The winners of the much-loved Wainwright Prize for UK Nature Writing and for Global Conservation Writing have been announced at a live award ceremony today, Tuesday 7 September, at the London Wetland Centre. The award winners are English Pastoral by James Rebanks and Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake.
Named after nature writer Alfred Wainwright, the prizes are awarded to the work which best reflects Wainwright’s core values and includes a celebration of nature and our natural environment, or a warning of the dangers to it across the globe. Still in the midst of recovering from the effects of the global COVID-19 pandemic and with our landscapes under threat, nature writing has flourished. Now in its eighth year, the prize is awarded annually to the books which most successfully inspire readers to explore the outdoors and to nurture a respect for the natural world.
The two shortlists reflect the breadth and range of contemporary nature writing both in the UK and around the world. The titles selected showcase a diverse group of writers and celebrate the wonder and awe of green spaces and nature’s creatures through the prism of the author’s lives.
Rebanks’ English Pastoral is the story of an inheritance. It tells of how rural landscapes around the world have been brought close to collapse, and the age-old rhythms of work, weather, community and wild things are being lost. This is a book about what it means to have love and pride in a place, and how, against all the odds, it may still be possible to build a new pastoral: not a utopia, but somewhere for us all. It comes at a fitting time, as we navigate a post-pandemic landscape. With the past year causing so much turmoil and uncertainty, many of us took to residing in family homes and nature. Perhaps this meant rebuilding and finding serenity.
Sheldrakes’ Entangled Life is a radical and hopeful book. He engages us in the hidden world of fungi, a miraculous web of connections, interactions and communication that changes the way we need to look at life, the planet and ourselves. The more we learn about fungi, the less makes sense without them. Sheldrake reveals how these extraordinary organisms – and our relationships with them – are changing our understanding of how life works.
This year’s Nature Writing judging panel was chaired by TV presenter Julia Bradbury. Her fellow judges were: Geoff Duffield, Wildlife Trust volunteer and former publisher; Jessica J Lee, Editor WillowHerb Review; Ray Mears, TV Presenter and Author, Mark Funnell, Communications and Campaigns Director, National Trust; Patrick Neale, Bookseller Jaffe & Neale and Andrew Willan, Wealden Festival Director.
The Chair of Judges for the Global Conservation Prize was BBC Countryfile presenter, Charlotte Smith. She was joined by Adrian Phillips, Environmental Professional; Dr. Craig Bennett, CEO UK Wildlife Trust; Rachel Woolliscroft, sustainability expert; Anita Longely, Chair, Institute of Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability and Nigel Roby, Community Energy Enthusiast and Strategic Advisor.
Julia Bradbury, judging chair, summarised the nature prize judging panel’s views on Rebanks:
“James Rebanks adores his home and job and that’s reflected in his writing. His message of respect for the old ways and understanding of the complexities of farming for the future make this a really important book. And it’s all couched in beautiful prose. The writing is accessible, heartfelt, and poignant and it conveys a message of achievable change. Rebanks’ passion will carry any towny through the joy and hardship of Fell farming. It’s seminal work which will still be celebrated in 50 years”
Charlotte Smith, judging chair, summarised the conservation prize judging panel’s views on Sheldrake:
“It blew us away. Astonishing to find a book which after reading, forced us to think about our world view of conservation every day. It contains extraordinary descriptions of how extraordinary nature is, and the implications around soil carbon and fungi as a plastic replacement are huge. Beautifully polished, it is a very important piece of work. Fungi can provide an awful lot of solutions to the problems the world faces.”
The judging panels also wanted to highly commend Thin Places by Kerri ní Dochartaigh in the Nature Prize and Fathoms by Rebecca Giggs in the Conservation category.
The Wainwright Prize announced the agreement of a three-year deal for headline sponsorship with James Cropper, a prestige paper innovator, based in the English Lake District, with an operational reach in over 50 countries. James Cropper papers have long been the choice of leading designers, conservationists, artists, writers and poets. They have been making fine papers for publishing and premium packaging since 1845 in the very town where Alfred Wainwright lived and worked.
“Having produced bespoke book papers for over 175 years, including for Alfred Wainwright’s wonderful Pictorial Guides of the Lake District, we are very proud to now be sponsoring the Wainwright Prize, celebrating the very best of today’s writing on nature and conservation. Being based in the Lake District ourselves, we are of course delighted that James Rebanks’ English Pastoral has won this year’s prize for UK Nature Writing. James writes so eloquently and passionately about his farm and the surrounding beautiful landscape which inspires us all.
Merlin Sheldrake’s incredible book, Entangled Life is a truly worthy winner of the Global Conservation category, looking at the extraordinary lives of fungi and the impact that they have on our everyday existence.
I would like to express my personal thanks and congratulations to the winners and all of the shortlisted authors for their inspirational and thought provoking books, encouraging us all to explore and cherish our natural environment.”
It was also announced that The Wainwright Prize 2022 would include the launch of a third prize for children’s writing on nature and conservation. It has always been central to the original vision of the prize to inspire a life-long love of nature and there is now a huge breadth of publishing that reflects that vision, one the prize are keen to celebrate.
It was also recognised that the new Wainwright Prize for Writing on Conservation was launched last year with the investment of Polly Powell, the Inaugural Donor of the Friends of the Wainwright Prize initiative. Further details of the scheme will be released in a few weeks, but if you would like to find out more, make sure to reach out to Agile, the prize administrators.
The Wainwright Prize is partnered with the National Trust, who continue to support and promote the prize across their platforms and publications. Frances Lincoln Publishers – publisher of the Wainwright Guides and the Wainwright Estate once again provided a £5,000 prize fund, which will be shared by the authors of the winning books. Last year’s winners were Diary of a Young Naturalist by Dara McAnulty and Rebirding by Benedict Macdonald.
This year’s campaign artwork was produced in partnership with the talented author and illustrator, Dorien Brouwers. Her fresh, fluid illustrations injected life into the prize aesthetic through an evocative combination of colour, texture and a rich palette of the world’s flora and fauna.