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The 2021 Wainwright Prize shortlist: revealed

The 2021 Wainwright Prize shortlist, which acknowledges the best writing on UK nature and global conservation, has been announced…

The shortlist (Stanfords)

We think it is safe to say that since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic we have all become more aware of nature around us. Whether it has been while exploring our local parks and outdoor spaces on lockdown walks or spending time in gardens or balconies looking up at the sky and noticing more on the ground.

The Wainwright Prize 2021 shortlist contains a fantastic collection from authors that make us look at the natural world in unique ways and help us to understand and appreciate everything around us.

Named after the nature writer Alfred Wainwright, the prizes are awarded to the work which best reflects Wainwright’s core values and include a celebration of nature and our natural environment or a warning of the dangers to it across the globe.

The Wainwright Prize is split into two categories. The first is The Wainwright Prize for UK nature writing, for books (not guidebooks) that are narrative driven with a subject related to nature, the outdoors or travel writing that cover Great Britain and Northern Ireland as a central theme. The second meanwhile is The Wainwright Prize for writing on global conservation, for books that reflect efforts in or studies relating to conservation or climate change as it affects nature and the outdoors. The books should be narrative driven and could be global in scope. Here are the 13 shortlisted books…

UK Nature Writing Category

1. Seed to Dust by Marc Hamer (Vintage)

A moving and restorative account of a life lived in harmony with nature described through a month-by-month look at the life of a garden. Marc Hamer has designed and nurtured 12 acres of garden for over two decades. It is rarely visited so he is the only person who fully knows its secrets; but it is not his own. His relationship with the garden's owner is both distant and curiously intimate, steeped in the mysterious connection which exists between two people who inhabit the same space in very different ways. Marc takes us through his experiences both working in the garden and outside it, as the seasons' changes bring new plants and wildlife to the fore and lead him to reflect on his past and future. Through his peaceful and meditative prose we learn about gardening folklore and wisdom, the joys of manual labour, his path from solitary homelessness to family contentment and the cycle of growth and decay that runs through both the garden's life and our own.

For more information visit stanfords.co.uk

Seed to Dust by Marc Hamer (Vintage)

Seed to Dust by Marc Hamer (Vintage)

2. English Pastoral: An Inheritance by James Rebanks (Penguin Press, Penguin Random House UK)

James Rebanks was taught by his grandfather to work the land the old way. Their family farm in the Lake District hills was part of an ancient agricultural landscape: a patchwork of crops and meadows, of pastures grazed with livestock, and hedgerows teeming with wildlife. And yet, by the time James inherited the farm, that landscape had profoundly changed. This book tells of how rural landscapes around the world were brought close to collapse, and how the age-old rhythms of work, weather, community and wild things were lost. But this elegy from the northern fells is also a song of hope: of how, guided by the past, one farmer began to salvage a tiny corner of England that was now his, doing his best to restore the life that had vanished and to leave a legacy for the future.

For more information visit stanfords.co.uk

English Pastoral: An Inheritance by James Rebanks (Penguin Press, Penguin Random House UK)

English Pastoral: An Inheritance by James Rebanks (Penguin Press, Penguin Random House UK)

3. The Wild Silence by Raynor Winn (Michael Joseph)

The Wild Silence, the incredible follow-up to the The Sunday Times' bestseller The Salt Path is a luminous story of hope triumphing over despair, of the human spirit's instinctive connection to nature, and of lifelong love prevailing over everything. After walking 630 miles homeless along The Salt Path, the windswept and wild English coastline now feels like their home. Despite her husband Moth's terminal diagnosis, against all medical odds, he seems revitalized in nature - outside, they discover that anything is possible. Now, life beyond The Salt Path awaits. As they return to four walls, the sense of home is illusive and returning to normality is proving difficult - until an incredible gesture by someone who reads their story changes everything. A chance to breathe life back into a beautiful but neglected farmhouse nestled deep in the Cornish hills; rewilding the land and returning nature to its hedgerows becomes their new path. Along the way, Raynor and Moth learn more about the land that envelopes them, find friends both new and old, and, of course, embark on another windswept adventure when the opportunity arises.

For more information visit stanfords.co.uk

The Wild Silence by Raynor Winn (Michael Joseph)

The Wild Silence by Raynor Winn (Michael Joseph)

4. The Screaming Sky by Charles Foster (Little Toller Books)

Swifts live in perpetual summer. They inhabit the air like nothing on the planet. They watched the continents shuffle to their present places and the mammals evolve. They defy all our categories and present no passports as they surf the winds across the world, sleeping in the high thin air, their wings controlled by an alert half-brain. Common swifts (a numerous but profoundly un-common bird) are Charles Foster’s joy and obsession. The euphoria of their springtime arrival gives way to such painful bereavement when they depart that he tries to stay with them as they travel, catching up with them in Mozambique, over the cliff-tops of southern Spain, and as they mingle with worshippers at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Fiercely rejecting the idea that swifts are ‘just’ birds The Screaming Sky is a radical engagement with the infinite complexity of a species. It steps back, looks to the skies, and stands in awe of these magnificent birds.

