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The Running Hare: The Secret Life of Farmland

4.24  ·  Rating details ·  905 ratings  ·  119 reviews
From the Winner of the Thwaites Wainwright Prize 2015

Traditional ploughland is disappearing. Seven cornfield flowers have become extinct in the last twenty years. Once abundant, the corn bunting and the lapwing are on the Red List. The corncrake is all but extinct in England. And the hare is running for its life.

Written in exquisite prose, The Running Hare tells the story
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published May 5th 2016 by Doubleday (first published April 7th 2016)
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Industrial farming has succeeded in turning turn fields into open roofed factories. Copious amounts of fertiliser and weed killers have decimated the natural environment. Plants, birds and animals that were once common sights in the countryside are now very rare or no longer exist. The fields are now only able to support the growing crop.

These fields are silent; empty of life.

It used to be very different. A field of wheat supported a whole eco-system, from the worms in the ground, all the way u

Description: A close up and intimate natural history by John Lewis-Stempel. By taking an abandoned field close to his farm, he observes in minute detail the behaviour of plants, birds and animals that are being displaced by agribusiness. In telling the story of one field, he tells the story of our countryside, our language, our religion and our food. But in transforming one field, he creates a haven for one particular animal close to his heart - the b
Nov 22, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nature-writing
One field, naturally sown and tended, attracted wildlife to it that were completely absent from the surrounding agri-cultured, chemically-induced fields. Hares, red-legged partridges, rabbits, pheasant, many different birds and insects were all drawn to Flinders, a field that the author tended with love and farmed with old methods rather than spraying with chemicals. Amongst the wheat, he sowed an abundance of wildflowers, horrifying neighbouring farmers who termed them ‘weeds’. Agriculture has ...more
Jan 29, 2016 rated it liked it
(Nearly 3.5) This is the record of a year of old-fashioned farming: Lewis-Stempel rented a several-acre field called Flinders, planted wildflowers in with his wheat and corn, and plowed it himself. Not a pesticide in sight. He attracted hares and other mammals, as well as numerous species of birds – all in all, much more life than your average field farmed by modern methods.

Unfortunately, I didn’t like this nearly as much as Meadowland. The first half is great, but then I got the feeling that he
Jul 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: landscape
John Lewis-Stempel is that rare breed - a farmer who is also an environmentalist.

In The Running Hare he 'borrows' a field to experiment growing corn along with wildflowers - the idea is to see how this old fashioned idea of doing things impacts on the wildlife of the area. Modern farming is all about yield, but Lewis-Stempel spells out loud and clear (often with statistics) the terrible effect this is having on our animals, birds and flowers. The farmers next door to his field are known as The
From BBC Radio 4 - Book of the Week:
A close up and intimate natural history by John Lewis-Stempel. By taking an abandoned field close to his farm, he observes in minute detail the behaviour of plants, birds and animals that are being displaced by agribusiness. In telling the story of one field, he tells the story of our countryside, our language, our religion and our food. But in transforming one field, he creates a haven for one particular animal close to his heart - the brown hare.

In the openi
Apr 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 5-star-books
Informative, funny, beautiful, heart breaking.
Loved this. What a superb book and wonderful read.
Saturday's Child
Jul 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
With his skilful descriptions and writing style John Lewis-Stempel made me feel like I was standing in Flinders watching nature.
Dec 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
THE RUNNING HARE doesn’t have quite the charm and...well, cohesion, that Stemple’s previous book MEADOWLAND had. But Stemple brings all the same powers of observation and erudite rural knowledge, the same passion and nostalgia to a wheat field that he brought to his mountain farm meadow. He transmits these powerfully to the reader, the sense that things are changing quickly, and that sometimes “progress” as we view it in the 21st century is far from desirable.

It can be a bitter cupful to swallow
Jun 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2017
Nominated for Wainwright Prize 2017....I hope it wins!
The author has seen hares in the moonglow
gazed at the heavens
he's felt the true peace on earth.
It is a gem!
PS Yes, jackdaws are the original dysfunctional family!
Anne Fenn
Jan 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
What a great read. First, it's poetry, second it's about the English countryside. ...more
Jul 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
If you would only read one book by this author you should try Meadowlands first, I like it more, and not only because I read it first I think, it was more compelling. But I still liked this one very much, and for several reasons. First, it reminds me of my granddad and his farm where I helped out in the harvesting in a long hot summer (and played a lot). Second, I love this kind of micro-histories of one place at a defined period of time. Third, it made me dream and feel like going out, walking, ...more
Andy Horton
Sep 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Smashing bit of nature writing. John Lewis-Stempel rented a field, with permission to turn it over to wildflower cultivation in its first year, and documented the diverse wildlife it attracted.
Lots of reflective writing, and a sense of the real joy that the natural world brings the writer, along with some arguments for encouraging diversity in agriculture. Also a wariness of concentrating our attention too heavily on "charismatic species" - although it has to be said the hares Lewis-Stempel love
Andrea Swinsco
It’s not my taste in narrative, but it will certainly please a wide audience.
It is both a love letter to the past and a call to action. I found it overly sentimental but as I said, it’s not my usual choice of literature. The author is right when he said that farmers love to complain, and he definitely a farmer at heart! Saying that, it is a beautifully written piece and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who loves the English countryside.
Apr 07, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Took a while to get into and finish it, but I think I've found my English Barry Lopez. Wonderful, evocative writing. If I found it mildly depressing, it isn't his fault - it's simply a fact that our natural habitats are declining everywhere, not just in England. At least he's giving an honest estimation of what we still have, and how little it would take to bring back some of what we've lost. ...more
Jul 07, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindle, own
A very enjoyable read, quite interesting to see the life and regeneration of a field into an arable one and how the species of birds and insects thrives, along with the hares.

