The Running Hare by John Lewis-Stempel – book review


From the Winner of the Thwaites Wainwright Prize 2015

Traditional ploughland is disappearing. Seven cornfield flowers have become extinct in the last twenty years. Once abundant, the corn bunting and the lapwing are on the Red List. The corncrake is all but extinct in England. And the hare is running for its life.

Written in exquisite prose, The Running Hare tells the story of the wild animals and plants that live in and under our ploughland, from the labouring microbes to the patrolling kestrel above the corn, from the linnet pecking at seeds to the seven-spot ladybird that eats the aphids that eat the crop. It recalls an era before open-roofed factories and silent, empty fields, recording the ongoing destruction of the unique, fragile, glorious ploughland that exists just down the village lane.

But it is also the story of ploughland through the eyes of man who took on a field and husbanded it in a natural, traditional way, restoring its fertility and wildlife, bringing back the old farmland flowers and animals. John Lewis Stempel demonstrates thta it is still possible to create a place where the hare can rest safe.

Amazon UK


This was a fascinating and delightful read of one mans’ vision and journey in reclaiming some farmland to return it to the ways of old, along with the wildlife and wildflowers that this brings along with it.

It is beautifully written with such passion that it often made me angry – not at the book but at the way mankind looks at nature nowadays, just trying to find the easiest and quickest way of producing things, without any thought to the damage that does in the long term. We seem to have forgotten to embrace nature that has sustained humanity since the year dot and then wonder why wildlife and wildflowers are disappearing at astonishingly high rates.

There’s a wide variety of wildlife featured, alongside old farming techniques and wonderful background history and information in many forms. 

It was horrifying reading at times with lists of plants lost to the British countryside thanks to different farming techniques, but also heartwarming to see how just one man full of determination proved that by going back to the old techniques he could show that it wouldn’t take much to reintroduce the balance back into fields across the country – it just takes some effort!

I’d highly recommend this as a book to read for all as it is a fascinating insight into nature and the modern world and it is a lesson that needs to be learned before it is too late!


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