Books recommended by society members for our book review evening 15th September


Cocker, Mark (2014)  Claxton: Field Notes from a Small Planet Jonathan Cape

The book consists of 140 columns over a 12 year period from The Guardian, The Guardian Weekly and other publications. It’s written like a journal and most of pieces are based on his experiences and observations in and around the village of Claxton, Norfolk although writings about other places to which he has travelled, are included.  Mark Cocker says ‘Claxton is above everything a book about place, but is also a celebration of the way in which a particular location can give shape and meaning to one’s whole outlook.’

Contribution by Mervyn Dobbin


Trilobite! : Eyewitness to Evolution by Richard Fortey, HarperCollins Flamingo 2001, ISBN 0 00 655138 6.

Contribution by Steve Brady


The Dragonfly diaries – The story of Europe’s first Dragonfly Sanctuary

by Ruary Mackenzie Dodds


Gods of the Morning: A Birds Eye View of a Highland Year

By John Lister Kaye

Contribution by Julie Lane


H is for Hawk – Helen Macdonald

Published 2014, Vintage

ISBN 978-0-099-57545-0

Look forward to seeing you at Hazeley Wood, 10.30 on Tuesday.

Contribution by Jean Cooke

Six books recommended by Mike LeRoy (see below – apologies for the layout but there was some annoying formatting that I couldn’t get rid of!)


    1. ‘Meadowland: The private life of an English Field’
  • On Midsummer’s eve he had had what he describes as “one of the strangest moments of my life” (page 143) … but I will leave you to find out about that for yourselves.
  • In July, he fits a T-bar cutter alongside his ancient tractor to start cutting his meadow, but it is broken irreparably on a stone. He can’t get a replacement for days and all his neighbours are hard at work mowing their hay, so can’t help him. He gets out his scythe and over four days scythes 3 acres, getting up at dawn and working right through, with bloodied hands and aching limbs. “Nothing in the last ten years of farming has given me such satisfaction.” (page 173). He found out why hay-cutters tied up their trouser legs when they were scything. A vole ran up his leg and only vigorous, noisy dancing shook it off before it climbed all the way up his trousers.
  • John Lewis-Stempel shares one of my pet hates: people who move to live in the countryside, then subject the roadside verges outside their hedges to be closely-mowed lawns.
  • Sometimes he gets a surprise: “There was an unexpected visitor in the field today. As I walked down the bank in the morning haze the blackbirds were clamouring their liquid alarm, then: dismissive wasp-yellow eyes. Scaly yellow legs. Black metal talons. All these things flashed before me. I am not sure who was the more surprised, the female Sparrowhawk or I as she came up over the hedge. I could feel the displaced breath from her wings as she flicked up over my head, then away, a sullen grey bullet. Certainly I was the more scared; for malevolent verve the Sparrowhawk is unrivalled. They are always coiled, ready, dangerous. When the first gunsmiths needed a name for a small firearm they settled on the falconry term for a male Sparrowhawk. A musket. …” (page 99)
  • Once, when watching, a shrew runs over his leg and he watches it for ages: “In the shaded but desiccated land of the hedge bottom, where I am crouched, a dun shrew runs over my leg. She is careless of my presence and pokes around in the old leaves in an amphetamine frenzy. Over the next ten minutes this tiny, long-trunked mammal puts on a horror show, although one can only admire her murderous dexterity. She dismembers five beetles with rapid movements of her jaws, before rubbing and rolling a grey slug with her snout, presumably to tenderize it. Occasionally she nips it; her saliva contains a poison that immobilises and eventually kills the victim. She also wolfs down woodlice, preferring the Philoscia muscorum louse to Porcellio scaber. Between the courses she washes assiduously. No dunce, she refuses to snack on a large black beetle that looks capable of fighting back.” (pages 129/130)
  • He can write … vividly … ecstatically. He tells his account of his meadow taking the months of the year in sequence. His writing is of closely-observed nature, mixed with snippets of history, country lore and knowledge of wildlife. This is a man who watches nature for an hour or more, sat still under a field hedge. He knows his patch of land intimately. He feels the back of a hedgehog … and gets one of its spines up his finger-nail. He observes wildlife at close quarters. He works out that the Moles straight gallery parallel to a ditch enables it to pass through soft ground full of worms to eat, but not too damp to flood (page 64). His description of the call of the Wood Pigeon is (page 131) “take-two-cows, taffy-take-two”.
  • ‘Meadowland’ is a book by a countryman and farmer whose family have lived in the same Herefordshire valley for at least four centuries. John Lewis-Stempel is also a writer and a highly-observant naturalist. The book is ‘Meadowland: The private life of an English Field’. He lives on and works a small-holding in which is a 5.7 acre field called Lower Meadow, a wet and rather unproductive flood-meadow skirted by the little river Escley. I often used to travel through the broad valley where he lives. The Golden Valley is as far west as you can get in Herefordshire and to its immediate west are the Black Mountains of Wales with Offa’s Dyke Path leading across its ridges on its way north to Hay-on-Wye.
  • by John Lewis-Stempel (2014: Doubleday)
  • ‘Meadowland: The private life of an English Field’ by John Lewis-Stempel (2014: Doubleday).
  • ‘The Moth Snowstorm: Nature & Joy’Former environment editor of The Independent, winner of an RSPB award for ‘outstanding services to conservation’ and awards from BTO and ZSL, in 2008 Michael McCarthy wrote the captivating book ‘Say Goodbye to the Cuckoo’. In his new book, ‘The Moth Snowstorm: Nature & Joy’, he intertwines personal experiences, both testing and joyful, which have shaped his life. Above all he aims to explain how crucial is our relationship with nature.
  • by Michael McCarthy (2015: John Murray)


