Announcing the Results: The Nature’s Favourite Nature Book is Chris Packham’s ‘Fingers in the Sparkle Jar’!

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Winner of The UK’s Favourite Nature Book Poll: Chris Packham – Fingers in the Sparkle Jar

The Land Lines team would like to thank all the members of the public who nominated books and the thousands of people who voted for their favourite title. We’re delighted to announce that the winner of the public vote is Chris Packham’s Fingers in the Sparkle Jar. In second place is Tarka the Otter by Henry Williamson and in third place is Common Ground by Rob Cowen.

We congratulate Chris wholeheartedly on his well-deserved win. Fingers in the Sparkle Jar is an outstanding book – raw and brave, and written with an astonishing vividness of perception and recall. With this memoir Chris has moved beyond the traditional confines of ‘nature writing’, attracting readers who might not usually be drawn to the genre. It speaks perhaps most directly to the many people who have grown up in urban and suburban settings and have encountered the wildlife and habitats that exist close to home rather than in more distant locations.

One of the contentions of the Land Lines research team is that nature writing is neither simplistic nor consolatory. Fingers in the Sparkle Jar very much bears out this argument. It’s a complex work, which, as well as exploring Chris’ lifelong love of the natural world, also documents moments of extreme anguish and devastating loss. In its acute attention to detail, the book features descriptive passages of almost uncomfortable intensity. The form is also complicated and challenging. The narrative jumps between time frames and perspectives, with some sections written in the first person and some in the third. Through this shifting perspective Chris is able to explore the experiences and memories of his younger self, as well as trying to imagine how others may have seen him at that time. He reveals in the process a disjuncture between his perception and that of the people around him. In this way, though he never makes explicit mention of the condition, Chris’ narrative enacts the difficulties of a boy with Asperger’s syndrome trying to make sense of the society in which he lives.  As such, the book offers a rare and valuable insight. At the same time, Chris shows how nature offers the boy solace and escape, providing him with the ‘heaven of a million living things’, and laying the foundations for a life spent studying and championing the natural world.

For Professor Graham Huggan, Land Lines project lead, ‘a good nature book is one that is intellectually interesting but tugs at the heartstrings too; the best nature writing has the capacity to do both of those things’. Fingers in the Sparkle Jar certainly fulfils these criteria. Informative and heart-breaking in equal measure, and graced with a punk sensibility and wry sense of humour, the book is a work of great originality which pushes at the boundaries of the nature writing genre.

Public comments about Fingers in the Sparkle Jar included:
‘It’s the most powerful, honest account I’ve ever read about how nature can shape a person and how interactions with wildlife can stay with someone for ever. It’s beautifully written and the messages and story stayed with me long after I turned the last page.’

‘Fingers in the Sparkle Jar is a truly beautiful, honest account of growing up with Asperger’s and in love with nature, when everyone around you wasn’t. It’s brutal and hard to read at times but ultimately brilliant. And very well written! I couldn’t put it down.’
Henry Williamson – Tarka the Otter

We’re extremely pleased to see that Henry Williamson’s classic animal narrative, Tarka the Otter, has retained its long-standing place in readers’ hearts. This fictional account of a Devon dog-otter’s life, first published in 1927, offers an immersive look at one of the UK’s most iconic mammals. The sheer, raw energy of the book is astonishing and, despite its lack of sentimentality, its emotional power is immense. The narrative includes harrowing sequences of otter hunting, and the story is punctuated with the Tally Ho! of the huntsmen and the baying of the hounds. While the book is, broadly speaking, a novel, it pushes at the constraints of the form, crossing the boundary between fiction and non-fiction, prose and poetry. It’s also a transformative book, enabling readers to step imaginatively into the world of another creature. As Miriam Darlington writes, ‘Anyone who hasn’t sprouted whiskers, webs and a tail by the end of this story needs to read it again’. Nominations from the public iterated, over and over, the sense that this book, often read in childhood and re-visited in adulthood, has changed people’s lives, inspiring great love and concern for the natural world.

