BOOKS FOR CHRISTMAS / Environment: The roots of greenery and brownery

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WHO SAID environmentalism was dead? Politicians and high-up media types may think so, but the pollsters know better, and so, on the evidence of the past year, do the publishers.

This Christmas you could, inter alia, visit the Prince of Wales's cabbage patch, share a leopard's-eye view of Africa, meditate on the meaning of ancient woodlands and immerse yourself in the lives of wolves, whales, bats, crocodiles, pandas or penguins. GATT, that Very Best of Good Things, is laid bare and looks dubious. Earth consciousness, its roots in science and myth, is analysed - as are the changing nature of environmental threats and the changed attitudes and institutions we need to confront them.

The green publishing event of the year, nevertheless, owed more to an old-fashioned reliance on the Big Name - in this case Prince Charles, who opened up his files, gardens and organic plots to Charles Clover, environment editor of the Daily Telegraph. The result, Highgrove: Portrait of an Estate (Chapmans pounds 20), is a fascinating and beautifully photographed account of one man's attempt to change the farming habits of a generation - it will appeal to elderly relatives and nosey royal-watchers as well.

On a related subject, Low-Water Gardening by John Lucas (Dent pounds 15.99) is a useful manual for the genuine eco-gardener, and makes a welcome change from all those garden design books urging us to heedless horticultural sumptuousness.

The Wildwood (Aurum Press pounds 19.95) is a mellow, peculiarly English version of the quest to identify with nature. With text from Richard Mabey and Gareth Lovett Jones and dark, green, brooding photographs from the latter, it seeks to recreate the spirit of our ancient habitat, the prehistoric post-glacial forest. Umbulala: Through the Eyes of a Leopard (Questech, PO Box 141, Aylesbury, Bucks), by Lena Godsall Bottriell, takes us further, into a Jungle Book- style view of a leopard's life. It's an original idea, but I'm not sure the prose is sufficiently assured.

More conventional books about animals include The Complete Wolf by Liz Bomford (Boxtree pounds 20), a pictorial journey around one of our most misunderstood predators, and two epic tales of conservation, The Last Panda by George Schaller (University of Chicago Press pounds 19.95), and Douglas Chadwick's The Fate of the Elephant (Viking pounds 17.50). Both make compelling, if depressing, reading. An unconventional but witty and perceptive book about animals is Zoology: On (Post)modern Animals (Lilliput Press pounds 12), a 'cahier' with contributions from 14 European poets, novelists and philosophers. And if you are exercised about hunting, you will find in Matt Cartmill's A View to a Death in the Morning (Harvard pounds 23.95), a survey of human predatory urges from Australopithecus to Bambi, much food for thought.

To set the above in context, Theodore Roszak's The Voice of the Earth: An Exploration of Ecopsychology (Bantam pounds 17.99) examines the spiritual and psychological roots of greenery, as does Belonging to the Universe: New Thinking About God and Nature (Penguin pounds 6.99), based on conversations between the eco-philosopher Fritjof Capra and two leading Christian thinkers. Meanwhile, in The New Protectionism (Earthscan pounds 10.95), Tim Lang and Colin Hines examine the economic causes of the browning of the world. This is probably the most important, and certainly the most immediately relevant, political green book of the year, with its argument that the global market, and more particularly GATT, however much it may benefit big companies, is bad news for jobs, cultures and the environment.

The clash between greenery and brownery is also central to Paradigms in Progress (Adamantine Press pounds 14.50), the latest onslaught on gross national product and other Old World notions from Hazel Henderson, one of the foremost green economists, and also of Indigenous Peoples and Protected Areas (Earthscan pounds 19.95). Edited by Elizabeth Kemf with three dozen brief, pointed and excellently illustrated tales from five continents, this is an invaluable primer on the link between the conservation of wildlife and the conservation of native cultures. In a similar vein, Rebuilding Communities (Green Books pounds 9.95), edited by Vithal Rajan, charts the attempts throughout Europe to reconstruct society from the bottom upwards, and The Gaia Atlas of Cities (Gaia pounds 9.99), by Herbert Girardet, shows why we may need to begin by unscrambling the metropolis.

For those seeking a quick route to general global enlightenment, Vital Signs 1993-94 ( pounds 9.95), from the Worldwatch Institute, and Threats Without Enemies ( pounds 12.95), both published by Earthscan, can be warmly recommended. The former, an original idea that is now in its second year, monitors the planet's state of health. The latter is a series of essays edited by the head of Cambridge University's global security programme - and its tone can be gauged by Sir Crispin Tickell's contribution, 'The inevitability of environmental insecurity'. Environmentalism, it seems, is alive - but still pretty gloomy.