For more information visit stanfords.co.uk

The Screaming Sky by Charles Foster (Little Toller Books)

The Screaming Sky by Charles Foster (Little Toller Books)

5. Thin Places by Kerri ní Dochartaigh (Canongate Books)

Kerri ni Dochartaigh was born in Derry, on the border of the North and South of Ireland, at the very height of the Troubles. She was brought up on a council estate on the wrong side of town. But for her family, and many others, there was no right side. One parent was Catholic, the other was Protestant. In the space of one year they were forced out of two homes and when she was eleven a homemade petrol bomb was thrown through her bedroom window. Terror was in the very fabric of the city, and for families like Kerri's, the ones who fell between the cracks of identity, it seemed there was no escape. In Thin Places, a mixture of memoir, history and nature writing, Kerri explores how nature kept her sane and helped her heal, how violence and poverty are never more than a stone's throw from beauty and hope, and how we are, once again, allowing our borders to become hard, and terror to creep back in. Kerri asks us to reclaim our landscape through language and study, and remember that the land we fight over is much more than lines on a map. It will always be ours but, at the same time, it never really was.

For more information visit stanfords.co.uk

Thin Places by Kerri ní Dochartaigh (Canongate Books)

Thin Places by Kerri ní Dochartaigh (Canongate Books)

6. I Belong Here by Anita Sethi (Bloomsbury Plc)

Anita Sethi was on a journey through Northern England when she became the victim of a race-hate crime. After the event Anita experienced panic attacks and anxiety. A crushing sense of claustrophobia made her long for wide open spaces, to breathe deeply in the great outdoors. She was intent on not letting her experience stop her travelling freely and without fear. The Pennines – known as 'the backbone of Britain' runs through the north and also strongly connects north with south, east with west - it's a place of borderlands and limestone, of rivers and 'scars', of fells and forces. The Pennines called to Anita with a magnetic force. Anita's journey through the natural landscapes of the North is one of reclamation, a way of saying that this is her land too. Anita transforms her personal experience into one of universal resonance, offering a call to action, to keep walking onwards. Every footstep taken is an act of persistence. Every word written against the rising tide of hate speech, such as this book, is an act of resistance.

For more information visit stanfords.co.uk

I Belong Here by Anita Sethi (Bloomsbury Plc)

I Belong Here by Anita Sethi (Bloomsbury Plc)

7. Featherhood by Charlie Gilmour (Orion Publishing Group)

This is a story about birds and fathers. About the young magpie that fell from its nest in a Bermondsey junkyard into Charlie Gilmour's life. Demanding worms around the clock, riffling through his wallet, sharing his baths and roosting in his hair. About the jackdaw kept at a Cornish stately home by Heathcote Williams, anarchist, poet, magician, stealer of Christmas, and Charlie's biological father who vanished from his life in the dead of night. It is a story about repetition across generations and birds that run in the blood; about a terror of repeating the sins of the father and a desire to build a nest of one's own. It is a story about change - from wild to tame; from sanity to madness; from life to death to birth; from freedom to captivity and back again, via an insane asylum, a prison and a magpie's nest.

For more information visit stanfords.co.uk

Featherhood by Charlie Gilmour (Orion Publishing Group)

Featherhood by Charlie Gilmour (Orion Publishing Group)

Writing on Global Conservation Category

8. Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake (Vintage)

Neither plant nor animal, fungi are found throughout the earth, the air and our bodies. They can be microscopic, yet also account for the largest organisms ever recorded. They enabled the first life on land, can survive unprotected in space and thrive amidst nuclear radiation. In fact, nearly all life relies in some way on fungi. These endlessly surprising organisms have no brain but can solve problems and manipulate animal behaviour with devastating precision. In giving us bread, alcohol and life-saving medicines, fungi have shaped human history, and their psychedelic properties have recently been shown to alleviate a number of mental illnesses. Their ability to digest plastic, explosives, pesticides and crude oil is being harnessed in break-through technologies, and the discovery that they connect plants in underground networks, the 'Wood Wide Web', is transforming the way we understand ecosystems. Yet over ninety percent of their species remain undocumented. Entangled Life is a mind-altering journey into a spectacular and neglected world, and shows that fungi provide a key to understanding both the planet on which we live, and life itself.