Public Comments about Tarka the Otter included:

‘Ever since my dad got his dusty old copy from his childhood out of the loft one Christmas while we were looking for the tree, I have always loved this book, with its rich earthy tale’.
‘I read it as a small boy and it opened my eyes to the beauty and savagery of what we call nature. Beautifully and unsentimentally written, it also had memorable illustrations by Charles Tunnicliffe. It’s the book that fired up my lifelong interest in wildlife and the world around us’.

Rob Cowen – Common Ground
We’d also like to congratulate Rob Cowen on the success of Common Ground in the poll. This is another extraordinary work. Set in the environs of Bilton, a suburb of Harrogate, the book carries out a fascinating and exhaustive excavation of the human and animal histories of the area. While ostensibly adopting a traditional approach to non-fiction prose nature writing, the book also plays with and disrupts the form. In its sensitivity to the hauntings and absences in the landscape, Common Ground has elements of psychogeography and deep topography, and in its imaginative recreations of the lives of others, both human and non-human, it also blurs the line between fiction and non-fiction. Rob commits himself to getting to know everything he can possibly glean about his adopted patch of ground, in the process building a wonderfully detailed account of a place in which nature and culture are utterly entangled. The strands of the book are similarly entangled and at times almost disorienting: his feelings at the approaching birth of his first child; his fascination with the creatures that inhabit his chosen terrain; and his anguish at the ongoing despoliation of the natural world. But the narrative ultimately coalesces around Rob’s mingled feelings of hope and despair, and his quest through the edge-lands for ways to achieve renewal, ‘un-enclosure’ and re-grounding.
Public comments about Common Ground included:

‘It perfectly and poetically describes a very special habitat – one man’s exploration of a wild environment on his very doorstep on the edge of town. My favourite book about my favourite place.’
‘It’s down-to-earth in the most perfect sense. Grounded, rooted, and relates to us all as town-dwellers. But it opens us up to the natural world outside our town and city limits. Revelatory. Inspiring’.


Upcoming Events and Latest News

Flamborough Head (Photo: Christine Cockett, Flickr Creative Commons)

The Land Lines poll to find the nation’s favourite nature books is now drawing to a close. We’d like to thank everyone who has voted, and we’re especially grateful to all those of you who nominated a book. We read all of your nominations carefully and were bowled over by your eloquence, enthusiasm for literature, and passion for the natural world. Voting on the final shortlist of ten books is open till midnight on the 25th January: you can vote until then at

While the writing of the Land Lines book continues, we have several more events to look forward to. On 11th April the poet John Burnside will be teaming up with Land Lines to run a workshop with schools in Fife, and on 9th September the writer Philip Hoare will be helping us to host a Family Fun Day at the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust Living Seas Centre, Flamborough. We now also have dates for the Land Lines conference, which will be taking place at the University of Leeds on the 28th February and 1st March 2019. Patrick Barkham, Miriam Darlington and Richard Kerridge are our confirmed keynote speakers. More details about all of these events will be posted on the website as soon as they’re available.

Finally, we are delighted to announce that we are commissioning new nature writing for The Clearing journal by Jini Reddy and Anita Roy Their work will be appearing in the journal during 2018.

Guest Post: The Nation’s Favourite Nature Writing – Cast your Vote! by Naomi Fuller

Communications Manager for the Avon Wildlife Trust, Naomi Fuller, tells us about her experience as a panel judge for our poll to find the UK’s favourite nature book!

©Barbara Evripidou2017; m: 07879443963;

On a wild and windy day just before Christmas, I joined a group of writers, academics and publishers at Avon Wildlife Trust’s Folly Farm Centre, to be part of a judging panel to help decide the books which should make it onto the shortlist for a national poll to find the nation’s favourite nature book.

The poll is part of the Land Lines project funded by The Arts and Humanities Research Council which aims to research the place of nature writing in Britain, focusing on its place in our cultural and literary past and present, and looking at the part it plays in people’s reading habits and lives.

