I couldn't put it down. It is a damned good read packed with interesting information and insider insights into some of the classic conservation battles of the period. All students of conservation should read it. -- John Bowers ECOS This book's cover says it all - Mark Avery is in your face, explaining his view of how to look after Briain's birds, and our countryside, largely through a series of battles. Let me be clear, I'm reviewing the book, not Mark's approach. Chris Packham read it from start to finish without stopping - I took only two or three sittings. It's a compelling read. A book of this nature, at its best, should inform, entertain, provoke thought, and even move the reader, and Mark managed all of these with me. He successfully transfers onto the page his passion for birds, for wildlife, for science, and for some people. He sets out, very clearly, the art and science of nature conservation, and explains the practicalities in a way that will improve understanding for any reader at any level. This is a personal perspective, with Mark's contribution as an RSPB Director writ very large. Its combative feel will make new enemies, as well as further polarise those with strong views, either way, on his approach. Mark's story shares remarkably similar experiences to mine. Schoolboy mentors, early birding memories (do we all remember meeting Richard Richardson on Cley's East Bank?), scientific research, upland fieldwork, all leading to a long career in nature conservation. As a professional I learnt a lot from this book - how and why the RSPB picked issues for advocacy, ideas on mitigating climate change, and that Swifts nest in Abernethy's pines - I have to see that sometime! I laughed out loud, mostly when Mark was poking fun at himself and, yes, I was moved because his passion to do better for our planet and the life it sustains shines through - we all should take on at least some of his bullet-point manifesto for the future of a better world. Whether you are enemy or friend, reading this account of a particular life in conservation will be time well spent. -- Andy Clements BTO News Did you see the Black-winged Pratincole at Cley in 1974? No, me neither, but Mark Avery was one of the three finders. Not many people know that! But I think most people know that he spent 25 years working for the RSPB, much of it as Conservation Director, where he was instrumental in shaping the way the Society protected birds. In fact there are 17,000 internet references to his work there - an indication that he had a lot to say. And so he should - the last two decades have seen major changes in the way our countryside has been managed and the way that those in authority have responded to the implications. Often a controversial figure in the media, he could always see both sides to an argument but he did not let that weaken his position. Having observed him in action during my own time on the RSPB Council I would say he had a rare knack of being prepared to say what everyone in the room was thinking, particularly when they were lost for words. That last attribute can be a strength or a weakness, and one rarely displayed by those whose first interest is in their career path. Perhaps that is why he decided to change his own career path last year to become a freelance writer and consultant? In this book we learn about his early interest in birds and wildlife, followed by research at Oxford and Aberdeen and his early days at the RSPB. But for me the most interesting chapters are those that outline his views on some the key issues in bird conservation - namely hunting, loss of protected areas, agricultural intensification, reintroductions, establishing nature reserves, climate change, persecution of raptors, understanding the infrastructure of conservation and lobbying those in power. He also gives his view about the future of the RSPB. There are a great many stories in each chapter, with personal anecdotes from interactions with various organisations including the Royal Family, and I know for sure that Mark could have written at least as many again, although perhaps his lawyers advised him not to! When you read a chapter entitled "Is it ever right to be nasty to birds?" you immediately sense that those who carry a gun in preference to binoculars are likely to find themselves under unfriendly fire in this book. Indeed Mark states clearly "A person goes down in my estima-tion a little if they derive pleasure from killing things unnecessarily". On the other hand he is in favour of Ruddy Duck control because there does not seem to be an alternative solution to the con-servation problem that they pose. Hunters would describe that as double standards, although to me it makes sense if you can really justify the conservation threat. He is worried about our protected areas as often these are paid for by wildlife NGOs who receive money not only from the public but also from agri-environment schemes that come and go with political changes. In these tough economic times both sources of income are under threat, and so too our treasured sites. With so many "conservation" organisations in the UK it is hard to make progress without stepping on toes. Mark thinks there is a need for fewer organisations and more resources to come to their aid. On the whole issue of farmland he says that the declines in bird numbers are real and the most striking sign of ecological change that we have seen in the UK in recent decades - the cause being changes in farm practices. His solution is to overhaul the current payment systems and find ways of working with farmers who are warm to wildlife and working with decision-makers to make the whole system more wildlife-friendly. Meanwhile on reintroductions he is quite positive although recognises that we need time to see whether some will work - but