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Nature: inspiration between the pages

Jeni Bell, for Shaftesbury Book Festival

Nature and landscape have been inspiring writers for centuries. From the ‘rosy-fingered dawn’ that creeps across the skies to the liquid trill of bird song, and the shifting of the seasons, people have always tried to encapsulate their magnificence in words.

For a long time, nature was a thing to be examined, and nature writing was the way to understand it. Field guides and studies, packed with Latin names, sat on bookshelves alongside lyrical odes to the wonders of the countryside. But the natural world is not solely for scientists or philosophical thinkers.

Over the years, as our environment has changed, the way in which it’s written about has also shifted; nature writing has adapted to explore our own relationships with the landscape. Field guides have evolved into personal quests in search of rare flora and fauna, and seasonal studies have morphed into memoirs exploring the healing properties of place.

Today, the emphasis is on finding nature’s inspiration in our everyday lives. Writers such as   Stephen Moss encourage us to look closer to home for our nature fix, Dave Goulson speaks of the importance of the smallest of creatures, and Brigit Strawbridge-Howard champions the act of refamiliarizing ourselves with our native bees and trees.

Everyday encounters

These books help us not just to have a dose of wildness at our fingertips, but also to zoom in on aspects of the environment often overlooked. Through their words, we can begin to understand how the landscape might speak to us on a personal level – whether that’s encouraging us to go for a walk to notice the foliage pushing up through pavements, or to delve our hands deep into the soil in the nurturing act of gardening. They ask us to pay attention to our daily bird encounters and remind us of the simple pleasure of a blackbird singing from the rooftops. Nature writing today works to make all this more accessible to as many people as possible.

It’s no secret that things have changed over the last couple of years. But despite restrictions, our appreciation of these wild things has flourished, encouraging more people to reconnect with their place in the natural world. Today, nature writers offer us a new type of field guide for these times; books on how to become more aware of what’s happening around us. These authors weave together science, magic, and personal experience, capturing the beauty of the natural world between the pages and gifting us the tools we need to read the land for ourselves.

Shaftesbury Book Festival ‘Reading the Land’ runs from 11-13 March 2022, featuring both local and internationally renowned authors. See website for more details:


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