‘Being on the land changes us for the better’

Professor Jules Pretty on our connection to nature

  • Date

    Fri 29 Sep 17

Professor Jules Pretty

In our technology-driven world, we are becoming increasingly estranged from land and nature, most of us unaware of the damage that our actions - or inaction - is having on us and the world around us. Immersing ourselves in the countryside on our doorstep can improve our well-being, understanding and capacity to care.

That’s the premise of a new book by Professor Jules Pretty, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Professor of Environment and Society in our School of Biological Sciences. The East Country is an almanac of 74 pieces of nature writing about the timeless but ever-changing landscapes of Essex and Suffolk and his interaction with it over the course of several years.

Professor Pretty said: “The East Country particularly builds on my previous books, This Luminous Coast and The Edge of Extinction, but has a different style. Here is both prose and poetry. 

“The pattern of observations across a year is intended to give the reader a sense of slow passing of time, of the value of attentiveness to nature and its many subtle changes. The book does not preach – there are messages but they are wrapped up into the narratives about the land and nature.”

The book’s tales are a combination of memoir with natural history, cultural critique with spiritual reflection. 

“An old farm ethic from the east country states you should live as if tomorrow were your last, but farm the land as if you will live forever. Nature will survive us all. How it looks depends on our choices, our responsibilities. This is it, said Seamus Heaney. There is no next-time-round.”
The East Country Jules Pretty

Professor Pretty is running a Twitter campaign - #TheEastCountry - to accompany the book, publishing a tweet a day for a year to follow the seasons.

“I want to see how the materials of the book can be boiled down to 140 characters plus photos, and then see how they can build back up to a new body of work that emerges from engagements with the public. I’m not planning to use 280 characters if they do become available – 140 is a good discipline, rather like haiku!” said Professor Pretty. 

“At this stage, most of the tweets are foundational - setting the scene. Soon these will be shift towards autumn’s rituals and ceremonies, then the dark and cold of winter.”

‘The East Country: Almanac Tales of Valley and Shore’ is published on 20 November 2017 by Cornell University Press. Follow #TheEastCountry on Twitter now.