Author and radio producer Tim Dee has published Ground Work, a collection of writing on new and enduring cultural landscapes in Britain, drawing on the very best of the current flowering of nature writing as well as other original non-fiction.
Ground Work comes thirty years after Common Ground’s ground-breaking Second Nature, a collection edited by Richard Mabey (with Sue Clifford and Angela King) and published by Cape in 1984. A 240-page collection of essays and illustrations, the book declared Common Ground’s purpose to stem the tide of destruction of much that was wild and natural in Britain by providing a fusion between the arts and nature conservation. The editors assembled an astonishingly rich collection of high quality words and images and divided the contributions into three sections headed Personal Landscapes, Nature and Culture, and Beyond the Golden Age. Writing was commissioned from a superb roster: John Fowles, Ronald Blythe, Fay Weldon, Peter Levi, John Barrell, Raymond Williams, Norman Nicholson, and John Berger. Intersecting the essays were illustrations of art works by, among others, Henry Moore, Elizabeth Frink, Richard Long, David Nash, Norman Ackroyd, Andy Goldsworthy and Fay Godwin.
Ground Work celebrates local distinctiveness with new writing from some of our finest writers. We have memories of childhood homes from Adam Thorpe, Marina Warner and Sean O’Brien; we journey with John Burnside to the Arizona desert, with Hugh Brody to the Canadian Arctic; going from Tessa Hadley’s hymn to her London garden to caving in the Mendips with Sean Borodale to shell-collecting on a Suffolk beach with Julia Blackburn.
Helen Macdonald, in her remarkable piece on growing up in a 50-acre walled estate, reflects on our failed stewardship of the planet: ‘I take stock.’ she says, ‘During this sixth extinction, we who may not have time to do anything else must write now what we can, to take stock.’ This is an important, necessary book.
Of the anthology Tim Dee writes: “We are living in the Anthropocene – an epoch where everything of our planet’s current matter and life, as well as the shape of things to come, is being determined above all by the ruinous activities of just one soft-skinned, warm-blooded, short-lived, pedestrian species. How then to best live in the ruins that we have made?”
Genius loci is all important, especially in our ever-more internationalised, corporatised, mediated and de-individualised world. The spirit of a place, the sum of the meeting of people and land, remains of vital importance. Crucially, as Common Ground saw and sees it, place pertains and operates most and best on a local level and at a scale we still might call human.
“Ground Work is an extraordinary and life-affirming book. Perhaps its greatest value lies in the multiplicity of ways in which its contributors connect and communicate with the natural world and with the places and people about them.” KATHERINE NORBURY, OBSERVER