Steve's Herpetological Blog

An insight into the life of Steve, his research and the many books he reads


#StevesLibrary: The Secret Network of Nature

Once again I find myself reading the natural history writings of German author Peter Wohlleben, thankfully though they’ve been translated into English. After reading the other two books in his bestselling ‘Mysteries of Nature’ trilogy The Hidden Life of Trees and The Inner Life of Animals, I knew this was going to be as memorable. Those of you that have read my previous blogs or have read Wohlleben’s books will know that he tends to anthropomorphise nature a little too much. However things are more balanced in The Secret Network of Nature which combines thinking from the two previous books in the trilogy and builds on them substantially.

For those that are not aware, Wohlleben is a forester in the Eifel mountains of western Germany. His daily life has provided a myriad of insights and anecdotes that combined with research have formed his previous two books. The most radical of these at least in my opinion is the idea that trees can communicate with one another including their offspring. How does this work? Trees within the same species can send messages via their roots and the special fungi to warn others of danger (a herbivore) or share nutrients if times are tough on the rest of the stand. This is some radical thinking. We often see trees as individuals, you cut one down and it doesn’t affect the others. However Wohlleben argues against this and instead proposes that we should see a forest as a community. Just because we can’t see what happens underground, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t place.

There was a similar sentiment in The Inner Life of Animals which after reading Being a Beast by Charles Foster recently, I can see that they both fall in the same category. Again Wohlleben goes against the grain (sorry for the pun) to show that animals experience the world in a way we have previously ignored or failed to recognise. I think this is particularly pressing seeing as a number of amphibian and reptile species have recently been shown to be extremely intelligent. Thanks to the powers of bias we were dismissing their abilities to solve puzzles or escape secure enclosures.

The main point of the book is to show the extensive and complex workings of the natural world and how humankind is interrupting or removing the symbiotic relationships of plants, animals and fungi. Despite we see ourselves as the pinnacle of evolution – we seem to be blind to the damage we’re causing to the natural word. The same natural world we’re part of and rely on to sustain our lives, our livelihoods and our economies. The Secret Network of Nature demonstrates the cascade effects of the removal of a species in an ecosystem, or their reintroduction providing hope and optimism for rewilding and the future.

Despite the fact this trilogy is centred in middle Europe, there are a number of lessons and analogies that translate well into those problems facing British conservationists. While the examples used are more specific to Wohlleben’s forest and the surrounding area (which only highlights how the problems that face the natural world vary by location), they also apply to our issues too. The lack of natural forests, the overpopulation of prey species. We’ve modified our natural landscape in a very similar way and it is only now are we understanding the consequences of these actions.

To anyone working in conservation, I’d recommend you give this a read as there are lessons we can all learn in order to make our research and actions more effective.

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