Farmer and writer John Lewis-Stempel has won the Thwaites Wainwright Prize 2015 for Meadowland: the Private Life of an English Field (Black Swan).
Worth £5,000, the annual book prize is awarded by publisher Frances Lincoln, in association with the National Trust, to highlight the best books in UK nature and travel writing. Lewis-Stempel beat off competition from five other shortlisted titles, including Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk (Jonathan Cape).
Meadowland is an account of a year in the life of a Herefordshire farm meadow, recording the passage of the seasons from cowslips in spring to the hay-cutting of summer and grazing in autumn. It also includes the biographies of the animals that inhabit the grass and the soil beneath.
Chair of judges, Dame Fiona Reynolds, said: “From an exceptionally strong shortlist, we found a book whose prose reached for perfection and which, combined with an authentic passion for a land the author knows to the depths of his bones, swung into the lead: Meadowland. An utterly captivating book, we found Lewis-Stempel’s narrative original and inspiring. Bewitchingly beautiful, honest and effortless, this is a book that should make us all want to explore the wonders and realities of nature on our doorsteps.
Lewis-Stempel has had several books published, including The Wild Life: A Year of Living on Wild Food (Black Swan), England: the Autobiography (Penguin) and Six Weeks: The Short and Gallant Life of the British Officer in the First World War (Orion). He reviews books and writes a column for the Sunday Express and is a regular speaker on radio and at literary events and festivals. He lives on the borders of England and Wales with his wife and two children.
The prize celebrates the legacy of British nature writer Alfred Wainwright and aims to reflect his values of inspiring people to explore the outdoors, whilst engendering a love of landscape and respect for nature. It is sponsored by Wainwright Ale. This year’s prize was judged by: Reynolds, who is the master of Emmanuel College, Cambridge and former director general of The National Trust; Nigel Roby, chief executive and publisher of The Bookseller; Paul Evans, broadcaster and nature writer; Fergus Collins, editor of BBC Countryfile magazine; Bill Lyons, TV executive editor of "Countryfile", "Secret Britain" and "Coast"; and Katie Bond, publisher at the National Trust.
The winning book will be the will be the “Book of the Month” in the shops of official campaign partners Stanfords and the National Trust throughout May and Lewis-Stempel will appear in conversation with Collins on Tuesday 28th April at Stanfords, Long Acre.
Meanwhile, a special commendation for a lifetime of nature writing was given to the late Professor Oliver Rackham. Primarily an academic at Corpus Christi College in Cambridge, Rackham was known for his "thirst for the truth, his absorption in trees, woodlands and their history and his challenge of sentimentality". His last book, The Ash Tree, was longlisted for the Thwaites Wainwright Prize 2015.