When Avon Wildlife Trust was invited to be part of the shortlisting, and I was asked if I was interested in helping to sift through and discuss the public nominations, I jumped at the chance. The natural world is often at the heart of the books I’m drawn to reading – whether or not they are overtly ‘nature books’.  In some of the favourite books I’ve enjoyed reading and re-reading over the years – including Thomas Hardy’s novels, nature is all-encompassing and acts as a powerful, silent character alongside the humans at the heart of the story.

And since my childhood, reading a host of books set in different landscapes has given me a sense of the rich and different countryside across the British Isles, and the wildlife within in it. From the stark beauty and power of Dartmoor’s high peatbog moorlands – brought to life in The Hound of the Baskervilles, to the benign and soothing chalk stream and water meadows of The Wind in the Willows where Ratty and Mole row, picnic and explore.

And as a parent it’s been a treat to read aloud some of those classics and see how my children too, can conjure up a sense of place, habitat and the hidden beauty of the natural world whilst immersing themselves in plot, character and suspense, always begging for “just one more page”! Looking at the more than 700 nominations people sent in confirmed just how much we carry these landscapes and glimpses of nature with us far on into adulthood, and how many of us continue to seek out and enjoy reading books with nature at their heart.

“Reading this book made me appreciate my surroundings”, said one person of their favourite book. Another person said; “it taught me to read the marks and signs left by animals and birds and gave me more respect for the countryside around me”, conveying the way nature writing provides knowledge and a new relationship with the world, as well as offering comfort and challenge at other times.

As my fellow judges and I finished our deliberations having agreed on the ten books to be shortlisted for the public vote, we crossed the courtyard at Folly Farm swept along by a fierce winter wind. As the gale rushed through the bare tree tops in the woodland around us, it seemed a fitting way to end a day spent talking about our finest nature writing – almost as if nature was having the last word!

You can see the ten books shortlisted for the Land Lines public poll and vote for your favourite until 25th Jan at 



The UK’s favourite nature book: announcing the shortlist

Land Lines poll

On December 13th the shortlisting panel met at Avon Wildlife Trust’s Folly Farm Centre. The panel members were Mike Collins from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, Miriam Darlington, nature writer and lecturer at the University of Plymouth, Naomi Fuller from the Avon Wildlife Trust, Ben Hoare, Features Editor at BBC Wildlife Magazine, and Graham Huggan from the University of Leeds. Choosing ten books from the 278 different titles nominated by the public was, as Graham stated, ‘a very difficult decision’.

At the beginning of the shortlisting process each individual panellist was given the opportunity to outline the criteria that would guide their choice. For Naomi Fuller, the best works of nature writing help people to ‘understand, value and connect with the natural world, inspiring them and enabling them to develop a nature habit that accompanies them through life’; Ben Hoare sees nature books as a means of connecting ‘like-minded souls who share an interest in the natural world at a time of great losses’; Miriam Darlington believes that one of the key roles of nature writing is its process of ‘researching, observing and connecting’ which encourages readers to ‘pay attention’ more fully to their environments. Mike Collins says that he has ‘fallen in love with nature again through having young children and seeing it through their eyes; this poll is all about seeing how writers have captured their personal connections to nature’, and for Graham Huggan, ‘a good nature book is one that is intellectually interesting but tugs at the heartstrings too; the best nature writing has the capacity to do both of those things’.

In choosing their shortlist from the titles nominated by the public, the panel paid detailed attention to the kind of case people had made for particular books – the personal impact they described, the ways in which certain texts managed to appeal to both young and old, or had inspired a lifelong love of nature, the manner in which more recent publications had brought existing readers to a newly enhanced appreciation of the natural world or, alternatively, had introduced new readers to the genre. The panel also took into account a range of other considerations including the historical time span of the genre, the diversity of writers, the different forms of nature writing and their respective literary qualities, the contemporary resurgence of nature writing in response to concerns about environmental crisis and the decline of species.

