This is not an easy book to read, because it is quite technical, and unavoidably so, but it is an important one. The science is well-explained and if you want to understand how climate change is already affecting birds, and how it will in future, as well as how scientists study these matters, then it is a book for you.
The authors, based on the evidence, are firmly in the camp where they believe: that climate change is happening, it is caused by our greenhouse gas emissions, that it is having (and will have in future) impacts on bird populations which are in general deleterious and that we ought to do something about it. There is a useful review of climate mitigation options and their costs and benefits for birds and other species.
I’m in the same camp, so the book didn’t irritate me. Instead I found it reassuring to see the evidence laid out so clearly (though some of it takes a bit of thinking about). Climate change is affecting phenology – the timing of biological events through the year – and species’ geographic distributions.
The book almost starts and ends with a consideration of the impacts of climate change on Red Grouse (Willow Ptarmigan). Climate change will affect the abundance of craneflies as food for grouse, tick abundance (vectors of diseases) and the distribution of its main food plant (heather). If I owned a grouse moor in the north of England I’d be more worried about climate change than Hen Harriers.
The review of the impacts of mitigation measures is very valuable indeed. Every means of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions (and thus protecting ours species and other species from the impacts of climate change) has its own impacts on the natural world. But just because climate change and windfarms can both harm birds (and other wildlife) doesn’t mean that their impacts are equal and cancel out. The authors produce a more coherent, evidence-based, analysis of these trade-offs than I have read before.
This is a commanding review; there are more than 60 pages of references.
Some of the graphs and maps would have benefitted from being either larger or in colour (rather than black and white) to enhance their impact.
Many of the changes that we see in the natural world around us, and of which we are a part, can only be understood through an understanding of the impacts of changing climate on species and the ecosystems that those species form. This book is an excellent guide to the subject. it is certainly not all hot air.
Birds and Climate Change: impacts and conservation responses by James Pearce-Higgins and Rhys Green is published by Cambridge University Press and is available from Amazon and many other outlets as is Mark Avery’s A Message from Martha.