Sunday book review – Red Sixty Seven curated by Kit Jewitt

This is a truly lovely book. I’ve blogged about it before, because I knew it was coming, but now I am holding a copy in my hands it is just a delight.

The idea is simple, as many good ideas are; there are 67 red-listed species of bird in the UK, let’s get 67 writers to write about them and 67 artists to depict them. The idea was that of Kit Jewitt (he has lots of good ideas) and the BTO have published the book. The BTO is a very good book publisher which isn’t necessarily what one expects from a bunch of bird boffins in East Anglia but this is the latest in a series of cracking books (see Bird Atlas 2007-20“11 and Flight Lines for example).

What emerges is a varied book of different writing styles and perspectives with each page of text facing a piece of art with its own special character. Only one species has its text and artwork provided by the same person and the Long-tailed Duck should be delighted to have got so much attention from the talented Mr Packham.

There is a nice touch at the back where three species which have always been rare in the UK as breeding species, but at least one of which was tipped as a rampaging new colonist in the past, are mentioned for their current absence as breeding species from the UK. Can you think what they are? Maybe buy the book to find out.

But buy the book anyway because the profits go to the BTO and the RSPB to help these species get onto the green list, by way of the amber list, from the red list. The text is a little coy about what ‘profits’ are and how these will be split but that’s where they are going.

It pleased me to notice that all three Wild Justice co-founders have their words in this volume: Chris for Long-tailed Duck, Ruth for Merlin and myself for the Linnet, and that made me wonder how the species were allocated. I know I volunteered with enthusiasm for the Linnet and I believe Ruth asked for a raptor and got a Merlin for a lady and Chris can pop up anywhere – we all know that. But I turned to the gamebirds, Grey Partridge, Black Grouse and Capercaillie, and noticed a couple of friends’ names attached to the first two. And then I turned to the waterfowl and saw Chris’s name and couple of others I know well on Velvet and Common Scoter, White-fronted Goose, Scaup and Pochard. And so I looked at the raptor texts too. Not a GWCT, BASC or Moorland Association author to be seen.

If Dick Potts were still with us I think he would have been bagging the Grey Partridge, and I’m sure he would have been seen as one of us. I can think of other writers from a shooting perspective who could have done a good job but they aren’t in here. Is that because they are now seen as beyond the pale? It might be. Or was it because ‘we’ just don’t think of ‘them’ when it comes to loving wildlife like ‘we’ do. I think that would be a bit harsh although I can also see that the pages of love for particular species which ended with ‘…and then I shot it’ might have been a bit tricky to cope with. The rift between bird watchers and bird shooters is pretty deep – probably deeper than ever. Discuss!

Red Sixty Seven: a collection of words and art inspired by Britain’s most vulnerable birds curated by Kit Jewitt is published by the BTO.

Remarkable Birds by Mark Avery is published by Thames and Hudson – for reviews see here.


27 Replies to “Sunday book review – Red Sixty Seven curated by Kit Jewitt”

  1. I’m going to go for serin as the supposed rampaging new colonist that never was, and Kentish plover and wryneck as former rare breeders now non breeders?

  2. There’s got to be a rift hasn’t there? As you say, appreciation followed by ‘I shot it’, doesn’t really compute. The attitudes and motivations are fundamentally different, even if it leads, in a few cases (and places), to similar actions. Though it’s also true that appreciating wild animals and being outraged at their careless destruction sits uneasily with have someone you don’t know kill pigs for you so you can buy a discreet, plastic-wrapped pork chop with no blood and gore. Have you come across ‘Would you eat an alien’, about our inconsistent attitudes to animals?

    1. I’d have been angry if a shooter was chosen to write about the Woodcock. An utter disgrace that this red-listed bird is still shot.

  3. I now notice (isn’t google useful), that Christine Nicol did a guest blog here, so readers probably have heard of WYEA !

  4. There is a huge difference between the hunting/shooting brigade in the UK compared to that in some other countries where the size of the “bag” is not the point of it all nor the size of the trophy. I have never seen a problem between naturalists and the sort of hunter that takes for the pot/freezer where the point of the hunt is the being out there itself. However UK bird hunting is mainly about driven shooting , yes I know about rough shooting and wildfowling too but they don’t get the publicity whilst UK deer hunting is still to much aligned with obtaining a trophy. Even Falconers in Europe are not part of the naturalist/conservationist group as they are say in the US/Canada ( Middle East Falconry cannot be included of course). Whilst this in many ways seems logical and correct there are those in the world of shooting that are definitely on the same side as us and it would be wrong to claim otherwise.
    As to the book I will almost certainly buy it. Interestingly I have a special fondness for the Merlin and Long-tailed Duck, of course amongst many other species.

