Cambridge University Press, 2010; hbk, 765pp, colour plates, figures, tables; ISBN 978-0-521-51966-3  Subbuteo code M20670 £27.99 I belong to that generation who was heavily influenced by Rachel Carson's landmark book: Silent Spring. Surely even the youngest reader knows that this book, more than anything else, drew the world's (well, the biological world's) attention to the devastating effects that polluting chemicals were having upon our wildlife? I remember tutorials on this subject and the birth of a whole generation of ecologically active biologists. The book was truly a milestone in twentieth-century biology. The title of the present book suggests a similar contribution. However, it is not as political as Rachel Carson's. It is more a review, by a series of individually eminent scientists, of the state of our wildlife today. The scope is very wide, ranging from individual species (Grey Partridge Perdix perdix through groups such as dragonflies, bumblebees and amphibia to communities such as the seashore and offshore waters. There are also interesting and informative chapters on introduced species, urbanisation, chemical discharges - apparently, over 200,000 man-made chemicals are discharged into the environment, with serious effects upon a wide range of plants and animals. Birders will be especially interested in the avian chapters. Rob Robinson from the BTO gives an excellent overview of the state of bird populations, showing how the initial fieldwork for the first Atlas and for the Common Birds Census has led to the remarkable efforts of (largely) volunteer birdwatchers and ringers to ensure that our avian populations are perhaps the best quantified in the world. The data generated from nest recorders, breeding bird surveyors, garden bird watchers and the like provide the ammunition for the conservation movement to use in its efforts to conserve the populations to which Rachel Carson first drew our attention. It is, however, sobering to reflect on how much weaker are the data for most other groups of plants and animals. And, if the data are weak for groups within our islands, they are even thinner overseas. Mike Pienkowski writes an interesting account of the situation within and among the various overseas territories for which we still retain a degree of responsibility. Plants and animals on UKOTs continue to disappear - many of them endemics for which we surely have a moral, as well as legal, responsibility. Clearly, lack of resources is key, and Mike shows how this is recognised (if not acted upon) in Westminster. How many species could be saved if a fraction of the money spent on the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan was directed towards them? This is a heavy book - both literally and metaphorically, and some parts I found hard work. Not because the text is tedious or turgid, but simply because of the wealth of detail concerning groups that I had not thought about much since undergraduate days: Hemiptera (bugs) and 'riverflies' (may, caddis and stone). Rachel Carson's book was a landmark; this important work (at a surprisingly modest price) has provided us with more of a catalogue of man's carelessness. Most of the species discussed are suffering at our hands. I was left with the chilling thought: what is happening to the beasts that lack any sort of charisma - like protozoa, liverworts or slime-moulds? David Parkin Buy this book from the British Birds bookshop which is run by Subbuteo Natural History Books This means that 5% of all sales generated by British Birds subscribers, whether it is books reviewed in the journal, featured on its book page or listed on the Subbuteo website, will be paid to British Birds - and will directly support the production of the journal. To browse the British Birds bookshop, please click here
Volume: 
Issue 12

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