Rootbound: Rewilding a Life by Alice Vincent


Rootbound: Rewilding a Life by Alice Vincent


When she was a girl, Alice Vincent loved her grandfather’s garden – the freedom, the calm, the beauty of it. Twenty years later, living in a tiny flat in South London, that childhood in the garden feels like a dream.

When she suddenly finds herself uprooted, heartbroken, living out of a suitcase and yearning for the comfort of home, Alice starts to plant seeds. She nurtures pot plants and vines on windowsills and draining boards, filling her new space with green, and with each unfurling petal and budding leaf, she begins to come back to life.

Mixing memoir, botanical history and biography, Rootbound examines how bringing a little bit of the outside in can help us find our feet in a world spinning far too fast.


My Review:

There is something about tending plants whether you have a garden or a balcony that gives you a real sense of belonging and grounding. All forms of nature and by that I include gardening is extremely important to our wellbeing. Recently the longlist for The 2020 Wainwright Prize was announced and I am delighted at seeing Rootbound (Canongate) by Alice Vincent is among the thirteen books to have made the longlist for UK Nature Writing.


Alice is now the feature editor for Penguin Books but was previously an editor and writer on the arts desk at The Telegraph, but it is gardening that is a passion that gives Alice her grounding. It was 2014 that she taught herself gardening and learning and watching plants grow taught her about how important nature is and can help us in our lives and also in a world that at times seems to be out of control. Alice released her first book How to Grow Stuff back in 2017 and has since written for various gardening magazines.

What really struck me about Rootbound was how beautifully Alice Vincent writes. It is when something happens in her own personal life that suddenly shook Alice, a real sense of suddenness but there was something she would find that would become important in her life. A rural past would become the bedrock for the future. At a young age when everything seemingly fits so well in life including writing for a major newspaper you could think that life is working out really well. Something was missing.

That what was missing was indeed plants and the need to grow and nurture and also to understand. Interspersed into Alice’s memoir are the historical horticultural notes, especially the women who worked tirelessly to create a future for themselves the world of horticulture. Memories of her grandfather’s peaceful garden and when life suddenly becomes harder and leaves her heartbroken and bereft this is where nature becomes the cure. Planting a few seeds and the roots are put down for the future. As I know only too well once you start it never leaves you. Watching the plants grow and become established through the different seasons, it is like nature taking you by the hand. It won’t let go now.

There are wonderful stories of travel to different parts of the world and also closer to home give you the urge to want to explore these lands and their wonders. Rootbound by Alice Vincent is a memoir but also horticultural history. The joy and the sorrow but also finding the beauty in watching plants grow. An open and honest and also brave account of her life. Reading Rootbound I saw through these pages someone who was broken but through the power of nature she became whole again.
If you want to learn more about Alice Vincent head over to her personal Instagram account. It really is quite special.

Instagram: @noughticulture
Twitter: @alice¬_emily

For more information on The Wainwright Prize 2020: The Wainwright Prize

368 Pages.

Rootbound: Rewilding a Life by Alice Vincent was published by Canongate and was published on 30th January 2020 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.


Wilding: The return of nature to a British farm by Isabella Tree


Wilding: The Return of Nature to a British Farm by Isabella Tree


In Wilding, Isabella Tree tells the story of the ‘Knepp experiment’, a pioneering rewilding project in West Sussex, using free-roaming grazing animals to create new habitats for wildlife. Part gripping memoir, part fascinating account of the ecology of our countryside, Wilding is, above all, an inspiring story of hope.

Forced to accept that intensive farming on the heavy clay of their land at Knepp was economically unsustainable, Isabella Tree and her husband Charlie Burrell made a spectacular leap of faith: they decided to step back and let nature take over. Thanks to the introduction of free-roaming cattle, ponies, pigs and deer – proxies of the large animals that once roamed Britain – the 3,500 acre project has seen extraordinary increases in wildlife numbers and diversity in little over a decade.

Extremely rare species, including turtle doves, nightingales, peregrine falcons, lesser spotted woodpeckers and purple emperor butterflies, are now breeding at Knepp, and populations of other species are rocketing. The Burrells’ degraded agricultural land has become a functioning ecosystem again, heaving with life – all by itself.

Personal and inspirational, Wilding is an astonishing account of the beauty and strength of nature, when it is given as much freedom as possible.


My review:

I could give Wilding by Isabella Tree so many plaudits. But inspirational and outstanding are just two. This is a story of how a 3,500-acre farm in Knepp in West Sussex owned by Isabella’s husband Charlie Burrell was returned to nature. I am so delighted to see this book now longlisted for the 2019 Wainwright Golden Beer Book Prize.

The project on the farm started back in 2000 and the difference now is nothing short of incredible. From the intensive modern farming methods to the point where the farm was no longer a viable going concern and something had to be done to turn this around.

