I first happened across Julian Hoffman earlier this year whilst supporting the campaign to stop the ill-advised M4 Black Route around Newport. The campaign was getting headier and I’d heard about Julian from one of the members of CALM Campaign who’d let me know about his new book, Irreplaceable, which had a chapter on the Gwent Levels, which would have been disastrously affected by the proposed motorway expansion.

In Irreplaceable Julian Hoffman takes us on a world tour of endangered sites and species which are being endangered by humans in the name of progress and development, or plain mishandling of the world around us. Unlike other books on the subject, Irreplaceable gives voice to the people who are impacted by government decision making to destroy valuable ecosystems, towns and cities and even allotments to build car parks, motorways, hydro-electric dams… and the list continues while ignoring the plight of the people who such proposals affect. This makes Irreplaceable a, somewhat, unique book in itself as Hoffman doesn’t rely upon scientific reports but talks directly to the people in the various communities and gives them their voice. So, in many ways, Irreplaceable is their story and their narrative.

One of the many aspects that Irreplaceable raises is the commonality of events across the world, from the ancient Smithy Wood in Sheffield to the Macedonian Lynx, the threat of destruction is very common, with the Lynx being reduced to approximately 60-70 in the Balkans, their habitats being endangered by illegal dumping, poaching and ever-encroaching construction. Smithy Wood, is being encroached upon by proposals for a new motorway service station, which would not only destroy the woodland but also endanger the variety of wildlife living there.

Another aspect highlighted within Irreplaceable is the lack of concern from officials, particularly highlighted in the case of the Farm Terrace Allotments in Watford, destroyed to make way for a multi-storey car park. Described by the Mayor as a “a really hideous, derelict site”, not only highlights the undermining of the issues raised by those defending these sites but also the lack of concern, not just for local residents but also for the environment and natural world in which we depend upon.

Hoffman raises an important question, “I wonder if this is one of the reasons they remain persistently under threat, because of a cultural indifference to their origins.” This pertinent question is one we all should be asking our local councils and governments. While all these representatives clammer for votes and talk about the Climate Emergency, which like many other things in the public eye is now bandied about like a game of political football, why are these same people so insistent upon destroying vital ecosystems, local green spaces and natural environments for wildlife? Irreplaceable not only asks this question but raises another whether these officials even care. From my own experience supporting the campaign to save the Gwent Levels, and since the answer would support the destruction of these vital sites in favour of convenience, and damn the cost!

Irreplaceable is a vital read for anyone concerned with our natural world. By giving a voice to the people in each of these chapters Julian Hoffman makes each of these scenarios more human and something we can all identify with and realise that these are events that not only happen elsewhere but on our own doorsteps. Irreplaceable is a book that should be on everyone’s bookshelf.

•  Irreplaceable by Julian Hoffman is published by Hamish Hamilton (£18.99). To order a copy go to

Tom Stanger
Editor at Pilgrim House | Website | + posts

Founder and Editor of Pilgrim House, currently undertaking a research degree at Bangor University and working on a book on Folklore and early Welsh Christianity. Tom’s other work on music, poetry, health along other writings and images can be found at


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