Perhaps it’s a reaction to having our faces in technology for the majority of our working day or simply a new understanding of our good old fashioned human need to connect with our surroundings, but nature writing has undeniably had a resurgence. Unusually it has punctured the mainstream, bounding out of its natural habitat of the dark, wooded pages of the Sunday supplements where the name Robert Macfarlane is almost middle-class code, into the hands of the common commuter. This pivotal change occurred notably with the phenomenal bestseller that was Helen Macdonald’s Samuel Johnson Prize winning H Is For Hawk back in 2014, and continues with uncharacteristically successful books such as James Rebanks’ The Shepherd’s Life, the edge-land musings of Rob Cowen’s Common Ground and the eagerly awaited, heartfelt Chris Packham memoir Fingers in the Sparkle Jar.
Vintage Books have long peddled a modest, yet important list in this genre and have rightly decided to celebrate by bringing to the fore their recent backlist publishing with a set of five stunning reissues titled The Birds and the Bees. The delicate and colourful series look was a collaboration with Scottish studio Timorous Beasties, famous for their designs inspired by the natural world. In turn, these books are almost inspiring enough to get me down the local community orchard on a wet Saturday. Hmm, we’ll see.
Bee Journal is a poem-journal of beekeeping that chronicles the life of the hive. It observes the living architecture of the comb, the range and locality of the colony; its flights, flowers, water sources, parasites, lives and deaths. Because of its genesis as a working journal, there is here an unusual intimacy and scrutiny of life and death in nature. The language is dense and clotted, the imagery thrillingly fresh, and the observing eye close, scrupulous and full of wonder.
SHORTLISTED FOR THE 2012 T. S. ELIOT POETRY PRIZE
One night Mark Cocker followed the roiling, deafening flock of rooks and jackdaws which regularly passed over his Norfolk home on their way to roost in the Yare valley. From the moment he watched the multitudes blossom as a mysterious dark flower above the woods, these gloriously commonplace birds became for Cocker a fixation and a way of life. Journeying across Britain, through spectacular failures, magical successes and epiphanies, Cocker uncovers the mysteries of these birds’ inner lives.
SHORTLISTED FOR THE 2008 SAMUEL JOHNSON PRIZE
As a child, Helen Macdonald was determined to become a falconer. Years later, when her father died, she became obsessed with the idea of training her own goshawk. She bought Mabel for £800 on a Scottish quayside and took her home to Cambridge, ready to embark on the long, strange business of trying to train this wildest of animals. Her story is an unflinchingly honest account of Macdonald’s struggle with grief during the difficult process of the hawk’s taming and her own untaming.
WINNER OF THE 2014 SAMUEL JOHNSON PRIZE
As a small boy, Dave Goulson was obsessed with wildlife – from his childhood menagerie of exotic pets to his ill-fated experiments with taxidermy. But it was the bumblebee that fascinated him the most. Once commonly found in the marshes of Kent, the short-haired bumblebee was driven to extinction in Britain by intensive farming practices. With ground-breaking research into these curious creatures, A Sting in the Tale tells the story of Goulson’s passionate drive to reintroduce them to their native land.
SHORTLISTED FOR THE 2013 SAMUEL JOHNSON PRIZE
Beginning in summer with clouds of breeding seabirds in Shetland and ending with nightjars like giant moths in the heart of England, Tim Dee maps his encounters with birds over four decades of tracking them around the world. He tells of familiar but near-global birds like sparrows, starlings and ravens, and exotic species, like electrically coloured hummingbirds in California and bee-eaters in Africa. Dee restores us to the primacy of looking, and takes us outside, again and again, to marvel at what is flying above us.
The Birds and the Bees reissues are published on the 5th May 2016 by Vintage Classics at £9.99 each.