One of the more less serious but pressing issues in recent email correspondence passing between BOU council members recently has been a request for more contributions from members to Desert Island Books. My problem has been reducing the number to eight. I applied an initial criterion to try and reduce the list to manageable proportions – good reads only, to eliminate all those technical treatises, monographs, field guides and handbooks (after all I would be on a desert island – once I had identified the frigatebird, the tropicbird and the Sooty Tern, and picked up the vagrant Sanderling and Turnstone, what’s the point?) to concentrate on something to enjoy while whiling away the days waiting to be rescued. This still left a huge list. So after many trials and tribulations here are my top eight. There’s also still quite a few unread on my bookshelves, so a second edition may follow! I hope they might stimulate a debate in the up-coming newsletters. If you spot something you think I have missed, or should not have included, let us all know with your own selection for your own desert island!
Adventure Lit Their Star
Kenneth Allsop, 1949, Penguin
From my birding roots, most likely found as the 1972 edition, but originally published in 1949. A fictionalised account of Little Ringed Plovers breeding in pioneer wetland habitat just after the war, the account of their spring migration is a fine example of imaginative nature writing. These were the birder’s birds of my teenage years.
Man and Wildfowl
Janet Kear, 1990. T & AD Poyser
It has been difficult to select the best of the eclectic Poyser ‘white series’ of books, but I think this deserves top place. Everything you want to know about, and many things you would not have thought ask about, our relationship with wildfowl in one book. See below for some of the runners up!
Seventy Years of Birdwatching
H G Alexander, 1974, T & AD Poyser
The pick of the autobiographies, even if the author remains very much in the background. I read this at one sitting on a wet day while on holiday in Scotland. A good insight into the birding world of the early and middle twentieth century.
Birds, Scythes and Combines
Michael Shrubb, 2003, Cambridge University Press
This is absolutely required reading for anyone interested in farmland birds in Britain (and elsewhere in the Western Palearctic). As a farmer’s son, I have long been surprised at the lack of knowledge of many ecologists about agricultural change in the last 200 years. Read this, and understand the significance of (for example) the development of the mole plough and permeable ceramic drains on our farmland habitats and their birds.
Avian Survivors: The History and Biogeography of Palearctic Birds
Clive Finlayson, 2011, T & AD Poyser
Most birders celebrate biodiversity by trying to expand their life lists, but this insightful book explains how the bird list of our “local” biogeographical area, the largest in the world, has evolved. I find this fascinating.
Ian Newton, 2010, Collins New Naturalist
Well, you have got to have an Ian Newton on your list (it should be a Desert Island Books rule!), and this is (in my humble opinion!) the best of a series of books he has produced for the New Naturalist series setting out a clear synthesis of a area of ornithology for the more general reader. You can hear
his voice as you read it.
Great Auk Islands
Tim Birkhead, 1993, T & AD Poyser
And you also have to have a Tim Birkhead on your list too! This one has the added bonus of an arctic theme, satisfying my interest in the far north, and giving me (I hope) some mental relief from the interminable heat of my desert island prison.
The Wood for the Trees
Richard Fortey, 2016, William Collins
A delightful book to remind me (almost) of home. It’s the “wrong” side of the Thames – Oxfordshire not Berkshire, the Chilterns not the Downs, but still a great read. Centred around his acquisition of a plot of Chiltern woodland and its management, Richard Fortey sets out the impact of man on the habitats, human geography and ecology of an area not too far from my native patch. I might feel a little homesick . . .
The three non-books I would wish to take with me to my desert island would be a large supply of paper, and of pencils (those BOU ones we had made up many years ago – Shelly Hinsley (former BOU Vice President) and I as pencil aficionados rate them highly!) and my old Coto Donana sun hat to keep the sun off the top of my head!
Tell us about your desert island books!
We’d love to hear about the books you’d take with you to your desert island. Format exactly as above. So send us your eight books (title, author(s), publisher, year; max. 50 words on each book; a short biography (max. 100 words) and photo of yourself. We’ll source the cover images. Email your contributions to the BOU Office. Contributions from BOU members will be considered for our BOU member newsletter.