Thursday, June 04, 2020

Best nature writing literary award for 2019 publications


The Richard Jefferies Society [1] and the White Horse Book Shop [2] are delighted to announce that the winner of this year’s Literary Prize is Benedict Macdonald for Rebirding: Rewilding Britain and its Birds published by Pelagic [3]. The prize of £1000 is awarded annually to the author of the publication considered by the judging panel to be the most outstanding nature writing published in a given calendar year. The winning work must reflect the heritage and spirit of Richard Jefferies’ [4] countryside books.

Ben Macdonald

Six books, published in 2019, were short-listed for this award [5] that was first introduced in 2015 [6]. Last year attracted an unprecedented number of nominations reflecting the increasing number of books dedicated to the natural world.

The judges agreed on 4 June 2020 that Macdonald’s book best met the criterion of reflecting themes or topics broadly consistent with Richard Jefferies’ writing.  Rebirding not only highlights how modern industrialised agriculture and land management practices have depleted biodiversity and bird life in Britain and compares the situation here with the much more favourable position in other parts of Europe; it also challenges the efficacy of some of the work of conservation organisations, insisting that small scale successes with some endangered species of birds will never result in sufficiently large populations to be viable, and that there is an urgent need for a network of links between conservation areas across the country. However, Macdonald is not defeatist, and nor is he afraid to be controversial. He argues for the game-changing potential of radical schemes of change, such as the rewilding of economically inefficient areas like those worked by Welsh hill farmers, or in the Cairngorms, the revision of the environmentally destructive land management of grouse moors to ensure a flourishing diversity among wild life that is threatened and dwindling, and  the encouragement of new economic and employment opportunities in the countryside through the promotion of ecotourism.

Prof. Barry Sloan, Chair of the Richard Jefferies Society and of the judges panel said: ‘Rebirding impressed the judges by its ambition and scope and by the extensive research which underpins the book’s lively and thought-provoking engagement with some of the key environmental issues in the UK and their impact on our wildlife – and especially on bird life. You may not agree with all of Benedict Macdonald’s ideas and arguments, but his book is a passionate, informed  and important intervention in one of the most pressing concerns of our time, and it deserves serious attention and a wide readership.’

Ben Macdonald said: ‘My wise grandfather gave me a copy of Jefferies’ Wild Life in a Southern County when I was eight years old. Today I am humbled beyond measure to have won this literary prize. This one’s for you, Fred Giltinan.’

On 8 September 2020 Rebirding also won the Wainwright Prize for Global Conservation. 


[1] The Richard Jefferies Society is a literary society and charity established in 1950 to promote the study and works of Richard Jefferies. More information at

 [2] The White Horse Bookshop first opened its doors in 1943 and has stood on its present site – a 16th century townhouse in Marlborough, Wiltshire – since 1949. It was bought in 2014 by local businessmen Robert Hiscox (founder of Hiscox insurance) and Brian Kingham (founder of Reliance Securities Group).

[3] More information about the book along with glowing quotes from other well-known naturalists and environmentalists at
More information about Benedict Macdonald at

 [4] Richard Jefferies (1848–1887) is best known for his prolific and sensitive writing on natural history, rural life and agriculture in late Victorian England. Less well-known now than he deserves to be, Jefferies stands with the tradition of writers concerned with man’s relationship to the natural world – a forerunner of today’s abundance of nature writing. Perhaps his best-known works today are Bevis (sometimes described as an English Huckleberry Finn), and After London, one of the earliest works of ‘post-apocalyptic’ fiction. For further information about Jefferies life and work:

 [5] The final short-list for 2019 publications was:

The Hidden World of the Fox by  Adele Brand,  (William Collins).
Incredible Journeys by David Barrie, (Hodder and Stoughton).
The Nature of Spring by Jim Crumley, (Saraband).
On the Marsh by Simon Barnes, (Simon and Schuster).
Rebirding by Benedict Macdonald (Pelagic Publishing).
Working with Nature by Jeremy Purseglove (Profile Books).

[6] Previous winners are: Gods of the Morning by John Lister-Kaye (2015), The Wood for the Trees by Richard Fortey (2016), The Seabird's Cry by Adam Nicolson (2017) and Wilding by Isabella Tree (2018).  See