Isabella Tree shares her life lessons.

Apr 8, 2024 | News

Isabella Tree, a writer and farmer from Britain, helped to kickstart the rewilding movement. She discusses man’s hubris and her favourite habit.

Isabella Tree, a writer and farmer, helped launch the rewilding movement in Britain when she published her bestselling book Wilding: The Return of Nature to a British Farm. She has been working alongside her husband, conservationist Charlie Burrell to rewild Knepp in Sussex, their 3,500 acre estate. It is now home to a stunning array of wildlife, including turtle doves and nightingales that are critically endangered.

What’s your morning ritual?

I walk my dog for 15 mins every morning, starting at 6am or earlier in spring. It’s a great way to start the morning, especially if you have some Exmoor ponies, or old English longhorn cows, and watch red kites, storks, or ravens fly around. It’s a way to get a fix of nature and wildlife before the day starts and becomes digital.

I feel optimistic about …

As we’ve seen in Knepp over the past 20 years, nature will bounce back if you let it. Recently, we rewilded our garden. We dumped 400 tons of crushed bricks and concrete from our new restaurant Wilding Kitchen onto the croquet grass and created this amazing dry conditions garden with over 1,000 species of plants. In just two years, biodiversity increased by 33%. It’s a great feeling to be in a place where nature is regaining its strength and overcoming all predictions.

What makes you angry?

People ignore what nature is trying tell us, and instead come up with inventions that get carbon out of our atmosphere, or clouds to make rain, and plant sitka spruce in peatland, calling it carbon storage. The hubris and arrogance of man, which is often the case.

Pilot of a light aircraft. In my teens and early twenties, I was infatuated with pilots such as Beryl Markham and Antoine de Saint-Exupery. I would have had to be born 100 years earlier but I loved the sense of freedom and adventure: crossing continents, landing in the middle nowhere on an airstrip on a sixpence. I tried to get my pilot’s license but I was terrible at navigation so it never happened.

The habit I have followed most often in my life is…

Catnapping. I can lay my head down anywhere for 10 minutes – on a desk at a library, on the grass outside, or in a car park.

Nature’s ability to rebound in ways that defy all odds and predictions is a powerful message of hope

What brings you joy?

Wilderness is a place where people are not important, where wildlife ignores you and where you feel the ecosystem is alive and functioning. This is what makes my heart soar.

When times get tough, I…

Headspace is an app that helps you meditate. It is incredibly helpful to be able to stop, breathe and take stock.

The book that I wish everyone would have read…

Silent Spring, by Rachel Carson. Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring in 1962 about the harm pesticides cause to the environment. It’s never been so relevant. We got rid DDT but now we face a new pesticide generation that is 10 times worse. So we haven’t really learned anything.

I’ve made a big change in my life.

Is it learning to live in harmony with nature, even when the environment is in a state that we used to call a mess? I grew up with the picture postcard version, which had neat fields, canalised river and isolated pockets, of British landscapes. Now I understand that it can’t look beautiful if it doesn’t work.

What motivates me the most?

I hope that someone will actually change their mind after reading something I have written. I get contacted by people who tell me that Wilding affected them, and I hope that my new book will do the same for children. It might make them think differently about nature, look at the world around them more holistically and notice living things.

My parents taught me …

To be brave, and to have integrity. The best thing parents can teach you is how to love yourself and know you are loved. Both did it beautifully.

I’d like to tell my younger self …

You can do it. No need to be timid. I spent a lot of my time being shy. I’d love to help her gain some self-confidence.

What makes you laugh?

I laugh with my sister, my children, and my dog, but not with my husband. I’ve known him since I was 18, and now I’m nearly 60, and I still don’t understand his jokes. They always catch me off guard.

Wilding: How to Bring Wildlife Back – An Illustrated Guide by Isabella Tree and illustrated by Angela Harding is published by Pan Macmillan


Main image: Anthony Cullen

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