The winner for the much-loved Wainwright Prize for UK Nature Writing has been announced at a virtual awards ceremony on September 8th. Diary of a Young Naturalist by Dara McAnulty chronicles the turning of the then 15-year-old’s world and breaks the mould of modern nature writing. As the youngest ever winner of a major literary prize, Dara’s book is an extraordinary portrayal of his intense connection to the natural world alongside his perspective as an autistic teenager juggling exams, friendships and a life of campaigning. Mike Parker’s beautiful On the Red Hill was awarded highly commended in the category.
This year’s prize has been extended to include a second category for books about global conservation and climate change, and Rebirding by Benedict Macdonald is its inaugural winner. Praised as ‘visionary’ by conservationists and landowners alike, Rebirding sets out a compelling manifesto for restoring Britain’s wildlife, rewilding its species and restoring rural jobs – to the benefit of all. Irreplaceable by Julian Hoffman was awarded highly commended in the category.
Named after nature writer Alfred Wainwright, this year’s prize feels more timely than ever as our need to reconnect with nature has never been stronger. Against the backdrop of the global COVID-19 pandemic, and with our natural landscapes under increasing threat from the climate crisis, nature and conservation writing has flourished. Now in its seventh year, the prize is awarded annually to the book which most successfully inspires readers to explore the outdoors and to nurture a respect for the natural world, with a new prize added to reflect the growing cry for action to meet climate change targets and halt the destruction of wildlife and natural habitats.
This year’s Nature Writing judging panel was chaired by TV presenter Julia Bradbury, and her fellow judges were: Geoff Duffield, Wildlife Trust volunteer and former publisher; Andrew Willan, Wealden Festival Director; Patrick Neale, Bookseller Jaffe & Neale; Jessica J Lee, Editor WillowHerb Review; Celia Richardson, Director of Communications and Insight, National Trust.
Julia comments: “The Diary of a Young Naturalist is a significant nature book – made all the more so because it is Dara McAnulty’s first, completed before his 16th birthday. Our Wainwright Prize winner this year is nuanced, passionate and caring. It’s a wonderful diary that fits around Dara’s personal endeavours and family experiences, but ultimately, shaped by the nature that surrounds us all. The judges were almost breathless from reading it and would like to call for it to be immediately listed on the national curriculum. Such is the book’s power to move and the urgency of the situation we face.”
The Chair of Judges for the new Global Conservation Prize was BBC Countryfile presenter, Charlotte Smith. She was joined by Adrian Phillips, conservationist; Rachel Woolliscroft, sustainability expert; and Craig Bennett, CEO UK Wildlife Trusts.
Charlotte said: “Rebirding is an immensely readable book on complex and contentious issues. As you’d expect, it considers the needs of birds, but also the future of rural communities in an interesting and engaging way. While not everyone will agree with Benedict Macdonald’s conclusions, they’ll enjoy arguing with him as they read!”
The prize is supported by Frances Lincoln Publishers, publisher of the Wainwright Guides, the Wainwright Estate and in partnership with the National Trust. The £5,000 prize fund will be shared and presented to the authors of the winning books, as well as framed trophies featuring Jon Tremaine’s stunning artwork. Last year’s winner was Underland by Robert Macfarlane.