    1. Driven shooting may be a British thing but many of the practices which we deplore in shooting here do go on in other countries as well including illegal shooting/poisoning/trapping of predators. Social media pictures of various American hunters with lions, giraffes etc they have just shot make clear that there certainly are plenty of Americans for whom the trophy is very much the point. Deer shooting in Europe is also trophy oriented with the number of ‘points’ on a stag determining its value for shooters.
      Whether we are talking about the UK or abroad some shooters are responsible, law abiding and knowledgeable about conservation and others are not. An aggressive response towards any attempts to regulate what they do is seemingly a common feature of shooting communities and their representative organisations in many countries.

      1. In the UK we are particularly badly affected by ecologically disastrous forms of recreational shooting – grouse moors and open hill deer stalking – which means that in most other countries the situation isn’t so bad, but that still leaves a hell of a lot of scope for bad practice! You’re right recreational hunting is characterised by aggressiveness and selfishness across the world. My ‘favourite’ example of this is what happened in Hawaii. Being very isolated from other land masses it had no terrestrial mammals and had the highest level of endemism in the world over 90% of native species ground nowhere else. Obviously this was hammered by first Polynesian then European colonisation. Introduced goats ravaged natural vegetation at higher altitudes, but although the Parks Dept wanted to and could have totally eradicated them they were not allowed to because of political pressure from hunters who wanted some to hunt! Yes that’s right the conservation of a threatened ecosystem was compromised so some f******* could shoot feral goats for fun. In New Zealand there’s similarly pressure not to be too hard reducing the population of introduced Himalayan tahr because of its popularity with hunters. Under scrutiny hunting’s claims to help conservation are threadbare pretty much anywhere in the world, frequently as in the UK it’s disastrous for it.

      2. Modern driven shooting may have developed into more of a British thing, but actually it was imported into Britain from Continental Europe in the 19th Century. Even many shooting sources acknowledge this, although they refuse to acknowledge the wider ramification of this as it contradicts their shooting is traditional and therefore it can’t be reformed trope.

        This bit is a very accurate summary and generalization.

        “An aggressive response towards any attempts to regulate what they do is seemingly a common feature of shooting communities and their representative organisations in many countries.”

        It’s the same around the world, regardless of the culture of that country, the social background of shooters in that country, their particular traditions etc. In nearly every country there is some harmful aspect of shooting in that country, which has got worse as growing affluence has multiplied that impact, and the shooting fraternity refuses to reform. In most of those countries shooters are not merely a minority, but the harmful aspects of shooting is disapproved of by the majority. Nevertheless, they always get their own way by dint of aggressive lobbying, and the vicious targeting of anyone who raises concerns about these harmful aspects of their so called sport.

  5. There are none who love to wax lyrical about the woodcock more than the committed woodcock hunter.
    But no prose I have ever read about the woodcock from its pursuers has quite matched the depth and understanding that Nicola Chester managed on her account of the species.
    The appreciation for the bird is equal in the two groups, of that I am confident – but the perspectives and experiences are entirely different.

    1. I’m not so sure, Jamie:
      Not so long ago there were the great oologists (highly skilled egg collectors) who often waxed lyrical about birds. In fact many ornithologists have admitted that their scientific careers started out from hunting for nests and robbing them. John Walpole-Bond (1878-1958) who wrote three volumes of The History of Sussex Birds, apparently never stopped collecting. Yet he was a fine writer about all things avian. But it’s his oologist protégé, Desmond Nethersole Thompson, who demonstrates how the hunting and collecting instinct can coexist with the ability to write such classic monographs as The Greenshank and The Snow Bunting. These two books have great literary acclaim as well as being seminal works of ornithology.

  6. Patrick Laurie, who writes the blog called Working for Grouse (in his case, black grouse) is an upland farmer in Galloway. He writes strikingly beautiful prose it has to be said and he certainly falls into the ‘hunt for the pot’ category that Paul describes. His audience is probably entirely a shooting one yet he clearly loves (most of) the wildlife on his patch and does much to encourage and protect it. While he would certainly shoot a fox he wouldn’t dream of shooting a raptor.
    Perhaps we should stand back occasionally and try to understand his point if view as one of the exceptions to the rule about shooters?
    Take for example his view, in his words, of that ‘much derided’ word ‘moorland’, a complex habitat he has come to love – and one, in Galloway at least, which bears little resemblance to the burnt strip driven grouse moors elsewhere: .

    1. Thanks, Nick for the link — yes, Patrick Laurie is a good and interesting writer. Just browsed his blog and noted his affection for Ravens, especially when they roll over in flight and ‘wear the world as a hat’. There’s something of the John Stewart Collis about him.

