Saturday was glorious, chilly but comfortable in the sunshine. Just right for the Big Garden Birdwatch.
It was all pretty much what I'd expected, as my children and I scanned the trees and shrubs in my Hackney garden. Here's what we saw:
Twenty-eight birds in all. Whilst I was counting birds I thought it would be an interesting exercise to count planes too. I recorded thirty-seven flying over my garden.
What's important about my Big Garden Birdwatch is what I didn't see! In the (almost) three years I've lived here, I have never seen a starling. I have seen some house sparrows, but none this weekend. In this area, there should be both. The main problems seem to be a lack of insects and seed for them to eat, coupled with far fewer places for them to nest. These can easily be resolved with a bit of land management and design. The RSPB has got researchers working on the answers right now. Birdwatch results are due out in March, please send yours in to help us monitor long-term bird changes.
The other thing all birds are having to contend with is climate change. It's having an impact on our seasons and weather. Birds are reacting to the changes now, robins for instance are laying eggs a week earlier than fifty years ago. We humans, insulated from nature, are a bit slower to react. What's been discovered is that if we can reduce CO2 emissions by 2015, we stand a chance of limiting the damage climate change will cause. That's just six years away. Less than two terms in office for a London Mayor!
In the UK, the subsidised aviation industry is our biggest growing emitter of greenhouse gases, and the Government's agreed to allow expansion at Heathrow! Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, is promoting a new airport in the Thames Estuary; with two terminals, one on each bank of the river!
Last week, Boris Johnson and the RSPB worked together to promote the Big Garden Birdwatch. This week, we do not see eye-to-eye on this Thames Estuary airport plan. Its creation would not only make it impossible for the UK to meet CO2 emissions targets, it would also damage environmentally sensitive areas and would sit in the middle of a very busy migratory route for LARGE birds. Yes, he's right in saying the construction is feasible from an engineering point of view. But that's as irrelevant as engineering a chocolate fireguard. From a human, economic and environmental point of view, it's a catastrophe.
Boris. We need to talk.
Here we are in the first week of this year's Big Schools' Birdwatch and careering towards the weekend of the Big Garden Birdwatch. It's more important than ever that people take part. We need to keep track of changes in our environment.
Once upon a time, the Government made the bold move to impose a target of an 80% reduction in atmospheric CO2 by 2050. Sadly, the decision to push ahead with a third runway at Heathrow effectively puts the brakes on reducing CO2 emissions. That can't be allowed to happen. Wow! That's a blunt statement isn't it? I almost deleted it, but heck. It's a simple equation. More CO2 = less life.
One journalist asked me the other day, why does the RSPB care? The Big Garden and Big Schools' Birdwatches help explain why the RSPB cares. They've recorded the long term decline of some of our most common birds: house sparrows, starlings and blackbirds. Changes that warn of failing eco-systems; systems that birds, wildlife and people need to survive.
Increasing the number of flights and building a high-speed rail link to get more people to the airport is a sure-fire way to increase emissions, and increased emissions where they do most damage - at high altitude.
Joining the RSPB is an investment towards a cleaner and greener future, but you can also do more to support our work by either volunteering, siging our clean energy e-petition or not printing this blog! Opposing the creation of another passenger facility at Heathrow won't be terminal. Doing nothing could be ... terminal for wildlife.
Please say it's not just me and that you too have not yet got into the habit of writing 2009? Maybe it's another one of those age things, or perhaps it's denial that time's ticking away?
Time is a tricky old beast, more cunning than the urban foxes at the end of my garden, faster than the peregrines that feed on London's pigeons and more elusive than the dunnock that lurks in the shadows under my shrubs. Time for these creatures is running out.
We're all in a tizzy over the credit crunch, but just over the horizon and approaching fast is a real crisis. It's not a crunch, it's a deafening roar from the mangling of so much we take for granted. In the wake of unabated climate change we will suffer a shortage of energy, water and food. Add to this the increased likelihood of more severe weather bringing flooding and drought and you'll be rolling on the floor with hysteria.
Some of the world's leading scientists have worked out that we have until 2015 (that's just six years away) to slash our carbon emmissions. The UK Government is in danger of missing the tough targets it set itself and yet appears set to push on with projects that will increase emissions, such as the coal-fired power station at Kingsnorth.
The UK's silent majority - our wildlife - need you to speak up now and send a clear message to Ed Milliband, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, to stop proposals for coal fired power stations and make renewable energy the number one choice to meet our energy needs. So, join the choir of voices singing out for wildlife by adding your name to our petition.
If you want to help in a more practical way, get ready for our Big Garden Birdwatch on 24 and 25 January. Spare us an hour recording the birds in your garden and then send the results, whatever they're like, to us. This gives a snapshot of the changing numbers and types of birds across the UK and a hint of the health of our wildlife.
This coming weekend you can come and find out more about the Birdwatch by joining our team at Hampstead Heath near Bird Sanctuary pond. You may get to see the albino robin and on Saturday you'll be able to meet 19 year old wildlife writer, Natalie Lawrence. She'll be signing copies of her book, Feathers and Eggshells, about the Heath's wildlife.
My first bird of the year was heard and not seen at twenty-two minutes to two in the morning of New Year's Day. I was in my back garden marveling at the silence when a cheery robin gave of its best and trilled in 2009.
Until the robin broke the silence, the lack of noise had sent shivers down my spine, reminiscent of the haunting peace that fell on London for Princess Diana's funeral. No sirens, no rumble of trains nor planes. No helicopters, no traffic and no fireworks! The latter amazed me most. I'd been braced for a raucous cacophony of bangs, fizzes and pops. Hanukka and Christmas coincided and it was only just past Zartosht no-diso, the anniversary of the death of Zoroaster, so expectations were high, especially as previous New Years' have been a blaze of colour and noise for hours on end. It seems it was either too cold or no one was spending as much on pyrotechnics this year. Being a skinflint I tend not to buy fireworks, I’m not too keen on all that burning, and waste, but I have to admit that fireworks can be impressive, even if they aren't wildlife friendly.
So, a new year and new challenges. The RSPB year starts with the Big Garden and Big Schools' Birdwatches. This is where you can become a research scientist and help find out what's happening to the UK's birds. The information you send us builds a snapshot of changing bird populations. Comparing this with previous years give a long-term view of how our birds are coping.
Climate change will be a big feature for us in 2009. It's more important than ever that we all try to reduce CO2 emissions. Time is passing and the longer we leave it, the harder and costlier it will be to address. Energy creation and consumption are the biggest contributors to UK emissions so we'll be pushing for incentives to conserve energy and for investment in clean renewable energy sources. There's lots that individuals can do but one of the most important is adding your voice to ours to ensure that wildlife is not forgotten nor sacrificed in the struggle to meet the mammoth challenge posed by climate change.
Do the Big Garden Birdwatch and find out what wildlife you've lost from your garden, or which birds you could continue to enjoy, by fitting low-energy light-bulbs. Hey, you have to start somewhere and low energy light bulbs are a no-brainer: less energy-use, cheaper bills, fewer emissions and less impact on wildlife.