Roger Deakin – at ease in the countryside as a poacher with deep pockets

Few authors have left such an immediate legacy as Roger Deakin. When he died of a sudden illness in 2007, aged 63, he had written just two books: Waterlog, which set off the wild swimming craze, and the even more influential Wildwood, which helped kickstart the publishing phenomenon of nature writing. Yet both books only really became well known after his death. During his lifetime he was, at best, a cult taste. When I approached the BBC 20 years ago with the idea that he should present a televisual version of Waterlog in which he swam ‘across’ England, through its ponds, lakes and rivers, I was told no one was

A glimmer of hope for the blue planet

You might think – with its feeding frenzies, vertiginous seamounts, perilous weather and deep history of the monstrous – that the ocean was a wild enough place as it is; but according to the environmentalist Charles Clover it has systematically been ‘de-wilded’ by decades of commercial overfishing, and our seas are now in urgent need of healing. I believe him. When it comes to conservation, fish hold less appeal than terrestrial fauna: they are perceived as cold-blooded, mostly invisible, lacking in charisma, and often delicious – plus, for centuries, there existed the comfortable delusion that their stocks were inexhaustible (even a proof positive of divine benevolence). Now, thanks to ruinously

Four difficult women who fought to preserve the English countryside

One thing that Covid lockdown made us appreciate was the importance of being outdoors. When we were finally allowed into them, national and local parks became chockfull and many people rediscovered that being in the open had health benefits. How timely, then, that Matthew Kelly has written an account of four redoubtable rural activists: Octavia Hill, Beatrix Potter, Sylvia Sayer and Pauline Dower. He describes them as ‘the women who saved the English countryside’ – which is perhaps a bit of a stretch, though it’s true that individually they fought tooth and nail to preserve vast tracts of it. Their lives spanned the past two centuries and they were all,

The fury and frustration of living in a listed building

You have to really love old houses to buy a listed building. My wife and I know this to our cost. We’re now on our third in a row. In each case we swore we’d never make the same mistake again and then, idiots that we are, we’d be seduced by some deceptively charming little gem and the same story would unfold. It’s not just that old houses are likely to be impractical by modern standards: cold, crumbly and liable to leak. You accept that there’s a price to pay for character and historic heft. Most of these problems can also be lessened with some hard — and usually extremely

Beware of beaver fever

Exmoor has just witnessed the first beaver birth in more than 400 years. Last August, fisherman Simon Cooper argued for caution when it comes to reintroducing the extinct species. The verdict is in: hooray for beavers! The rodents that once roamed the wetlands of Britain, hunted to extinction in the 16th century, have been gradually returning to our rivers for some years now. The first, discovered on the River Tay in 2006, had either escaped from enclosures or, more probably, were deliberately (and illegally) released into the wild. In England the first were found on the River Otter in Devon in 2013. Following a five-year report by the Devon Wildlife

Is it too late to save Britain’s ash trees?

Once we wrote poems when we lost our trees. Now we just watch them rot. In 1820 John Clare was moved to mark the end of a single tree he had loved: ‘It hoples Withers droops & dies.’ In 2020, so many English trees are dying that it would take a library of Clares to record the casualties. This year, locked-down in Derbyshire, I have been watching skeletons amid the green, hoping that they will return to life. Almost all have. The last of the great field ashes are only just coming into leaf, scarred by late frosts and drought. A row of oaks I ride by most days has