Sutherland W.J. ed. (1998) Conservation science and action. Blackwell Science, Oxford. x + 363 pp, figs, tables, photos, index. Paperback: Price £24.95. ISBN 0 865 42762 3.
This book is principally aimed at advanced students of conservation biology. It consists of a varied collection of essays addressing a wide range of conservation issues and several highly respected authorities feature amongst the authors. As the title implies, Sutherland has deliberately brought together scientific approaches to understanding the problems facing conservationists and analyses of practical solutions that have been put forward. Some chapters have elements of both, such as Bibby’s excellent account of Selecting areas for conservation (Chapter 9); others place emphasis more on either science or action. Overall, there is a progression from more theoretical chapters at the start where Gaston considers Biodiversity and Pimm looks at Extinction, through to more applied ones at the end, with Conservation policy and politics and Conservation and development by Wynne and Adams, respectively.
Inevitably, in a book of this sort, some areas will receive more attention than others. Population biology is well covered and used by several authors to address issues such as sustainable exploitation (Sutherland and Reynolds) and the threats to small populations (Simberloff). Insights from studies of physiology and ecosystem function are less common, although Newton does draw on them in his chapter on Pollutants and pesticides. A chapter or two specifically on the impacts of air pollution and potential impacts of climate change could have been usefully included, as these issues are given only fleeting treatment, despite their importance being recognized in some of the policy-oriented chapters. The contributors to the book are predominantly British and, to a lesser extent, American. While good use is made of examples drawn from around the world, I cannot help thinking that a wider international range of perspectives could have been included. The difference in attitudes that can emerge between rich and poor nations is highlighted in the text, so why not invite contributions from ‘third world’ authors? Even within Europe there are important differences between countries. Rackham’s passionate (and eloquent) advocacy of traditional woodland management practices such as coppicing would be a very foreign concept to most of those establishing ‘strict forest reserves’ in mainland Europe. Many of these reserves also have had a history of management but are nevertheless being designated as non-intervention areas: it would be interesting to compare the different rationales.
These reservations should be seen as limitations rather than flaws — this book has much to commend it and deserves to be widely read. The balance between science and policy is good and all chapters seem to be pitched at about the right level for the intended readership. Throughout the book, good use is made of case studies. It is also very up-to-date with plenty of references to events and publications in the 1990s.
Another important virtue is that it is easy to read: most of the text is well-written, the diagrams are clear and the overall presentation is good. University teachers of conservation biology and environmental management I’m sure will find it a very useful resource. Each chapter is self-contained and most would form an ideal basis for a discussion or as recommended reading for an essay. Professionals in the conservation world are also likely to find something of interest from amongst the chapters, particularly as a starting point for learning about an unfamiliar area. I should make clear that this is not a textbook or encyclopaedia — no attempt has been made to impose a uniform structure, nor is the coverage comprehensive, and in places the authors’ views are open to debate. This is in no way to denigrate the book, however, as the individuality of each chapter makes it stimulating in a way a traditional textbook cannot be.