mous.

Na­ture writ­ing can high­light the beauty of our world, as well as the threats it faces.

Turn­ing the Boat for Home Chatto & Win­dus, £18.99

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