Reading Group: ‘The Running Hare’

Blog post by Sue Cooper, Transition New Mills Reading Group

The New Mills Transition Discussion Group meets monthly in someone’s home to discuss a book or, occasionally, to watch a film/video or host a speaker.

Our book this month was The Running Hare (The secret life of farmland) by John Lewis-Stempel published by Penguin Books. In some ways this followed a theme set last time in our discussions of Wilding by Isabella Tree, looking at what happens when land is managed or farmed differently to the modern methods of intensive agriculture – in this case a field in Herefordshire which the author takes on for a year to grow a crop of wheat, using traditional farming methods, and a wide border of wildflowers.

The results are fascinating and heartening, showing the power of nature to recover from the mono-cultures of agribusiness which create quite ‘dead’ environments, as well as a celebration and appreciation of the skills and cultural history of traditional agricultural workers.

This book was a ‘lighter’ read than our usual fare; as well as being an observant ecologist cataloguing and describing the emerging and changing flora and fauna he includes anecdotes of rural life, poetry, songs, discourses on agricultural history, language and literature, a rich weave of fascinating facts and engaging descriptions. Some of us found his style of writing attractive, enjoying the richness and depth, others were less enthusiastic, but all agreed that is was an interesting read and a welcome reminder of the rhythm of the seasons and a celebration of our connection to the natural world.

It is an open criticism of modern agricultural methods; he writes of the ‘chemical brothers’ in the next field whose use of pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers together with modern farm machinery delivers high yields but a mono-cultural environment, ‘every time one buys the lie of cheap food a flower or a bird dies’. His field produces an abundance and variety of wild flowers, attracts all kinds of wild life including the hares of the title and also produces a decent crop of wheat but at the cost of some heavy physical work. No easy answers. We had a lively discussion on the book which moved on to include a debate on the Common Agricultural Policy, farming subsidies and Brexit, and the worrying issue of modern disengagement from the natural world.

Our next meeting, on Monday February 18th, will look at the 12 principles of permaculture, through song! Contact us at for details.

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