Her work is a celebration of the role of large herbivores in the creation of the European landscape.She undertakes a critical analysis of the theory that the European landscape evolved as a massive woodland of densely packed trees, claiming instead that large herbivores played a major role in its creation. She calls it the animal disturbance theory and argues that the European landscape was less densely tree-covered than has been thought. She bases her theory on the fact that oak, which was prevalent in the early European landscape requires much light to flourish and that its seedlings thrive best when sheltered by a patch of scrub, far cry from the dense, dark forest that has been theorised. Her case is credible and convincing. Evidence is not drawn only from Kneppe but from across the British Isles, a breadth that gives her writing more weight. Moreover, she draws on experts, some of whom she knows personally, to support her case.
Visits to conservation projects in the Netherlands, Norway and elsewhere on the European continent provide an extra dimension of interest in the book, and she introduces us not only to their fauna, e.g. European bison, but to the interesting and inspiring characters who manage the projects.
Some of the large herbivores that she wanted to restore proved difficult to settle. The aurochs, the ancestral bull, is now extinct, and bison were not available, so she and Charlie had to use Old English longhorn cattle, which settled well. Also rejected were Heck cattle, a breed deriving from Nazi attempts to breed back the aurochs, for these cattle were considered too aggressive for an estate where local people go walking. Also difficult were the pigs. Wild boar could not be introduced as the estate was popular with walkers, so ginger Tamworths were introduced instead.These pigs, whose snouts are similar to those of a boar, did a great job in clearing land where there were weeds. Wild roe deer were also brought in as the estate began to turn itself into a much more wooded area.
The Exmoor ponies proved an attractive introduction.These hardy steeds have dwelt on Exmoor in the south west of England since the end of the Ice Age and bear a similarity to the horses in the cave paintings of France. The reason for having such variety in a small area is to have herbivore suites, range of animals with complementary grazing patterns. This proved successful.
A joyful element in the book is the reintroduction of beavers to Kneppe. These European beavers were brought from Scandinavia as part of a general reintroduction for the sake of water management, which in a time of climate change is causing problems in Britain. The book does a detailed study of the issues of water management and flooding and is very informative.