Nidd Gorge book in BBC's top ten nature books ever

Rob Cowen, right, walking in Nidd Gorge.
Rob Cowen, right, walking in Nidd Gorge.

An acclaimed book set in Nidd Gorge is on the shortlist for the UK’s favourite nature book of all time alongside classics like Wind in the Willows.

First published in 2015, Common Ground by Rob Cowen tells the story of how the Harrogate author spend a whole year exploring a single square mile of wood, meadow, hedge and river at the back of Bilton.

Harrogate author Rob Cowen.

Harrogate author Rob Cowen.

The powerfully 'immersive' end result ended up being shortlisted for the 2016 Wainwright Prize, the 2016 Richard Jefferies Society Writers’ Prize and the 2015 Portico Prize.

But Cowen, who is married with two young children and lives in Bilton, said he was completely taken by surprise to discover the book has been picked alongside the likes of The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame for the final ten out of 770 books nominated by the public in a new BBC competition.

The winning book will be announced on the BBC’s Winterwatch at the end of January.

Rob said: “It’s an amazing honour. I’m very flattered. I still get letters and emails about the book from readers three years after my book was first published.

Based in Bilton - The cover of Rob Cowen's acclaimed Common Ground book.

Based in Bilton - The cover of Rob Cowen's acclaimed Common Ground book.

“But you don’t wake up in the morning and think “I’d love to be on the shortlist for the greatest ever British nature book.”

A regular contributor to the Daily Telegraph, famous fans of Common Ground include Alan Bennett, Michael Palin and Joanne Harris who hailed it as “absolutely mesmerizing.”

Published by Random House, the book includes Rob's personal experiences of hours spent in the undergrowth of the area in all areas, its history running from the days of King John 1 and even discusses the contribution made by the volunteers of Bilton Conservation Group.

Cowen said it was a thrill to share the spotlight with classic books like Tarka the Otter by Henry Williamson.

Part memoir, part natural history and part, Cowen believes part of the book’s success is the result of the subject matter itself.

Rob said: “It stays with people once they’ve read it.

“I think the impact of the book reflects deeper concerns in the world right now about the relationship between the human world and the natural world.

“Nidd Gorge has an amazing eco-system. It’s unmanaged. The list of different species found there is incredible.

“It’s one of the most important untamed green spaces in the whole of the north of England.”

If Cowen is to claim the top prize for Harrogate, he needs the town to vite for Common Ground in an online poll conducted yb the Arts and Humanities Research Council via its website.

But if his Harrogate-based book was to win, he says it would be a hollow victory should the area become part of plans to address the town’s traffic congestion problems.

He said: “It’s a cruel irony that there’s been talk of building a new relief road near Nidd Gorge. Whichever way you look at it, it’s a plan which makes no sense.”

To vote for Rob Cowne’s Common Ground, visit www.ahrc.ac.uk/favouritenaturebooks

Voting closes at midnight on January 25.