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Why climate change is spurring a love of literature

Centre news
In the media

People are turning to books about nature for solace in the face of climate change and species extinction, says a University of Leeds academic working on a major project to explore the UK’s love of nature writing.

Dr Pippa Marland, a research fellow with the School of English, is quoted in the Yorkshire Post and Yorkshire Evening Post on the Land Lines project. “People are turning to literature as well as other cultural forms because of their love for the natural world and their great fear at what appears to be happening to it through climate change and the loss of species.”

The two year AHRC-funded project, lead by Prof Graham Huggan of the School of English and the Priestley International Centre for Climate, includes a survey to discover the nation’s favourite nature book, now whittled down to a shortlist of ten following 770 nominations from the public for over 200 writers.

“We were blown away by the phenomenal response from the public” says Prof Huggan. “We received hundreds of nominations and witnessed some of the extraordinarily rich conversations which took place on social media as people championed their favourite books.”

As well as Prof Huggan, the judging panel also included Mike Collins from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, Miriam Darlington, nature writer and lecturer at the University of Plymouth, Naomi Fuller from Avon Wildlife Trust and Ben Hoare, Features Editor at BBC Wildlife Magazine.

The shortlist contains classics Tarka the Otter by Henry Williamson and Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows as well as contemporary works including Rob Cowen’s Common Ground, set in the Harrogate suburb of Bilton, Fingers In The Sparkle Jar by TV naturalist Chris Packham and The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris.

Older works by John Clare, the 19th century so-called “peasant poet”, and grandfather of citizen science Gilbert White’s The Natural History Of Selborne (1789), also make the final list.

Many prominent figures submitted their own nominations for the survey, including Chris Packham, Cerys Matthews, Gillian Burke, Julia Donaldson, John Lewis Stempel, Miranda Krestinkoff, Virginia McKenna, Michael Morpurgo, Fiona Reynolds and Alan Titchmarsh.

The quest to find a public favourite proved challenging, says Prof Huggan, quoted in AOL, BT Group and over a 100 regional newspapers: “It was a very difficult decision to come up with the final list of ten.”

The competition has been championed by the BBC’s Autumnwatch and BBC Wildlife Magazine and the winning book will be announced on BBC Winterwatch.

Voting on the shortlist opens today (4 January 2018) and closes at midnight on 25 January. To vote, go to

Land Lines, which brings together researchers from the University of Leeds with the University of Sussex and the University of St Andrews, takes an in-depth look at the history of modern nature writing from 1789 to 2014. You can also engage with the project via Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #favnaturebook.

Read about the Land Lines project in The Clearing, Little Toller’s journal for new writing.

Image: the Land Lines project team (left to right: Dr Will Abberley, Dr Christina Alt, Dr David Higgins, Prof Graham Huggan, Dr Pippa Marland)