The ten books that have made it to the final shortlist are:

  • The Peregrine by JA Baker
  • The Poetry of John Clare
  • Common Ground by Rob Cowen
  • The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
  • Findings by Kathleen Jamie
  • The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris
  • Fingers in the Sparkle Jar by Chris Packham
  • The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd
  • The Natural History of Selborne by Gilbert White
  • Tarka the Otter by Henry Williamson

Panellist Naomi Fuller said, ‘being part of this judging panel and this process has been an incredible privilege, in actually getting a glimpse into how nature writing has inspired people of all ages, and often throughout people’s lives’. Ben Hoare summed up the panel’s final choices: ‘This fabulous shortlist reflects the life-affirming, life-changing power of great writing about the natural world. The 10 books include poetry, memoir, letters, 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.’

Below you can read some quotations about the shortlisted books taken from the original nominations by members of the public, followed by comments from the shortlisting panel:

The Peregrine by J.A. Baker

The public said:

‘It succeeds in conjuring nature in its raw harsh reality. It is the best protest against the loss of nature in British writing. It shows us how our relationship to nature tells us about ourselves and our relationship to the world.’

‘The author paints word-pictures of landscapes, animals and birds that are so clear that it is as if one is standing in the place described. It is an inspiring book, full of prose that is poetry. Beautiful and rare. I want to walk into the landscape and see it as he did, so clear, so calm’.

‘I first read this book when I was 10, and I was entranced at how words can be spun in ways so haunting. J.A. Baker’s relationship with the nature and Peregrine Falcons is intense and deep, a beautiful representation of how so many people feel about nature in the UK. His lines flow like poetry, every word lit with his passion for nature.’

The panel said:

‘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.’


The Poetry of John Clare

The public said:

‘It captures the author’s love and involvement in the natural world and shows how a man suffering often from depression was able through the natural world to find meaning and value. I particularly admire his language in the many animal poems he wrote.’

‘John Clare has this overwhelming love of nature and a unique style so when I read his poems I get this strong feeling of empathy of days long past rich in wildlife now lost to many of us. Not that long ago we had an abundance of insects and my childhood summer days were full of the sounds of buzzingbees and crickets…now gone. John Clare struggled in life but left his rich legacy.’

‘Nuanced and detailed observations of nature suffused with emotion.’

The panel said:

‘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.’

Continue reading “The UK’s favourite nature book: announcing the shortlist”

The UK’s Favourite Nature Books: the Nominations


Here is the full list of titles nominated by the public in the first round of our poll to find the UK’s favourite nature books of all time. The range of texts is a testament to the richness of the genre and its important place in people’s lives. It also makes for one of the most exciting, eclectic reading lists imaginable.

A few of the nominations didn’t fall into the category of British nature writers (or writers engaging with the British landscape) so couldn’t be considered in the shortlisting process, but they are worthy nominees nonetheless and are included in the list below. The shortlist of ten titles to go forward to the final public vote will be announced tomorrow (4th January 2018).


21st-Century Yokel by Tom Cox

A Buzz in the Meadow by Dave Goulson

A Charm of Goldfinches and Other Collective Nouns by Matt Sewell

A First Book of Nature by Nicola Davies

A Kestrel for a Knave by Barry Hines

A Land by Jacquetta Hawkes

A Last Wild Place by Mike Tomkies

A Message from Martha by Mark Avery

A Prickly Affair by Hugh Warwick

A Romany and Raq by George Bramwell Evens

A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold

A Sense of Wonder by Rachel Carson

A Single Swallow by Horatio Clare

A Sting in the Tale by Dave Goulson

A Sweet, Wild Note: What We Hear When the Birds Sing by Richard Smyth

A Year in Nature: Notes by Derwent May

A Year on Exmoor by Johnny Kingdom

AA Book of British Birds (Reader’s Digest)

