The Richard Jefferies Society and the White Horse Book Shop have announced that the winner of this year’s Literary Prize for the best nature book published in 2019 is Benedict Macdonald for ‘Rebirding: Rewilding Britain and its Birds’. The prize of £1000 is awarded annually to the author of the publication considered by the judging panel to be the most outstanding nature writing published in a given calendar year. The winning work must reflect the heritage and spirit of Richard Jefferies’ countryside books.
Six books, published in 2019, were short-listed for this award that was first introduced in 2015. 2019 attracted an unprecedented number of nominations reflecting the increasing number of books dedicated to the natural world.
The judges agreed that Macdonald’s book best met the criterion of reflecting themes or topics broadly consistent with Richard Jefferies’ writing. ‘Rebirding’ highlights how modern industrialised agriculture and land management practices have depleted biodiversity and bird life in Britain.
Macdonald compares the situation here with the much more favourable position in other parts of Europe and also challenges the efficacy of some of the work of conservation organisations. He believes that small scale successes with some endangered species of birds will never result in sufficiently large populations to be viable and that there is an urgent need for a network of links between conservation areas across the country.
However, Macdonald is not defeatist, and nor is he afraid to be controversial. He argues for the game-changing potential of radical schemes of change, such as the rewilding of economically inefficient areas like those worked by Welsh hill farmers, or in the Cairngorms.
He advocates for the revision of the environmentally destructive land management of grouse moors to ensure a flourishing diversity among wild life that is threatened and dwindling. And he encourages the promotion of ecotourism which could provide new economic and employment opportunities in the countryside.
Prof. Barry Sloan, Chair of the Richard Jefferies Society and of the judges’ panel said: “‘Rebirding’ impressed the judges by its ambition and scope and by the extensive research which underpins the book’s lively and thought-provoking engagement with some of the key environmental issues in the UK and their impact on our wildlife – and especially on bird life.
You may not agree with all of Benedict Macdonald’s ideas and arguments, but his book is a passionate, informed and important intervention in one of the most pressing concerns of our time, and it deserves serious attention and a wide readership.”
Ben Macdonald said: “My wise grandfather gave me a copy of Jefferies’ Wild Life in a Southern County when I was eight years old. Today I am humbled beyond measure to have won this literary prize. This one’s for you, Fred Giltinan.” You can hear Sir Simon Russell Beale reading extracts from Jefferies work at https://www.marlboroughlitfest.org/litfest-speaking/