Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

FIELD WORK: What Land Does to People & What People Do to Land by Bella Bathurst, book review

  • Written by  Elizabeth Wainwright
  • Published in Books
FIELD WORK: What Land Does to People & What People Do to Land by Bella Bathurst, book review
06 Oct
by Bella Bathurst • Profile Books

In recent years, there have been plenty of books and articles about farming, but as Bella Bathurst, author of Field Work, says, ‘often they were polemical: we should be eating less meat, we should be rewilding…’ In response, Bathurst moved into a cottage attached to the 180-acre Rise Farm, a hill farm in Wales, from where she was able to get up close to farming and view it from within. ‘The longer I spent at Rise, the more I looked for something that told me about the individuals, not the systems,’ she writes.

And so, at Rise Farm, and throughout rural Britain – in fields, abattoirs, barns, butchers, polytunnels, corporate farms and small family farms – Bella meets the folk who make up our farming landscape. That landscape is familiar and yet unknown to many of us. In Field Work Bathurst jumps over the wall and meets the people on the other side. ‘This place, this land, wasn’t a job or a business: it was everything – past and future, identity and rhythm, daily bread and Sunday rest. But places like these were struggling now.’ That struggle, and the struggle of Rise Farm’s fading owner, Bert, plays out movingly and honestly through the book.

Just as Bathurst ‘began to understand things differently once I got to Rise’, so too does the reader. This is in large part down to the relationship she builds with interviewees who seem to open up when she sits down with them. The one exception is the ‘larger holdings with big-name clients selling our standard kitchen essentials – eggs, chicken, chips, burgers’. Their large communication teams didn’t return requests for interviews.

What much of our increasingly urban world asks of farmers, and of nature, is unsustainable – give us cheap food, but stop destroying the natural world. Bathurst digs into the quandary by making the story of farming a personal and particular one. Field Work is a nuanced book – something that has been lacking in mainstream discussions on food and farming. It’s an insightful, compassionate and sometimes funny behind-the-scenes tour of a familiar but little understood world.

Click here to purchase from The Geographical Bookshop

The Geographical Bookshop has been set up with BookShop UK, a new online bookshop with a mission to financially support local, independent bookshops. Geographical will receive 10% from anything purchased using the links here. A matching 10% goes to BookShop UK’s pool of independent bookshops. By design, BookShop UK gives away over 75% of its profit margin to stores, publications, authors and others who make up the thriving, inspirational culture around books.


NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in REVIEWS...


By Amy Liptrot • Cannongate


Edited by Andrew Blauner • Princeton University Press


By Darren Chetty, Grug Muse, Hanan Issa and Lestyn Tyne…


Charting the full history of the Caucasus, with Christoph Baumer