RICHARD JEFFERIES SOCIETY & WHITE HORSE BOOKSHOP LITERARY PRIZE

“The Richard Jefferies Society and White Horse Book Shop Literary Prize” is awarded annually to the author of the publication 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 and spirit of Jefferies’ countryside books.

An annual prize of £1,000 will be awarded for writing on themes or topics broadly consistent with the work of Richard Jefferies. It has to be published (not re-published) within the calendar year. First English translations of works are eligible. E-books are excluded from the award. 

Nominations may be made by anyone including publishers.  Publishers are requested to send a copy of the nominated book to:

Richard Jefferies Society, c/o Valezina, 112 Westerfield Road, Ipswich, IP4 2XW.

and to:

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

Decisions about the Prize will be made by the Society's Executive Council and a representative of the White Horse Bookshop. Their decision will be final.  The right not to make an award in a given year is reserved. The short-list is drawn up in February and the winner should be announced by June. 

The closing date for nominations is 1 December. Please send your nominations by email to info@richardjefferiessociety.co.uk as early as possible and include as much covering information as possible. 




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

The short-list for the 2018 Richard Jefferies Society and White Horse Bookshop Literary Award was agreed on 13 January 2019. In no particular order the titles, authors and publishers were:

·        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)

The judges voted on 16 May 2019 to award the prize to Isabella Tree for Wilding. 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.

Congratulations to all the short-listed nominees who were all worthy candidates. 

Isabella Tree will be giving a talk about her prize-winning book at the White Horse Book Shop on Thursday 25 July 2019 in the evening. The event is open to the public and all are welcome.  




Richard Stewart provided the following report:


It was perhaps fortunate that this book was published a few years after the seminal Feral-Rewilding the Land by George Monbiot. With Wilding the emphasis was on a particular area, the Knepp Estate in West Sussex. This was a detailed account of how, after realisation that intensive farming on heavy clay soil wouldn’t generate a profit, the author and her husband decided to let nature take over, hence the book’s title. The result, within a few years, was an incredible wildlife recovery which made the estate a ‘hotspot’ for a wide variety of species including the endangered turtle dove, purple emperor butterflies, many species of bats, woodpeckers, nightingales, peregrine falcons and skylarks, to name just a few. Expert advice was taken, especially from a larger pioneering project in the Netherlands. Veteran tree expert Ted Green was consulted about the rich habitat oaks provide for a wide variety of species, with stress on the importance of declining oaks as host to rare species: ‘The oak took on a beauty all of its own; a kind of sculptured metaphysical grandeur. Death became a different kind of living’. Hedgerows of native species were soon ‘billowing out like a dowager liberated from her stays’ and I particularly admired the challenges made to centuries old theories and traditions, particularly the challenge to the much supported importance of the close canopy of primeval forest whereas their belief was that ‘emerging scrub is one of the richest natural habitats on the planet’. Similarly they rejected the RSPB’s supplementary food programme for turtle doves, as it didn't fit in with Knepp’s situation. The descriptions covered a wide range of positive relationships from the jay and acorn planting, beavers and flood defences, whether tree guards were beneficial or not and the need to concentrate on dynamic ecosystems rather than just the recovery of individual species. 
    Along the way there were many problems to overcome, including initial opposition from large conservation bodies awarding grants and subsidies, local hostility, whether to intervene or not when free-ranging animals were starving and keeping walkers on footpaths safe from large animals grazing nearby. Other chapters examined the economic, cultural and wellbeing benefits of wildlife, with reference to the deletion of natural history words by the Oxford Junior Dictionary and the fact that forty per cent of children never play outside at all: ‘Those who have no such experience tend to regard nature as hostile or irrelevant and are indifferent to its loss’ and ‘by expurgating nature from children’s lives we are depriving the environment of its champions for the future’. 

    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.
    I found the style of writing engaging with chapters prefaced by literary quotes and a fine sense of just how much scientific data to impart before reverting to the practicalities of managing this ambitious programme. 







2017 winner: Adam Nicolson - The Seabird's Cry

There were 27 nominations for the 2017 prize. The shortlist was agreed on 3 February 2018 and 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. 


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.

The book is subtitled: “The Lives and Loves of Puffins, Gannets and other Ocean Voyagers” but it is much more than a simple scientific account of the seabirds of Britain.  It introduces an approach to bird-watching which is not merely factual but visionary, and encourages empathy with and speculation about the individual perceptions of the world held by different seabirds – what Nicolson calls an ecozoic perspective on life.  The writer is intrigued by the unique relationship of seabirds with water, air, and land, and their relationships with each – indeed the book could be said to be about the mystery of life itself.  The individual chapters focus on specific seabirds and are packed with detailed information, accounts of scientific observations and experiments with birds, and legendary and literary references, all underpinned by the writer's own uninhibited wonder and humility in the face of the extraordinary lives of the birds he discusses. While this is a book about seabirds their lives, loves, habits, journeys, ways of life, characteristics, individuality, and their differences from, and similarities to humans; it is also about cultural history, evolution, pollution, the impact of humans on the natural world, population collapse, and extinction.

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.’

Adam Nicolson said: ‘I have been a Richard Jefferies man (arriving through Edward Thomas) for 40 years and so I am deeply deeply chuffed.’





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 for The Wood for the Trees (William Collins) 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.”



Following his retirement, Fortey bought 4 acres of ancient beech and bluebell woodland in the Chilterns, near Henley. The book chronicles, month by month, his developing relationship with the wood, investigating the range of species living in his territory, then expanding to consider the socio-economic history of the area, and issues involved in the maintenance of the woodland as a thriving ecosystem. The author's academic background allows for scientific accuracy in recording species, and the holistic approach to describing the woodland echoes Jefferies' approach to writing about the area around Coate, near Swindon.

Jefferies (1848 – 1887) last published work was an introduction to Gilbert White's Natural History of Selborne. He wrote: I did not come across Mr. White's book till late in the day, when it was in fact, too late, else it would have been of the utmost advantage to me.” John Price said: “We feel that this could also apply to Richard Fortey's book, so all budding naturalists, and would-be nature writers should be alerted. White, Jefferies, and Fortey, all demonstrate the enormous interest that can be obtained from the study of a relatively small area of land over an extended period.”


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; and 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.

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