BBC Countryfile Magazine's best nature and countryside books of 2021
After reading and reviewing dozens of books on nature and the countryside over the past 12 months, the BBC Countryfile Magazine team give their verdict on the nine best books of the year
The past 12 months have been exceptionally good for nature and countryside books. From memoirs to nature writing and from historical insight to folklore, there was been some wonderful additions to the ideal countryside library.
The team and regular contributors to BBC Countryfile Magazine have picked out the books that have made the most impression on them this year, from grassroots activism to stargazing, from enchanting woodland tales to country house histories and mysteries.
The best books on nature and the countryside in 2021 as chosen by the BBC Countryfile Magazine team
It's tough to narrow down our choices to just nine books but after a great deal of deliberation, these are the titles we loved most from 2021. We're sure you'll enjoy them, too.
Women on Nature
Edited by Katharine Norbury, Unbound
This beautifully curated anthology is a treasure trove of luminous nature writing spanning seven centuries, with extracts, essays and poems from over 100 women. It is the perfect book to dip in and out of; I’ve found nourishment, inspiration and connection on every page. From familiar names, such as George Eliot and Slyvia Plath, to many who were new to me, such as the moving prose of Josie George and new writing from Eluned Gramich, this is an important, groundbreaking collection.
Margaret Bartlett, production editor
On Gallows Down
By Nicola Chester, Chelsea Green
Combining fresh, thought-provoking observations on nature and belonging with a mastery of language, every page stops you in your tracks. Nicola Chester’s book rises above much nature writing through revelations about her involvement in direct action to protect threatened wild places of north Wessex. The link between love and wonder, loss, pain and reprisal is compelling. And just when it all seems too much to bear, she treats us to another magical story from those history-laden hills.
Fergus Collins, editor
By Ruth Allen, Mortimer
Like a lot of people, during this pandemic I’ve sought consolation from nature. However, Grounded inspired me to reevaluate my relationship with the natural world – to interact with it in a deeper and also less exploitative way. With mental health at a premium in what can be very scary times, becoming more grounded as human beings could scarcely be more important. This inspiring book is full of wisdom and common sense, practical ideas about how to make that happen.
Dixe Wills, travel writer and author
The Art of Patience – Seeking the Snow Leopard in Tibet
By Sylvain Tesson, Oneworld
This account of Tesson’s Tibetan journey in the company of photographer Vincent Munier to witness the snow leopard is a powerful testament to this animal’s power and plight. Tesson is a transcendent travel writer. His observation and spiritual inquiry are reminiscent of Kerouac but expressed more clearly, in spare, lyrical prose. This book makes me shiver. It inspires action, thought, silence – and perhaps also prayer.
Julie Brominicks, nature writer
2021 Stargazing: Month-by-Month Guide to the Night Sky
By Heather Couper and Nigel Henbest, Philips Stargazing
I am now working on a new book about stars and classical mythology. So during the year I have acquired a wondrous “toy” – a domestic planetarium which casts a picture of the night sky, now this moment – on to my sitting room ceiling. Therefore I have also spent a good deal of time and delight with this Month-by-Month Guide to the Night Sky. It is simple, clear, and very beautiful.
Sara Maitland, author and columnist
By Ash, Oak and Thorn & By Rowan and Yew
By Melissa Harrison, Chicken House Books
Nature writer Melissa Harrison published her first children’s fiction this year with By Ash, Oak and Thorn and its sequel By Rowan and Yew. Inspired by classic tale The Little Grey Men by BB, these lovely stories tackle themes of lost wilderness and the effects of human habitation through the eyes of elf-like folk; for ages five to seven.
Tanya Jackson, digital editor
In the Garden: Essays on Nature and Growing
By various authors, Daunt Books
In one way or another, gardens and gardening teach us lessons, some trivial or literal, others more symbolic and profound. This collection of short essays, written by
14 contemporary writers, proves that. Delivered with the same unhurried pulse of a gardener at work, these are memoirs for a Sunday morning; momentary insights into the lives of the many different types of growers, presenting opportunities to both reflect and inspire.
Daniel Graham, section editor
A Spotter’s Guide to Countryside Mysteries
By John Wright, Profile Books
Dorset naturalist and seasoned forager John Wright is good company. In this highly readable book he leads us through field, forest and hedgerow, revealing any number of strange and fascinating natural phenomena. Apart from his ready knowledge of nature, he has a sharp eye, a ready wit and a keen nose for a good story. Superb.
Joe Pontin, features editor
Noble Ambitions: The Fall & Rise of the Post-War Country House
By Adrian Tinniswood, Johnathan Cape
The country house is frequently considered an icon of Georgian and Victorian Britain. This masterfully unique account of the country house following the Second World War captures how these sprawling edifices were left to the mercy of an inevitable transformation of the nation’s fortune. This dynamic story of survival of the collateral of a once-decadent age is a testament to the legacy and renaissance of these magnificent piles.
Emma J Wells, historian