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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".
"Essential reading for anybody who cares about the future."
– Henry Marsh, New Statesman, Books of the year
"A seriously great book, important and urgent [...] As soon as I finished Our Place, I packaged up my copy and sent it off to Michael Gove [...] this is the kind of book that demands action."
– Alex Preston, Guardian
"Best known as one of our foremost nature writers, Mark Cocker spent several years researching this tour de force [...] stuffed with eye-opening statistics [...] by turns hopeful, melancholy and humorous [...] [Our Place] is heartfelt."
– Ben Hoare, BBC Wildlife, Book of the Month
"Thunderingly necessary [...] Cocker on this kind of form – eloquent, practical, dogged and wise – is the sort of dynamic chivvying force [conservation] will always need [...] the book he's written – however measured, equable and intelligent – is a call for revolution."
– Richard Smyth, New Statesman
"Impassioned, expert and always beautifully written [...] Our Place is a sobering and magnificent work."
– Christopher Hart, Sunday Times
"It is easy to be angry about environmental destruction; easy to demand change without hope but in this potent, elegant and influencing telling of the story of what we have done to England's wildlife, Mark Cocker archives something more: a reasoned tone in a radical cause. If you care about our country, read it."
– Julian Glover, Evening Standard, Books of the Year
"What a relief it is to have this subject explored without the usual diatribes and righteous hysteria. Cocker's quiet tone carries great authority and [...] [Our Place] deserves to command respect and wide attention."
– Tom Fort, Literary Review
"A fierce polemic by an eminent ornithologist about Britain's denuded natural habitat."
– Sunday Times, Must Reads
"Fascinating [...] Our Place is a brave book [...] It will undoubtedly ruffle what few figurative feathers we have left."
– Katharine Norbury, Caught by the River
"A new book by Mark Cocker is a major event, and [Our Place] is no exception [...] Cocker has always been brilliant at considering our relationship with nature [...] You can come away from it feeling that something can be done, that we can save Britain's wildlife, if only there is the will to turn well-meaning generalities into action. The clock is ticking."
– Matt Merritt and John Miles, Bird Watching
"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