By Mark Avery & Keith Betton | Pelagic Publishing | Paperback | July 2015 | 290 Pages | + Colour & Black & White Plates | ISBN: 9781784270506

The Publisher’s View: How and why did our most acclaimed birdwatchers take up birding? What were their early experiences of nature? How have their professional birding careers developed? What motivates them and drives their passion for wildlife? How many birds have they seen?

Mark Avery and Keith Betton, passionate birdwatchers and conservationists, interview members of the birdwatching community to answer these and many other questions about the lives of famous birdwatchers. They take you behind the scenes, and behind the binoculars, of a diverse range of birding and wildlife personalities.

Behind the Binoculars includes interviews with: Chris Packham, Phil Hollom, Stuart Winter, Lee Evans, Steve Gantlett, Mark Cocker, Ian Wallace, Andy Clements, Mike Clarke, Debbie Pain, Keith Betton, Roger Riddington, Ian Newton, Steph Tyler, Mark Avery, Stephen Moss, Alan Davies and Ruth Miller, Rebecca Nason and Robert Gillmor.

“Wonderful cameos of the heroes of birding. From the scientific and thoughtful to the frankly bonkers […] “

– Baroness Young of Old Scone, former Chief Executive of the RSPB, past-President of the BTO, former Chair of English Nature

The Authors: Dr Mark Avery is a blogger, writer, author and wildlife campaigner. He once, many moons ago, worked for the RSPB (and for 13 years was its Conservation Director). He has been prominent in the discussions over the future of driven grouse shooting in the UK – Mark hopes that their future is very limited. He lives in rural Northamptonshire and misses most of the good birds at his local patch of Stanwick Lakes in the Nene Valley.

Keith Betton is a media trainer, PR consultant and writer. He is a keen world birder having seen over 7 500 species in nearly 100 countries. He has a particular passion for Africa, having been Chairman of the African Bird Club for the last seven years. In the UK he is heavily involved in bird monitoring in Hampshire, where he is County Recorder. He has been a Council Member of both the RSPB and BTO, and is currently Vice President of the latter.

Fatbirder View: I really wished I liked this book more than I do. I have a great respect for both authors and having read many of Mark’s publications I know him to have a good writing style as well as enormous passion for his subject matters. The concept is an interesting one, which, I am sure, will attract reading birders many of whom will daydream about being one of those interviewed. For this reason I am sure a lot of the questions asked would be ones other birders would want to know the answers to.

My problem is twofold. Firstly, the format of a series of interviews with the same set of questions (albeit ones which meander with the answers rather than rigid adherence to the list) reminds me of a kids TV programme. OK, the interviewees are not asked ‘what’s your favourite colour’, but it is a bit too formulaic and predictable. I can imagine the book as a series of podcasts or radio shows, where there would be time to ramble a bit and be less formal.

The second issue is that the authors are not journalists nor TV chat show hosts and because of this the information is not always well winkled out nor does it flow as interesting points raised are pursued… for themselves rather than as a reflection of the interviewers interests.

I am acquainted with a few of those interviewed and I wondered whether I would learn much more about them than I knew from casual conversations often a year or two apart. Sadly, the answer is ‘not a lot’.

Nevertheless, this is a good idea and I am sure will be popular with birders and, who knows, there may be follow up interviews with some of the other characters who share our obsession. I wish it and the authors good fortune and satisfying sales.

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