Sunday Book Review – The World’s Rarest Birds by Erik Hirschfeld, Andy Swash and Robert Still This book is actually about threatened birds rather than rare birds – it deals with those 197 species which are regarded as Critically Endangered and those 389 which are Endangered.

Having said that, many of these species are very rare. For example, there are (or were) 27 Sulu Hornbills in the world (on three islands in the Philippines). The forests where this species used to be more numerous have been felled for rubber and oil palm plantations – so, don’t worry, even if the bird goes extinct you can remember it every time you buy a new car tyre or fill up with fuel (with that dash of biofuel in it).

But not all the species are rare.  The Indian Vulture still numbers 45,000 – it’s just that not very long ago there were over 1 million of them.  And there are over a million Black-browed Albatrosses but there won’t be anything like that many in a few decades time if predation by introduced cats and deaths from long-line hooks continue to take their toll.

This is a bit of a depressing book – because of its focus on threatened species.  I kept coming across species and thinking ‘Ooh! I’ve never heard of that. How pretty!’ and then realising the the species was on the brink of extinction.

Many of the species in this book may not exist in 50 years time.  That’s a sobering thought – or actually one that might make you reach for a stiff drink.  Although, you may be surprised to find that ‘only’ 130 avian species have been driven to extinction since 1500 (including, of course, the Dodo, Passenger Pigeon, Great Auk).  We have the knack of just realising that we are going to do something awful and sometimes stopping just in time.  But that means there are a lot of species limping through the world in hugely-depleted numbers.

13 bird species have become extinct in my lifetime and there are some famous species which aren’t yet officially accepted as extinct eg Ivory-billed Woodpecker, Slender-billed Curlew, Eskimo Curlew.  I wonder who has the longest list of ‘birds seen in the wild that are now extinct’.  Any offers?

You can draw your own conclusions from reading this book.  If I were giving advice to a bird species I would suggest it didn’t want to be flightless, live on a small island (or even a big one in Hawaii) or on top of a few mountain tops.  It shouldn’t be an albatross or vulture or parrot, and it should watch its step if it is a pigeon too.  But the lesson for us is that we are carelessly and wantonly reducing the natural beauty of the world through over-consumption leading to habitat destruction and through unregulated trade leading to damaging introductions.

This is an excellent book; packed with information, well-designed, full of excellent photographs and with lots of well-written and interesting text.  The photographs are marvellous.  And the illustrations of those birds for which  no decent photographs exist, by Tomasz Cofta, are excellent too.

It is a book that is a joy to have – but a shame that it needs to exist.

The World’s Rarest Birds is published by Princeton University Press and is available on Amazon, as is Mark Avery’s Fighting for Birds.



Saturday cartoon by Ralph Underhill






National Trust – looking good!

The National Trust has just issued a press release on its plans for the High Peak Moors.

This has been a subject of concern and hope on this blog for quite some time (see here, here, here, here, and here).

The text of the press release is reproduced below (with some good bits highlighted by me).

Here is a link to the details – which I have only skimmed – but it looks good!  I will return to this next week after a thorough read.


50-Year Project Aims To Breathe New Life into The Uplands

The National Trust’s “biggest and most ambitious” landscape-scale nature conservation initiative is being launched in the Peak District today.

It aims to inspire people and involve them in restoring a landscape of healthy peat bogs, diverse heaths and natural woodland rich in wildlife.

With input from a wide range of people and organisations, the Trust has mapped out a bold new 50-year vision for 10,000 hectares (40 square miles) of land it looks after in the High Peak moors.

They cover boulder-strewn landscapes of rocky tors, dramatic valleys and cloughs and mile upon mile of wild and remote bog and heath. The iconic Kinder Scout and the spectacular Upper Derwent Valley are perhaps the best known parts, essential elements of the much loved Peak District National Park, which is visited by more than 10 million people each year.

A remarkable landscape is made all the more special by the fact it is nestled between Sheffield and Manchester close to the homes of millions of people.

Jon Stewart, National Trust General Manager for the Peak District, said: “This dramatic, beautiful and fragile landscape is the ideal place for the biggest and most ambitious work that the Trust has ever undertaken to develop a clear road map for one of its upland estates.

“Whilst there is much to celebrate about the moors and their valley-sides there are massive management challenges such as eroding peat, drying out bog, lost woodland, suppressed heathland vegetation and maintaining good access.  We want to work with those who care for and have a stake in their future to address these challenges.”

Conservation work will restore habitats such as bogs and heaths on the moor tops and heathland and woodlands in steep valleys, known as cloughs.

The blanket bogs, rich in peat, on the moors are of national and international significance.  It’s vital that this fragile habitat is maintained because severe erosion can release carbon into the atmosphere and have a knock-on effect on the quality of drinking water from peat ending up in reservoirs.

The peat found in the uplands of the UK has as much carbon as the forests of Britain and France combined and the High Peak moors alone store the equivalent of two years carbon emissions from the city of Sheffield.

A priority for the vision will be to keep the bogs wet through for example blocking gullies that have eroded the landscape and making sure that there is plenty of vegetation cover.  Work has already begun on this on the plateau of Kinder Scout.

Work will also begin to increase the spread of trees and shrubs – both naturally and through planting – in the valleys to help restore lost wildlife habitat and a key part of the landscape, improve water quality and help conserve soils.

By creating the right conditions it will be possible for valued species such as birds of prey, red grouse and mountain hare to call the High Peak moors home in the decades to come.

One longer term measure of the success of the vision would be creating the right conditions for the black grouse to return to the moors; an upland bird that disappeared from the Peak District in the 1990s.

Jon Stewart added: “We have learnt a huge amount about how managing these moors to boost their wildlife and restore the landscape can also have massive benefits for our drinking water quality, flood management, carbon storage and people’s enjoyment, health and well-being.

“They are in effect a life support system.  Managing the moors in tune with these benefits we believe provides the best way forward for those making their living from the moors as well.

“So this vision is all about working with people to care for the land whether our farm tenants, partners or the many people that passionately love the Peak District to restore the landscape and habitats, provide fantastic access to a wild place, deliver better water quality and care for the carbon in these upland soils.”


NGO Watch

Have you noticed a breeze of change blowing through the NGO world?


At Plantlife, their much-loved Chief Executive, Victoria Chester, is moving on to a higher vocation and so they are looking for a new leader.



-The Freshwater Habitats Trust has emerged, like a dragonfly, from the waters of Pond Conservation – a new name and a shiny new website.





BuglifeBuglife has a shiny new website too.


You readers

This rather wiggly table (sorry about that – I’ve spent ages trying to get it to look perfect and failed!) shows you the number of unique visitors to this website in each of the last 12 months and in August 2012 and 2011 (for comparison).



AUG 2011                1918

AUG 2012                4909

SEP                             5816

OCT                            7179

NOV                           7660

DEC                            8123

JAN  2013               6705

FEB                             6760

MAR                           7225

APR                            6509

MAY                          6006

JUNE                         3266

JULY                         7940

AUG                   12046