Important Bird Areas in Europe. Priority Sites for Conservation.—Melanie F. Heath and Michael J. Evans [eds.]. 2000. BirdLife Conservation Series No. 8, BirdLife International, Cambridge, U.K. 2 volumes, 1657 pp., numerous text figures, plates, and tables. ISBN 0-946888-36-1 (paper), 0-946888-37-X (cloth). £75.00 (paper), £99.98 (cloth).
Monumental is not really a term that comes easily to my mind. However, in this case, the description is inescapable. This is a truly monumental work. Comprising two volumes, over 1600 pages, masses of data, and hundreds of figures, tables, and plates, the book is a landmark in a series that is characterized by landmarks. There are now eight volumes in the BirdLife International Conservation Series. All have been extremely important works in international bird conservation. They include volumes on important endemic-bird areas, important bird areas in the Middle East, and key areas for threatened birds in the Neotropics. These are now joined by this two-volume set that identifies and describes all of the important bird areas (IBAs) in northern and southern Europe.
The task that the authors set themselves is staggering. Over 3600 sites in 51 countries are listed and described, their important bird populations quantified, and their protection status and conservation threats evaluated. Obviously, depth of treatment varies depending on the availability of site information. Some well-studied, internationally important sites in western Europe (e.g., the Wash Estuary in eastern England) may get almost a full foolscap-size page, while less well-known sites may get only a few lines. Regardless, each site is more or less thoroughly described in terms of the birds that make it important, and its conservation status and threats.
I carefully reviewed the information on several sites with which I am familiar in Scotland, England, and mainland western Europe and found the accuracy of the information presented to be generally high. There were occasions where I might have stressed the importance of bird populations not covered by the authors, and where a more in-depth treatment might have been merited, but these are small matters of taste and are to be expected from experts at individual sites who always want their area to get bigger headlines.
The site accounts comprise the bulk of the two volumes. However, preceding and subsequent to these are important analyses of major conservation issues that arise out of the data presented, focusing on identifying the most important regions and sites and also on a species-by-species basis (which areas and sites are most important for a particular species).
Who will use these volumes? First of all, they are not for the globe-trotting birder. If you are planning a birding trip to Europe, there are easier ways of identifying sites to visit than by lugging 10 kilos of paper around. The people to whom this work will be most valuable are conservationists, policy makers, regulators, conservation scientists, and planners. For these groups, these books are a major tool.
Do I have any criticisms of this work? Not really, except that (and this is more jealousy than criticism) it raises the bar very high for the rest of us. Having seen these volumes, I am going to be very aware just how much we are missing here in North America by not having their equivalent. If it can be done for a continent the size of Europe, with countries like, for example, many in the Balkans, where information is sparse, it can surely be done for North America. Any takers out there?