Richard Mabey

Richard Thomas Mabey (born 20 February 1941) is a writer and broadcaster, chiefly on the relations between nature and culture.

Richard Mabey
Richard Thomas Mabey

20 February 1941 (age 78)
Alma materSt Catherine's College, University of Oxford
OccupationWriter and broadcaster
  • Whitbread Biography of the Year, 1986
  • British Book Awards’ Illustrated Book of the Year, 1996
  • Botanical Society of the British Isles’ President’s Award, 1996
  • East Anglian Book Award, 2011
  • Two Leverhulme Fellowships
  • Honorary doctorates from St Andrews, Essex University and the University of East Anglia


Mabey was educated at three independent schools, all in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire. The first was at Rothesay School, followed by Berkhamsted Preparatory School and then Berkhamsted School. He then went to St Catherine's College at the University of Oxford where he read Philosophy, Politics and Economics.

Life and work

After Oxford, Mabey worked as a lecturer in Social Studies in Further Education at Dacorum College, Hemel Hempstead, then as a Senior Editor at Penguin Books. He became a full-time writer in 1974. He spent most of his life among the beechwoods of the Chilterns. He now lives in the Waveney Valley in Norfolk, with his partner Polly Lavender, and retreats to a boat on the Norfolk Broads.

In the 1970s and 80s Mabey wrote and presented several television documentaries. He appeared in the 1975 BBC programme In Deepest Britain, with John Gooders and other naturalists, giving an unscripted narration of the wildlife observed during a country walk.[1][2] He wrote and narrated the 1996 BBC television series Postcards from the Country, for whose eight, 40- minute episodes he was series producer, as well as being the producer- director on four. He made a film for the BBC on Kew Gardens. His Unofficial Countryside and The Flowering of Britain were based on his books of the same names. White Rock, Black Water was a specially-written film about the limestone Country of the Yorkshire Dales, and a Channel 4 8-part series - Back to the Roots – explored the role of plants in Britain’s contemporary culture . In the 1990s he appeared regularly on BBC’s Country File.[1][2]

Between 1982 and 1986 he sat on the UK government’s advisory body, the Nature Conservancy Council. Mabey writes regularly for The Guardian, the New Statesman, The Times and Granta. A selection of these writings was compiled as the book Country Matters. He has written a personal column in BBC Wildlife magazine since 1984, and a selection of these columns has been published as A Brush with Nature.

Between 2000 and 2002 Mabey suffered from depression, and his book Nature Cure, describing his experiences and recovery in the context of man’s relationship with landscape and nature, was short-listed for three major literary awards, the Whitbread Biography of the Year, the Royal Society of Literature’s Ondaatje Prize for evoking the spirit of place and the J.R. Ackerley Prize for Autobiography.

He has edited and introduced editions of Richard Jefferies, Gilbert White, Flora Thompson and Peter Matthiessen. His contributions to BBC radio include 'The Scientist and the Romantic', a series of five essays on his lifelong relationship with science and the natural environment broadcast in 'The Essay' on Radio 3 in 2009, and Changing Climates, on our everyday experience of living with the weather, in 2013. Mabey was the first president of the London Wildlife Trust[3] and later a Vice-president;[4] Mabey's Meadow, named for him by the London Wildlife Trust, was one of his favourite haunts, and is described in his book The Unofficial Countryside (1974). It provides the only access to Frays Island in the River Colne.[3]

Awards and distinctions

Mabey has been awarded two Leverhulme Fellowships, and honorary doctorates by St Andrews, Essex and East Anglia for his contributions to nature writing. He was awarded a Civil List Pension in 2008 for services to literature. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2011. He is a Trustee of the arts and conservation charity Common Ground, Vice-President of the Open Spaces Society, Patron of the John Clare Society and President of the Waveney and Blythe Arts.

His life of Gilbert White won the 1986 Whitbread Biography of the Year. His Flora Britannica won the British Book Awards’ Illustrated Book of the Year and the Botanical Society of the British Isles’ President’s Award, and was runner-up for the BP Natural World Book Prize.


