Tickets for the Ark: From wasps to whales – how do we choose what to save?


Rebecca Nesbit
Profile Books, £14.99

Rebecca Nesbit is an ecologist and author who is particularly interested in the dilemmas that occur when the science of conservation clashes with our values, or when people have different ideas about what kind of nature we want to save and replenish. In Tickets for the Ark, she uses the seemingly simple question of ‘what to save?’ to explore a range of difficult ethical, philosophical and practical head-scratchers facing conservationists today.

Each of the main chapters explore a particular trade off in terms of savings species (for example Salmon v Seals or Bees v Wasps), a crafty and very readable way of getting into some really difficult intersecting issues. For example, in the first chapter, Bison v Siberian Larch, Nesbit uses Sergey Zimov’s plan to restore the mammoth steppes of the Siberia arctic, a project which involved transporting bison 13,000km from Denmark to eastern Russia, as a launch pad to discuss our often futile attempts to restore nature to a ‘pristine’ or pre-human state. In just this one chapter she looks at a range of themes and questions, from our strange and ever-shifting idea of what ‘wild’ life actually means to animal welfare and how man-made structures can actually boost biodiversity, as well as looking at how Zimov’s plan will affect the ecosystem that is already there.

With case studies and conservation stories galore, Nesbit’s overarching point is that there is no place for idealism in the environmental crisis we find ourselves in – we need rationalism, realism, and an unsentimental view of what we can and can’t afford to lose. As a writer, Nesbit is clear and concise, and is able to question orthodoxies and confront painful truths without ever courting controversy or denigrating the hard work of conservationists.

For those who are passionate about conserving the natural world, Tickets for the Ark is a fantastic way to explore a range of really difficult questions that we need to address head on each and every time we intervene to try and help the natural world.

Tom Ireland MRSB