Bringing Back the Beaver - book review

The story of one man's quest to rewild Britain's waterways

If you want to be an effective environmentalist in the UK - break the rules. When people say you can’t do it and that it is against the law - smile and nod and do it anyway. If you are looking for a path to follow. Read Derek Gow’s essential, joyful, tragic and inspiring book - _Bringing Back the Beaver _- and get revved up. Derek has spear headed a new, can-do approach to ecological regeneration. Do it now - ask questions later.

Derek Gow makes things happen

The extraordinarily rich, diverse and vibrant ecological systems of Planet Earth are being destroyed by petty people with machine minds. Throughout Derek’s book stories emerge of bureaucrats blocking the reintroduction of beavers for absolutely no good reason. A family of beavers establishes itself on the River Tay and Owen Patterson (then Secretary of State for the Environment) orders them shot.

Derek advises - “have no regard for the words of the witless. They neither love nor care.”

All illustrations by Derek Gow

Humans in the UK have been exterminating wildlife for thousands of years. The last beaver was killed here 400 years ago. How remarkably stupid to not even keep any beaver families alive on any land anywhere! It is almost as if humanity is programmed to destroy. Derek’s excellent book begins by filling in the historical backstory. His writing is pithy and punchy - sometimes poetic - and although not sentimental, powerfully poignant. Any nature lover will struggle not to weep at the descriptions of all we have lost. Most people just don’t know.

Gow’s career has its roots working with animals and on nature reserves so his perspective is a refreshing change from those of the rich land owners whose commentary can dominate the UK’s conservation scene. Monty Don says rewilding is for toffs but Derek is living proof that this is not true and his immense achievements, humbly recounted with great wit and peppered with hilarious anecdotes, should inspire people from all backgrounds to sign up to the most important work stream now recruiting - ecological regenerators required.

Derek adores beavers. He recounts many tales with them as if remembering time with old friends. He gets on with them as individuals and he also greatly admires their work as a species - “They created complexity and became its throbbing pulse.” He describes vividly how beaver reintroduction is the start of a positive chain of events that creates new habitats and rapidly brings land back to life while providing multiple positive services for humans too.

“As they labour and burrow; create woody dams; scent mark their leaf piles with their camphor-rich juice; build, browse and bicker; and fell trees with ease, the beavers wrapped up in their works for a day, don’t know, care or wonder that all that surrounds them is made by their actions.”

If you follow the scientific data - the global environmental situation is dire and deteriorating daily. Young people everywhere are stressed and traumatised by the climate and ecological emergencies. To their immense credit they change their lifestyles, eat less meat and strike from school on Fridays. Sadly this is not enough. What remains of the natural world urgently needs to be defended, extended and brought back to life. This doesn’t just mean planting trees - this means putting the wild animals back as well.

Derek’s book is a story of how we can bring wild animals back to our countryside. Even in the face of seemingly insurmountable resistance and fearfulness and stupidity we can get on with rewilding the world around us.

This brilliant book is the proof we needed. It can be done and we will do it.

Bringing Back the Beaver by Derek Gow (Paperback, Chelsea Green, £10.99)