RICHARD JEFFERIES SOCIETY & WHITE HORSE BOOKSHOP LITERARY PRIZE

The Richard Jefferies Award of £1,000 is given to the author/s of the book considered by the judging panel to be the most outstanding nature writing published in a given calendar year. The winning work will reflect the heritage, content and spirit of Jefferies’ countryside books. 

The award is sponsored by the Richard Jefferies Society and White Horse Book Shop and is given in memory of John Webb, one time Society Librarian, and generous benefactor.

To qualify for entry, the book must be published (not re-published) within the calendar year and not contain previously published elements. First English translations of recent works are eligible. E-books are excluded from the award. 

Nominations may be made by anyone including publishers. No fees are requested from publishers at any stage of the competition. Publishers are requested to send a copy of the nominated book to:

Richard Jefferies Society, c/o Granham West, Granham Hill, Marlborough, SN8 4DN.

and to:

Richard Jefferies Society, c/o Holmshaw, Beattock, Moffat, Dumfriesshire, DG10 9SQ.

Decisions about the Prize will be made by a judging panel drawn from the Richard Jefferies Society and the White Horse Bookshop. The judges act in an honorary capacity. Their decision is final.  The right not to make an award in a given year is reserved. 

The short-list is drawn up the following February and the winner should be announced by June. 

The closing date for nominations is by 1 December. Please send your nominations by email as early as possible and include covering information. Late nominations will not be accepted. Please note that nominations can be made from January and it would be much appreciated if publishers submit titles as soon as possible after the publication date.

NOMINATIONS ARE NOW OPEN FOR TITLES PUBLISHED IN 2021




In a year which attracted an unprecedented number of submissions and led to an exceptionally strong shortlist Benedict Macdonald and Nicholas Gates have won this year's prize for Orchard: A Year in England’s Eden (William Collins). 

 
Ben and Nick in the orchard

Having achieved three ‘firsts’ last year Benedict Macdonald now has a fourth, being the first writer to win in consecutive years. In this instance there is a joint author, Nicholas Gates, who also provided most of the colour photos. The book covers the rich biodiversity of a Malvern Hills orchard whose owner is described as ‘the best wildlife farmer that I’d ever met’. A brief history of orchards prefaces the monthly studies of its interconnected wildlife and fascinating information includes the word itself which began as ‘garden yard’ then expanded to ‘fruit garden’ with almost all of our cultivated species originating from the foothills of Kazakhstan. The importance of monasteries before their Dissolution is also documented, not just in propagation but in actual spread as well. This was reversed in the second half of the twentieth century―the 1970s and 1980s saw grants actually becoming available for many orchards to be ‘grubbed relentlessly from the British countryside’. 

A two page map of the main orchard is included, with both authors stressing the good fortune and privilege of being able to have continued and long term access for their studies. The chapters are written alternately with each introduced by a short quote, sources including Dickens, Shakespeare, Keats, Auden, Thoreau and an African proverb. I couldn’t detect any significant difference in writing quality from the authors sharing the twelve chapters. The orchard itself has been spared any use of chemicals since the 1930s and its interconnected and rich biodiversity is perhaps best exemplified by a list of nesting bird species, almost all being in decline nationally: lesser spotted woodpecker, willow tit, spotted flycatcher, redstart and bullfinch ‘in intricate pair bonds’. As many as ten pairs of blackcaps overwinter and the rotting fruit attracts over five hundred visiting fieldfares. Goshawks hunt in the orchard and other wildlife includes studies of a wide range of trees and the importance of an uninterrupted fungal subterranean network. Insects include battling stag beetles ‘like Sumo wrestlers’ and the abundance of bat species. Thankfully they also champion ivy, a much maligned species, offering in autumn ‘the latest opening restaurant in town’ as the umbels come into flower and ‘a thermal winter blanket’ for roosting and hibernation. 

The authors provide plenty of ideas for creating similar wildlife habitats and the July chapter takes the reader to the abundance of small orchards in the Carpathian mountains of eastern Europe where there is ‘an older way of managing the countryside’ and consequently ‘the remarkable soon becomes the everyday’. 

This book is also important because declining orchards have definitely received less publicity than diminishing habitats such as ancient woodlands, peat bogs and unimproved meadows, probably because most survivors are commercially managed and privately owned. 

Finally, here is a selection of quotes from the panel of judges: 

‘If you ever needed a concise introduction to ecosystems and why habitats are important this is a great start’. 

‘The choice of an orchard illustrating the collaboration between humans and the natural world is a strength and gives it a relatable focus’. 

‘Richly detailed, beautifully supported by colour photos and written in a very readable style’. 

‘An absorbing record of a year spent in the unspoilt orchards of Herefordshire, neatly contextualised by comparisons with the situation in eastern Europe, where agricultural development has proceeded more slowly, to the benefit of plants and wildlife’. 

‘The book celebrates the beauty and individuality of the orchard in ways that are reminiscent of Jefferies; particularly, I thought, through its sensitive depiction of the timelessness of the orchard, and its microcosmic environment where every life―even the tiniest organism―matters’. 


