Discover Our Favourite Nature Books

(c) Emma Matthars

Reading is a great way to switch off and let your mind wander. This is why we asked the team at Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust for their favourite nature books and put together a selection of wonderful nature books to inspire, educate and entertain.

Britain's Tree Story

by Julian Hight

Published by National Trust Books, 2011, RRP £20

Britain's Tree Story

A lavishly illustrated tribute to Britain's oldest, largest and most famous trees told through legends, history and literature. Trees have always inspired awe and wonder and some of our ancient trees have been standing for over a thousand years. In this fascinating and lovingly researched book the author selects the most interesting of them and compares archive photographs and engravings with contemporary colour photographs. Some of the trees featured have changed drastically over the centuries, while others seem to have hardly changed at all.

Recommended by Thomas Gibbs, Assistant Reserve Officer
"This is my favourite nature book. I wouldn't say it's a conventional book with chapters per say but rather it's a book with loads of photos split into sections based on the different native/non-native ancient trees of the isles giving a description of their symbolic and cultural importance and then a variety of examples of where to find them.  The reason I love it is because trees are my favourite living creatures, they're so majestic and give so much to the world we live in without asking for anything in return, gentle giants standing watch over us and the landscape. I love the sense of history they imbue too, particularly ancient trees. The other reason I love this book is because it's got tonnes of photos, new and old. I'm not always in the mood for proper reading so it's a great way to dip in and out!"

The Butterfly Isles

by Patrick Barkham

Published by Granta Books, 2018, RRP £9.99

The Butterfly Isles

Butterflies animate our summers but the fifty-nine species found in the British Isles can be surprisingly elusive. Some bask unseen at the top of trees in London parks; others lurk at the bottom of damp bogs in Scotland. A few survive for months, while other ephemeral creatures only fly for three days. Several are virtually extinct.

This bewitching book charts Patrick Barkham's quest to find each of them - from the adonis blue to the dingy skipper - in one unforgettable summer. Wry, attentive, full of infectious delight and curiosity, written with a beautifully light touch, The Butterfly Isles is a classic of British nature writing.

Recommended by Jenny Rawson, Senior Reserves Officer
"A great adventure round the UK in search of all of the butterfly species, including grizzled skippers at Waterford Heath! It’s a lovely book to pick up again through the year, and I’ve read it multiple times."

The Observer’s Book of British Birds

by S. Vere Benson

Published by Frederick Warne & Co. Ltd, 1952, out of print

The Observer's Book of British birds

Martin's original copy of The Observer's Book of British birds

A splendidly illustrated pocket book, describing 236 species of British birds. With 200 illustrations, a hundred of which in full colour, with index of species.

Recommended by Martin Ketcher, Water Vole Conservation & Non-Native Invasive Species Officer
"It's very difficult to choose a favourite so I've gone for an old favourite. It was the i-Spy book that got me into birds as a seven year old but that was soon replaced by The Observer's Book of British Birds which was 'my' bird book as a child. I still have the copy which is the 1952 edition. I used it as a field guide and read it repeatedly. There are some bits I remember reading about even now. For example, it describes the 'notes' of goldfinch as "reminiscent of Japanese wind-bells". As a small child I had absolutely no idea what Japanese wind-bells were, so not very helpful! The book is something of an historical document now. Most species had a full, albeit small, page including golden oriole, red-backed shrike, wryneck and hoopoe, while kite (just kite, not red kite, "a few still breed in Wales") gets 3.5 lines at the bottom of the page on white-tailed eagle. Avocet ("an uncommon visitor") gets the same treatment at the bottom of the oystercatcher page. Collared dove, little egret and ring-necked parakeet didn't exist! When I first saw a collared dove on the roof of the house next-door-but-one I thought it must be a mega-rarity as it wasn't in the Observer's book! How times have changed."

The Running Hare: The Secret Life of Farmland

by John Lewis-Stempel

Published by Black Swan, 2017, RRP £9.99

The Running Hare

Written in exquisite prose, The Running Hare tells the story of the wild animals and plants that live in and under our ploughland, from the labouring microbes to the patrolling kestrel above the corn, from the linnet pecking at seeds to the seven-spot ladybird that eats the aphids that eat the crop. It recalls an era before open-roofed factories and silent, empty fields, recording the ongoing destruction of the unique, fragile, glorious ploughland that exists just down the village lane.

But it is also the story of ploughland through the eyes of man who took on a field and husbanded it in a natural, traditional way, restoring its fertility and wildlife, bringing back the old farmland flowers and animals. John Lewis Stempel demonstrates that it is still possible to create a place where the hare can rest safe.

