IT’S hard to imagine that one of the greatest nature books ever written started life in Essex.

Not the Himalayas, the rain forests of Borneo or even the Highlands of Scotland, in little old Essex, to be precise just outside Chelmsford.

Fifty years ago, a Chelmsford birdwatcher named J A Baker wrote a book about the peregrine falcons of the Blackwater estuaries, after spending years walking and cycling the paths in the area.

Published in 1967, The Peregrine went on to influence a whole generation of nature writers with its innovative style.

The bulk of the book was a series of diary entries that tracked one winter in the life of the Essex peregrines and their ever more intimate human follower. It is also a record of the Essex landscape, a land which Baker said was “as profuse and glorious as Africa.”

Now the book’s 50th anniversary is being marked with a new edition, the first biography of Baker and a lecture on his legacy by wild writer Dr James Canton, who followed in Baker’s footsteps in his own book Out of Essex.

James says: “I’m really pleased to have this chance to talk about Baker’s work in my Burrows Lecture in October. He’s a remarkable writer on the natural world and now has the recognition he deserves. And he’s from Essex. Born and bred.

“The Peregrine came out at an important time. Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring had been published in 1962 and had shown the world exactly what chemicals like DDT were doing to the natural world. The Peregrine showed the impact of those same agrichemicals on a single species in England.”

The book itself contributed to calls to ban these pesticides and with the success of that campaign, eventually peregrine numbers recovered steadily.

James adds: “It is amazing to see how peregrine numbers have revived – two are currently resident on Jumbo in Colchester! Other pairs have been successfully breeding on Bradwell power station for years.

“Baker’s legacy is remarkable – he showed how raising a voice to defend our wildlife, in protest at the ways in which our natural world is being treated, really can work. We can learn from his example. He showed us a new way to write on nature. ”

Despite The Peregrine’s importance, very little was known about its author’s life until recently. In 2014, an archive of letters, early manuscripts of The Peregrine, ornithological diaries and unpublished early work was donated to the Albert Sloman Library at Essex University by Baker’s brother-in-law Bernard Coe and ornithologist and conservationist John Fanshawe.

James, who teaches the MA Wild Writing course at Essex will be giving his Burrows Lecture on J A Baker on November 29 at 6pm.

Tickets, which are free, are available from the Lakeside Theatre website at or by calling 01206 873270.

J A Baker’s The Peregrine: 50th Anniversary Edition is out now, published by Harper Collins with a new afterword by Robert Macfarlane.