Passionate and poetically compelling, Nicola Chester’s On Gallows Down is a rich and rewarding must-read for nature-lovers, and for readers who adored H is for Hawk. Charting a life lived in - and through - rural landscapes, Chester writes with a painterly eye. Her descriptions of nature and wildlife are staggeringly evocative - sensory, but never overblown or sentimental. Rather, her style has an elegant, measured beauty as she tells a personal story of protest and resistance, of a profound connection to the earth and nature, to offer a story of hope and connectedness in fractured times. Chester shares her experiences during the days of the Greenham Common protests, her experiences as a new mother rearing her children in the ways and words of nature, and her journey to protesting environmental destruction, a journey she’s still consummately committed to. Birds, especially, play a vital and beautiful role in the book, as they do in the author’s life - their migratory cycles, their movement and influence, her fights to combat the destruction of habitats. Moving, stirring, stuff.
Author Nick Hayes argues that "If ... power is sourced in property, then the fences that divide England are not just symbols of the partition of people, but the very cause of it.” And so off he goes, trespassing through the estates of England, checking out what we are all denied access to and along the way unpicking bigger stitch-ups. This book is not simply a diary of naughty incursions - amongst other things it’s a meticulous deconstruction of the legal history which has led to a situation where owners will often intimidate walkers with arguments that do not stand up in court, or at best are open to interpretation. Hayes begins the book with an amusing account of a celebrated incidence of civil disobedience - the mass trespass of Kinder Scout in the Peak District in 1932 - and from there he unravels decades of frustration. The Book of Trespass is also notably a collection of intriguing and beautiful pen and ink illustrations by the author which unveil and frame these forbidden landscapes as quite mysterious and dream-like. The book is radical and persuasive, and I’m not sure I will ever treat a fence or a private land sign with the same respect again.
In Wilding, Isabella Tree tells the story of the 'Knepp experiment', a pioneering rewilding project in West Sussex, using free-roaming grazing animals to create new habitats for wildlife. Part gripping memoir, part fascinating account of the ecology of our countryside, Wilding is, above all, an inspiring story of hope. Forced to accept that intensive farming on the heavy clay of their land at Knepp was economically unsustainable, Isabella Tree and her husband Charlie Burrell made a spectacular leap of faith: they decided to step back and let nature take over. Thanks to the introduction of free-roaming cattle, ponies, pigs and deer - proxies of the large animals that once roamed Britain - the 3,500 acre project has seen extraordinary increases in wildlife numbers and diversity in little over a decade. Extremely rare species, including turtle doves, nightingales, peregrine falcons, lesser spotted woodpeckers and purple emperor butterflies, are now breeding at Knepp, and populations of other species are rocketing. The Burrells' degraded agricultural land has become a functioning ecosystem again, heaving with life - all by itself. Personal and inspirational, Wilding is an astonishing account of the beauty and strength of nature, when it is given as much freedom as possible.