Review published on April 1, 2018.
Over the past thirty years, Common Ground has sought to link the places to the people that live in them. The group was formed by Sue Clifford, Angela King and the late writer Roger Deakin, with the intention of bringing together arts and environmental interests and engaging local responses to those places on a daily basis. They have instigated events like Apple Days and been the driving force for those creating community woodlands. They are a brilliant charity that deserves more recognition, and the batten, or should I say hazel pole, has been passed to the safe hands of Adrian Cooper and Gracie Burnett of the fantastic Little Toller.
In Ground Work, Tim Dee has collated the thoughts and observations of thirty-one of the finest landscape and natural history writers around. This poetic and literary collection is the response to the threat that is being posed by the ‘soft-skinned, warm-blooded, short-lived, pedestrian species’ that has turned our present day into a new epoch; the Anthropocene. This new era is already causing chaotic changes to our weather systems, there is the steady creep upwards in average temperature across the globe as well as significant and it some cases catastrophic changes to our environments.
The authors that have contributed to this collection include some of my favourites, Paul Farley, Fiona Sampson, Mark Cocker, Helen MacDonald, Adam Nicolson and Richard Mabey to name but a few. There are others that I have read a little of like John Burnside and a number that I have never come across before, such as Julia Blackburn and Sean Borodale. They were free to write about anything they chose, so not only do we have an amazing vein of prose from some of the best nature and landscape writers around, but they have given us a raft of different perspectives from places all around the world that are significant to them. The subjects are diverse too, there are musings on art, bridges, bees, sculpture, memories of childhood, fossils and the rapidly declining cuckoo. We travel from the high Arctic to an English woodland, allotments and summer meadows, post-industrial beaches to a desert road.
Rooted deep in the principles of Common Ground, this is a celebration of our how own local area can define us as much as our DNA and education, themes that are picked up in the fantastic 21st Century Yokel by Tom Cox. All the way through the various essays, you feel the comforting presence of Roger Deakin encouraging us to discover and explore our local patch regardless of whether it is an SSSI, a local park or an eerie holloway. This book goes a long way to addressing the way that some people consider that scouring their local area of anything natural makes them more human; it doesn’t, it makes us all less human. This is a fine companion volume to Arboreal, which is another Common Ground inspired work as a tribute to Oliver Rackman and the vital part that woodlands play in our well being. A truly excellent book.
Paul Cheney 5/4
Ground Work: Writings on People and Places edited by Tim Dee
Jonathan Cape 9781910702710 hbk Mar 2018
Icebreaker by Horatio Clare