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Common Ground by Rob Cowen voted in top three of the UK’s favourite nature books

February 1st, 2018

Detail from book cover for Common Ground by Rob Cowen

BA History of Art alumnus Rob Cowen’s book Common Ground has been voted in the top three of the UK’s favourite nature books in an online poll organised by a research project led by the University of Leeds.

The winner of the UK’s favourite nature book poll was Chris Packham’s Fingers in the Sparkle Jar. In second place was the classic Tarka the Otter by Henry Williamson. Common Ground by Rob Cowen was awarded third place — a unique portrait of people and place through time, and an exploration of the common ground we share with the natural world, the past and each other.

The poll was organised by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) to help launch Land Lines, a two-year research project it is funding, and the result was announced on Winterwatch on BBC2 on 31 January.

A partnership between the Universities of Leeds, St Andrews and Sussex, the project is examining the history of modern nature writing from 1789, when Gilbert White’s The Natural History of Selborne was first published, to the present day.

In total, 7,300 votes were cast by the public in a national online poll featuring 10 shortlisted books. Also on the final shortlist were:

  • The Peregrine by JA Baker
  • Poems by John Clare
  • The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
  • Findings by Kathleen Jamie
  • The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris
  • The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd
  • The Natural History of Selborne by Gilbert White

These were selected by a panel of experts from 278 titles nominated by the public last year.

Dr Pippa Marland, Research Fellow in the School of English at Leeds, said:

“Both Chris Packham and Rob Cowen’s books feature the environs of urban areas, and celebrate the nature that exists on our doorsteps, and while they adopt the combination of memoir and observation typical of non-fiction nature writing, they also introduce new elements to the mix.”

Book cover for Common Ground by Rob CowenPublic comments about Common Ground included:

“It perfectly and poetically describes a very special habitat – one man’s exploration of a wild environment on his very doorstep on the edge of town. My favourite book about my favourite place.”

“It’s down-to-earth in the most perfect sense. Grounded, rooted, and relates to us all as town-dwellers. But it opens us up to the natural world outside our town and city limits. Revelatory. Inspiring.”

A blog post announcing the winners on the Land Lines website describes Rob Cowen’s ‘extraordinary work’ as follows:

“Set in the environs of Bilton, a suburb of Harrogate, the book carries out a fascinating and exhaustive excavation of the human and animal histories of the area. While ostensibly adopting a traditional approach to non-fiction prose nature writing, the book also plays with and disrupts the form.

“In its sensitivity to the hauntings and absences in the landscape, Common Ground has elements of psychogeography and deep topography, and in its imaginative recreations of the lives of others, both human and non-human, it also blurs the line between fiction and non-fiction.”

The full article about the winning nature books, plus further information about the Land Lines project, can be found here.

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