Monday, May 24, 2021



In a year which attracted an unprecedented number of submissions and led to an exceptionally strong shortlist [1] the Richard Jefferies Society [2] and the White Horse Bookshop [3] Literary Prize for the most outstanding nature writing produced in 2020 has been awarded to Benedict Macdonald and Nicholas Gates for Orchard: A Year in England’s Eden (Collins). Macdonald, a television producer, naturalist and conservation writer, becomes the first person to win this award twice since the award was introduced in 2015. He succeeded with Rebirding last year. Nicholas Gates is a naturalist, photographer and wild life producer. 

 The judges were united in praising the book which chronicles the rich and valuable ecosystem of a highly productive ancient Herefordshire orchard untouched by chemicals or the methods of modern large-scale fruit farming. Orchard opens with a succinct and engaging prologue recounting the history of the origins of all apples and of orchards in England. This prepares the way for the twelve month-by-month chapters that follow. In these the annual lifecycles of the orchard itself and the wildlife it supports are meticulously and often dramatically captured both in the text and in a selection of striking colour photographs. Whether describing the rare trees and their fruits or the hugely diverse insect and birdlife that thrives in the orchard environment, Macdonald and Gates communicate with a clarity of voice and sensitivity and wonder at even the smallest living forms that recall the qualities of Richard Jefferies’ best nature writing [4]. The reader’s attention is constantly engaged by the variety of their subject-matter: the descriptions of ancient trees; of hornets predating honey bees; of jays storing acorns, some of which will become the oaks of the future; of tree-creepers removing wood-feeding invertebrates which threaten the health of trees – and so on.

Professor Barry Sloan, Chair of the Richard Jefferies Society and of the judges panel said:

Orchard not only celebrates the exemplary achievement of Nancy and her son David who maintain this exceptionally valuable place as a small bulwark against the irreparable losses of wildlife that have already occurred so widely. It also reminds us that comparably rich environments still exist on a much larger scale in the Carpathian mountain area of Eastern Europe, and urges consideration of practical ways to improve the fragile situation in Britain. In all these ways, Orchard is an urgently telling and timely intervention in current ecological issues which will appeal to any reader who is concerned about the future of wildlife in this country.

Nicholas Gates and Benedict Macdonald said:

We are both absolutely delighted with this award and really feel the judges recognised what we were trying to achieve in writing it. 



[1] The final short-list for 2020 publications was:

·         -        Orchard. A Year in England’s Eden by Benedict Macdonald and Nicholas Gates.  [Collins]
-         Diary of a Young Naturalist by Dara McAnulty. [Little Toller]
-        The Consolation of Nature: Spring in the Time of Coronavirus by Michael McCarthy, Jeremy Mynott               and Peter Marren. [Hodder]
-         The Swallow: A Biography  by Stephen Moss. [Square Peg]
-        Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake. [Bodley Head]
-        The Gospel of the Eels: A Father, a Son and the World’s Most Enigmatic Fish by Patrik Svensson.                    [Picador]

 Previous winners of the award 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)Wilding by Isabella Tree (2018) and Rewilding by Benedict Macdonald (2019).

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

  [3] 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).

  [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.