From 'one of the best nature-writers of his generation' (Country Life) and 2017 winner of the Wainwright Prize for Nature Writing, this BBC Radio 4 'Book of the Week' is the story of a wood - both its natural daily life and its historical times. Cockshutt is a particular wood - three and half acres of mixed woodland in south west Herefordshire - but it stands as exemplar for all the small woods of England.
For four years John Lewis-Stempel managed the wood. He coppiced the trees and raised cows and pigs who roamed free there. This is the diary of the last year, by which time he had come to know it from the bottom of its beech roots to the tip of its oaks, and to know all the animals that lived there - the fox, the pheasants, the wood mice, the tawny owl - and where the best bluebells grew. For many fauna and flora, woods like Cockshutt are the last refuge. It proves a sanctuary for John too.
To read The Wood is to be amongst its trees as the seasons change, following an easy path until, suddenly the view is broken by a screen of leaves, or your foot catches on a root, or a bird startles overhead. Lyrical, informative, steeped in poetry and folklore, it is both very real and very magical.
‘Dusk is filling the valley. It is the time of the gloaming, the owl-light.
Out in the wood, the resident tawny has started calling, Hoo-hoo-hoo-h-o-o-o.’
There is something about owls. They feature in every major culture from the Stone Age onwards. They are creatures of the night, and thus of magic. They are the birds of ill-tidings, the avian messengers from the Other Side. But owls – with the sapient flatness of their faces, their big, round eyes, their paternal expressions – are also reassuringly familiar. We see them as wise, like Athena’s owl, and loyal, like Harry Potter's Hedwig. Human-like, in other words.
No other species has so captivated us.
In The Secret Life of the Owl, John Lewis-Stempel explores the legends and history of the owl. And in vivid, lyrical prose, he celebrates all the realities of this magnificent creature, whose natural powers are as fantastic as any myth.
'John Lewis-Stempel is one of the best nature writers of his generation' Country Life
The Sunday Times Bestseller - SHORTLISTED FOR THE WAINWRIGHT PRIZE 2017
Traditional ploughland is disappearing. Seven cornfield flowers have become extinct in the last twenty years. Once abundant, the corn bunting and the lapwing are on the Red List. The corncrake is all but extinct in England. And the hare is running for its life.
Written in exquisite prose, The Running Hare tells the story of the wild animals and plants that live in and under our ploughland, from the labouring microbes to the patrolling kestrel above the corn, from the linnet pecking at seeds to the seven-spot ladybird that eats the aphids that eat the crop. It recalls an era before open-roofed factories and silent, empty fields, recording the ongoing destruction of the unique, fragile, glorious ploughland that exists just down the village lane.
But it is also the story of ploughland through the eyes of man who took on a field and husbanded it in a natural, traditional way, restoring its fertility and wildlife, bringing back the old farmland flowers and animals. John Lewis Stempel demonstrates that it is still possible to create a place where the hare can rest safe.
Shortlisted for the Richard Jefferies Society White Horse Bookshop Prize 2016. John Lewis-Stempel was winner of the Thwaites Wainwright Prize 2015 for MEADOWLAND.
The Wild Life is John Lewis-Stempel's account of twelve months eating only food shot, caught or foraged from the fields, hedges, and brooks of his forty-acre farm. Nothing from a shop and nothing raised from agriculture. Could it even be done?
We witness the season-by-season drama as the author survives on Nature's larder, trains Edith, a reluctant gundog, and conjures new recipes. And, above all, we see him get closer to Nature. Because, after all, you're never closer to Nature than when you're trying to kill it or pick it.
Lyrical, observant and mordantly funny, The Wild Life is an extraordinary celebration of our natural heritage, and a testament to the importance of getting back to one's roots - spiritually and practically.
WINNER OF THE THWAITES WAINWRIGHT PRIZE 2015
What really goes on in the long grass?
Meadowland gives an unique and intimate account of an English meadow’s life from January to December, together with its biography. In exquisite prose, John Lewis-Stempel records the passage of the seasons from cowslips in spring to the hay-cutting of summer and grazing in autumn, and includes the biographies of the animals that inhabit the grass and the soil beneath: the badger clan, the fox family, the rabbit warren,the skylark brood and the curlew pair, among others. Their births, lives, and deaths are stories that thread through the book from first page to last.
Set in Glasgow in the 1930s, Young James Herriot is the fascinating story of Herriot’s formative years at veterinary college, recounting the tales behind his calling to work with animals and his early friendships. With no modern drugs, and a lot of trial-and-error, James sets about learning how to treat the local farm animals and the pets of city folk.
Accompanied by a cast of eccentric professors and an ensemble of aspiring veterinarians, this book reveals a world now lost to us, showing how life in pre-war Britain changed an enthusiastic young student named Alf Wight into the man who would charm millions of readers the world over.
'We had no antibiotics, few drugs. A lot of time was spent pouring things down cows' throats. The whole thing added up to a lot of laughs. There's more science now, but not so many laughs.'
We all know James Herriot, possibly the most famous vet in the world. But how did a young student named Alf Wight become the man who would charm millions of readers the world over?
Young Herriot tells the fascinating story of James Herriot's formative years at veterinary college. Set in Glasgow in the 1930s - pre-antibiotics, when veterinary practise was, as Herriot wrote, 'more art than science' - the book shines a light on his calling to work with animals (which began when he read an article in Meccano Magazine entitled 'Veterinary Surgery as a Career'), his early friendships and quest for knowledge at Glasgow's Veterinary College and the early development of his legendary compassion for animals.
Accompanying a major BBC drama series, Young Herriot uses previously unpublished diaries and casebooks from Herriot's days as a student to bring to life a fascinating time and place, and represents a thrilling new addition to the James Herriot canon.
John Lewis-Stempel is the author of The Wild Life, Meadowland, Where Poppies Grow, The Running Hare and The Secret Life of the Owl. He has twice won the Wainwright Prize for Nature Writing, for Meadowland and Where Poppies Grow, and was shortlisted for The Running Hare, which was also shortlisted for the Independent Bookshop Week Book Award and the Richard Jefferies Society Award. He writes a column on nature and farming for Country Life and was the 2016 BSME Magazine Columnist of the Year. He lives on the borders of England and Wales with his wife and two children.