A book to have you running to the great outdoors!
I appreciate I may be a little late to the party on this one, with Lewis-Stempel already established as one of the great nature writers of our time. But still I picked up this book with a slight dread, as I so desperately wanted it to be a book to inspire and enjoy. All too often I find ‘pop science’ and nature books of this ilk, written in a form reminiscent of a travel book, to be hit and miss with nothing but a gaping chasm in between. Some are jargon heavy and others too anecdotal with not enough of the good stuff. Or, despite my love for all things nature, others are so utterly uninspiring they leave me fighting to finish each page, feeling exhausted and dispirited by the end of a hard won chapter. But there are some which truly capture the imagination, as is the case with The Running Hare. This book had me racing to finish each page and left me feeling truly inspired and in love with the British countryside.
At its heart this is a true story about one farmer (come prolific writer) and his quest to return to the old ways of farming on a small patch of land for just one year. A perfect opportunity to see whether we view the old ways of farming with a little too much idyll or whether this reversal could really allow nature to thrive once more. It is a ‘journal’ of a year’s work and the slow but steady change that was seen on ‘Flinders’ (the field Lewis-Stempel uses for this experiment) as the year went on, from a seemingly desolate field to a thriving hub of birds, mammals, and flowers. All so vividly described that you almost feel you are there looking over the gate into Flinders listening to the birdsong and watching the flower heads gently bob in the breeze. This is interspersed with a wealth of wildlife knowledge and excerpts from classic writers, all in one beautifully written book.
John Lewis-Stempel assumes nothing of his reader, there is no unexplained jargon and no heavy chapter on the damage of modern farming. Instead this latter point is addressed in his reference to the ‘chemical brothers’ neighbouring land, comparison is drawn between this and the soon thriving ‘Flinders’ throughout the book. In this way the reader isn’t allowed to forget the damage that is being done to much of our countryside through modern intensive, chemical heavy farming practise. But the continued juxtaposition of these fields reminds us that all is not lost, mother nature is willing to forgive and move forward.
It is a book that will fill you with awe at the beauty of the world around you and leave you marvelling at Lewis-Stempel’s knowledge of the natural world. A book to cherish but one that you won’t be able to leave unattended for long. It has given me hope, but also it has left me with a repertoire of hedgehog trivia – which has already proved very successful conversation – and a YouTube history of tree noises, having never realised that it was possible to identify the species of tree from the sound of its leaves alone! A truly fantastic book.
Words by Sophie Smith
Sophie has a degree in Biological Sciences from Oxford University and currently works as an assistant warden for a conservation charity.