Land Lines: finding the UK's favourite book about nature
For hundreds of years, writers have been capturing the wonder of the natural world in poetry and prose, and exploring our changing relationship with nature. We are now inviting you to vote for your favourite nature book and the winner will be announced on BBC Winterwatch at the end of January.
Launched on the BBC’s Autumnwatch and in the October edition of BBC Wildlife Magazine on the 25 October, we have had an amazing 770 nominations from the public. It also stimulated a red hot conversation on twitter with support from Robert MacFarlane and the Wildlife Trusts and helped to launch a new nature writing review section on The Ecologist website. A panel of nature writing experts have sifted through the hundreds of nominations from the public to pick a list of ten books for an online vote that will help to crown one of them as the UK's favourite. More than two hundred (213) writers were nominated, covering 278 different titles.
The campaign to find the UK’s favourite book about the natural world helped launch Land Lines, a two-year research project, funded by the AHRC. Led by the Universities of Leeds, St Andrews and Sussex, the project will take a deep look at the history of modern nature writing from 1789, when Gilbert White’s History of Selborne was first published, to the present day.
Dr Pippa Marland from the Land Lines research team, says: “What is abundantly clear is the importance of these books to their readers. We have been touched by the eloquence and enthusiasm with which people have accounted for their choices, often describing life-changing childhood encounters with these works, and by their evident passion and concern for the natural world.”
The panel members are Mike Collins from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, Miriam Darlington, nature writer and lecturer at the University of Plymouth, Naomi Fuller from Avon Wildlife Trust, Ben Hoare, Features Editor at BBC Wildlife Magazine, and Professor Graham Huggan from the University of Leeds.
Ben Hoare, Features Editor at BBC Wildlife Magazine, said: “This fabulous shortlist reflects the life-affirming, life-changing power of great writing about the natural world.
“The 10 books include poetry, memoir, explorations of local place, fiction and writing for children, reflecting the phenomenal breadth and beauty of Britain’s nature writing tradition. Some of the books are very well-known, others less so, but all deserve to be read and re-read.”
The poll opens today (4 January) and will close at midnight on the 25 January. You can champion your favourite book from the list on social media using the hashtag #favnaturebook. Choose your favourite from the list below and submit your vote in the form at the bottom of the page.
The Peregrine by JA Baker
Judge’s comments: "This is an extraordinary book in all kinds of ways, not just in terms of the brilliance of the writing but in its emotional intensity. It’s a book that goes out on a limb; from beginning to end it takes one risk after another."
Selected Poems by John Clare
Judge’s comments: "Often patronised during his lifetime as an unsophisticated ‘peasant poet’, John Clare in fact wrote rich, complex poetry and prose, and was a great naturalist. He is now justly celebrated as one of the most significant literary voices of the 19th century. Few authors have written so powerfully of nature, rural childhood, and the alienated self."
Common Ground by Rob Cowen
Judge’s comments: "The narrative is strange and intense, well-researched and finely-textured, displaying a rich experience of human responses to nature and bringing in elements of mythology and folklore. The book challenges our ideas about what constitutes nature, celebrating an environment that lies at the very edge of urban development."
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
Judge’s comments: "Kenneth Grahame helps children to understand the idea of home and habitat, enabling them to identify with a range of often over-looked creatures and their environments. Members of the public wrote movingly about the way in which they read this book at a very early age and it had stayed with them ever since."
Findings by Kathleen Jamie
Judge’s comments: "Kathleen Jamie’s writing is exquisite and exact, beautiful and austere. She quests for the truth, adjusting the way she looks at things repeatedly until she finds the right words. She’s an acute observer, a wordsmith."
The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris
Judge’s comments: "This collection of enchanting spell-poems and gorgeous illustrations aims to restore to children's imagination and language nature-related words which are in danger slipping from their vocabularies. It offers the younger generation the linguistic and visual means with which to interpret and cherish their world"
Fingers in the Sparkle Jar by Chris Packham
Judge’s comments: "It's a very original book - brave and raw. Chris Packham brings a punk sensibility to his writing, and the language is vivid and unexpected. The narrative powerfully conveys his childhood encounters with wildlife and movingly documents his own personal struggles."
The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd
Judge’s comments: "The Living Mountain is an exceptional piece of writing - unique and well ahead of its time. It's rich, affecting and immersive, a philosophical text with real depth. It brings the Cairngorm mountains to life."
The Natural History of Selborne by Gilbert White
Judge’s comments: "This book set the standard for much of the nature writing that has followed in its wake. White is a great example of an amateur naturalist - the grandfather of citizen science and public data capture. The work is a powerful reminder of the richness of the natural world in White's time and a marker of how much we've lost since then."
Tarka the Otter by Henry Williamson
Judge's comments: "Tarka the Otter has an immersive, incantatory way of drawing the reader into the natural world, conjuring a view from the water, so the reader is taken to the otter’s whisker-level. It crosses the boundary between a children’s story and a story for adults, and in its style seems to move seamlessly between poetry and prose."