Stephen Moss Recommends His Top 5 Nature Books for Winter
Author of bestselling seasonal biographies The Robin and The Wren, lifelong naturalist Stephen Moss has turned his attention to one of our best-loved carols - and discovered a hidden message – in his latest book The Twelve Birds of Christmas. Here he chooses five books to read on a winter’s evening, in front of a roaring log fire!
Where do Nightingales go in the winter? TV presenter and lifelong naturalist Mike Dilger traces the annual lifecycles of some of our best-known and best-loved birds: from the Bewick’s Swan, which migrates here from Siberia every autumn, through resident species such as the Tawny Owl and Robin, to global migrants including the Swallow, Cuckoo and the eponymous Nightingale of the book’s title. Along the way, he provides detailed accounts of their behaviour, and also reveals the mysteries of what they are doing at the times of year when they are away from our shores. Fascinating and thought-provoking.
The memoir of one of Britain’s most important conservationists: the man who founded the legendary Aigas Field Centre, near Inverness in the Scottish Highlands, and whose previous books include the evocative Nature’s Child and Gods of the Morning. Born into comfort and privilege, things began to turn difficult for the young John when his mother became chronically ill. This, however, meant that he was often left to his own devices, with the freedom to explore and discover the natural world rarely allowed to children today. A funny, surprising and often deeply moving book, guaranteed to entertain you on long winter nights.
The life-affirming story of how the author, along with her husband Charlie Burrell, transformed their intensive farm in Sussex from a wildlife-depleted zone into a natural paradise, complete with nightingales, turtle doves and purple emperor butterflies. They did so not by complex management techniques, but using minimal intervention, letting nature find its own balance. This is not just an uplifting story, but also a manifesto on how we could bring back lost and declining species into our wider countryside, which should be compulsory reading for every landowner, conservationist and politician. Wonderful!
The first book by my colleague at Bath Spa University’s MA in Travel and Nature Writing, The Country of Larks retraces a journey on foot, through the Chiltern Hills, made by the young Robert Louis Stevenson almost 150 years ago. Along the way, she reminisces about her childhood home, and the nature of place and belonging. But there’s a twist in the tale: that by retracing the route taken by Stevenson, she soon realises that it follows almost exactly the same path as the proposed HS2 railway. This means that the landscape and its wildlife may soon be destroyed forever. A lyrical account of a walk through space and time, which may end up as an elegy to this unique and threatened landscape.
Winter is also a time to remember the summer gone by recalling those long, hot sunny days when insects were buzzing and fluttering all around us. It’s also an opportunity to look ahead to the coming spring, with all the delights that will bring in the natural world. What better way to do so than in the company of Guardian journalist Patrick Barkham, whose first book took him on a year-long quest to try to see all Britain’s native butterflies? Along the way he visited many of our loveliest places and encountered some great British eccentrics. Did he see all 59 species of butterfly? You’ll have to read to the very end to find out!
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