The National Portrait Gallery has a 1984 bromide print of Richard Mabey by Mark Gerson.[5] Mabey sat for sculptor Jon Edgar in Norfolk during 2007, as part of The Environment Triptych (2008)[6] along with heads of Mary Midgley and James Lovelock.


  • —— (1972). Food for Free. Collins.
  • —— (1973). The Unofficial Countryside. Collins. ISBN 978-0002118552.
  • —— (1974). Pollution Handbook. Penguin.
  • —— (1977). Plants with a Purpose. Collins.
  • —— (1978). The Roadside Wildlife Book. Sphere. ISBN 978-0722157114.
  • —— (1980). The Common Ground: A Place for Nature in Britain's Future?. Hutchinson. ISBN 978-0091391706.
  • —— (1983). Back to the Roots. Arena. ISBN 978-0099314509. (with Francesca Greenoak)
  • —— (1983). In a Green Shade. Hutchinson.
  • —— (1985). The Frampton Flora. Century. ISBN 978-0712608596.
  • —— (1986). Gilbert White. Ebury. 2007 edition. University of Virginia Press.[7]
  • —— (1988). The Flowering of Kew. Ebury. ISBN 978-0712611343.
  • —— (1988). The New Age Herbalist. Prentice Hall. (with Michael McIntyre)
  • —— (1990). The Flowers of May. Collins & Brown. ISBN 978-1855850309.
  • —— (1990). Home Country. Ebury. ISBN 978-0712637206.
  • —— (1991). A Nature Journal. Chatto & Windus. ISBN 978-0701135072. (with illustrations by Clare Roberts)
  • —— (1993). The Wildwood, The: In Search of Britain's Ancient Forests. Arum. ISBN 978-1854102423. - photography by Gareth Lovett Jones
  • —— (1993). Whistling in the Dark: In Pursuit of the Nightingale. Sinclair-Stevenson. ISBN 978-1856191760.
  • —— (1994). Landlocked: In Pursuit of the Wild. Sinclair-Stevenson. ISBN 978-1856194327.
  • —— (1996). Flora Britannica. Chatto & Windus. ISBN 978-1856193771.
  • —— (1996). The Flora of Hampshire. Harley Books. (co-author)
  • —— (1999). Country Matters: Selected Writings.
  • —— (2005). Nature Cure. Chatto & Windus. ISBN 978-0701176013.
  • —— (2006). Fencing Paradise: The Uses And Abuses Of Plants. Eden Project. ISBN 978-1903919323.
  • —— (2008). The Full English Cassoulet: Making Do In The Kitchen. Chatto & Windus. ISBN 978-0701182533.
  • —— (2007). Beechcombings: The Narratives of Trees. Chatto & Windus. ISBN 978-1856197335.
  • —— (2010). A Brush with Nature.
  • —— (2010). Weeds: The Story of Outlaw Plants. Profile. ISBN 978-1846680762.
  • —— (2010). The Barley Bird: Notes on the Suffolk Nightingale. Profile.
  • —— (2011). The Perfumier and the Stinkhorn. Profile. ISBN 978-1846684074.
  • —— (2013). Turned Out Nice Again: On Living With the Weather. Profile. ISBN 978-1781250525.
  • —— (2013). The Ash and the Beech: The Drama of Woodland Change. Vintage. ISBN 978-0099587231.
  • —— (2016). The Cabaret of Plants: Forty Thousand Years of Plant Life and the Human Imagination. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 978-0393239973.


