Meadowland was published to wide acclaim in 2015 and duly emerged as the Thwaites Wainwright prize winner for the year. Lewis-Stempel chronicles his observations of a meadow in Herefordshire month by month through the year in stunning prose, drawing the reader in to share with him his intimacy with the landscape and its wildlife. From badgers to earthworms, wildflowers to the larvae hidden by cuckoo spit, he leaves no clod of earth or leaf unturned in his mission to be fully acquainted with the land he farms.
His passion for traditional farming methods is a running theme through the book, and Lewis-Stempel is clear in his belief that more modern ‘advances’ in farming have had a significant and largely negative impact on those species which depend for their livelihood on farmland and its borders and hedgerows. However, this work enlightens in more ways than one; rather than being a simple treatise on farming methods, it interweaves history with poetry, etymology of bird names with vivid descriptions of animals and their habits so that it would lend itself well to use in geography, history, or English literature at secondary level.
Lewis-Stempel’s metaphors are striking and sharp, mixing modern urban references with forces of nature in fascinating ways sure to provoke discussion in an analysis of his language. His breadth of knowledge of the poets who have championed and immortalised Britain’s countryside idyll in their writing is astounding and informative. This work exemplifies the ways in which history, geography, literature and the environment are inextricably linked and the ways in which they interact and influence one another – and is proof that the study of these things in combination can enhance and deepen our understanding of the world around us.
Meadowland. John Lewis-Stempel. Black Swan. ISBN: 978-0-552-77899-2. 294 pages. £8.99