Earth-Minded Wainwright Prize Issues a 10th Shortlist

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

Not the best-known of UK awards, the decade-old Wainwright Prize honors nature and conservation writing for adults and young readers.

On the River Kent In Kendal, where Alfred Wainwright lived and where the Wainwright Prize will hold its 10th-anniversary ceremony in September. Image – Getty iStockphoto

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

A Timely Focus on Earth and Its Issues
In any other market, it might be surprising that a £10,000 (US$12,739) book award focused on so timely a theme as Earth and the natural world could fly comparatively under the radar for a decade, as has the James Cropper Wainwright Prize. But such is the dense overcast of the United Kingdom’s publishing-awards atmosphere: So many prizes and awards are handed out in the British market that the main competition is for the sunlight of press attention.

As the death toll on the island of Maui goes up in what the state’s lieutenant governor is calling unprecedented wildfire activity—fanned by a hurricane hundreds of miles to the south—it’s hard to think of a more timely cluster of subjects than those covered by the Wainwright.

Reuters’ Marco Garcia reports that more than 11,000 people have been evacuated from the island–a spectacle eerily like that on the Greek island of Rhodes, from which thousands of tourists had to be evacuated under strikingly similar circumstances two weeks ago.  Lara Keay at Sky News, as recently as July 25, was writing that a recent poll showed 67 percent of the United Kingdom’s holidaymakers saying they’d changed their plans because of the effects of extreme heat recorded in 2022–a year before this summer’s even more extreme temperatures were even on the table.

Alfred Wainwright. Image: Wainwright Prize

Alfred Wainwright

The Wainwright program today (August 10) has released its 10th-year shortlists, of which there are three.

That trio of existing categories honor nature writings, conservation writings, and children’s writings on nature and conservation. The winner of the program’s current three awards is to receive a third of the prize money. Even with the conservation group sandwiched in the center, Wainwright organizers may find themselves wondering if a fourth, more direct and activist category isn’t needed now, one specifically reflective of the climate crisis’ urgency.

Named for the late nature writer Alfred Wainwright (1907-1991), this award regime was founded—and is still supported—by both the Alfred Wainwright Estate & Frances Lincoln, publisher of the Wainwright Guides. “James Cropper” in the program’s name is a sponsorship credit, the James Cropper paper-making company having made “a multi-year commitment to the prize. The Cropper company is based in Kendal, England–as was Wainwright, himself–and the award program plans to repair to Kendal on September 14 to hold its prize ceremony during the Kendal Mountain Festival.

In this year’s three shortlists, 11 of the 18 titles selected are published by independent houses. Walker Books is the most frequently named publisher, and its three shortlisted titles are in the children’s group of books.

Nature Writing Shortlist

Jurors in this category of the Wainwright this category are Ray Mears, a television presenter; James Aldred, who won the Wainwright’s Nature award in 2022; Amber Harrison, an independent bookseller; Charlotte Smith, BBC Countryfile presenter; and Anjana Khatwa, an Earth scientist.

  • The Flow: Rivers, Water and Wildness, Amy-Jane Beer (Bloomsbury)
  • Twelve Words for Moss, Elizabeth-Jane Burnett (Penguin Random House / Allen Lane)
  • Ten Birds that Changed the World, Stephen Moss (Faber & Faber)
  • A Line in the World: A Year on the North Sea Coast, Dorthe Nors, translated by Caroline Waight (Pushkin)
  • The Golden Mole: And Other Living Treasure, Katherine Rundell, illustrated by Talya Baldwin (Faber & Faber)
  • Belonging: Natural Histories of Place, Identity and Home, Amanda Thomson (Canongate)
Conservation Writing Shortlist

Jurors in this section of the Wainwright program are Craig Bennett, CEO of the Wildlife Trusts; Mark Cropper, chair of James Cropper; Sir John Lawton, environmentalist; Lee Schofield, an author who was shortlisted for the prize last year; and Lucy Siegle, journalist and broadcaster.

  • Beastly: A New History of Animals and Us, Keggie Carew (Canongate)
  • Rewilding the Sea: How to Save Our Oceans, Charles Clover (Penguin Random House / Ebury)
  • Rooted: How Regenerative Farming Can Change the World, Sarah Langford (Penguin Random House / Viking)
  • Black Ops and Beaver Bombing: Adventures With Britain’s Wild Mammals, Fiona Mathews and Tim Kendall (Oneworld)
  • The Lost Rainforests of Britain, Guy Shrubsole (HarperCollins / William Collins)
  • Nomad Century: How To Survive the Climate Upheaval, Gaia Vince (Penguin Random House / Allen Lane)
Children’s Writing Shortlist

The jury panel in this case is made up of Mark Funnell, National Trust communication and campaign director; Ben Shires, children’s television presenter; Roisin Taylor, co-director with UK Youth for Nature; Kate McCloskey, independent bookseller; and Helen Musselwhite, artist for the 2022 Wainwright Prize.

  • Protecting the Planet: The Season of Giraffes, Nicola Davies, illustrated by Emily Sutton (Walker Books)
  • Blobfish, Olaf Falafel (Walker Books)
  • Spark, M. G. Leonard (Walker Books)
  • A Wild Child’s Book of Birds, Dara McAnulty, illustrated by Barry Falls (Macmillan Children’s Books)
  • Leila and the Blue Fox, Kiran Millwood Hargrave, illustrated by Tom de Freston (Hachette Children’s Group)
  • Grandpa and the Kingfisher, Anna Wilson, illustrated by Sarah Massini (Nosy Crow)

Mark Cropper

In a comment on the release of the shortlists, Mark Cropper, chair of the sponsoring James Cropper company, is quoted, saying, “The James Cropper Wainwright Prize and its authors and books are all about trying to open peoples’ eyes to what’s happening in the world.

“Stories shared range from the wondrous to the deeply concerning and often back again, as solutions to many of our deepest challenges are explored.”

Mark Furnell

And Mark Furnell, making the case for the children’s book category, says, “The sheer quality and diversity of titles shortlisted for this year’s James Cropper Wainwright Prize for Children’s Writing underline just how vibrant the writing and illustration are in this genre right now.

“There’s something for everyone, from gripping novels, to deeply affecting stories, and informative non-fiction, all of which are inspiring and bring readers closer to the beauty and fragility of nature in today’s world.”

Previous Winners of the Wainwright Nature Writing Prize
  • 2022: Goshawk Summer: The Diary of an Extraordinary Season in the Forest by James Aldred
  • 2021:  English Pastoral by James Rebanks and Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake
  • 2020:  The Diary of a Young Naturalist by Dara McAnulty & Rebirding by Benedict Macdonald
  • 2019:  Underland by Robert Macfarlane
  • 2018:  The Seabird’s Cry by Adam Nicholson
  • 2017:  Where Poppies Blow by John Lewis-Stempel
  • 2016:  The Outrun by Amy Liptrot
  • 2015:  Meadowland: The Private Life of an English Field by John Lewis-Stempel
  • 2014:  The Green Road into the Trees: A Walk Through England by Hugh Thomson

More from Publishing Perspectives on international book and publishing awards is here, more on the climate crisis is here, more on nature writing is here, and more on the United Kingdom’s publishing market is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.