This was a risk but it was a risk well worth taking despite some complaints and objections they tore down the fences and slowly returned the farm to its past. They brought in a select breed of pigs as well as cattle and Exmoor ponies and let them roam free. The ‘rewilding’ of the farm was underway.

The UK has a whole has seen its wildlife plummet with some of our species flora and fauna close to extinction. What has been created on their farm is nothing short of incredible. To see what the farm has become today and the species that have now returned to the farm. Nightingales have returned to the farm where nationally they have crashed and Turtle Doves have started to return to the farm and Purple Emperor Butterflies have also been seen and are now breeding on the estate long with Orchids and other rare plants have been found. This is no coincidence.

This is a part memoir and also I believe a book of hope for the future of farming. A move away from the intensive agricultural policies of the past and what I liked was that Isabella talks about rewilding of farms and also that you can at the same time feed the populations of the world.

Wilding: The return of nature to a British farm is nothing short of astonishing and proves we can bring back nature to our countryside and also farm at the same time. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

The Shortlist for the 2019 Wainwright Golden Beer Prize will be announced at midday on the 2nd July.


384 Pages.

Wilding: The Return of Nature to a British Farm by Isabella Tree was published by Picador and was published in Paperback on 21st March 2019 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.

The 2018 Wainwright Book Prize – Longlist

PRIZE 2018

The 2018 Wainwright Book Prize – Longlist Announcement


It does not seem that long ago that we were gathered at Blenheim Palace and the Countryside Live event and watching as John Lewis-Stemple became the first winner to receive the Wainwright Book Prize for the second time with Where Poppies Blow: The British Soldier, Nature, The Great War.

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Time has really moved on so quickly that on Wednesday 6th June the official announcement of the Longlist for the 2018 Wainwright Prize was released to the press. And such is the strength of the prize now we have 13 books on the longlist instead of the usual 12. The judges for this year’s prize are for the second year will be chaired by Julia Bradbury, and her fellow judges are: TV presenter Megan Hine; Waterstones non-fiction buyer Bea Carvalho; National Trust publisher Katie Bond and ex-chairman of the campaign to protect rural England, Peter Waine.

The 2018 Wainwright Book Prize Longlist:

 Tom Cox

21st Century Yokel by Tom Cox (Unbound)

 A unique and personal look at our links with the landscape around us. There is much to love contained with the pages, a mix of humour, memoir, a book on nature and there is a great deal of Devon folklore as well as cats! Illustrated through the book by Tom’s photographs while he was out walking the countryside and linocuts by his mother. So there is a real personal feel to the book.

416 Pages.


Alys Fowler

Hidden Nature by Alys Fowler (Hodder & Stoughton)

Written by award winning Guardian writer, Alys Fowler explore the canals and waterways of Birmingham via a Kyak. A book of real beauty where she explores and finds nature in places many would not expect. But this is now just a nature book, it is a personal journey of losing and finding and opening up. Nature as well as a personal journey.

240 Pages 

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Outskirts by John Grindrod (Sceptre)

 A social history of Britain’s green belt landscape. Conservationists and developers as well as politicians have come into conflict since the post wat years as more and more land is sought after. Hidden in the landscape that John explores are nuclear bunkers, landfill sites and on his journey meets those who fight for the protection of green belt land and those who seek to exploit it. This is a fascinating insight into today’s Britain and its social history.

368 Pages


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Islander by Patrick Barkham (Granta)

 Two large islands and 6,289 smaller islands. From island such as The Isle of Man to the Isles of Scillies to the much smaller islands that are uninhabited and deserted such as St Kilda. Patrick Barkham explores the islands that make up Britian and seeks their special uniqueness that are special places for wildlife and also for the people that live and make a living on these islands. From Nuns to Puffins Patrick explores and gives his own personal account. I reviewed Islander by Patrick Barkham in December 2017   Islander – A Review

368 Pages

Rosamund Young

The Secret Life of Cows by Rosamund Young (Faber & Faber)

Welcome to the very secret lives of cows. Many of us have stood and watched cows in a field but how many of us have often thought of who they actually are and what they get up to. This is a very special book about the private lives of cows. They don’t just spend their days chewing grass. Often they can be seen playing. A bestseller.

160 Pages.

Dr Miriam Darlington

Owl Sense by Miriam Darlington (Guardian Faber Publishing)

 Owls have been a favourite with people for seemingly forever. Seen as birds of wisdom and also doom. The author with her son Benji explores the UK seeking and finding every British Owl species. But it does not end there. She then seeks to see every European Owl species. This is a story of her travels and sometimes elusive Owl species. During the time of writing the book her son succumbs to a disabling illness so her quest is mixed with Owls and seeking a cure for her son. This is a remarkable personal quest and her journey takes her from the UK to the frozen landscapes of the borders with the arctic.

