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Environmental thought and politics have become parts of mainstream cultural life in Britain. The wish to protect wildlife is now a central goal for our society, but where did these 'green' ideas come from? And who created the cherished institutions, such as the National Trust or the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, that are now so embedded in public life with millions of members?
From the flatlands of Norfolk to the tundra-like expanse of the Flow Country in northern Scotland, acclaimed writer on nature Mark Cocker sets out on a personal quest through the British countryside to find the answers to these questions.
He explores in intimate detail six special places that embody the history of conservation or whose fortunes allow us to understand why our landscape looks as it does today. We meet key characters who shaped the story of the British countryside – Victorian visionaries like Octavia Hill, founder of the National Trust, as well as brilliant naturalists such as Max Nicholson or Derek Ratcliffe, who helped build the very framework for all environmental effort.
This is a book that looks to the future as well as exploring the past. It asks searching questions like who owns the land and why? And who benefits from green policies? Above all it attempts to solve a puzzle: why do the British seem to love their countryside more than almost any other nation, yet they have come to live amid one of the most denatured landscapes on Earth? Radical, provocative and original, Our Place tackles some of the central issues of our time. Yet most important of all, it tries to map out how this overcrowded island of ours could be a place fit not just for human occupants but also for its billions of wild citizens.
Mark Cocker is an author, naturalist and environmental activist whose ten books include works of biography, history, literary criticism and memoir. His book Crow Country was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize in 2008 and won the New Angle Prize for Literature in 2009. With the photographer David Tipling he published Birds & People in 2013, a massive survey described by the Times Literary Supplement as "a major literary event as well as an ornithological one".
"Mark Cocker has set himself the difficult task of setting out how the nature-conservation movement has developed in Britain, from the margins to a supposedly mainstream concern. He also asks why, when so many of us are enthusiastic about nature, so many of our species, including once familiar ones, are going down and down. Nearly 20 years ago I attempted to write something similar [...] but concluded that it is practically impossible to produce a fair, readable and accurate account of conservation activity, then and now. It is just too fissiparous and complicated to provide a clear and coherent narrative. Mark has proved me wrong. [...] Our Place is written with a sure touch."
– Peter Marren, British Wildlife 29(5), June 2018
"[...] Our Place explores the origins of UK environmentalism, testing the extent to which it has made a difference to our landscapes and the animals and plants with which we share them. [...] Our Place is an informative read, and it is clear that a great deal of research has been put into finding and crafting the stories that illustrate some of the triumphs and challenges of UK environmentalism. [...] At its heart this is a history, rich in detail but yet accessible and shaped by Mark’s own environmental thinking. Despite the book’s subtitle ‘Can We Save Britain’s Wildlife Before it is Too Late?’ – a question that the book doesn’t answer – this is not a polemic. Despite this, it does get you thinking about what our environmental organisations have achieved and it will, quite rightly, become a touchstone for those who will pick up the batten over the coming years."
– Mike Toms, BTO book reviews