Meadowland by John Lewis-Stempel

A delightful book full of insightful nature observations.

From the publisher’s blurb:

Meadowland gives an unique and intimate account of an English meadow’s life from January to December, together with its biography. In exquisite prose, John Lewis-Stempel records the passage of the seasons from cowslips in spring to the hay-cutting of summer and grazing in autumn, and includes the biographies of the animals that inhabit the grass and the soil beneath: the badger clan, the fox family, the rabbit warren,the skylark brood and the curlew pair, among others. Their births, lives, and deaths are stories that thread through the book from first page to last.”

My review

“Meadowland: The private life of an English field” is a lovely book that made me feel I was in the company of the author while he was walking around or sitting in his nature-rich meadows in Herefordshire, England for a year.

I found myself laughing out loud at some of his descriptions:

  • “The river shouts with the abandon of a football crowd”.
  • Bees feed on red clover stalks “with the desperation of Titanic survivors clinging to life rafts.”
  • A jay flits into the thicket, “its progress signalled by its light-bulb rump.”
  • The jay’s call is “the sound of chalk being pulled down a blackboard.”

Lewis-Stempel is extremely knowledgeable, and shares his knowledge with the reader, but not so much that he overwhelms. Some of his statements are however, simply mind-blowing: “Each acre of the meadow contains several hundred million insects. Together they weigh 0.2 tons.”

Meadowland by John Lewis-Stempel

But he’s not afraid to be critical when he has to be. A neighbor devotes a field to holiday tipis, which he most definitely does not agree with.

He also thinks that it’s too easy to watch nature programmes instead of actually getting outside and watching nature, and wonders whether nature programmes can actually kill the experience of being an amateur naturalist.

I don’t have any data to agree or disagree with that latter claim. I could say the same thing about nature books: might they kill the experience of being an amateur naturalist?

I guess we could use any book or TV programme to inspire us to “get out there” ourselves, or to act as a replacement to self-discovery and keep us sitting in the armchair.

What do you think?


  1. I’m a huge John Lewis-Stemple fan, but oddly, haven’t read this one. I’ll put it right though. My favourite one is a bit left-field: ‘Where Poppies Blow’, examining the comfort and moments of joy the natural world brought to benighted WW1 soldiers as they endured life (and death) in the trenches. It really brought a fresh perspective to this awful moment of history. As to nature programmes on TV. They definitely encourage me to get out and see for myself, aided by what nature books may tell me. Keep ’em coming! (though I don’t like the ones more concerned with making stunning visuals accompanied by would-be thrilling music)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes I too love Where Poppies Blow, I thought it was excellent. I am going to talk about this book in November when poppies play such a role in remembrance. Thanks for your thoughts on nature documentaries. You probably recall such names as Phil Drabble, Tony Soper and Jeffrey Boswall?

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Martin, yes it’s certainly good to “visit” other areas on TV, and I like how Springwatch and Autumnwatch also focus on accessible and observable animals.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve read a couple of his books and enjoyed them. To me, nature books make me all the more keen to get out and see it, though I can imagine there are many armchair naturalists out there – still, if it makes people care about nature that has to be a good thing.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. As I woke to the sound of finches chirping and morning doves cooing just now I might say yes just go there. But I do love to read nature authors books. They often give words to what we were thinking, and didn’t have the words. I will put this on my list, and the one Margaret recommended. Here in the desert I especially enjoy reading Edward Abbey. Desert Solitude (a true account of his work at Arches before the National parks were inundated with people). A true lover of nature, much like Muir. Thank you for this Denzil.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s