Stephen Moss is a naturalist, author and course leader of the MA in Travel & Nature Writing at Bath Spa University.
Here is his annual round-up of books about wildlife, nature and the environment. @stephenmoss_tv
[Mark writes: where I have read and reviewed books mentioned by Stephen I have linked to my reviews].
For almost 20 years now, I’ve been producing this annual summary of nature, wildlife and environmental books; originally for the Guardian, and more recently for this blog, thanks to Mark Avery. I’ve seen some major changes to the make-up of the featured books: a very welcome shift towards more women writers, and also a major shift towards newer, younger and more diverse authors.
This year I’m delighted to say that around one-third of all contributions (roughly half if I leave out the guidebooks, which tend to be written by older authors) come from people at the start of their writing careers. These also lean towards more environmental and political aims, reflecting the younger generation’s passionate care about the world’s environmental problems.
Urban subjects – still under-represented in nature writing – include Wild City: Encounters with Urban Wildlife, by Florence Wilkinson (Orion Spring, £16.99); and Outsiders: Connecting People of Colour to Nature, by Ollie Olanipekun & Nadeem Perera (Octopus Books, £16.99) – both of which provide a fresh and very welcome approach to the joys of watching wildlife in our cities.
Outside urban areas, we have The Unique Life of a Ranger: Seasons of Change on Blakeney Point, by Ajay Tegala (The History Press, £16.99); while another RSPB staffer, Lee Schofield, has published his delightful debut, Wild Fell: Fighting for nature on a Lake District hill farm (Doubleday, £20). Other refreshingly new voices include Where the Wildflowers Grow, by Leif Bersweden (Hodder & Stoughton, £20), Forget Me Not: Finding the forgotten species of climate-change Britain, by Sophie Pavelle (Bloomsbury Wildlife, £16.99), and In Search of One Last Song, by Patrick Galbraith (William Collins, £18.99), all of which celebrate these authors’ intense passion for wildlife, and the need to save our threatened species.
There are also intensely personal accounts by two young women writers: Birdgirl, by Mya-Rose Craig (Jonathan Cape, £16.99), and Fledgling, by Hannah Bourne-Taylor (Aurum, £16.99). Each of these books deal with difficult and very important subjects in a compelling, thoughtful and very readable way, and offer a fresh perspective on how nature can improve our mental health and daily lives.
Younger writers are also dealing with some of the trickiest and most complex issues we face. Benedict Macdonald continues to come up with practical and effective solutions to the biodiversity crisis, with his latest book, Cornerstones: Wild Forces that can Change Our World (Bloomsbury, £17.99); while Nick Hayes continues his campaign to allow wider access to the countryside with The Trespasser’s Companion (Bloomsbury, £14.99). Low-Carbon Birding, edited by Javier Caletrio Garcera (Pelagic Publishing, £16.99), is a powerful and timely contribution to the debate on the need for all of us to consider our own carbon footprint, and what we can do to reduce it.
Given the need to attract even younger readers to the importance of nature, I am delighted that nature-based children’s fiction features again in this year’s round-up, with another great birding-related book for teenage readers from M.G. Leonard: Spark: Can Jack and Twitch Foil a Murder Plot? (Walker Books, £7.99).
* * * * * * * *
More established and familiar writers have once again produced a wide range of books, many very personal, while also dealing with the urgent issues we face. One of the most beautiful and timely of these is Sacred Nature 2: Reconnecting People to Our Planet, by Jonathan & Angela Scott (HPH Publishing, £59), in which the Kenya-based conservationists share their deep knowledge and passion for the wildlife they love so much.
Other very personal accounts – again produced by lifelong naturalists – include At the Very End of the Road, by Phillip Edwards (Whittles Publishing, £16.99), a deeply thoughtful account of life on a peninsula surrounded by birds; and Rhythms of Nature, by Ian Carter (Pelagic Publishing, £14.99), which considers the role of conservation in the modern world. Our best-known nature and travel journalist, Brian Jackman, turns his insights closer to home in Wild About Dorset: the Nature Diary of a West Country Parish (Bradt, £12.99); while Scottish naturalist Polly Pullar gives us her deeply personal reflections in The Horizontal Oak: A Life in Nature (Birlinn, £16.99). The Guardian’s Patrick Barkham – our leading wildlife journalist – has assembled a delightful and relevant collection of journalism, in Wild Green Wonders (Guardian Faber, £14.99).