352 Pages.

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The Dun Cow Rib by John Lister-Kaye (Canongate)

 I have long been a fan of John Lister-Kayes writing since Song of the Rolling Earth was published in 2003. With his latest book that has made the longlist this is his memoir of growing up and finding that the natural world was about to become his life. From finding nature to founding the Aigas Field Centre in the Highlands, this is John’s memoir to this countries natural landscape and heritage.

368 Pages


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The Last Wilderness by Neil Ansell – Tinder Press

 Alone with nature in some of the remote parts of Britain. This is Neil’s personal account of time in solitude. A time spent as one with the natural world at a time when he was losing his hearing the sound and birdsong slowly are lost to him. A captivating memoir.

320 Pages.


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The Salt Path by Raynor Winn (Michael Joseph)

This is the true story of a couple who lost everything just days after learning that her husband was terminally ill. Everything they have worked so hard for is gone. With little time left they set about walking the entire 630 miles of the SW Costal Path. Coming to terms with what they have lost and what is to come, this is a deeply honest and life-affirming account of a couple and a journey. Nature has the power to cure and with every moment on their walk around the coastline they find beauty in the land, sea and sky.

288 Pages.


Adam Nicholson

The Seabird’s Cry by Adam Nicholson (William Collins, Harper Collins)

There are ten chapters and each one is dedicated to ten seabirds. Charting their ocean travels and is set in the Scottish Shiant Isles a group of Hebridean islands in the Minch. With artwork by Kate Boxer this is look at these wonderful seabirds, with numbers now crashing this is timely and well researched book from a writer that has spent many years studying these wonderful seabirds. Were once the numbers where in many thousands they are now at a shocking level that one day soon could be lost forever and we will be left recalling reading about them in books. And that day could be very close.

416 Pages.


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The Wood by John Lewis-Stemple (Doubleday)

Twice winner of the Wainwright Book Prize has made the shortlist with his latest book about his time managing Cockshutt Wood. Written in diary format this is a story of his time together with the wood and the wildlife that made the wood their home. It also proves to be a sanctuary for the writer himself. Interspersed with some recipes that John uses while working with the wood. A personal account of his time with the trees and the inhabitants of Cockshutt Wood. I reviewed The Wood in May. The Wood – A Review.

304 Pages.

Ruth Pavey

 A Wood of One’s Own by Ruth Pavey (Duckworth Overlook)

 Ruth Pavey spent many years living in London and it was while she was exploring the Somerset Levels she discovered some land lost to time. She bought four acres and over time she planned and planted a wood tree by tree. This would bring plants and animals to her wood. This is her story and that of the landscape that is the Somerset Levels. Interspersed with her own drawings. An inspiring account of creating her own wood.

256 Pages

The Lost Words

The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris (Hamish Hamilton)

Overtime there have been words from the natural world that have been lost to children. Robert Macfarlane writes the poems that tells of those lost words that meant so much to those of us who grew to learn them and Jackie Morris provides the stunning artwork. An enchanting book that has now gone into many schools around the country. A wonderful book that has already won many accolades.

128 Pages.


For the first time in the longlist that was announced there is a children’s book The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris. I have been a lover of the outside world and nature and nature writing since I was given a copy of the Observer Book of Birds when I was very young. There is a sense within nature writing that it can take a reader to places and to explore from the very comfort of their armchair and to encourage those to go out and explore nature in all its forms. Nature can cure and by the same right nature writing can also cure. My personal library contains books on nature writing going back decades and thanks to the Wainwright Book Prize we have seen a rebirth in nature writing and the quality of writing is just incredible now.

The shortlist will be announced on Thursday 5th July at an event at Waterstones Piccadilly and the winner will be announced at the BBC Countryfile Live at Blenheim Palace on Thursday 2nd August.

When the shortlist is announced I will be running a prize draw to win an entire set of the books on the shortlist. This really will be worth looking out for. This will be run in conjunction with Mark Hutchinson Management. My thanks go to Laura Creyke at MHM for all her help and assistance.

Looking at the longlist it is going to be hard work reducing the list down to six or seven books.

The Wainwright Book Prize is named after the Lakelands much loved Alfred Wainwright, and is supported by White Lion Publishing (publisher of the world famous Wainwright Guides), Wainwright Golden Beer, the Wainwright Estate and in Partnership with The National Trust. The winner receives a cheque for £5,000.

For more information, visit The Wainwright Book Prize and you can follow on Twitter via: Wainwright Prize

 Previous Winners:

2014: The Green Road into Trees: A Walk Through England by Hugh Thompson

2015: Meadowland: The Private Life of an English Field by John Lewis-Stemple

2016: The Outrun by Amy Liptrot

2017: Where Poppies Blow: The British Soldier, Nature, The Great War by John Lewis-Stemple.