The best books about nature in Britain

Who am I?

I'm a writer and a botanist with a lifelong interest in nature. I grew up in southern England where I spent my time running around the fields and woods searching for birds, insects and wild plants (as one does). As well as writing about nature, I run plant identification training courses and have a genetics PhD.

I wrote...

The Orchid Hunter: A Young Botanist's Search for Happiness

By Leif Bersweden,

Book cover of The Orchid Hunter: A Young Botanist's Search for Happiness

What is my book about?

In the summer after leaving school, a young botanist sets out to fulfill a childhood dream--to find every species of orchid native to the British Isles. He has just a few months to complete his quest, which no one has ever done before within one growing season, and it will require ingenuity, stamina and a large dose of luck. As he battles the vagaries of the British climate, feverishly chasing each emerging bloom, Leif Bersweden takes the reader on a remarkable botanical journey. This study of the 52 native species is a fantastic gateway into the compendious world of orchids, and one that will open your eyes to the rare hidden delights to be found on our doorstep. Includes an essential guide to finding all 52 British orchids.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Otter Country: In Search of the Wild Otter

Why did I love this book?

Miriam Darlington is my favourite author and Otter Country is one of the most thumbed, tatty-cornered, precious books that I own. I love it: for its voice, its humour and its beautiful prose. Darlington takes you on a gentle meander through the world of the otter in the most relatable of writing styles. She doesn’t start out as an otter expert; she learns as she goes, and so do you. Everything about this book is wonderful, and I would say the same about her other book, Owl Sense, which I have only left off this list because I wanted to cover five different authors!

By Miriam Darlington,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Otter Country as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Over the course of a year, Miriam Darlington travelled around Britain in search of wild otters; from her home in Devon to the wilds of Scotland; to Cumbria, Wales, Northumberland, Cornwall, Somerset and the River Lea; to her childhood home near the Ouse, the source of her watery obsession.
Otter Country follows Darlington's search through different landscapes, seasons, weather and light, as she tracks one of Britain's most elusive animals. During her journey, she meets otter experts, representatives of the Environment Agency, conservationists, ecologists, walkers, Henry Williamson's family, Gavin Maxwell's heir; zoo keepers, fishermen, scientists, hunters and poets. Above all…

Book cover of Butterfly Isles: A Summer in Search of Our Emperors and Admirals

Why did I love this book?

This book is a classic natural history quest: Patrick Barkham tries to find all the butterfly species in Britain and Ireland in one summer. It explores our age-old relationship with these fantastic insects, the eccentricities of the butterfly watcher's world, and the author’s adventures along the way, all tied together by the challenge he’s set himself. This is a really entertaining book and brilliantly captures the butterfly obsession, offering an excellent portrayal of what makes butterfly watchers tick.

By Patrick Barkham,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Butterfly Isles as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Butterflies animate our summers but the 59 butterfly species of the British Isles can be surprisingly elusive. Some bask unseen at the top of trees in London parks; others lurk at the bottom of damp bogs in Scotland. A few survive for months while other ephemeral creatures only fly for three days. Several are virtually extinct. This bewitching book charts Patrick Barkham's quest to find all 59 - from the Adonis Blue to the Dingy Skipper - in one unforgettable summer. Barkham brings alive the extraordinary physical beauty and amusingly diverse character of our butterflies. He witnesses a swarming invasion…

The Peregrine

By J.A. Baker,

Book cover of The Peregrine

Why did I love this book?

The Peregrine is magnificent and widely considered a classic of British nature writing. For me, I love its simplicity: you sit and watch with Baker, observing one of Britain’s most iconic birds through the seasons. The writing is incredibly therapeutic; it delivers you into the moment and keeps you there. Baker’s observations are as shrewd as the bird he writes about. You can read it all at once or dip in and out of it. It’s a book to be kept by the bedside and returned to again and again.

By J.A. Baker,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Peregrine as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

David Attenborough reads J. A. Baker's extraordinary classic of British nature writing.

The nation's greatest voice, David Attenborough, reads J. A. Baker's extraordinary classic of British nature writing, The Peregrine.

J. A. Baker's classic of British nature writing was first published in 1967. Greeted with acclaim, it went on to win the Duff Cooper Prize, the pre-eminent literary prize of the time. Luminaries such as Ted Hughes, Barry Lopez and Andrew Motion have cited it as one of the most important books in twentieth-century nature writing.

Despite the association of peregrines with the wild, outer reaches of the British Isles,…

Book cover of Wilding: Returning Nature to Our Farm

Why did I love this book?

Wilding is a real landmark in our move towards living side by side with nature, and a fantastic example of what can happen if we simply let nature take its course, with minimal human intervention. This book tracks the success story of one of the largest rewilding projects in Europe: in a matter of years, this Sussex estate is transformed from intensively farmed agricultural land into a wild landscape home to turtle doves, nightingales, and purple emperor butterflies. In a world where it is all too often difficult to feel hopeful about the future of our planet, Wilding is a timely reminder that we can bring back what we’ve lost if we simply give it the chance.

By Isabella Tree,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked Wilding as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'A poignant, practical and moving story of how to fix our broken land, this should be conservation's salvation; this should be its future; this is a new hope' - Chris Packham

In Wilding, Isabella Tree tells the story of the 'Knepp experiment', a pioneering rewilding project in West Sussex, using free-roaming grazing animals to create new habitats for wildlife. Part gripping memoir, part fascinating account of the ecology of our countryside, Wilding is, above all, an inspiring story of hope.

Winner of the Richard Jefferies Society and White Horse Book Shop Literary Prize.

Forced to accept that intensive farming on…

Book cover of Thinking on My Feet: The Small Joy of Putting One Foot in Front of Another

Why did I love this book?

This is a book for people who like to come home to a steaming mug of tea after a long walk in the countryside – rain or shine. Kate Humble takes us with her on her walks through the year, both at home and abroad. Her descriptions of the Wye Valley make you want to put on your wellies and walk out the door, dogs in tow, ready to splash through puddles, hop styles, and walk beneath the trees and the clouds. It is a lovely reminder that it is so often the little things in life that can bring us the most happiness: muddy walks in the woods, chatting to friends over a pot of coffee, watching the sky change as the sun rises. I love this book so much: it’s a lesson in the benefits of learning to live in the moment and to not take the simple things in life for granted.

By Kate Humble,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Thinking on My Feet as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'I've discovered that going for a daily walk has become as essential to me feeling good for the rest of the day as that first cup of tea. But I would argue that all I am doing is responding to a natural need we all have. Humans have always been migrants, the physiological urge to be nomadic is deep-rooted in all of us and perhaps because of that our brains are stimulated by walking. I solve all sorts of problems, formulate ideas, work things out to that gentle rhythm of self-propelled movement.' - Kate Humble


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in land use, butterflies, and walking?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about land use, butterflies, and walking.

Land Use Explore 10 books about land use
Butterflies Explore 27 books about butterflies
Walking Explore 18 books about walking