English Pastoral by James Rebanks

Penguin| 3 September 2020| 283 pages| Kindle review copy via Netgalley| 5*

English Pastoral: An Inheritance by James Rebanks is an absolutely marvellous book, the best book I’ve read this year and although it’s still February I can’t imagine that I’ll read a better book all year.

About the book:

As a boy, James Rebanks’s grandfather taught him to work the land the old way. Their family farm in the Lake District hills was part of an ancient agricultural landscape: a patchwork of crops and meadows, of pastures grazed with livestock, and hedgerows teeming with wildlife. And yet, by the time James inherited the farm, it was barely recognisable. The men and women had vanished from the fields; the old stone barns had crumbled; the skies had emptied of birds and their wind-blown song.

English Pastoral is the story of an inheritance: one that affects us all. It tells of how rural landscapes around the world were brought close to collapse, and the age-old rhythms of work, weather, community and wild things were lost. And yet this elegy from the northern fells is also a song of hope: of how, guided by the past, one farmer began to salvage a tiny corner of England that was now his, doing his best to restore the life that had vanished and to leave a legacy for the future.

This is a book about what it means to have love and pride in a place, and how, against all the odds, it may still be possible to build a new pastoral: not a utopia, but somewhere decent for us all.

It is inspirational as well as informative and it is beautifully written. I enjoyed his account of his childhood and his nostalgia at looking back at how his grandfather farmed the land. And I was enlightened about current farming practices and the effects they have on the land, depleting the soil of nutrients.

But all is not doom and gloom as Rebanks also explains what can be done to put things right, how we can achieve a balance of farmed and wild landscapes, by limiting use of some of the technological tools we’ve used over the last 50 years so that methods based on mixed farming and rotation can be re-established. By encouraging more diverse farm habitats, rotational grazing and other practices that mimic natural processes we can transform rural Britain.

I loved this book and came away with much to think about and also hope for the future.

My thanks to the publishers and NetGalley for the review copy, and as it is such an excellent book, after reading the review copy, I bought the e-book.

6 thoughts on “English Pastoral by James Rebanks

  1. This does sound like a real celebration of the land, Margaret, and lives of the people who live on it. Our connection to the land is so deep and important that I can see how it would make for a thought-provoking and fascinating book. And if the writing style is good, too, that’s even better.

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  2. I’ve got his previous book and can’t wait to read this one too. With grandparents and aunts and uncles who were still very much working the land, I have an affinity for these kinds of stories.

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