AA Book of the British Countryside

Adder, Bluebell, Lobster by Chrissie Gittins

Adventure Lit Their Star by Kenneth Allsop

Akenfield by Ronald Blythe

Animal Kingdom: A Natural History in 100 Objects by Jack Ashby

Annals of a Fishing Village by Denham Jordan

Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez

As the Falcon her Bells by Philip Glasier

At the Water’s Edge by John Lister-Kaye

Bees at Law by Noel Sweeney

Being a Beast by Charles Foster

Between the Sunset and the Sea: A View of 16 British Mountains by Simon Ingram

Between the Two Twilights by UNKNOWN

Billy’s Country Holiday by Donald Cunningham

Bird Sense by Tim Birkhead

Continue reading “The UK’s Favourite Nature Books: the Nominations”

Ben Hoare: New Nature Writing in Britain

Ben Hoare 2

BBC Wildlife Magazine Features Editor, Ben Hoare, tells us his thoughts on current nature writing in this guest blog post for Land Lines…

Every autumn a wonderful event in Stamford, Lincolnshire, brings together authors, poets, artists, musicians, film-makers, scientists, conservationists, campaigners and more to reflect on nature and what it means to us. New Networks for Nature is always an inspiring couple of days. This time, in the town’s genteel arts centre and down the pub, I canvassed people’s opinions about nature writing.

Why is writing about the natural world experiencing such a dramatic flowering in Britain, I wondered? What is the source of this tremendous outpouring of passion and creativity? And does it show any sign of waning?

The answer came back as startlingly loud and clear as a wren pouring its little heart out on a frosty morning. Our great and unrivalled tradition of nature writing continues to go from strength to strength.

Fellow ‘networkers for nature’ – including several household names and a few leading publishers of nature writing – added that the surge shows no sign of slowing down. Nature writing reflects our love for the wild world, they said, and a fundamental human need to engage with, make sense of and celebrate nature.

Nature writing is a response to loss, too – of meadows and marshes, hedgerows and heaths, ponds and peatbogs and many, many other wild places. “It’s been important in us dealing with that sense of loss,” wrote Mike Collins of the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). “Both in terms of connection with nature but also the disappearance of species and the threat to our green spaces.”

Bookshops now have whole sections devoted to nature writers, and there has been a mushrooming of nature-writing courses, seminars and talks. The Wainwright Prize, established in 2014, is helping to propel nature writers and their work into the limelight. Nature writers are invited to speak at music festivals, sharing (appropriately enough) ‘green rooms’ with rock stars. Some authors – Helen Macdonald, Amy Liptrot, Robert Macfarlane and Chris Packham, for instance – have made the bestseller lists.

In Britain nature writing has a long history, going back to naturalist Gilbert White in the late 18th century and peasant-poet John Clare in the early 19th century. It has encompassed great fiction, such as Henry Williamson’s Tarka the Otter (1927) and Richard Adams’ Watership Down (1972), and great memoirs, such as Gavin Maxwell’s Ring of Bright Water (1960). I’m currently reading a new edition of A Black Fox Running by Brian Carter, first published in 1981, a lyrical but bleak tale of talking foxes and their human pursuers set on Dartmoor, which deserves to become much-better known. And it is not just prose – there are great nature poems and polemics as well.

But the pace of publication is new. The sheer quantity of nature writing we are now enjoying is a relatively recent phenomenon that has gathered speed over the past 10–15 years.

When it was first published in 1973, Richard Mabey’s landmark book The Unofficial Countryside – which explored scruffy ‘edgelands’ such as bomb sites, urban canals and rubbish tips – was not surrounded by shelf after shelf of similar titles. Neither was Roger Deakin’s equally important and influential book Waterlog (1999), about the joys of wild swimming.

Something else has changed. As Mark Cocker wrote in the November 2017 issue of BBC Wildlife Magazine: “One significant achievement of the new flood of books is to create more diversity among authors in terms of their identity, gender, age and social background.” Not before time.

