Isabella Tree (born 1964) is a British author and travel journalist.
Her latest book 'Wilding - the return of nature to a British farm' tells the story of Knepp, the pioneering rewilding project in West Sussex started by herself and her husband, environmentalist Charlie Burrell.
She currently oversees their new eco-tourism venture - Knepp Wildland Safaris and Camping www.kneppsafaris.co.uk
Isabella Tree - National Geographic July 15, 2015
Britain’s most endangered animals and plants have declined by 58 percent since the 1970s, and one in ten is threatened with extinction …The U.K. has lost 44 million birds since 1966 and, historically, more large mammals—including wolves, lynx, bears, beavers, boars, moose, bison, and wolverines—than any other European country except Ireland. Now, red squirrels, wildcats, horseshoe bats, harbor seals, along with numerous birds, butterflies, and beetles are also teetering on the cliff-edge of extinction. Sightings of even the most familiar and beloved creatures, like the hedgehog and the water vole … have become a rarity. To remedy this catastrophe, Rewilding Britain—a charity set up by a group of leading environmentalists—was launched on July 14. Its aims are ambitious: To restore ecosystems, reverse the loss of biodiversity, revitalize rural economies, and secure 2.5 million acres of land and 30 percent of the country’s territorial waters for nature by 2115
Books and career
Isabella is the author of four other non-fiction books and is an award-winning nature and travel journalist. She has also written for the National Geographic, Granta , Sunday Times, Evening Standard, Observer, History Today and Conde Nast Traveller . Her work has appeared in Reader's Digest Today's Best Non-Fiction, Rough Guides Women Travel and The Best American Travel Writing. Her articles have been selected for The Best American Travel Writing and Reader's Digest Today's Best Non-Fiction, and she was Overall Winner of the Travelex Travel Writer Awards.
- The Bird Man: The Extraordinary Story of John Gould (2004) – was Isabella’s first book, published when she was 25. This book was first published in 1991 as "The Ruling Passion of John Gould" and has now been repackaged as a paperback. It is “a vibrant, fascinating account of Britain's most eminent bird illustrator first published to wonderful reviews over a decade ago”.
John Gould was a genius and a cad.
His volume of work eclipsed his American counterpart Audubon in accuracy and artistic value. But John Gould's work was the result of sacrifice and alienation. Through the unacknowledged loyalty and handiwork of his wife, and many other artists, in particular one young fellow called Edward Lear, Gould cemented his reputation as the first gentleman of birds. “Isabella Tree's lively biography reveals a story of discovery, ambition and betrayal - touching on some of the greatest wonders of the Victorian era, from the arrival of the first giraffe in London to Gould's crucial role in Darwin's theory of natural selection”.
- Islands in the Clouds: Travels in the Highlands of New Guinea (1996) – is a book issued by Lonely Planet. It was shortlisted for the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award and is an account of the author's journey to the Highlands of Papua New Guinea and Irian Jaya.
Travelling with a Papua New Guinea Highlander, she is introduced to his complex world, a world that is changing rapidly as it collides with new technology and the island's developing political systems.
One reader reviewing the book on Amazon said “Tree gives a good overview of the history, sociology and culture of the highlands of Papua New Guinea in a well-paced, beautifully written account.
- Sliced Iguana (2001) – Again using the reviews from Amazon of actual readers of Isabella's books , we read “Isabella Tree takes us on a unique journey into the heart of Mexico, travelling among five completely different, very colourful cultures. Taking part in Shamanic rituals in war-torn Chiapas; revelling with the transvestites and matriarchs of Juchitan; awaiting the arrival of the spirits in an ancient graveyard on Lake Patzcuaro for the Night of the Dead; taking the hallucinogenic peyote cactus with the Huichol Indians in the desert and spending Easter with some fervent, self-flagellating penitents: this is a unique account of old and new Mexico ”. Another reader said ‘Having spent a year traveling Mexico and learning the language, I found this book to be one of the best accounts of how rich the Mexican culture really is. If you're planning to explore Mexico, and not just hop on a plane to Cancun or Cabo, read this book. "
- The Living Goddess - In 1999 Isabella was Overall Winner of the Travelex Travel Writers’ Awards for a feature on Nepal's Kumaris, or 'Living Goddesses'. This then became a book.
Nepal’s famous Living Goddess can be a child as young as three who is chosen from a caste of Buddhist goldsmiths to watch over the country and protect its people. She lives in a small medieval palace on Kathmandu’s Durbar Square.
