In the depths of a Cambridge winter there is nothing more appealing than a large stack of nature books to read, and this year our senses were stimulated and our imaginations fired by a terrific longlist, itself chosen from a huge range of possibilities. With great difficulty we have whittled it down to a shortlist of six that we believe encompasses the best of the genre published in 2014.
Two are classic, beautiful nature writing: Mark Cocker’s Claxton and John Lewis-Stempel’s Meadowland. I will never tire of nature minutely and closely observed by those who know and are steeped in their patch. Two represent a search for the spirit and meaning of our upland spaces: William Atkins’ The Moor and Philip Marsden’s Rising Ground, though they could not be more different in their approach. A fifth is Richard Askwith’s Running Free, introducing those of us who walk but don’t run to the joys of (almost) barefoot off-road running. And the sixth is H is for Hawk: Helen Macdonald’s extraordinary and moving account of her relationship with a goshawk while mourning the loss of her father.
It feels as though nature writing is burgeoning: everywhere people are writing about and celebrating nature and its many dimensions. That itself is something to be celebrated, though it makes our task harder. The quality of our shortlist is tremendous and the next stage, of choosing a winner, is a daunting task.
Dame Fiona Reynolds
Chair of the 2015 Judging Panel for the Thwaites Wainwright Prize