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A Year of Books
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Winner Announced of Wainwright Golden Beer Book Prize

3rd August 2017

John Lewis-Stempel’s Where Poppies Blow – The British Soldier, Nature, The Great War has today been announced as the winner of the Wainwright Golden Beer Book Prize, which celebrates the best books about nature and UK travel.

 

As the world marks the centenary of the Battle of Passchendaele this week, Where Poppies Blow offers a fresh and unique take on the experiences of British soldiers in the First World War.

 

The announcement and presentation of the award of £5000 was made by prize judge Matt Baker at the National Trust Theatre at BBC Countryfile Live in Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, at the end of a public event celebrating nature writing and the Wainwright Prize shortlist.

 

Where Poppies Blow is the story of the British soldiers of the Great War and their relationship with the animals and plants around them. John-Lewis Stempel suggests that this relationship was of profound importance, because it goes a long way to explaining why the soldiers fought, and how they found the will to go on. Above all, nature healed, and despite the bullets and blood it inspired men to endure. Including poems, extracts from letters, field notes and diary entries, the book provides an incredibly vivid picture of life on the Western Front as seen through the relationship between man and nature.

 

Chair of Judges Julia Bradbury said: “Where Poppies Blow is destined to be a modern classic. An extraordinary book about the healing power and resilience of nature in the darkest of times. Beautifully written and profoundly moving it is a reminder of the atrocities of war but John Lewis-Stempel cleverly weaves in the story of the animals and wildlife that survive, die and thrive alongside the men and women who lost their lives.”

 

Where Poppies Blow brings together John Lewis-Stempel’s two loves, nature and military history, and provides a new and vital study of the soldiers’ experience of the First World War. Testament to his position as one of the UK’s greatest nature writers, this is the second time John has won the Wainwright Golden Beer Book Prize. Meadowland, his study of a field in Herefordshire, won in 2015, and he had two books on this year’s shortlist.

 

With such a strong shortlist, which featured an unprecedented seven books rather than the usual six, the judges’ decision was difficult but they unanimously agreed that Where Poppies Blow was the rightful winner.

 

This year’s shortlist is evidence of the continued creativity and strength in nature writing today, sitting alongside Where Poppies Blow on the shortlist were: two books with conservation at their heart (The Running Hare by John Lewis-Stempel and Wild Kingdom by Stephen Moss), two books which look at nature’s role in a journey of emotional discovery (The Wild Other by Clover Stroud and The January Man by Christopher Somerville) and close studies of an environment and the creatures that inhabit it (Love of Country by Madeleine Bunting and The Otters’ Tale by Simon Cooper).

 

Now in its fourth year, the Wainwright Golden Beer Book Prize celebrates the books which most successfully reflect the ethos of renowned nature writer Alfred Wainwright’s work, to inspire readers to explore the outdoors and to nurture a respect for the natural world.

 

Joining Julia Bradbury on the judging panel for the 2017 prize were: TV presenter Matt Baker; Editor of the National Trust Magazine, Sally Palmer; chair of both Gardener’s Question Time and the Wainwright Society, Eric Robson; Mail on Sunday journalist, Sarah Oliver; and ex-Chairman of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, Peter Waine.

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