Fighting for Birds review by Peter Marren in British Wildlife 24(1), October 2012
“Nature conservation in Britain has a disappointing literature. In contrast with the United States, most British writers give the subject a wide berth. Conservation has long since become the domain of the bureaucrats and charity PR folk whose way with words varies from the nursery to Newspeak. Despite the obvious wonder and excitement of nature itself, the products of the conservation industry read as though they are put together by a committee, or maybe one of those internet things that offer you a “translation”: the formulaic plans, the dead-eyed “strategies”, the magazines bursting with pretty pictures which you lay aside after ten minutes with the feeling that you’ve just been given the run-around. Where’s the energy, where’s the passion, damn it where’s the guts?
It’s all right here. I am a big fan of Mark Avery’s blog, which was pretty outspoken even when he was the head conservation honcho for the RSPB, and quite outstanding now that he can say what he likes (actually there’s no great difference in his views, only an upgrade of the polemic). Perhaps it is because he has such strong opinions and is unafraid to express them with candour and wit that this is the first conservation book I have read with pleasure from start to finish since Richard Mabey’s The Common Ground, more than 30 years ago. Avery has worked for bird conservation for about that long, and his new book combines his ornithological autobiography with a wide-ranging overview of attempts to conserve birds in a crowded country. It is wise, it is punchy, it is funny, it is thought-provoking, and, best of all, it lives up to its title in showing how every inch of the way has, indeed, been a fight.
Perhaps you need to focus narrowly on our feathered friends to perceive this. Somehow, arguing for habitat preservation and ecological principles, as we used to do, lacks the moral force of a bird in distress, a shot hen harrier hitting the heath (followed by the mysterious disappearance of the corpse), a lone pair of red-backed shrikes under siege by egg-thieves, a swan pegging out on the saltings with a gizzard full of lead.
The RSPB has the confidence of knowing exactly what it is here to do, which is why it has a million members and is, by a considerable distance, the most professional conservation body in Britain, if not Europe. I wish that there was a similar body which sticks up for all our wild plants, other animals and fungi, but we may as well be realistic. It’s bird issues that get you the ear of the cabinet minister (many of whom Avery seems to know). Birds are what count in this country.
Mark Avey is a tonic to anyone who thinks conservation is essentially a grey study. He fights, all right, but he is also a good listener, and perhaps more sympathetic to those of a contrary standpoint than many of us would be. In his ability to argue and persuade while retaining the respect of others, he is probably the best ambassador we’ve got. The RSPB was mad to lose him, but its loss is our gain.”
ISBN: Paperback 978-1-907807-29-9 | Hardback 978-1-907807-31-2 | eBook 978-1-907807-30-5
Publication Date: August 2012
Author: Mark Avery
Available from: Direct from Pelagic Publishing, specialist bookshops and Amazon.co.uk