    1. ‘The Naming of the Shrew: A curious history of Latin names’John Wright’s book is all about the names we give to living things. He explains the long history of their Latin names, why they are like this and how they have changed. He tells us about Linneaeus and many other fathers of taxonomy and finishes with challenging material about taxonomy, cladistics and what difference DNA is making to our understanding of species and how we name them.
  • by John Wright (2014: Bloomsbury)


    1. ‘The Fly Trap’‘The Fly Trap’ takes you into the remote world of its Swedish author on the remote island where he lives and to his absolute focus on finding Hoverflies. It is a wacky book, showing a wry sense of humour that also takes us back to the extraordinary lives of some significant entomologists such as René Malaise. It is a meandering but engrossing account.
  • by Frederik Sjöberg (2014: Particular Books)


    1. ‘The Ash Tree’Oliver Rackham probably knew more about ancient woodlands, their history and ecology, than anyone. He died in February this year and completed this small book only last year. He was a brilliant botanist, plant ecologist and historian and had a close knowledge of plant pathology. He had long warned of the risks of importing plants from all around the world. He once wrote “The greatest threat to trees and forests is the tendency of Homo sapiens deliberately to mix up all the world’s trees and inadvertently to mix up all the world’s tree diseases”. When he wrote ‘The Ash Tree’ this enabled him to say about the Government’s belated response to Ash dieback disease “I told you so”; but the book does much more than that, it tells of the history and importance of this tree, with a candid view of its future.
  • by Oliver Rackham (2014: Little Toller)


    1. ‘Nature in Towns & Cities’David Goode was once deputy to Derek Ratcliffe when he was Chief Scientist to the Nature Conservancy (now Natural England) when they took on the government about thoughtless tree planting across the rare Flow Country peat bogs of northern Scotland. Then he set up the London Ecology Unit which pioneered urban ecology that had a huge influence on good ecological management of London’s open spaces. His career concluded as director of environment to Ken Livingstone when he was Mayor of London. His book ‘Nature in Towns & Cities’ pulls together all this knowledge and on-the-ground experience in a volume in the prestigious Collins New Naturalist series. Milton Keynes gets some positive mentions, and a map of our greenspace and a photo of Shenley Wood. He is more of a bird and ecology specialist than an entomologist, but there is a limit to how much can be fitted in such a wide-ranging and informative book as this. It has been described as the best book on urban ecology. It is certainly readable and informative and probably well deserves that accolade.
  • by David Goode (2014: William Collins, New Naturalist)









Man-eaters of Kumaon

by Jim Corbett

Contribution by Linda Murphy


The Old Ways – a journey on foot

By Robert Macfarlane

Contribution by Viola Reed


2 books by Roger Deakin

‘Waterlog: A swimmer’s Journey Through Brittain’

‘Wildwood: A journey through Trees’


Contribution by Michèle Welborn


I have not included the full details of all these books but they are easy enough to find online.

Julie Lane