  • Hill, Thomas (1988). The Gardener's Labyrinth - The First English Gardening Book. Oxford Paperbacks. ISBN 978-0192825803. (Editor)
  • Cocker, Mark (2005). Birds Britannica. Chatto & Windus. ISBN 978-0701169077. (Editor)
  • Marren, Peter (2010). Bugs Britannica. Chatto & Windus. ISBN 978-0701181802. (Editor)
  • Jackson, Kurt (2012). A New Genre of Landscape Painting. Lund Humphries. ISBN 978-1848221024.
  • Class (ed.), 1968
  • The Natural History of Selborne (ed.), Penguin, 1977
  • In Search of Food (with David Mabey)
  • Cold Comforts, 1983
  • Second Nature (ed.), 1984
  • NHS Everyman (ed.), 1993
  • Landscape with Figures: an anthology of Richard Jeffries (ed.), 1986-9
  • The Oxford Book of Nature Writing, 1995
  • The Yorkshire Dales (With landscape photographer Graham Nobles)
  • The Garden of Weeds, 2010

Introductions and Forewords

  • The Snow Leopard, Peter Matthiessen, Viking Press, 1978, ISBN 009977111X
  • Ashby, Eric (1989). The Secret Life of the New Forest. Chatto & Windus. ISBN 0701134046.
  • The Tree: A Celebration of Our Living Skyline, edited by Peter Wood, David & Charles, 1993, ISBN 0-7153-9481-9
  • Nonis, U; Paul Sterry (1993). Mushrooms & toadstools of Britain and Europe. David & Charles. ISBN 9780715301555.
  • An Exaltation Of Skylarks, compiled by Stewart Beer, SMH Books, (1995), ISBN 0-9512619-7-5
  • Lark Rise to Candleford (2009 edition)
  • Wilkinson, David (2013). Keeping the Barbarians at Bay: The Last Years of Kenneth Allsop, Green Pioneer. Signal. ISBN 978-1908493842.

Educational and Children’s

  • Pop Process (Hutchinson 1969)
  • Behind the Scene
  • Food
  • Children in Primary School
  • —— (1976). Street Flowers. Viking].
  • Oak and Co.


  • Postcards from the Country, BBC, 1996
  • Richard Mabey's 2011 'Botanical Busk' tour (of the London canals, commissioned by the Floating Cinema)[8]


  1. ^ a b Countryfile. 14 October 2012. BBC. |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  2. ^ a b "In Deepest Britain (1975)". BFI. Retrieved 18 October 2012.
  3. ^ a b "Frays Island and Mabey's Meadow". London Wildlife Trust. Retrieved 14 July 2018.
  4. ^ "Wild London" (PDF). Wild London. London Wildlife Trust. Summer 2009. Retrieved 14 July 2018.
  5. ^ "National Portrait Gallery - Large Image - NPG x25208; Richard Thomas Mabey". Retrieved 25 September 2013.
  6. ^ authors, various (2008). Responses - Carvings and Claywork - Jon Edgar Sculpture 2003-2008. UK: Hesworth Press. ISBN 978-0-9558675-0-7.
  7. ^ Hamilton-Smith, Elery (2008). "Gilbert White: A Biography of the Author of the Natural History of Selborne". Electronic Green Journal. 1 (26).
  8. ^ "Richard Mabey's 2011 'Botanical Busk' tour". Retrieved 8 October 2012.

External links

1972 in literature

This article presents lists of the literary events and publications in 1972.

1986 Whitbread Awards

The Whitbread Awards (1971–2005), called Costa Book Awards since 2006, are literary awards in the United Kingdom, awarded both for high literary merit but also for works considered enjoyable reading. This page gives details of the awards given in the year 1986.

2005 Whitbread Awards

The Whitbread Awards (1971–2005), called Costa Book Awards since 2006, are literary awards in the United Kingdom, awarded both for high literary merit but also for works considered enjoyable reading. This page gives details of the awards given in the year 2005.

Artemisia absinthium

Artemisia absinthium (wormwood, grand wormwood, absinthe, absinthium, absinthe wormwood) is a species of Artemisia native to temperate regions of Eurasia and Northern Africa and widely naturalized in Canada and the northern United States. It is grown as an ornamental plant and is used as an ingredient in the spirit absinthe as well as some other alcoholic beverages.

