The content of Reflections is best understood by its subtitle, what wildlife needs and how to provide it. The author worked at the RSPB for 25 years, half of them as Director of Conservation, and is well qualified to write on this subject. Each of the six chapters is followed by two pages of summary reflections, hence the book’s title.
After these chapters, the book has 32 pages of ‘notes, references and further reading’. The author was uncertain whether to include them, but I am pleased that he did so, since they contain lots of interesting points and the sources of much of his information, providing plenty of extra reading.
Chapter 1, ‘Glimpses of wildlife’, describes some of the author’s favourites, from his bathroom spiders to pavement ‘weeds’ and garden daisies, to Hedgehogs Erinaceus europaeus, Red Kites Milvus milvus, Common Swifts Apus apus – which he encouraged to stay and breed – and House Mice Mus musculus – which he unashamedly extirpated. Chapter 2, ‘The state of wildlife in the UK’, is about monitoring, recording and counting what are mostly declines of species in our habitats, from farmlands and woodlands to watercourses and the marine environment. The author attributes the declines to the ‘four horsemen of the environmental apocalypse’, invoking parallels with war, famine, pestilence and death with his four ecological groupings of invasives, overharvesting, pollution and habitat loss.
Up next is a chapter asking ‘what is wildlife conservation?’, which addresses what might seem obvious, but – like most of this book – is thought-provoking and leads into Chapter 4, ‘Wildlife conservation successes’, and Chapter 5, ‘Why are we failing so badly?’. The author's case-studies of 18 successes are, to my mind, mostly over-optimistic and even include his hobby-horse of driven grouse shooting, against which many years of campaigning have so far made little or no difference and surely cannot yet be counted as a success.
I found Chapter 5 depressing, albeit realistic. The author aims criticism at governments and wildlife charities in almost equal measure. He argues that the three main ways in which we are failing wildlife are that we don't invest enough money in conservation; that we don’t regulate effectively against wildlife-harming activities; and that we have a ‘very peculiar conglomeration of wildlife charities’. The last is not obvious, but he is surely right that, if starting from scratch, we wouldn’t necessarily arrive at the present grouping. He doesn’t mention that the RSPB and the Wildlife Trusts several times discussed merging some 50 years ago, but that idea got nowhere. Mark criticises the annual reports of some wildlife charities because they contain too much information on their governance and finances, but this is a requirement of the Charity Commission.
The concluding chapter expands on the book's subtitle, ‘What wildlife needs (and how to provide it)’, with the author proposing seven elements, including that the state should own, regulate and control more land (but who is going to buy the Rothbury Estate?), and that we, the readers, should examine our relationships with wildlife conservation organisations, removing support from some and concentrating our funding on others. He even invites readers to let him know if we revise our opinions and especially our membership and contributions. I expect that we all will be interested to see the results.
This is a good book and anyone interested in wildlife conservation should buy it. I found interesting and thought-provoking comments on every page. You might not agree with the author on everything – but wildlife ought to benefit if enough of us follow his recommendations, and if government departments and wildlife charities recognise themselves and change their ways of thinking and working.