So it’s an opportune moment for the AHRC to be organising the Land Lines initiative, with researchers at the universities of Leeds, St Andrews and Sussex. And, since plebicites and referendums can be unpredictable things, it’ll be fascinating to see which books come out top in the project’s poll to find Britain’s favourite books about nature.

– Ben Hoare, Features Editor, BBC Wildlife Magazine

Sir David Attenborough

Last chance to nominate your favourite nature book!

Image: Ian Phillips – ‘Llyn Gwynant Stories’. Used with permission

Since the launch of our poll on the 25th October 2017, we have had an incredible response to our hunt for the UK’s favourite nature book. From reactions to our segment on BBC’s Autumnwatch to replies to our tweets and blog posts, we have seen engagement with our project from across the UK. Many different conversations have been sparked by our celebrity and research team nominations, and we’ve had some fantastic contributions from the public on the topics and discussions we’ve raised. How has British nature writing changed and diversified over the years? Why are certain works still treasured, and why have some been nearly forgotten? These are just two of the many questions and ideas that have been addressed in the submissions we’ve received over the past month.

Hundreds of nominations have now poured in, and as the poll draws to a close, we’ve gathered some of the most interesting responses: some are sentimental and nostalgic, some are inspiring and empowering, and some have even motivated environmental activism or work in nature conservation. Some of you who have already cast your vote have been kind enough to share your thoughts on your nominations with us – keep scrolling to read some of the reasons behind a few of our varied nominations!


Dragonflight  – Marianne Taylor

“This book rekindled a joy in me I thought I had lost through urban living- that which I had as a young child, pond-dipping and finding weird prehistoric looking dragon nymphs in the muck. Marianne is a beautiful and honest writer and her words leap off the page.”

Meadowland – John Lewis Stempel

“It is a fantastic & evocative description of the changing seasons on a farm in Herefordshire. What resonates is the celebration of the rural landscape, curiosity of wildlife behaviour and the vibrancy and occasional cruelty of nature. It is stunning writing.”

H is for Hawk – Helen Macdonald

“Never before have I been so lost in a book in the same way that I get lost in nature. A beautiful, lonely, heartbreaking and rewarding tale of love, loss and the rocky road between the two. Wonderful stuff.”

The Observer Book of Birds

“It’s a pocket sized book that is beautifully illustrated both in colour and black and white. It describes 243 species which is enough for a young enquiring mind to begin with. This little book has been in the family forever, three generations have kindled a love for birds, progressing to other species, the environment and ultimately our role in caring for our planet. It’s one of those ‘magical’ books.”

The Peregrine  – J. A. Baker

“Since I was a child I had been a birdwatcher and interested in natural history. Baker’s book took that to a whole new level. The interaction of wild creature, landscape and human transformed my view of what ‘natural history’ is.”

The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady – Edith Holden

“It reminds me of when I was a child, Its a beautiful book and very informative, accessible to all ages.”

Four Hedges – Clare Leighton

“It’s a celebration of nature within a hedged garden, and illustrates that we don’t need to go far to learn about and enjoy nature; it’s happening on our doorstep if we’re prepared to accommodate it. Leighton’s writing illustrates how place attachment, community and a sense of wonder can combine to promote behaviors which support and preserve nature. The beautiful wood engravings in my 1930s copy of this book  alone make it worth having; they’re so full of energy and affection.”

The Outrun – Amy Liptrot

“This is a beautifully written book about recovery through nature and place.  It brings The Orkneys landscape, fauna, weather, archeology, astrology, community to life.  Its a compelling read which sucks you right into the natural world and the recovery journey pitting addiction against nature. A very gifted and honest writer.”

Wildwood – Roger Deakin

“I love everything about this book and I have bought multiple copies to give away to friends. I love the language and I felt compelled to underline some of the phrases just because they are so beautiful. I also like the way the chapters describe very different topics but within the Woody theme. This book reignited my love of nature writing.”

Continue reading “Last chance to nominate your favourite nature book!”