Regeneration: The Rescue of a Wild Land by Andrew Painting


Regeneration is my brother’s book about his time working as an ecologist in the Cairngorms in Scotland.

Regeneration is my brother’s book. Which makes writing about it that bit more complicated. But, fortunately, it’s a really good book. A lot of people have already written about it, using words like “ground-breaking” and “remarkable”, so we’ve already established that it’s good.

What did I think of it? I felt it to be a touching, deeply personal offering to a worried, fretful world. It has the power to reconnect us with the natural, wild world but also spoke of other things we’d do well to reconnect with: things like devotion, hard work and patience. 

I expected this book to take time to read, thinking that I’d have to concentrate hard to follow it, but this was not the case. I was caught up in it. This book is an unexpected page turner! I could not wait to read on each day and through the day, I often returned to the Cairngorms in my mind for a while. As a child and teenager, I walked to school with my brother through Bristol and later cycled along the estuary of the River Taw in Devon, learning from him how to recognise several bird species as we went. As I read Regeneration, I was able to walk with him through the pinewoods and across the moors, to climb mountains and “surf snow” with him. His heart is on his sleeve in this book, which is part of its charm and also the key to its power. His love of the Cairngorms, and the multitude of people, plants and animals found there, is clear throughout.

Of course, he also writes with knowledge and insight and en excellent grasp of the complexities of Scottish conservation work. He is a lifelong learner, with a curious, scientific and humble mind. He learns from others constantly – and this is another strength of the book. In each chapter, we meet the experts and enthusiasts he has come across. There is much to learn from these people, who, like him, have devoted their lives to ecology and conservation.

The book is organised into three parts: the woods, the moors and the mountains. In geographical and historical scope, it feels epic in the deepest, largest, most profound sense of the word, telling the story of a landscape (or perhaps rather, landscapes) and people over hundreds of years. It tells of the hard work of conservation, of the deep concerns, struggles and controversies and also, as several others have pointed out, of hope. 

The language of the book is worth a mention, too. Weaving beautiful Gaelic place names, with coloquialisms, scientific language, data, his own affectionate nicknames for species (the “justabuzzard”, for example) and quotes from literature, Andy’s use of words is skillful, part of the book’s magic and appeal.

From the haunting, captivating chapter on dotterel, to the adventures of botanists looking for various specimens in remote places and wild weather, and the emotional descriptions of birds of prey, this is a book that will pull you in to the wild places of Scotland, giving you a unique depth of insight.

This is a book that will stay with me for a long time.

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