Recommended by Marianne Lodge, Reserves Administration Assistant
"I enjoy the writing of John Lewis-Stempel and recently read his book The Running Hare: The Secret Life of Farmland. This is the story of his attempt to turn a barren, overworked, chemicalised piece of former farmland into a traditionally farmed wheat field as an experiment to see how much wildlife might return – wild flowers and birds formerly associated with farmland. He writes in a relaxed but hugely informative way as one who really lives in and understands the British countryside."

A Sting in the Tail

by Dave Goulson

Published by Vintage, 2013, RRP £9.99

A Sting in the Tail

Once commonly found in the marshes of Kent, the short-haired bumblebee is now extinct in the UK, but still exists in the wilds of New Zealand, descended from a few queen bees shipped over in the nineteenth century. A Sting in the Tale tells the story of Goulson’s passionate drive to reintroduce it to its native land and contains groundbreaking research into these curious creatures, history’s relationship with the bumblebee, the disastrous effects intensive farming has had on our bee populations and the potential dangers if we are to continue down this path.

Recommended by Emma Matthars, Events and Marketing Officer
"I find Dave Goulson’s style of writing hugely accessible and entertaining, while pressing home the urgent need to protect and conserve our bumblebees. A fascinating read!"

The Darkness Is Light Enough

by Chris Ferris

Published by Sphere, 1986, out of print

The Darkness is Light Enough

Described accurately as "The Field Journal of a Night Naturalist", this book provides a fascinating and detailed account of the wildlife observations made over a long period by the author.  Whilst the book covers field observations from an area of "only" about 800 acres, it covers a time period of some four years. During this time Chris Ferris describes some of the hideous destruction of wildlife which takes place beneath our noses. That said, The Darkness Is Light Enough is not an aggressive book - on the contrary it is gentle, charming and deeply persuasive in its very humanity.

Recommended by Matt Dodds, Planning and Biodiversity Manager
"This is an astonishing tale of bravery, patience, friendship and humility as this incredible lady becomes an accepted member of the nocturnal natural world. The lady has a bad back and to cope with the pain starts walking at night and over time the animals adopt her. And it’s true! She saves badgers from baiters and a fox teaches her how to catch skylarks at night. A magical book."

Tweet of the Day

by Brett Westwood & Stephen Moss

Published by Hodder & Stoughton, 2015, RRP £12.99

Tweet of the Day

Based on the scripts of BBC Radio 4's beloved year-long series, and distilling two lifetimes' knowledge, insight and enthusiasm into these pages, Brett Westwood and Stephen Moss take you month by month through the year, and the changing lives of our favourite birds. From peregrines swapping sea-cliffs for skyscrapers to swifts spending almost their entire lives on the wing; from charms of goldfinches to murmurations of starlings; from ptarmigans thriving in the Highland snow to the bright green parakeets thronging London's parks; this book is packed full of extraordinary insights and memorable facts.

Recommended by Josh Kalms, People & Wildlife Officer (Affinity Water Sites)
"The most brilliant introduction to British birds, this is a trove of beautiful descriptions and intriguing anecdotes. Great for gleaning gems of knowledge about a range of species. I love how it takes the reader through the calendar year, so a perfect read, or reference book, for anyone interested in wildlife."

Birds, Beast and Relatives

by Gerald Durrell

Published by Collins, 1969, RRP £8.99

Gerald Durrell Birds beasts and relatives

The follow up to My Family and Other Animals and the second book in The Corfu Trilogy, the beloved books that inspired ITV's television series The Durrells.

Just before the Second World War the Durrell family decamped to the glorious, sun-soaked island of Corfu where the youngest of the four children, ten-year-old Gerald, discovered his passion for animals: toads and tortoises, bats and butterflies, scorpions and octopuses. Through glorious silver-green olive groves and across brilliant-white beaches Gerry pursued his obsession . . . causing hilarity and mayhem in his ever-tolerant family.

Recommended by Lesley Davies, Chief Executive
"I was introduced to the writing of Gerald Durrell, the legendary conservationist when I was about 10. I remember reading ‘Birds, Beast and Relatives’ which is the follow up to ‘My Family and Other Animals’ and is a wonderful account of his childhood and his experiences with wildlife; it inspired me to want to learn about nature."

Shop Local

During this time we all need to support our local charities and businesses. If you would like to purchase any of these titles, please consider ordering from your local bookshop

Chorleywood Bookshop has been serving its local community of schools and readers for over 45 years. They are currently operating and can post books or deliver within a five-mile radius. Email info@cwbookshop.co.uk with your enquiry. 

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