“Fighting for Birds: 25 years in nature conservation”
“Fighting for Birds: 25 years in nature conservation” by Mark Avery
Pelagic Publishing (2012) ISBN 978-1907807299
In recent years there has been something of a renaissance in what one might loosely term birding autobiography – from tales of the consuming trials of year-listing to more elegiac and thoughtful essays based loosely on birds and the part they’ve played in the writers’ lives. Their common thread is a passion for birds, and in “Fighting for Birds” Mark Avery has taken this thread and woven a rich tapestry.
Mark has more material than most to work with; for 25 years he was employed by the RSPB, and for more than half of that time he occupied the senior and influential role of Conservation Director. To use a metaphor Mark may approve of, this book really is conservation and the RSPB’s role in it ‘from the horse’s mouth’.
“Fighting for Birds” comes in a series of chapters that can be read as stand-alone essays, covering a wide and fascinating range of topics. Everything from nature reserves to climate change; from species reintroductions to raptor persecution; and much more besides – it’s all here. This may sound like dry and worthy stuff, but it’s engagingly written with a light touch, and the pages fly by. I found it hard to put down, and read great swathes of it in single sittings. Mark didn’t get to be the RSPB’s Conservation Director without knowing a thing or two about the issues at hand, and getting to hear his accounts and perspective upon events in conservation over the past 25 years is both informative and riveting for the reader.
I began by comparing “Fighting for Birds” with other publications of birding autobiography, but in hindsight a better comparison may be drawn with certain political autobiographical works (the “Alan Clark Diaries” spring to mind, a comparison that, on the face of it, Mark may not thank me for!). In his preface, Mark states that “Fighting for Birds” is ‘certainly not an autobiography’, and insofar as the book is not all about Mark, this is correct. The comparison with political autobiography is valid though, as while Mark’s experiences and views pepper the text, the bulk of the book concerns the broader picture in which Mark was but (an influential) part.
“Fighting for Birds” provides not only anecdote and thoughtful exploration of the issues at hand but also a fair smattering of tasty gossip and revelations from one who heard and saw it all at the very highest levels. (I challenge anyone who reads Mark’s account of the reported events at Sandringham in October 2007 and their aftermath not to be left with a very unpleasant taste in their mouth, and the scales fallen from their eyes).
“Fighting for Birds” concludes as Mark has begun to move on in his new life post-RSPB as a freelance writer and environmental commentator – with some straight-talking and serious consideration of some of the conservation issues that press heavily on the public conscience today. Some of his thoughts may make for uncomfortable reading – in the same way that he is prepared to be candidly critical of the RSPB where he feels the occasion warrants it, Mark is equally direct in his appraisal of where, why and how our efforts should be directed in future. These are the carefully argued and clear opinions of a dedicated conservationist, and like the rest of this at times entertaining and always enjoyable book, they make for compelling and, dare I say it, essential reading.