I enjoyed this but not as much I did the previous books I have read by John Lewis Stempel
Rod MacLeod
Apr 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Simply brilliant! What an extraordinary writer he is. Such an engaging tale of his attempts to change the ecology of a single field.
This is simply a joy to read
John Purcell
Jan 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Had me rambling around the countryside in search of nature.
Anne Chappel
Jan 05, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I love this gentle story of the English countryside, of the life in the pastures - the story of how farming once used to be. He also includes some beautiful poetry and lots of interesting facts about the creatures that he comes across. It is truly delightful read and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in our environment and what is happening to it.
Mar 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Could not have chosen a book more up my alley -- a blend of history, ecology, agriculture, culture, and UK spirit! Another great read for my time in the UK!
Roxanne Hawkin
Jul 28, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Amazing to read what can happen to a piece of barren land and to wildlife within the space of a year when it is given the opportunity.
Mar 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019-top-ten
The Running Hare is just the most sumptuously gorgeous book. John Lewis-Stempel is simply the best of the many outstanding nature writers we have today. His forte is writing in great detail about very small areas - by concentrating our minds on the detail he expands our knowledge and view of the world around us.

In this book he takes as his focus a four acre unremarkable and featureless field that has been cultivated using modern intensive methods, with pesticides and industrial fertilisers. Usin
Aug 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019
With rationing lasting until 1953, post war Britain was in dire need of increasing its food stocks. Herbicides and agricultural policy saw to it that cereal yields rocketed in the following forty years, and those practises were tweaked and perfected in the decades that followed.

In The Running Hare, Lewis-Stempel takes stock of a chemically bleached landscape, considering the sacrifices such rapid progess has entailed. As he puts it, "every time one buys the lie of cheap food, a flower or a bird
Kris McCracken
May 08, 2016 rated it really liked it
In a way, this book reads like a love letter to the English countryside, and one field in particular. There is a heady mix of agricultural history, rural folklore, geography, childhood memories and an odd grab-bag of facts. For example, in an aside on the joys of ploughing by hand, we learn that the ploughman’s lunch was an invention by the British Cheese Bureau in the 1950s to increase the sales of cheese!

I enjoyed it.
May 02, 2016 rated it it was amazing
stunning well written; John combines the sad longing for a past not yet realised, with a now that will soon pass. He writes about the combination of things, wildlife and farming, loss and creating, passion and anger, Hares and people. Perhaps what he most writes about is hope. I was deeply moved and loved this book.
Apr 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Loved this, thought it was beautiful and magical. I learnt a lot and loved the way JLS weaves in poetry and history alongside his nature writing, but I enjoyed it mainly because I was transported back to the Hereford countryside at a time when I wasn’t able to be there because of the lockdown.
In general, I quite enjoyed reading this rather stylish and romantic account of Lewis-Stempel's project to turn an arable field into a sustainable wheat and wildflower field. His idea was to employ traditional and regenerative methods (including re-introducing bird and wildlife species) to achieve his final goal of producing a crop of wheat-sheafs. His desire was to to see just what could be done in a small area of land (15 acres), and just how much bio-diversity could be regained in the space o ...more
As the fires burn here in Australia and politicians goad the flames and waiting embers with ignorance, arrogance and distance, I fell into the tracks of The Running Hare as a respite from a sadness and anger that rises like smoke across this land. I had planted tomatoes plants amongst the myrtle and asters just a couple of weeks ago and was quietly proud of their spreading leaves and tiny flower buds. On that day, this two acres of land amongst the browning hay fields was awash with birdsong - m ...more
This may be the closest to poetry I've ever encountered in prose, certainly in a nonfiction book. Lewis-Stempel is a farmer, writer, and environmentalist, and it's a glorious combination. I picked up this book in England a few years ago (it's crazy how the book markets across the pond are still so different, despite globalization!). I finally read it this summer, and it was the perfect timing. I've been thinking more and more about my love for science and environmentalism and how I want to combi ...more
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