The latest winner of the Richard Jefferies Society/White Horse Bookshop Literary Prize for Nature Writing is Isabella Tree for her book Wilding – subtitled The return of nature to a British farm. The prize – which includes a cheque for £1,000 – will be presented when the author comes to Marlborough in July to talk about her book – details here.
Isabella Tree’s book is about the ‘Knepp experiment’ – a ground breaking rewilding project in West Sussex. She and her husband, Charlie Burrell, realised that farming on their land’s heavy clay was not economically viable or sustainable.
So they let nature take over – with help from free-roaming cattle, ponies, pigs and deer, the ten-year project saw amazing increases in wildlife species across their 3,500 acres.
They attracted a diverse range of wildlife and rare species like nightingales, turtle doves (see the book’s cover illustration), peregrine falcons and purple emperor butterflies. With minimal intervention, the land has become a thriving ecosystem again.
The prize is named after Richard Jefferies, the celebrated Victorian writer and naturalist, who was born at Coate near Swindon – the son of a farmer. He worked as a journalist for the North Wiltshire Herald and is best known for his books The Story of My Heart (1883) and The Amateur Poacher (1879).
Winners need to reflect the heritage and spirit of Jefferies’ countryside books. The 2017 prize was won by British palaeontologist, natural historian, writer and broadcaster Richard Fortey for The Wood for the Trees.
There were four books on the short list for the current prize. Apart from Wilding they were: Kings of the Yukon: an Alaskan river journey by Adam Weymouth, The Bumblebee Flies Anyway by Kate Bradbury, and Our Place, by Mark Cocker.
One of the judges for the Richard Jefferies Society/White Horse Bookshop Literary Prize for Nature Writing Writer’s Prize describes some of the book’s themes:
“Along the way there were many problems to overcome, including initial opposition from large conservation bodies awarding grants and subsidies, local hostility, whether to intervene or not when free-ranging animals were starving and keeping walkers on footpaths safe from large animals grazing nearby.”
“Other chapters examined the economic, cultural and wellbeing benefits of wildlife, with reference to the deletion of natural history words by the Oxford Junior Dictionary and the fact that forty per cent of children never play outside at all.”
The appeal of Wilding was summed up by a member of the judging panel who said it was a publication that Richard Jefferies himself would have strongly supported. Wilding is published by Picador and is available at the White Horse Bookshop.