Cornerstones – Review
Cornerstones: Wild Forces that Can Change Our World, by Benedict Macdonald, July 2022. Bloomsbury Wildlife, ISBN 978-1-4729-7160-9, 256 pages. RRP £17.99 (hardback)
Benedict Macdonald is a conservationist, naturalist, producer and writer, who is currently Head of Nature Restoration for Real Wild Estates in the UK. In this book, he identifies a number of key species of UK flora and fauna as “cornerstones”; ecosystem engineers which actively create and shape the ecosystems in which we live. Macdonald convincingly argues that these cornerstone species are essential to restoring biodiversity, identifying not only the obvious but also the unexpected benefits which these valuable species bring to our environment.
Each chapter looks at a particular “cornerstone” and the valuable roles that each plays in restoring our somewhat depleted natural landscape. For example, wild boar help to produce an ideal environment for dwindling colonies of butterflies, so the reintroduction of the Tamworth pig in Sussex (as it is illegal in the UK to reintroduce wild boar) has led to a direct increase in the number of Purple Emperors.
The beauty of complexity within relationships in nature is also explored. Macdonald looks at the new field of phytoacoustics – the ability of flowers to “hear” when a bee is approaching, in order to raise sugar levels in nectar. This is absolutely fascinating and, in my opinion, mind blowing. Humans still have a lot to learn about these mutually beneficial relationships within creation.
The book covers issues around rewilding and looks at the impact of projects across the globe including the reintroduction of wolves within Yellowstone Park in 1995, with its unanticipated effects on the landscape and wild inhabitants. Countries like France, Portugal and Spain are seeing the positive effects of protecting, nurturing and embracing these cornerstone species, but this isn’t always the case in the UK. In discussing the limited reintroduction of the beaver in Devon, Macdonald notes the resentment and fear of this creature, often based on baseless myths and “medieval levels of misinformation”.
Full of fascinating facts and engagingly written, this is a good read which shows ways in which the balance can be restored in nature, if only we are willing to share stewardship of our environment with our natural partners.
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