Author and radio producer Tim Dee is working with Common Ground on Ground Work, a new anthology which explores 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. The book will be published in 2018 by Jonathan Cape as an essential and defining text of new nature writing in our time.
Common Ground gave Britain the concept of local distinctiveness and this book will be made for and under the auspices of the charity that has worked since the 1980s to revive, preserve, and celebrate diverse local and intimate connections that people and communities have with the landscape that surrounds them.
This will be a wholly new book but it will come thirty years after a ground-breaking collection of pieces, Second Nature, 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.
For three decades since the first book, Common Ground has continued to work whilst the earth has continued to turn, and the new book will have much to say about the state of nature now. It will also note and explore how – following the ideas of Common Ground – local attention to local stories can tell us much about how the wider world is faring. Local distinctiveness is nowadays bandied about, co-opted by politicians and traduced by supermarkets, but here it will be repossessed and re-energised by a collection of the best writing yet assembled on place and people in contemporary Britain.
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? And, how to do so alongside that which we have permitted to remain? Thirty years ago Sue Clifford and Angela King set up Common Ground to help us understand where we are vis a vis nature in Britain, to both acknowledge our footprint, the tyre tracks, a paved country, its concrete overcoat, but also to encourage some repairs, interventions, preservations and some new-fangledness, and to do this in the belief that a relationship with our local outdoors environment – even as we have clobbered it to within an inch of its natural life – remains fundamental to human health and happiness.”
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.