From stories about capercaillies strutting around like “cocksure” hedge fund managers to corn buntings shrieking like old fruit sellers, Britain’s nature writers, artists and scientists have flocked together to create an illustrated book celebrating 67 of the country’s most endangered birds.
Red Sixty Seven is an elegy to the growing number of British birds on the “red list” of highly vulnerable species drawn up by conservation scientists for the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Author Mark Cocker describes grey partridges as part of the “soundtrack of childhood”, while nature writer Mary Colwell says she would “weep for a thousand years” if curlews went extinct as breeding birds in Britain.
Other contributors include presenter Chris Packham advocating for the long-tailed duck, novelist Melissa Harrison tapping out words for the lesser spotted woodpecker, musician Fyfe Dangerfield praising the dotterel, as well as contributions from teenage conservationists Bella Lack and Mya-Rose Craig, and Guardian writer Patrick Barkham. Proceeds from the book, which is published by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), will go towards the work of the BTO and Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and their efforts to save these species from extinction, with the book’s artwork also raffled to raise money.
“We’re known as a nation of animal lovers, but the silent, still ground of Swallow Moss tells another story – of a nation that’s failed to manage its land for all of its inhabitants,” writes former leader of the Green Party Natalie Bennett in her piece about the uncertain future of the black grouse, once common on Staffordshire moors.
In the book, Mark Eaton from the RSPB draws attention to the funding gap in conservation.
Public sector spending on biodiversity in the UK has fallen by 42% as a proportion of GDP since 2008/09. And yet NGOs have increased their spending on it by 20% in the past five years, raising money from an increasingly concerned public, says Eaton.
“The football team I support has an annual turnover bigger than the total spent by UK and devolved governments on conservation. It’s not just governments: as a society, we don’t place sufficient significance upon our natural world,” he says.
But thanks to dedicated conservation action, ringed plover, bittern, nightjar, stone-curlew, woodlark, marsh harrier and red kite populations have recovered in recent years and are no longer listed as vulnerable. “Whilst the red list continues to grow, these [species] demonstrate that we do know how to turn things around: if only we had the resources,” says Eaton.
The book is about hope and discovery as well as nostalgia for a wilder past. Conservationist Tim Mackrill writes about the white-tailed eagle returning to the Solent after an absence of more than two centuries, saying thousands of people can now “marvel at the sight of this most iconic of birds”. David Lindo, known as the Urban Birder, describes his delight at seeing redstarts popping up in unusual places such as building sites in Wapping, east London, shopping centres in Manchester and perimeter walls in Dungeness, Kent.
Artworks include pieces by Daily Mail political cartoonist Paul Thomas and painter Carry Akroyd.
“This book is really about bringing birds to life for people. When species become rare, people don’t see them or have the opportunity to connect with them,” said Mike Toms, head of communications at BTO. “To have people writing about the way these birds have influenced them is really special. We’ve got a broad sweep of writers and artists united by their love of the natural world.”