The shortlist was announced on 14 January 2021 as follows:

·         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]



2019 winner: Benedict Macdonald - Rebirding: Rewilding Britain and Its Birds

Ben Macdonald

The judges voted on 4 June 2020 to award the prize to Ben Macdonald -- particularly note-worthy as this is his first book. Prof. Barry Sloan, the Chair of the Judges Panel said:


In a year when there were several strong contenders for the prize, Benedict Macdonald's 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. 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. 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.

Read a review of the book by Richard Stewart here.

There were an unprecedented number of nominations for 2019 publications that marked the increasing interest and concern for the natural world.  The short-list was agreed on 16 January 2020 as follows and all were worthy contestants:

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).



2018 winner: Isabella Tree - Wilding: the Return of Nature to a British Farm

The judges voted on 16 May 2019 to award the prize to Isabella Tree. The appeal of this book was summed up by one of the judges saying that it was a publication that Richard Jefferies himself would have strongly supported.

The short-list was agreed on 13 January 2019 as follows:

·              Kings of the Yukon: an Alaskan river journey  by Adam Weymouth, (Particular Books)
·              The Bumblebee Flies Anyway by Kate Bradbury (Bloomsbury Wildlife)
·              Wilding by Isabella Tree (Picador)
·              Our Place, by  Mark Cocker (Jonathan Cape)

Isabella Tree gave an illustrated talk about her prize-winning book at St Mary's Church, Marlborough to a capacity audience of 180 people on Thursday 25 July 2019 (the hottest day of the year) and was then presented with her award by Barry Sloan, Chair of the Richard Jefferies Society. 


2017 winner: Adam Nicolson - The Seabird's Cry


On 11 June 2018, the Richard Jefferies Society and the White Horse Bookshop announced that the winner of the annual Writer's Prize was Adam Nicolson for The Seabird's Cry, published by William Collins. John Price, Chairman of The Richard Jefferies Society, said: ‘It is ambitious, topical and original, and written throughout in an engaging and appealing style. It was easily the most readable, moving and sophisticated of all the short-listed books.’

The shortlist was agreed on 3 February 2018 was as follows:

·              Beyond Spring by Matthew Oates published by Fair Acre Press
·              A Sweet Wild Note by Richard Smyth published by Elliott and Thompson
·              Waiting for the Albino Dunnock by Richardson Rosamond  published by the Orion Publishing Group
·              The Seabird’s Cry by Adam Nicolson published by  William Collins
·              The January Man by Christopher Somerville published by Penguin Random House


Adam Nicolson, 4 August 2018
White Horse Bookshop
Presentation of award. 




2016 winner: Richard Fortey - The Wood for the Trees
 The short-list was: 

·              The Nature of Autumn, by Jim Crumley, published by Saraband.
·              The Running Hare, by John Lewis-Stempel, published by Doubleday.
·              Six Facets of Light, by Ann  Wroe, published by Jonathan Cape.
·              Walking Through Spring, by Graham Hoyland, published by William Collins.
·              The Wood for the Trees, by Richard Fortey, published by William Collins.

At an event at The White Horse Bookshop on 3 June 2017, the prize was awarded to British palaeontologist, natural historian, writer and broadcaster Richard Fortey and best met the criterion of reflecting themes or topics broadly consistent with Jefferies’ writing.
Left to right: Angus Maclennan, John Price, Richard Fortey
John Price, Chairman of the Richard Jefferies Society said: “With a strong sense of place in Fortey's recording of the passage of the year in the woodland, we felt that the book was a worthy successor to Jefferies' writing.”

Angus Maclennan, Manager of The White Horse Bookshop added: “In this golden era for nature writing we are delighted to award Richard Fortey for his intimate portrait of our environment and our place within it. It strikes the perfect balance between science and sensibility.”
  



2015 winner: John Lister Kaye - Gods of the Morning


The short-list was: 

·              Common Ground, by Rob Cowen, published by Hutchinson; 
·              Gods of the Morning, by John Lister-Kaye, published by Canongate;
·              The Moth Snowstorm, by Michael McCarthy, published by John Murray.



The final decision of the Panel was that the prize should be awarded to John Lister-Kaye (pictured left), for Gods of the Morning. 

This book was felt to be lyrically written, with a true naturalist’s eye for the changing seasons and times of day; the hardships experienced by man and beast in the harshest winters; and his own personal encounters with a wide range of wildlife from ravens to young spiders. The extensive studies of rooks – (from the bathroom of Lister-Kaye's house!) – reminded the judges of Richard Jefferies' observations on the same species; observations brought together into one book by an enterprising publisher. Gods of the Morning is a book by a man who is as familiar with his local Scottish wildlife and countryside as Richard Jefferies had been with his Wiltshire local environment; and both authors also had the ability to describe some of the local human population in deft terms. An outstanding first winner of the Richard Jefferies Society Writers’ Prize, Lister-Kaye is able to convey the joy of nature in an uncomplicated and eloquent fashion.