Birds Britannia

Birds Britannia is a BBC's four-part television series about the birds of the United Kingdom, first shown from 7 to 28 November 2010 on BBC Four. It was produced by Stephen Moss.

Each of the four, sixty-minute episodes concentrates on one kind of bird: garden birds, waterbirds, seabirds and birds of the countryside.The series has no presenter, and is narrated by the Scottish actor Bill Paterson, with filmed interviews with a wide range of experts and bird enthusiasts, including David Attenborough, Mark Cocker, Jeremy Mynott, Tim Birkhead, Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall, Christopher Frayling, Kate Humble, Rob Lambert, Desmond Morris, David Lindo, Helen Macdonald, Andrew Motion, Tony Soper, and Bill Oddie.It has been announced that a book of the same title, by Stephen Moss, will be published by Collins in April 2011 (ISBN 978-0007413447).

Birds Britannica

Birds Britannica is a book by Mark Cocker and Richard Mabey, about the birds of the United Kingdom, and a sister volume to Mabey's 1996 Flora Britannica, about British plants. It was published in 2005 by Chatto & Windus.According to the project's official website:

It covers cultural links; social history; birds as food; ecology; the lore and language of birds; myths, art, literature and music; anecdotes, birdsong and rare facts; modern developments; migration, the seasons and our sense of place.

Over 1,000 members of the public provided details of their observations and experiences, during the book's eight-year research period. Mabey's contribution was limited by his depression, leading to Cocker having a leading role, doing the bulk of the work and this more prominent credit.


Crithmum is a genus of flowering plant with the sole species Crithmum maritimum, known as samphire, rock samphire, or sea fennel. Rock samphire is an edible wild plant. It is found on southern and western coasts of Britain and Ireland, on mediterranean and western coasts of Europe including the Canary Islands, North Africa and the Black Sea. "Samphire" is a name also used for several other unrelated species of coastal plant.


Edgelands are the transitional, liminal areas of space to be found on the boundaries of country and town—with the spread of urbanisation, an increasingly important facet of the twenty-first century world.

Environment Triptych

The Environment Triptych, by sculptor Jon Edgar, is a group of three portrait heads of environmental thinkers of the day. First assembled in 2008, it is composed of the terracotta heads of James Lovelock, proposer of the Gaia hypothesis, moral philosopher Mary Midgley, and writer Richard Mabey. Edgar worked with three in either Cornwall, Newcastle upon Tyne or Norfolk during visits in 2006 and 2007.

The heads have a relevance as individual portraits, but the interplay of the three heads plinthed together seemed to add something; perhaps emphasising the sitters’ diverse efforts in influencing human behaviour and our interaction with the planet and its other organisms. The Triptych has led to the Environment Series of heads of environmentally aware sitters, including Chris Rapley, Gordon Murray, Tim Smit, and Guy Watson.

Eric Ashby (naturalist)

Eric Ashby MBE (19 January 1918 – 6 February 2003) was an English naturalist and wildlife cameraman, often working for the BBC Natural History Unit.

Goosey Goosey Gander

"Goosey Goosey Gander" is an English-language nursery rhyme. It has a Roud Folk Song Index number of 6488.

Mabey (surname)

Mabey is a surname. Notable people with the surname include:

Bevil Mabey (1916-2010), English businessman and inventor

Caroline Mabey (21st century), alternative comedian

Charles R. Mabey (1877–1959), American politician

Paul Mabey (c. 1786 – 1863), merchant and political figure in Prince Edward Island

Reginald W. Mabey (1932–?), Canadian politician

Richard Mabey (born 1941), British naturalist and author

Nature writing

Nature writing is nonfiction or fiction prose or poetry about the natural environment. Nature writing encompasses a wide variety of works, ranging from those that place primary emphasis on natural history facts (such as field guides) to those in which philosophical interpretation predominate. It includes natural history essays, poetry, essays of solitude or escape, as well as travel and adventure writing.Nature writing often draws heavily on scientific information and facts about the natural world; at the same time, it is frequently written in the first person and incorporates personal observations of and philosophical reflections upon nature.