The 100th birthday of one our finest writers, author of Akenfield, that classic account of an English village, is celebrated in Ronald Blythe, Next to Nature, A Lifetime in the English Countryside, a collection of his writings with a delightful introduction by Richard Mabey (John Murray, £25)
Historical author Nicholas Milton has written an absorbing account of The Role of Birds in World War Two (Pen & Sword Books, £20); while for keen twitchers, there is the entertaining Best Days with Shetland Birds, edited by Andrew Harrop & Rebecca Nason (Shetland Times, £26.99).
As someone with a growing fascination in my own writing with the history of natural history, I was delighted to read Peter Marren’s perceptive and beautifully written After They’re Gone: Extinctions Past, Present and Future (Hodder Studio, £16.99); as well as A Newsworthy Naturalist: The Life of William Yarrell, by Christine E. Jackson (John Beaufoy Publishing, in association with the BOU, £25), which tells the story of one of the Victorian era’s most prominent writers on wildlife.
For those wishing to delve even deeper into the history of our relationship with birds and wildlife, I highly recommend Birds and Us: A 12,000 Year History, from Cave Art to Conservation, by Tim Birkhead (Viking, £25); and the definitive – yet equally readable – Modern British Nature Writing, edited by the Land Lines team (Cambridge University Press, £75), which places the recent rise of ‘new nature writing’ in its historical context, going all the way back to Gilbert White.
* * * * * * * *
As ever, I include an excellent selection of nature guidebooks, which allow us all to become more expert in our knowledge and understanding of wildlife. This year’s selection includes new books from one of our most prolific and readable authors, Dominic Couzens, with Great British Birdwatcher’s Puzzle Book (RSPB, £14.99), and A Year of Birdsong: 52 stories of Songbirds, (Batsford, £20); while Mike Unwin has written Around the World in 80 Birds (Laurence King, £22.00).
We also have the latest from the excellent Bloomsbury Wildlife Collection, Ants: The Ultimate Social Insects, by Richard Jones (£40); just a single New Naturalist, Trees, by Peter A. Thomas (William Collins, £65/£35); and another delightful contribution to the ‘Animal’ series by Reaktion Books, Robin, by Helen F. Wilson (£13.95).
More straightforward field guides include the excellent RSPB Pocket Guide to British Birds, by Marianne Taylor and Stephen Message (Bloomsbury Wildlife, £7.99); a beautiful and highly original work, Feathers: An Identification Guide, by Cloé Fraigneau (Helm, £55); and two timely revised versions of two classic bird identification books: Seabirds: The New Identification Guide, by Peter Harrison et al (Lynx, €75) and the incomparable Collins Bird Guide 3rd edition, by Lars Svensson, Killian Mullarney & Dan Zetterström (Collins, £30).
* * * * * * * *
Which just leaves me with my natural history book of the year – or as I decided to do last year, my top three books. As ever, this was a very tough choice: many of the books I have already mentioned were also strong contenders for the final list. In the end, however, the following three stood out for their significance, the beauty of their writing, and the way they each make us think more deeply about the natural world.
In no particular order, they are Into the Red, curated by Kit Jewitt & Mike Toms (BTO, £25); The Lost Rainforests of Britain, by Guy Shrubsole (William Collins, £20); and The Flow: Rivers, Water and Wildness, by Amy-Jane Beer (Bloomsbury Wildlife, £18.99).
Into the Red is the second volume of the BTO’s worryingly expanding account of the species of birds on the ‘red-list’ of species under threat. Once again, the editors have produced a beautiful and timely book, with a new selection of 70 writers and 70 artists, from a very wide range of backgrounds, who have donated their time and work free of charge to raise funds to help conserve the species in the book. I would like to think that the third volume, which should perhaps be entitled Red Alert, will contain fewer species than this one, but I’m not holding my breath.
The Lost Rainforests of Britain is another timely book, which celebrates the crucial importance of these unique and underrated habitats, while also noting the many threats against them. Author and campaigner Guy Shrubsole has produced a thorough and timely contribution to conservation, which is also a delight to read.
Finally, Amy-Jane Beer’s The Flow is a classic contribution to the growing genre of fine New Nature Writing. It begins with a painful and beautifully written account of the tragic death of the author’s close friend and fellow canoeist Kate; and then celebrates her brief life by giving the reader a powerful understanding of the crucial importance of rivers and the way they reinvigorate our own lives. Simply beautiful.
* * * * * * * *
Stephen’s latest book, to be published by Guardian Faber in March 2023, is a wide-ranging, global and historical account of the crucial relationship between human beings and birds, entitled Ten Birds that Changed the World.
[Mark writes: my own selection of Book of the Year comes tomorrow – and has already been mentioned by Stephen – but which one is it?][registration_form]
1 Reply to “Stephen Moss’s 2022 Round-up of Nature Books”
There is one book not in this list:
“An Irish Atlantic Rain Forest” by Eoghan Daltun”