We are delighted to be able to share contributions from the Land Lines Blog community in this special post – which brings together our readers and contributors’ favourite nature writing texts that they encountered in 2020. A profoundly difficult year for many, 2020 has offered some of us a chance to reflect on what nature writing means to us, and what it offers us in times of crisis. Thanks to all our contributors for sharing their favourite nature writing this year!
Strangers: Essays on the Human and Nonhuman by Rebecca Tamás – submitted by Lauren Maltas
Strangers: Essays on the Human and Nonhuman by Rebecca Tamás is my favourite nature writing text of the year. It was kindly sent to me by the publisher Makina Books around the time I was beginning to document the destructive changes as hundreds of new homes are built in my local area. It’s the first text I’ve read that sensitively and accessibly discusses that the climate crisis is a crisis of inequality, exploring the links to poverty and racism in particular. Tamás draws from a vast pool of inspiration; poetry, prose, and artwork, as well as history and folklore to inform her writing. My favourite essay is ‘On Grief’, which references one of my most loved nature texts, Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac, in which Leopold discusses the idea of ‘living in a world of wounds’. Like many, I struggle with what other people call ‘climate anxiety’, and in this book Tamás has given me a new word for this, a new perspective which I will take with me as a person and as a writer. What I feel is grief; sadness, anger, despair encompassing all of those words but also hope, optimism, and an active drive towards healing, moving on, the future.
Lauren is a recent graduate of the University of Leeds and a recruited member of The Writing Squad. She writes about female relationships, the environment, social class and memory and is working on her first novel. In her free time Lauren makes new things from old stuff, and reviews books. You can follow her work on Twitter @laurenCmaltas
Otter Country by Miriam Darlington – submitted by Jo Baker
My favourite nature writing text this year is Otter Country by Miriam Darlington. It is a vivid account of her tour around the UK tracking otters, and meeting up with otter experts in her quest to understand this elusive animal. The first part of the book is largely description and poetic prose about the habitat and lives of otters. The author is very gifted with words and paints pictures of wild country scenes around her home area of Devon and Cornwall, as well as Wales, Scotland and lastly Northumberland including the Farne Islands. In the latter half of the book the theme turns to environmental issues and a discussion of how otters are unfortunately killed on roads or damaged by polluted rivers. I was able to relate to her descriptions as her personal writing style drew me into her world of otters. I am also passionate about wildlife and have discovered otter signs around our local rivers in Northwich, Cheshire. Having read the book, I feel inspired to become involved once again in otter surveys and to take some action to improve their life chances in the country. From a wider perspective, I was horrified that so many otters meet their end due to road kill and have been challenged to find ways to reduce these deaths. The text is significant as it depicts the history of otters in the UK and their recovery in more recent years. It challenges the reader to examine their attitude towards environmental issues and conservation of key indicator species.
Jo Baker is married with one adult son and works part-time as a scheme manager for elderly residents. In her spare time she writes poetry and short stories, and is part of a local poetry stanza. Jo has volunteered for her local nature reserve organising events and is a member of Cheshire Wildlife Trust. She also enjoys participating in musical theatre, ballet, singing, and attends the local Anglican church.
An Indifference of Birds by Richard Smyth – submitted by Ian Tattum
On top of the steeple on our church is a broken cross. I have no idea when the damage was done and neither do I mind in the slightest, being fond of imperfect things. The birds are also indifferent to its marred symmetry; it is a high perch and that is all they care for. A crow can teeter on it, three starlings can squeeze on together, and a blackbird can use it as a platform for his song at dusk or dawn. Richard Smyth’s book An Indifference of Birds is a short, but densely informative, account of how birds utilise and interact with the world we humans create. The mess that we make, the artificial cliffs that we construct and the tarmacked killing fields of our roads all provide opportunities for them to exploit. It is an exceptionally well written story of a relationship, one grittily, rather than lyrically told. A bird book quite unlike any other I have ever come across, which leaves the reader struck by the contrast between how little we matter to birds but how deeply they matter to us.
Ian Tattum is a priest in the Church of England and currently works in South West London. He has written feature articles for the Church Times on Gilbert White and Mary Anning, and the role churches can play in conservation. He has also written for the Land Lines blog on previous occasions.
Rebirding by Benedict MacDonald – submitted by Michael Roberts
One of the things which annoyed me this year was the excessive mowing of verges on Lancashire lanes. In May, I saw examples of this on every cycle ride. The worst were thirty Southern Marsh Orchids and hybridising red and white campions simply trashed. On reading Benedict MacDonald’s rewilding manifesto Rebirding, I found that this text spoke of what I value, whether this is peat restoration, tree planting, or hay meadows. I thought of two evergreen plantations felled four years ago and left to nature. They are now dense woodlands of small silver birches. Among all the good things like renewing forests, hills, moors and wetlands, just a few pages jumped out at me. This was in the chapter entitled ‘Our Birds’, and it starts with a vision of what could be, should rewilding be taken up in our towns and gardens. It also dealt with a serious ailment – Ecological Tidiness Deficit. Those who have visited my garden know I don’t suffer from it, but many do as they tidy their garden, or put it down to concrete, or destroy road verges. That is the death of wildlife, whether in gardens or roadside verges. I now try to cure people of EDT.
Michael Roberts began work as an exploration geologist in Africa, and then became a vicar. He is now retired, but walks and cycles a lot (6000 miles this year, but mountains were curtailed). He also has an interest in the total geo- and biosphere, and is a keen fan of Darwin.