Not all species and habitats are created equal. And as we face the Sixth Mass Extinction, not all will survive. But if some crucial wild forces cannot be saved, the wildlife of our world as we know it will collapse. Not generally or abstractly, but right here, in our cherished home: the British Isles.
From familiar earthworms and honey-bees to long-lost natives like beavers and boars, nine wild forces hold the key to the future of our island: its wildlife, its soils, its wilderness, and its people.
How do beavers craft wetlands, save fish and toads, encourage endangered butterflies, and stop rivers from flooding? Why are wild boar the best butterfly conservationists of all? How do mushrooms allow trees to talk? How do oaks, as they die, create more life than anything alive? And what really happens when honey bees finally go extinct?
Cornerstones explores nine vital wild forces that shape Britain like no other and tells the story of their survival from their perspective. Never again will you pass an ancient willow without thanking it. Never again will fishers curse the beavers that create their fish stocks. Cornerstones will transform your gratitude to the natural world forever as you recognise the cornerstone forces that support the wild lives we all love and appreciate.
Chapter one - Boar
Chapter two - Birds of Prey
Chapter three - Beaver
Chapter four - Whales
Chapter five - Bees
Chapter six - Cattle and Horses
Chapter seven - Trees
Chapter eight - Lynxes and Wolves
Chapter nine - Humans
Benedict Macdonald is a television producer, award-winning nature writer and conservationist. Having studied wildlife since a very early age, he pursued a career in natural history film-making and has worked on series including The One Show, Springwatch, The Hunt and as a field director for the Emmy-award winning Our Planet; a conservation series narrated by Sir David Attenborough, which premiered on Netflix in 2019. Since then, Ben has worked as a producer on international wildlife shows for Apple (Tiny Worlds, Earth at Night) and Disney.
As a writer, his first book, Rebirding, highlighted the need for mass-scale nature restoration across the UK, and was the winner of the Richard Jefferies Prize & inaugural winner of the Wainwright Conservation Prize 2020. His second book, Orchard: A Year in England's Eden, co-written with Nicholas Gates, was published by Harper Collins in August 2020.
As a conservationist, Ben has remained at the forefront of public discourse on rewilding, nature restoration, regenerative farming and the widespread reintroduction of lost species to the UK. He is affiliated to a number of organisations including the RSPB, Wildlife Trusts, National Trust, Beaver Trust, Rewilding Britain and his own organisation, Restore. Ben studied at Christ Church, Oxford, and lives & works in Bristol.
"[...] The author’s great strength is in painting vivid pictures, helping us to imagine a possible future where we have more self-willed, wilder land [...] If there is a weakness it is that we are expected to take a lot on trust. Few references are cited, and the book skips rapidly from one assertion to the next without dwelling on the evidence behind them. [...] There are risks in overstretching. Readers may start to question other aspects of the book for which they have less knowledge. I found myself doing just that at times. True, this is one person’s view of what a wilder future might look like, and it is a popular account rather than an academic treatise; perhaps, then, a little poetic licence is understandable. But, as the author reminds us, overblown claims by influential landowners are the bane of those seeking to move forward with contentious species reintroductions. The final three chapters were, for me, the most compelling and thought-provoking. The discussion of trees includes the most convincing and accessible account I have read as to why self-willed regeneration is preferable to planting. Here, at least, I found myself swept along by enthusiasm rather than fretting too much about the detail.[...]"
– Ian Carter, British Wildlife 33(8), August 2022
"Cornerstones makes a bold, riveting and visionary case for reviving the wild species that can help us restore our living planet. This is an exciting read!"
– Patrick Barkham, author of The Butterfly Isles and Wild Child
"By concentrating on 'cornerstones', we have the potential to transform landscapes and lives. A brilliant read."
– Bird Watching magazine
"Very few writers can navigate the complexities of the interconnectedness of nature and humanity, but Macdonald achieves this with skill and impact. Cornerstones paves a compelling pathway of hope, and it is as bright and brilliant as it is essential."
– Sophie Pavelle, author of Forget Me Not
"It's an interesting debate and one we should have."
– Simon Lester, Country Life
"This celebration of the species that anchor healthy, life-giving ecosystems is a timely reminder to recognise – and urgently protect – our common roots. [...] A primordially fortifying book."
– New Statesman
"It is ultimately a hopeful tale, and one well worth reading."
– Lorraine Connolly, Country Life
"Benedict Macdonald continues to come up with practical and effective solutions to the biodiversity crisis, with his latest book, Cornerstones."
– Stephen Moss
"I think this is this author's best book, so far, and that makes it excellent."
– Mark Avery
"Macdonald crams in evidence from a dizzying array of studies and writes with the urgency of an evangelist [...] it's exciting, convincing stuff."
"Macdonald's skill is in painting a big picture and communicating the benefits for all to see."
– Keith Betton, Birdwatch magazine
"This book is a brave, wonderfully descriptive and immensely important diagnosis of how far the countryside has drifted."
– Chris Fitch, Geographical
"From the first sentence of the introduction, I was drawn in by evocative descriptions of Nature at its best."
– Lorraine Connolly, Country Life