To Nepalis she is the embodiment of Devi (the universal goddess) and for centuries their Hindu kings have sought her blessing to legitimize their rule. The Living Goddesses are dismissed from their role when they attain puberty.
“Weaving together myth, religious belief, modern history and court gossip, Isabella Tree takes us on a compelling and fascinating journey to the esoteric, hidden heart of Nepal. Through her unprecedented access to the many layers of Nepalese society, she is able to put the country’s troubled modern history in the context of the complex spiritual beliefs and practices that inform the role of the little girl at its centre. Deeply felt, emotionally engaged and written after over a decade of travel and research, The Living Goddess is a compassionate and illuminating enquiry into this reclusive Himalayan country – a revelation”.
- Wilding: the return of nature to a British farm (Picador 2018) - Is Isabella's latest book.
The book tells the story of the Knepp Wildland Project, the pioneering rewilding experiment on the Knepp Estate in West Sussex where she lives with her husband Charlie Burrell. The project is cited as an outstanding example of landscape-scale restoration in the UK Government's 25 Year Environment Plan.
Wilding was shortlisted for the 2019 Wainwright Prize, was the winner of the 2019 Richard Jefferies prize for nature writing and was chosen by the Smithsonian as one of their top ten science books for 2018.
It is from this book that we have derived our observations.
Isabella Tree is one of the adopted daughters of Michael Lambert Tree and Lady Anne Cavendish.
Lady Anne Evelyn Beatrice Tree (née Cavendish, 6 November 1927 – 9 August 2010) was a British philanthropist, prison visitor, prisoner rights activist, and the founder of the charity Fine Cell Work, which gives prisoners the opportunity to do worthwhile work and acquire useful job skills for life after prison.
She was born Lady Anne Evelyn Beatrice Cavendish on 6 November 1927 at 2 Upper Belgrave Street, London, the third daughter of Edward Cavendish, 10th Duke of Devonshire (1895–1950). On 3 November 1949, she married the artist Michael Lambert Tree (1921–1999), son of the politician Ronald Tree, and his wife Nancy Lancaster. Michael also worked as a director of the auction house Christie’s. Anne and Michael had two adopted daughters. Isabella Tree is one.
Isabella grew up at Mereworth Castle in Kent, and then in a vicarage in Dorset. The family travelled regularly, which inspired her own travels later in life. After reading Classics at the University of London, she went on to work as a journalist and travel writer. Tree was, from 1993 to 1995, senior travel correspondent at the Evening Standard.
In 1993, Isabella married Sir Charles Burrell and settled in Knepp Castle, in the middle of a 3,500-acre estate near Shipley in West Sussex. It has been home to the Burrell family for 230 years. In the Fifties, Knepp Castle had passed to Sir Walter Burrell and his wife Judy, Charlie’s grandparents. When Issy first visited Knepp for Charlie’s 21st birthday party in 1983, “my bedroom still had blackout blinds from the Second World War”. In 1987, Charlie inherited the estate directly from his grandparents. The first task they set themselves was to modernise Knepp house.
Although Knepp is now a 3,500-acre wild estate, for decades the Burrells had run an intensive arable and dairy farm on their heavy Sussex clay. Once Charlie had inherited the estate, he did all the things one used to do to ‘improve’ the efficiency of Knepp.
“For 17 years, he worked on what farmers are supposed to do – making efficiencies and improving the crop varieties in an effort to raise yields,” says Issy. While the yields rose, the farm still made a loss. “It looked like this was only going to get worse forever.”
In 2000, Charlie came across the Dutch ecologist Frans Vera, whose book Grazing Ecology and Forest History had been translated into English. “He was convinced by what Vera was saying – that we, in Europe, have forgotten what our landscape looked like before human intervention – that it would have been populated by a huge variety of large free-roaming herbivores – most of which we hunted to extinction. We assume our landscape was closed canopy woodland – which is relatively species-poor and undynamic. But it would have been much more open and complex. It would have looked more like the Serengeti, say – or the great plains of America before they lost the bison. It’s large herbivores that drive the creation of habitats – they’re keystone species – something that is missing from our countryside. We thought maybe this was something we could do at Knepp.”
And so they did and the book Wilding describes the journey and the results.