    2. In his book “The Black Grouse” he is quite disparaging of conservationists’ and conservation bodies’ attitudes to raptors – suggesting that the RSPB and others are guilty of promoting charismatic birds of prey to the detriment of less charismatic prey species. He undoubtedly loves nature but he is very much bought in to a concept of ‘vermin’ that requires ruthless control. Adducing no evidence beyond his own anecdotal observations of buzzards catching adders ‘several times’ he feels confident enough to assert that ‘perhaps a key cause of the adder’s dramatic decline is the massive increase in buzzard numbers across Britain’s uplands’. He condemns the illegal killing of raptors by gamekeepers but largely because it is against the law and ‘muddies the waters of a genuine issue’ – he acknowledges the conservationists are legally in the right regarding raptor killing but questions whether the law is right. I am not sure therefore that it is entirely correct to suggest he would not dream of shooting a raptor.

      On a separate note – there was a report this morning on the BBC ‘Look North’ news about the persecution of birds of prey in the uplands which featured Mark Thomas of the RSPB and which identified the north of England as the worst area in the country for this and stated unequivocally that the persecution is carried out by gamekeepers on shooting estates. I believe the issue will be discussed in greater detail on ‘Inside Out’ this evening (17 Feb) at 7.30.

      1. ‘I am not sure therefore that it is entirely correct to suggest he would not dream of shooting a raptor’.

        To clarify – I am in no doubt that he would not actually shoot a raptor or encourage others to do so under the present law.

      2. “Adducing no evidence beyond his own anecdotal observations of buzzards catching adders ‘several times’ he feels confident enough to assert that ‘perhaps a key cause of the adder’s dramatic decline is the massive increase in buzzard numbers across Britain’s uplands’.”

        That’s a laugh. Having attended an Adder conservation conference and having spoken to leading Adder ecologists, they are almost unanimous as to saying that shooting interests and impacts are almost certainly responsible for a lot of the declines in Adders. They also report an almost complete refusal by shooting estates to give access to Adder conservationists to monitor Adders. They note the apparent lack of any viable Adder populations on great tracts of managed grouse moor, despite it apparently being ideal habitat for Adders.

        They are fairly certain many managed shoots specifically target and kill Adders because they can predate ground nesting birds i.e. their game birds. It’s also thought that the massive increase in Pheasants in the countryside is a huge problem, as it is widely known that Pheasants target and kill snakes, like Chickens which they are closely related to. Incidentally, the Adder ecologist who told me this admitted he is a shooter, but he acknowledges the impact of Pheasants. He was also very angry that a review of the impacts of the amount of Pheasants released in the countryside specifically excluded their impact on Adders and other reptile populations.

        I’m not suggesting that all shooting conservationists have this total denial of reality and a peculiar propensity to blame raptors for everything, quite contrary to the evidence and research, but it is a lamentably common theme. Many shooters bemoan the lack of “shooting conservationists” being included in various things, whilst they ignore this constant theme of irrational bias, which means their views are far from objective, very partisan, and are shaped and distorted to fit the shooting agenda.

  7. A very good question, how were the species allocated.

    I know some nature writers, including some quite high profile ones who would have helped raise the book’s profile still further, were rather surprised not to be asked at all.

    A case of who you know, rather than necessarily putting the objectives of the book first and foremost, perhaps.

