Bird Conservation: Global Evidence for the Effects of Interventions
Some bird books are destined to become legendary, sell by the ship load, and – in differing ways – change the birding landscape forever (Harrison’s ‘Seabirds’, BWP, Bill Oddie’s ‘Little Black Bird Book’, or the Collins Bird Guide come to mind perhaps, and I’m sure all readers will have their own examples). These are books that almost every serious birder (those with deep pockets anyway) will have bought and pored over. Contrary to popular belief they don’t make their authors wealthy, but they often put a publishing house on the birding map and help fund other important but less widely purchased titles.
It has to be said right from the start that ‘Bird Conservation – Global evidence for the effects of interventions’ will probably not be joining the ranks of the must-have bird books of the 21st century, and it’s doubtful that Pelagic Publishing (the publishers perhaps most widely known for Mark Avery’s excellent ‘Fighting for Birds’) will make enough money for its Directors to retire on, but this is without a doubt a fascinatingly detailed and important production that any serious bird conservationist should own.
So what is ‘Bird Conservation’ all about? Obviously, conservation, but it’s actually very different to the theory or discourse of, say, Donald et al’s brilliant ‘Facing Extinction’ (Poyser 2010). The 530 pages of ‘Bird Conservation deal more with events at the coalface, what actually happens when conservation or management initiatives are put into place once projects are scoped and acted upon.
On these 530 pages is a collection of superbly edited synopses of published papers on the impacts on bird conservation of various ‘interventions’. That sounds a little unapproachable perhaps, but while every page is packed with dense text, the studies are all arranged into sensible and readily understood sections such as ‘Agriculture’, ‘Invasive, alien, and other problematic species’, and ‘Captive breeding, rearing, and releases’. Each of these fifteen sections is then further broken down into numerous examples that are summarised in either a few lines or (more unusually) a few pages. In essence the book skilfully collates and orders thousands of scientific results and presents, without an ounce of unnecessary flab, what actually happens when conservationists or landowners make change to or ‘intervene’ in the biodiversity they’re working on (and there are fortunately an additional 44 pages of index which makes navigation a little easier).
As I said at the outset this is not really a book for the everyday birder. It is aimed squarely at (as the opening text on the ‘About this book’ explains) “people who have to make decisions about how best to support or conserve biodiversity… a land manager, a conservationist in the public or private sector, a farmer, a campaigner, an advisor or consultant, a policymaker, a researcher or someone taking action to protect… local wildlife…our synopses summarise scientific evidence relevant to your conservation objectives and the actions you could take to achieve them.” For all of the above ‘Bird Conservation is a must buy. The amount of information on the results of so many different scientific cases is staggering, and I have to say that the more I’ve dipped into this book the more staggering it appears. I may not need to make decisions on what happens if repellents are used to stop non-target species taking baits meant for rats (p270) or whether or not to provide artificial nesting ledges for Oilbirds (p371) – but it’s somehow both heartening and reassuring to know that someone has tried to find out and that a dedicated team (mostly from Cambridge University) has made the results so accessible.
When this book first arrived (courtesy of Bo Beolens of Fatbirder fame who asked if I’d review it) I was a little bit daunted. I don’t like to review something I haven’t actually read all the way through and clearly there is no way I – or anyone but the editors I suspect – have the time to sit down and read every page and word of ‘Bird Conservation‘. But my somewhat lazy and perplexed first reaction has been replaced with something akin to awe now that I’ve leafed through it for a few days. Armed with this book you could win every Twitter argument you enter, sound like the expert you’ve always wanted to be, and – as the old adverts used to say – amaze your friends…
That’s possibly not perhaps going to persuade many non-land managers types to buy ‘Bird Conservation‘ which is a shame because while not all of the information will be of interest to everyone, some of it at least will be (the original synopses are available via www.conservationevidence.com/ incidentally – though if you’re interested enough to visit that website and cherry-pick a few studies then you may as well just buy the reasonably priced paperback version and save a whole lot of download time and hard drive space). I have a feeling that ‘Bird Conservation‘ won’t be spoken of amongst everyday birders with the reverence given to groundbreaking favourites like the Collins Bird Guide, but on the other hand I am willing to predict that a well-thumbed copy will be a reference and fixture in the offices or libraries of conservationists all around the world for many years to come.
Bird Conservation: Global Evidence for the Effects of Interventions By David R Williams, Robert G Pople, David A Showler, Lynn V Dicks, Matthew F Child, Erasmus KHJ zu Ermgassen, William J Sutherland | 575 pages | no illustrations | Pelagic Publishing | Paperback | Mar 2013 | ISBN: 9781907807190
This review is also posted as a guest post on the excellent Fatbirder website and I’d like to thank Bo Beolens for sending me this book in the first place.