Almost 20 years on, and Knepp is now a complex, dynamic, wood-pasture landscape where animals roam free. The estate is home to herds of old English longhorn (mimicking the actions of the extinct aurochs), red, fallow and roe deer, Tamworth pigs (being proxies for wild boar), and Exmoor ponies (proxies for the extinct tarpan). Thanks to the disturbing action of these animals – their grazing and browsing, puddling, rootling, ring-barking, coppicing, as well as the effects of their dung on the soil, and all the invertebrates that breed and feed on dung – their depleted agricultural land has sprung back to life.
The sheer biomass of insects and birds is staggering – Isabella talks about ‘surround-sound’ birdsong - and is now changing the baselines for ecologists who are having to re-consider the huge potential for such post-agricultural landscapes to carry life.
Knepp is now also attracting some of the rarest species in the UK: lesser-spotted woodpeckers, yellow hammers, house sparrows, ravens, peregrine falcons, nightingales, cuckoos and tree-creepers. Turtle doves – the bird most likely to go extinct in Britain in the next 10-15 years – are now breeding at Knepp; perhaps the only place in the UK where their numbers are increasing.
More astonishing even than the resurgence of wildlife at Knepp is the speed at which these species have returned – less than twenty years, giving hope that even landscapes considered worthless for nature can, once again, become reborn.
And it’s not just wildlife that has recovered. The Knepp project demonstrates how rewilding can provide solutions to some of the most pressing problems facing our planet today: it has shown huge benefits in terms of soil restoration, carbon sequestration, flood mitigation, water storage, water and air purification, animal health, and human health and well-being. Isabella talks about the effect that living in a landscape that is now heaving with life has on her and her husband after decades of intensive farming –
‘the feeling of completeness, and relief; the simple, inexplicable joy of hearing a turtle-dove ‘turr-turring’ in the thickets on a warm summer evening’.
She talks about the innate need in all of us to connect with nature, what the American biologist E. O. Wilson calls ‘biophilia’, and the overwhelming responses of people who now come to visit Knepp to share that experience.
Now, instead of losing money through conventional farming, they are actually in the black. In addition to receiving Higher Level Stewardship agri-environment funding for the rewilding project, they sell “Wild Range” meat from their Old English longhorn cattle, Tamworth pigs, and red and fallow deer, and run an eco-tourism business, hosting glamping - where one can choose to sleep in a treehouse, shepherd hut, yurt, or bell ten, - and African-style wildlife safaris. These cover Knepp’s “big five” – Tamworth pigs, old English longhorns, Exmoor ponies, red deer and fallow deer – as well as smaller creatures: kingfishers, nightingales, purple emperor butterflies, and even bats and moths.
The Burrells are now into their 18th year of rewilding, “life is far less stressful now”, she says. “Farming was a nightmare, endless stress. Now our stress is whether the nightingales will arrive on time.”
For iPad/iPhone users: tap letter twice to get list of items.
- Tree, Isabella - Sliced Iguana - Na Marcelina provides a healing limpia
- Tree, Isabella - Sliced Iguana – 01 Isabella tries peyote
- Tree, Isabella - Sliced Iguana – 02 In the cave where Isabella tries peyote
- Tree, Isabella - Sliced Iguana – 03 About peyote
- Tree, Isabella - Sliced Iguana – 04 The ceremony
- Tree, Isabella - Sliced Iguana – 05 The ceremony
- Tree, Isabella - Sliced Iguana – 06 The ceremony
- Tree, Isabella - Sliced Iguana – 07 In summary
- Tree, Isabella - Sliced Iguana – Humming bird symbolism
- Tree, Isabella - Sliced Iguana – Juancho, the Huichol shaman who could prophecy
- Tree, Isabella - Sliced Iguana – Pedro Sees in the dark
- Tree, Isabella - Sliced Iguana – The Church of San Juan Chamula
- Tree, Isabella - Sliced Iguana – The Three worlds
- Tree, Isabella - The Economist - Extract from Radical Tantra
- Tree, Isabella - Wilding - Doggerland
- Tree, Isabella - Wilding - Milk and beef facts
- Tree, Isabella - Wilding - Pigs
- Tree, Isabella - Wilding - Ragwort
- Tree, Isabella - Wilding - Sever the connection with nature and our deepest sense of ourselves is lost
- Tree, Isabella - Wilding - The fallacy of reforestation
- Tree, Isabella - Wilding - The healing potential of meadowland
- Tree, Isabella - Wilding - The real meaning of ‘forest’
- Tree, Isabella - Wilding - The UK is one of the most nature depleted countries in the world
- Tree, Isabella - Wilding - We are suffering from nutritional deprivation