For more information visit stanfords.co.uk

Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake (Vintage)

Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake (Vintage)

9. Under a White Sky by Elizabeth Kolbert (Vintage)

Elizabeth Kolbert investigates the immense challenges humanity faces as we scramble to reverse, in a matter of decades, the effects we've had on the atmosphere, the oceans, the world's forests and rivers – on the topography of the globe. In Under a White Sky, she takes a hard look at the new world we are creating. Along the way, she meets biologists who are trying to preserve the world's rarest fish; engineers who are turning carbon emissions to stone in Iceland, Australian researchers who are trying to develop a 'super coral' that can survive on a hotter globe, and physicists who are contemplating shooting tiny diamonds into the stratosphere to cool the earth, changing the sky from blue to white. One way to look at human civilisation, says Kolbert, is as a ten-thousand-year exercise in defying nature. By turns inspiring, terrifying and darkly comic, Under a White Sky is an utterly original examination of the challenges we face.

For more information visit stanfords.co.uk

Under a White Sky by Elizabeth Kolbert (Vintage)

Under a White Sky by Elizabeth Kolbert (Vintage)

10. A Life on our Planet by David Attenborough (Penguin Random House)

Sir David Attenborough is Britain's best-known natural history film-maker. His career as a naturalist and broadcaster has spanned nearly seven decades. Recent documentaries have reached a new audience and really brought to light the threat this planet is under. “I am 94. I've had an extraordinary life. It’s only now that I appreciate how extraordinary. As a young man, I felt I was out there in the wild, experiencing the untouched natural world - but it was an illusion. The tragedy of our time has been happening all around us, barely noticeable from day to day – the loss of our planet's wild places, its biodiversity. I have been witness to this decline. A Life on Our Planet is my witness statement, and my vision for the future. It is the story of how we came to make this, our greatest mistake – and how, if we act now, we can yet put it right. We have one final chance to create the perfect home for ourselves and restore the wonderful world we inherited. All we need is the will to do so.”

For more information visit stanfords.co.uk

A Life on our Planet by David Attenborough (Penguin Random House)

A Life on our Planet by David Attenborough (Penguin Random House)

11. Net Zero: How We Stop Causing Climate Change by Dieter Helm (Harper Collins)

What can we really do about the climate emergency? The inconvenient truth is that we are causing the climate crisis with our carbon intensive lifestyles and that fixing, or even just slowing, it will affect all of us. But it can be done. In Net Zero, economist Dieter Helm addresses the action we all need to take to tackle the climate emergency: personal, local, national and global. Reducing our own carbon consumption is the first step. Helm argues that we, the ultimate polluters, should pay based on how much carbon the products we buy produce. We need a carbon price, and one that applies to everything and everywhere, from flights, to food and farming. The goal of net zero carbon emissions needs a rethink and this book sets out how to do it in a plan that could and would work. Do this and we make no further contribution to global warming, in a way that embraces sustainable economic growth and does not harm other aspects of the environment in the process.

For more information visit stanfords.co.uk

Net Zero: How We Stop Causing Climate Change by Dieter Helm (Harper Collins)

Net Zero: How We Stop Causing Climate Change by Dieter Helm (Harper Collins)

12. Islands of Abandonment by Cal Flyn (Harper Collins)

This is a book about abandoned places: ghost towns and exclusion zones, no man's lands and fortress islands - and what happens when nature is allowed to reclaim its place. In Chernobyl, following the nuclear disaster, only a handful of people returned to their dangerously irradiated homes. On an uninhabited Scottish island, feral cattle live entirely wild. In Detroit, once America's fourth-largest city, entire streets of houses are falling in on themselves, looters slipping through otherwise silent neighbourhoods. This book explores the extraordinary places where humans no longer live - or survive in tiny, precarious numbers - to give us a possible glimpse of what happens when mankind's impact on nature is forced to stop. From Tanzanian mountains to the volcanic Caribbean, the forbidden areas of France to the mining regions of Scotland, Flyn brings together some of the most desolate, eerie, ravaged and polluted areas in the world - and shows how, against all odds, they offer our best opportunities for environmental recovery.

For more information visit stanfords.co.uk

Islands of Abandonment by Cal Flyn (Harper Collins)

Islands of Abandonment by Cal Flyn (Harper Collins)

13. Fathoms by Rebecca Giggs (Scribe)

How do whales experience environmental change? Has our connection to these animals been transformed by technology? What future awaits us, and them? Fathoms blends natural history, philosophy, and science to explore these questions. Rebecca Giggs introduces us to whales so rare they have never been named and tells us of whale 'pop' songs that sweep across hemispheres. She takes us into the deeps to discover that one whale's death can spark a great flourishing of creatures. We travel to Japan to board whaling ships, examine the uncanny charisma of these magnificent mammals, and confront the plastic pollution now pervading their underwater environment.

For more information visit stanfords.co.uk

Fathoms by Rebecca Giggs (Scribe)

Fathoms by Rebecca Giggs (Scribe)

The winners will be announced on 7 September 2021. For more information on the Wainwright Prize visit wainwrightprize.com

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