Wildflowers

The IoS guide to wild Britain (Part 1)

Summer holidays are here, and what better way to spend them than to enjoy some of our diverse wildlife? David Randall tells the story of the RSPB, the world's oldest conservation group, and its experts choose 40 of the best reserves to visit

Bellissima! Anna Pavord discovers beautiful flowers on a walking trip

San Cassiano in the Dolomite region of northern Italy wasn't what I was expecting. On the map, west of Cortina d'Ampezzo, north of the mountainous hump of Marmolada, it looked a small village, surrounded by plenty of nothing – good for walking. But it's on the move, San Cassiano. Five huge yellow cranes hung like praying mantises over new building sites. Parked outside our family-run hotel was a daunting line-up: Aston Martin, Ferrari, Maserati and Porsche. "Crumbs," I thought. "What are we going to do with our boots?" Mud, unless provided at a cost in the hotel's Daniela Steiner Spa, seemed to have little place here any more.

A Summer of Drowning, By John Burnside

Kingsley Amis wanted to write poems. Philip Larkin wanted to write novels. Amis did write quite a few poems, and Larkin did write a couple of novels, but Amis’s poems weren’t as good as his novels, and Larkin’s novels weren’t as good as his poems. It’s very, very rare for a writer to be equally good at poems and novels. John Burnside is. He’s a brilliant poet, a brilliant memoirist, and a brilliant novelist.

The hard place in the shadow of the rock

There were huge celebrations when Ayers Rock was handed over to its traditional owners 25 years ago. But despite owning Uluru, Aborigines nearby live in misery

Wild Flower Society: Floral fixation

While twitchers are dedicated to spotting birds, the Wild Flower Society, founded in 1886, is just as obsessed with sighting rare blooms. Peter Marren meets them

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Best poetry books for Christmas

The renaissance in British poetry is surely one of the best-kept cultural secrets of the Noughties. Unafraid to deal with the big topics – war, mortality, the search for meaning in the everyday – contemporary writing is accessible, memorable and often strikingly beautiful. John Burnside's The Hunt in the Forest (Cape, £10) exemplifies this new generosity. Meditations on the numinous and transitory segue into dreams of escape, a cloud-landscape where "the dog shape that worried the fence line / flickers away through the grass / to the last grey of dawn." In mid-life reality, love is "The one thing that no one would choose / and it's back, like a knife at a wedding". Burnside is renowned for haunting imagery, but it's impeccable musical judgement that binds his lyrics together.