  8. An interesting question…and one I have been pondering as I’ve walked the dogs today.
    so some thoughts…
    I think it is obvious why some individuals from the aforementioned shooting organisations have not been part of this. Some are unashamedly apologists for those who commit wildlife crime.
    But many shooters love wild-space (debatable what wild-space is) and wildlife. Many abide by the rules and only take what they can eat. Many enjoy the physical and mental benefits of being out in the wild (though why you need a gun beats me)
    So why are there no contributors from the shooting fraternities to the wonderful Red 67 book?
    Maybe there are lots of reasons…maybe some of the reasons are:
    a) The shooting industry closes ranks when there are cases of wildlife crime. If shooters are truly appalled by wildlife crime, we need to see them speaking about about it, and more importantly doing something to call out and expose those who do. Sincerity to save some of these species seems lacking.
    b) Primary objective.
    So let’s call those who want to continue shooting birds, shooters and call those who want to conserve birds and habitats for their own right, birders.
    Shooters’ primary objective is to want to shoot birds. Why? well it’s tradition, it’s a skill, a sport, it’s identity, for some it’s a kind of alpha male/female primitive human syndrome bringing home wild caught animal to rip with bare hand and teeth and beat fists on the chest, and shout UG! look at me, Ug the Fearless, Ug the Brave!Ug will survive the armageddon with my primitive skills (ps; no you won’t because there won’t be a hunting lunch provided, and besides, when the bees go, we go too) …though I personally think using the gun is a bit cheating, especially with pheasant shooting, as I have seen beaters actually pick the birds up and throw them in the air to get them flying! . If you are a shooter reading this and there are other reasons why you shoot please let me know.
    Birders…Birders primary objective is to see birds and other wild fauna having the best chance of reversing the decline in numbers and protecting and increasing natural wild space. Wildlife for wildlife sake. (and our own mental and physical health) We would like uplands rewilded. We would like to have woodlands throughout our lowlands for woodland sake, not for pheasant factories with the resulting increase in predators etc. We would like wild-space for wildlife. And there are of course the ethical debates about deer control, and predator control etc…but especially with the latter, it would it interesting to see what happens to predator numbers by taking away the high intensively raised grouse and the masses of released non native pheasant. But any shooting done…eg crows , is done for the reasons of trying to help species struggling because of man’s interference with nature.
    When I was researching for my piece for the RED67 for the Greenland White Fronted Goose, I read that the BASC actively tried to stop a compulsory ban on shooting these birds, by saying that the Welsh voluntary ban was working and that the problem for the decline of these birds was not in the UK but in Greenland. Now from what I gather, the voluntary ban has been working in Wales for now…and it’s true that more research is needed in Greenland to understand the dramatic declines (climate change is a very likely cause, changing feeding and breeding grounds and allowing other more aggressive goose species to compete for food) ….but here’s the point; the birders want to protect the geese, to ban all shooting, recognising that these birds are threatened. The shooters want to keep them on the quarry list. The primary objective is different.
    c) So now, in a world where were are seeing population collapse of insects, birds etc etc and habitat loss, the primary objectives are being brought sharply into focus…long gone are hunting, shooting, fishing days of the aristocracy: and those in the shooting industry who seek to maintain those traditions are stuck in preservationist mindset, preserving yesteryear. They favour preservation over conservation.
    But we know that uplands used for driven grouse shooting are ecological disaster areas…the weak cry from the grouse shooting industry…’we do it for the waders’….doesn’t wash. The ecological impact of the mass release of non native pheasants across the country is rightly being questioned.
    We have moved on.
    The book Red67 is a love letter to the birds from those dedicated to conservation. Not preservation.
    Maybe that’s the difference.

    1. A suggestion Mark.

      When you get a good blog comment like this, why not ask the poster whether they’d be happy if you posted it as a guest blog? So it’s not hidden away in a long list of blog comments.

      Personally, I’d like you to encourage more guest blogs from people who don’t share your own views. Start with Matt Cross. Who speaks some sense.

      1. Anon – I’m open to offers. I’ve published guest blogs from BASC, GWCT, some bloke who used to comment here all the time, Rob Yorke and others. If they don’t send them, I can’t publish them.

        The comments are great – all of them.

  9. It is indeed a lovely book. Let’s celebrate that rather than debate who was or was not invited to contribute. Inevitably I ponder which are my favourite art works (I have not read many of the words yet.) Many are very good, and quite a few challenge the boundaries of my preferences in wildlife art. For example I very much like Caroline Daly’s Capercaillie, and admire Tara Okon’s Grey Wagtail. And though the photo doesn’t serve it best, I think Rachel Taylor’s Ringed Plover is a fine example of her work. Amongst the better-known names there are a couple of minor disappointments but (reverting to my comfort zone) my favourite is probably Darren Woodhead’s Pied Flycatcher.

    1. I rather like the willow tit. Although the one on the right does have a somewhat finch-like bill, the overall design is lovely.

      Other favourites include Capercaillie, Mistle Thrush and Herring Gull. With 67 different artists there is something to suit all tastes!

  10. Hi Mark, looks like a great book, though, as you note, perhaps a little surprised the authorship wasn’t a trifle more diverse (obviously no disrespect to those who did make it onto the pages!).
    As you mention the late, great Dr Dick Potts – there are plenty of others, including land managers, farmers et al following in his footsteps – let’s make some ‘space’ to hear them!

    Oh well, here’s my letter today in The Times on two of the #red67 (black grouse and caper)

    best wishes
    Rob aka @blackgull

    ps glad you enjoyed and blogged about my piece on lead shot moving towards a better place

  11. Thanks Mark.
    The species were not allocated at all. Contributors were given a list and chose a species from the list. As the species were chosen, the list got shorter so some contributors who took time to respond, or who were invited a little later (I invited a batch first to see if the project had legs) had a shorter list to pick from. Admittedly, some people I asked purely due to their connection to a chosen species-Jonny Rankin on Turtle Dove, Jamie Dunning on Twite for examples and I suggested to Iolo he might like Hen Harrier!- but most were chosen by the writers themselves.
    As for the lack of diversity, this is purely down to whom I know or have interacted with online. There was no deliberate agenda to exclude anyone or any type of person. There are dozens of wildlife writers out there that I could have tried to approach, but I wanted a mix of science, conservation and personal stories in a Tweet of the Day style. Apologies to anyone who feels they should have been approached.

    You have given me food for thought for a new project though!

    Best wishes

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