Modern nature writing traces its roots to the works of natural history that were popular in the second half of the 18th century and throughout the 19th. An important early figures was the "parson-naturalist" Gilbert White (1720 – 1793), a pioneering English naturalist and ornithologist. He is best known for his Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne (1789).

William Bartram (1739 – 1823) is a significant early American pioneer naturalist who first work was published in 1791.

Profile Books

Profile Books is a British independent book publishing firm founded in 1996. It publishes non-fiction subjects including history, biography, memoir, politics, current affairs, travel and popular science.

Profile Books is distributed in the UK by Random House and sold by Faber & Faber, and is part of the Independent Alliance.

Scandix pecten-veneris

Scandix pecten-veneris (shepherd's-needle, Venus' comb, Stork's needle) is a species of edible plant belonging to the parsley family. It is native to Eurasia, but is known to occur elsewhere. It is named for its long fruit, which has a thickened body up to 1.5 centimeters long and a beak which can measure up to 7 centimeters long and is lined with comblike bristles.

Seed germinator

A seed germinator is a device for germinating seeds. Typically, these create an environment in which light, humidity and temperature are controlled to provide optimum conditions for the germination of seeds.

One type of germinator is the Copenhagen or Jacobsen tank. The seeds rest upon blotting paper which is kept moist by wicks which draw from a bath of water whose temperature is regulated. The humidity around each seed is kept high by means of glass funnels and a lid covering the tank.

Slightly Foxed

Slightly Foxed is a British quarterly literary magazine. Its primary focus is books and book culture. 2016 saw the publication of its fiftieth issue. Notable authors to have written for the magazine include Penelope Lively, Richard Mabey, Diana Athill, Ronald Blythe and Robert Macfarlane.Instead of books currently marketed by big publishers, Slightly Foxed tends to examine older and more obscure titles. The title, "Slightly Foxed" refers to a description of a book's physical quality, commonly used in the second-hand book trade.

As well as the magazine itself, Slightly Foxed has a books imprint, and between 2009 and 2016 ran a bookshop on London's Gloucester Road.The magazine offices are based in London.

Sue Clifford

Susan Merlyn Clifford MBE (born 16 April 1944) co-founded Common Ground, a British organisation which campaigns to link nature with culture and the positive investment people can make in their own localities, with Angela King in 1983.

She has worked as a planner and as a lecturer in environmental planning, latterly at University College London. With King, she has written and edited a variety of books to help people be more expressive about and be more active within their own locality. She is co-author of England in Particular ‘a celebration of the commonplace, the local, the vernacular and the distinctive’.

Sue debated the future of the English countryside with Bill Bryson, Richard Mabey, Richard Girling and Nicholas Crane at CPRE's 2007 Volunteers' Conference.

The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne

The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne, or just The Natural History of Selborne is a book by English naturalist and ornithologist Gilbert White. It was first published in 1789 by his brother Benjamin. It has been continuously in print since then, with nearly 300 editions up to 2007.The book was published late in White's life, compiled from a mixture of his letters to other naturalists—Thomas Pennant and Daines Barrington; a 'Naturalist's Calendar' (in the second edition) comparing phenology observations made by White and William Markwick of the first appearances in the year of different animals and plants; and observations of natural history organized more or less systematically by species and group. A second volume, less often reprinted, covered the antiquities of Selborne. Some of the letters were never posted, and were written for the book.

White's Natural History was at once well received by contemporary critics and the public, and continued to be admired by a diverse range of nineteenth and twentieth century literary figures. His work has been seen as an early contribution to ecology and in particular to phenology. The book has been enjoyed for its charm and apparent simplicity, and the way that it creates a vision of pre-industrial England.

The original manuscript has been preserved and is displayed in the Gilbert White museum at The Wakes, Selborne.

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