Derek Turner

Set in a silver sea: the glory of Britain’s islands

Islands always intrigue, hovering on the horizons of our imaginations – seen, according to your lights, as territories to be taken, ancient redoubts, repositories of secrets, even loci of lands of youth. Where there are no islands, we often imagine them – Plato’s Atlantis, the Celts’ Avalon, the Irish Hy-Brasil, Zeno’s Friseland, Columbus’s Antillia –

England in infra-red: the beauty of the country at night

John Lewis-Stempel is nearly as prolific as the natural world about which he writes so well. His voice is distinctive – that of a traditional agriculturist of lyrical articulacy, an observant ecologist who finds mythopoeic magic in everyday animals, who honours his Herefordshire origins but addresses all England. Cattle in a frosty field are transfigured

From hearts of oak to hulls of steel: centuries of the British at sea

An ocean of clichés surrounds Britain’s maritime history, from Chaucer’s Shipman to the ‘little ships’ at Dunkirk. Tom Nancollas, whose 2019 Seashaken Houses treated lambently of lighthouses, now navigates debris-strewn territorial waters, sounding their depths. He examines 11 craft, from Bronze Age boats to ironclads, that epitomise Britain’s complex compact with the sea. Ships, so

The map as a work of art

’Tis the season of complacency, when we sit in warmth and shiver vicariously with Mary and Joseph out in the snowy wastes, A Christmas Carol or The Snowman. A handsome exploration of Antarctica seems equally appropriate festive fare. Peter Fretwell brings us chillingly close to a continent that has always inspired awe, evidenced by christenings

Eager for beavers: the case for their reintroduction

Conservationists are frequently criticised for focusing on glamorous species at the expense of others equally important but unluckily uglier — pandas rather than pangolins, birds rather than bats, and monkeys rather than mole-rats. Europe’s frankly lumpy largest rodent, the European beaver, Castor fiber, is therefore fortunate to have found an ardent advocate in Derek Gow.

Our rivers, as much as our oceans, are in urgent need of protection

Geography can be history and history geography — and sometimes the most obvious things are overlooked. Laurence C. Smith’s Rivers of Power endeavours to make us see beneath the surfaces of arterial waters and consider them as carriers of civilisation and arbiters of destinies. Rivers are elemental and ambivalent. They are frontiers and highways, destroyers

The treasures to be found mudlarking by the Thames

The 1950 B-film The Mudlark tells of an urchin who ekes out an unpleasant existence scavenging the slimy Thames foreshore. He finds a coin bearing the head of Queen Victoria, and creeps into Windsor Castle to see the sequestered sovereign for himself. Through sheer goodhearted pluck, he succeeds where sophisticated politicians have failed, appealing to

Living with Leviathan

Our relations with cetaceans have always been charged with danger and delight, represented by the extremes of the Book of Revelation’s ‘beast out of the sea’, and the frescoed dolphin-riders of Pompeii. Rare, huge, and unknowable, whales have traditionally been omens, or metaphors for improbability — ‘very like a whale’, Hamlet chaffs the cloud-watching Polonius.

Preachers, princes and psychopaths

On 23 May 1618, Bohemian Protestants pushed two Catholic governors and their secretary through the windows of Prague Castle, in protest at the anti-Protestantism of Bohemia’s King Ferdinand, soon to be elected Emperor Ferdinand II. The defenestration was only injurious to dignity, and had farcical aspects, a rebel shouting: ‘We shall see if your Mary