The peregrine soars in Essex

Peregrine Falcon

J A Baker (1926–1987) wrote about the Essex countryside surrounding his home in Chelmsford. His reputation as a nature writer is based on just two books, The Peregrine and The Hill of Summer.

Despite working for the Automobile Association for a time, Baker never learnt to drive and largely relied on cycling. For this reason, his bird watching was concentrated in a relatively small area, east of Chelmsford which centred on Danbury Hill and going towards the coast. It includes the National Trust properties of Danbury Common, Blakes Wood, Northey Island and Copt Hall Marshes. The first two places appear in his diaries, as does Hatfield Forest.  He commented on the forest in his diary: "Hatfield Forest dominated by noisy jackdaws everywhere and rooks." The jackdaws are still in evidence today, looking for food scraps around the café!

A pioneer of localism, Baker focussed on this small area of Essex, saying in The Peregrine’s introduction: "I have tried to recapture the extraordinary beauty of this bird and to convey the wonder of the land he lived in, a land to me as profuse and glorious as Africa."  

The area has become much more built up since Baker's time. Thanks to the work of the National Trust and other conservation organisations, such as the RSPB and the Essex Wildlife Trust, it is still possible to enjoy the countryside that he knew so well. More information about his J.A.Baker's life and works can be found at a website dedicated to him, which includes suggestions for walks in Baker Country, including National Trust countryside properties.

An article in the Essex Chronicle goes into more detail here...

On the trail of the mysterious birdman of Essex, J A Baker (PDF / 2.091796875MB) download