he is dead against deliberate or accidental introductions of non-native wildlife. He thinks that big nature reserves are better than small ones and gives his own views on some of the RSPB's prime sites - and he is very worried about climate change, as left unchanged it will ruin much that we value in the natural world. I suspect many people will turn first to the chapter entitled "The raptor haters". A precis of this might be that too many raptors are killed by gamekeepers who are under huge pressure to maintain ridiculously high numbers of grouse on driven moors for shooters to aim at every August. You can count the number of Hen Harrier breeding pairs in England on one hand when you should really need dozens of hands. The only solution is to ban driven grouse shooting. (This is where lines of beaters flush the grouse towards the guns, rather than shooters taking a pot at the odd grouse as it flies past. It could be described as the shooting equivalent of factory farming). This chapter will once again divide readers into two camps. I was particularly interested in Mark's views of the RSPB. He thinks that it should do more to canvass the opinions of its members concerning its work, and he wonders if most of them would wish to retain the benefit of a Royal patron - and indeed it might be renamed. As always he is controversial, and in that way I suspect he will find life as an independent commentator much to his liking. If you care about conservation you should read this book. I found myself agreeing with about 80% of his views, but regardless I learned a lot from his experiences. -- Keith Betton Birding World This is an in-depth book that explores how the conservation world works and explains just how difficult it can be to save bird species. Avery worked for the RSPB for 25 years and became their Conservation Director, so he is in a pretty good position to talk about saving species. The book starts off with a tour of Mark's formative early years getting into the world of birds but this is not an autobiography. It is about thoughts, opinions and ideas on how to work with, protect and keep species and special places alive and well. One gets the feeling that to truly express his views Mark could only do so once he had left the RSPB. "We are often told that nature conservation is a luxury we cannot afford when it stands in the way of economic progress..." Fighting For Birds is a book that lays out how NGO's work, how politicians support or don't support projects, who to speak to, how to speak to them and what to speak about once in a position to do so. It is a political business looking after our natural world with meeting after meeting, a watching of p's and q's, talk and counter talk and the smoothing of feathers between various parties. Avery's views are opinionated and I like this. His thoughts on hunting and suggestions of how to stop the continual murder of birds of prey in the UK appeal to my sensibilities. The persecution of raptors is a disgusting sideshow that accompanies events like grouse shoots and the cultivation of grouse moors at the expense of all other creatures and habitat is genuinely sickening, although grouse moor managers will tell you a different story as to how their work actually helps biodiversity. Avery sets out many different options for the situation and ultimately indicates that the banning of grouse shoots may be the only way to save so many of our birds of prey, particularly the Hen Harrier, which is now down to the last breeding pair in England. He is probably right. Fighting for Birds is an extraordinary work. It explains most aspects of conservation in a succinct, intelligible way that makes one want to pick up the gauntlet and do what one can to join the fight for birds. Inspirational and enlightening it may be but most of all it shows exactly where we are in our race to save our wildlife and urges us all to do more. You want to be a conservationist? Then read this book. -- Ceri Levy The Bird Effect Diary This is a book everyone should read, be they already an ardent conservationist or, equally, perhaps more importantly, if they have no particular sympathies with wildlife or environmentalism. There are a number of reasons why I personally enjoyed it so much. I worked for the RSPB for much of the period within which the narrative takes place, I admit to sharing the same opinio...
...it’s a triumph, and if you have any real interest in the job of saving species and their habitats then it’s a tremendously rewarding ‘must read’. Chris Packham
Devoted to birds and wildlife since childhood, Mark’s early scientific research at Oxford, Aberdeen and the RSPB provided a solid background for his management, ambassadorial, and political lobbying activities which were to follow – and his larger than life, yet quietly humane personality has provided the final tools in his own, unique, nature conservationists’ toolbox.
In this book, Mark mixes a great many stories from his professional life at the RSPB with personal anecdotes and passionate arguments on past and present issues in bird and nature conservation. He shows us something of the many scientists whose work paves the way for conservation action, places domestic conservation into an international context, takes us behind the scenes to glimpse the politicians who have worked with him, or against him, along the way. Mark leaves us armed with practical tips and a guiding philosophy to take wildlife conservation though the troubled years that lie ahead.
A personal, philosophical and political history of 25 years of bird conservation, this book provides an instructive and amusing read for all those who would like a glimpse into the birds and wildlife conservation world – what the issues are, what must be done, how it can be done, and the challenges, highs and lows involved.