Thursday, 8 December 2022

Low-carbon Birding - the Book

In February 2021 I received an unexpected invitation. Would I like to write a chapter for a book about low-carbon birding? The resultant essay is one of 29, grouped under four broad themes: patch birding, birding holidays by train, personal reflections about embracing low-carbon birding, and personal accounts from professional ornithologists about their research on the way climate change affects birds. Guess where mine fits...

It has taken me almost three months to digest this book. Inspirational, illuminating, surprising, sad, triumphant - just a few adjectives which apply. To some extent it is the kind of book which can be read in random order, especially the guest chapters, but parts of it I needed to re-read once or twice in order to extract maximum value. The book's purpose is stated in the introduction:

'The aim of this book is to show that sufficiency in birdwatching is not only good for the planet but it can bring untold pleasures.'

Sufficiency is a word I have rarely (if ever?) seen linked with this hobby, and you really need to read the book to appreciate its application in that context. The editor, Javier CaletrĂ­o, contributed the introduction, chapters 1 (Are We Addicted to High-Carbon Ornithology?) and 2 (Questions of Travel, Climate and Responsibility), plus an afterword. None of it is preachy, rather an appeal to reason and very thought-provoking. I can safely say this book has encouraged me to reexamine my approach to birding. I recommend it highly.

Mention of low-carbon birding frequently elicits the most peculiar responses. The usual what-aboutery of course, and 'it's okay for you, especially where you live' type stuff, for example. Is it simply that anyone who advocates low-carbon birding is seen as a condemnatory finger-pointer? Why not simply do what I used to, and ignore them? That worked brilliantly for me. Er...

Anyway, in the December edition of British Birds is an article by a chap named Paul Jepson, entitled 'Low-carbon and nature-positive birding'. In it are four references to something called the 'low-carbon birding movement', and this sentence...

The low-carbon birding movement calls for 'a different approach to how we [ornithologists] think about and enjoy our holidays.'

The bit in quotation marks is from Javier CaletrĂ­o's letter to BB (published in vol 112, pp 760-761) entitled 'A new focus for Birdfair?' What is this 'low-carbon birding movement' nonsense? Most amusing. And to infer that Javier is the voice of this so-called 'movement' is lazy misrepresentation at best, and makes me distrust the rest of the article. Paul Jepson is 'head of innovation' at CreditNature Ltd. I detect a tiny lack of impartiality.

Thank goodness I am just a simple birder.

And simple birding is great. Yesterday was very cold, but sunny. With a northerly breeze, I wondered if a lunchtime walk along West Bay's East Beach might be productive. Specifically, I was thinking Black Redstart on the sheltered East Cliffs. The last time I walked this beach was in the first lockdown of 2020. And the last time I walked the return leg along the clifftop four years ago!

Lo and behold! Black Redstart on the East Cliffs.

I strongly suspect this was a different Black Redstart to the one that has been knocking about in West Bay, with a lot less white in the wing. I never managed any better shots, but along the clifftop were these...

You can always rely on Stonechats for a bit of posing.

Rock Pipit - one of at least ten seen.

The prevalence of Rock Pipits along the clifftop and adjacent golf course bodes very well for early spring. I foresee another littoralis project. All comfortably within my Patchwork Challenge boundary. Excellent.


  1. I see that nobody has dipped a toe into the comments yet, I wonder why? As you know, I am not for the idea of introducing the carbon debate into our leisure time. I am a very casual birder by your standards and do the vast amount from my house windows or during dog walks and fishing trips. I also allow myself the odd foray to a specific area so, my footprint is negligible on the global front.
    However, I doubt very much that the combined UK carbon footprint of ornithologists would would equate to much more than a few fields of cows or a morning's missile strikes into Ukraine.
    Yes, I'm just like all the rest, no facts or figures just an opinion. But have electric or hybrid cars been factored in? We have a hybrid so, should I want one, can I get a golden ticket and twitch far and wide with alacrity? But, electric cars mean mineral depletion, slave labour and a massive amount of transporting car parts around the globe. It's not easy is it? Obviously, if your birding involves regular long haul flights, you are an ass along with all the other wealthy people that have more money than sense and need to be able to discuss their latest jaunt to anybody that stands still near them.

    The entire concept of carbon free birding is, in my opinion, unnecessary. I cannot imagine the planet finally succumbing to man's misuse and the last tribe of mutants watching their lives crumble before them thinking, 'if only those damned birders had stayed at home'.

    There, I said it and now, I suspect, you will get a few more responses. :o)

    1. You're not alone in your views, Dave. I have no clever answers, and am under no illusions that the total carbon footprint of all birding activity everywhere is anything more than a miniscule drop in the ocean. All I can say is that I feel a sense of responsibility to make an effort. What good it will do, who knows?

    2. And that is what it is, a little gesture to make you feel better about yourself. If it works then fine, enjoy each day.

  2. Myself? I feel that the fact I exist in an industrial age has already caused massive climatic and environmental damage regardless of any obvious activity.
    As I sit in a well insulated but unheated house, I note that every single item in sight has been manufactured or altered by the energy afforded by fossil fuels. That's a lot. Multiplied by billions and there's the problem. So obvious that we can't see it. It's already too late. The tipping point was reached decades ago.
    We are worrying about the shine on the planets paintwork when it's having a head on crash.