How was it for you?
I gave up smoking years ago but even I wince at the notion of £7.50 for a pack of twenty. £5 for your average bottle of wine may help me drink less and I rarely buy beer in London pubs 'cause I can't then afford the bus fare home.
On the plus side for London. We'll have superfast broadband connections and improved cycling lanes. The Chancellor fiddled and played a merry tune with a dearth of strings on his violin of options.
He declared "environmentally sustainable has to be fiscally sustainable". How right he is. But how wrong that he doesn't see the value in reversing that statement. Fiscally sustainable has to be environmentally sustainable and that's where his strings snapped, his bow shredded and his violin snapped. More roads and tax incentives for oil and gas drilling won't help us towards that carbon reduction target set by Number 10. Where are the incentives and investment in projects and businesses that improve our lives and create jobs suitable for those that need them who live in areas of least mobility.
Will ducks on your local park pond sink or swim as a result of the budget? Will swifts returning from their African wintering grounds scream in annoyance? Will goldfinches lose their gilt? Not overnight, but then they have bigger worries. Those ducks have to survive drought. The swifts returning to nest in the gaps in your eaves will find their old nests sealed-up as you draught-proof your home to prevent expensively heated warm air seeping from your house. As for those goldfinches ... they'll at least give us something to smile at as their bright yellow and red colours catch us by surprise.
The RSPB's vision for the future is one where we see London's Thames Estuary as the well-oiled and silent processing plant that it is. Its marshes quietly going about the business of filtering water, locking away carbon and protecting our Capital from the impact of storm surges. It's wildlife thanklessly re-processing and composting waste and ensuring that the natural processes that provide us with air to breathe and food to eat continue. The Thames estuary is in my view the most beautiful factory in the world.
That said. I have fallen in love with a boring machine that is as far removed from the wilderness of the estuary marshes as it's possible to get. Its use will have a remarkable impact on one bit of the Thames estuary. The Crossrail drilling machine will be spewing out soil, gravel and clay that will soon form an exciting and enormous new wetland habitat at Wallasea. It's all come about as a result of habitat regulations that George Osborne declared hampered development.
More than 19,000 people emailed the Chancellor as part of our pre-budget "Wake Up George" campaign. Thank you if you are one of those who stepped-up for nature with us. If you missed the opportunity, there are plenty more steps we can take together. George Osborne's kindly delayed announcing the Government's aviation review conclusions until "later this summer", after the London Mayoral elections. We'll be asking you to walk alongside us to ensure the legacy we pass on to the next generation is one where ducks bob safely on ponds, swifts glide and dive above our heads and goldfinches continue to look glorious.
Last year Chancellor George Osborne declared in the Commons that laws protecting our environment were "a ridiculous cost on British business” and he proposed ripping them up.
Sleep soundly in your beds tonight, calmed by the knowledge that your local park, river, woods and the whole country won't be covered in concrete; and that birds, animals, plants and marine life (actually, not our marine life) will still be there when you wake-up. Was it all a bad dream?
The Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs [Defra] review, sparked by the Chancellor's off-the-cuff guff, has reported back and dismissed his assertions. They reaffirm the Government’s support for the Birds and Habitats Directives, and then go further, demonstrating that these vital environmental safeguards do not act as a brake on economic development.
But has the damage already been done? Over the past couple of weeks the RSPB London office has recorded an increase in desperate emails and phone calls from people moved to step-up their action for nature. They opened their curtains to find either chainsaws, bulldozers or diggers have removed trees, scraped away wildflower meadows or excavated great holes where birds, bats, butterflies and rare plants once greeted them.
The problem isn't the development. The problem is that there was a perception created that economic necessity trumped the environment. As the clever people at Defra have pointed out, the environment is our friend. Thinking about, and working with, the interplay between nature and our aspirations to build businesses, communities and healthy economies saves money and makes for a better end product.
So take a moment to stare out your window when you wake-up tomorrow. Listen to the soundtrack of nature. See if you can guess what will be the first living thing you see beyond your immediate family, partner or neighbours. Will it be a majestic and mighty London plane tree with its mottled trunk and emerging lime green leaves? Maybe a local cat stretching to welcome the morning sun? Or perhaps a blackbird with its yellow rimmed eyes scouring some grass for a breakfast snack. Them remeber. All of this ... it's our natural economy and it is priceless.
I apologise. I give in. I didn't mean it. SORRY!
When I said there are no starling murmurations in London anymore in an interview about the Big Garden Birdwatch on BBC London, what I meant was that you don't see those huge, dense clouds of starlings that London once enjoyed. Yes. I know there are still starlings and some of them do swirl about like a dervish at a drum and bass party, but not in the same numbers as pictured here on the right.
I know there's a small colony of starlings about two streets away from my house, but I have never yet seen nor knowingly heard a starling in my garden. I love them, I wish had some.
If I'm wrong, please let me know, cause I'd love to be able to share it with more people. I remember watching a mini-display at Chichester Rail Station as I waited on the platform for my train home. You can see them over the pier in Brighton and at our Ham Wall reserrve as pictured above.
What's amazed me about the Big Garden Birdwatch [BGBW] is the decline of the blackbird. These territorial and quiet garden dwellers are slipping away and we'd not really noticed. They're another species that rely on insects for food, Surely we can't have degraded London so much that it's now now bug-free?
This is why we must not crumble to the temptation of a quick economic fix to escape the financial crisis. We must make sure investment in development and jobs comes with the environment at its core, whether it's CAP reform for farmers producing our food or proposals for airports in the Thames Estuary. Protecting the soil, plants, bugs, birds and other wildlife that form the natural world is crucial to our survival.
I've been heartened by one result from your BGBW reports. Generaly speaking in London, house sparrows appear to be on a level and maybe even a slight upwards incline after years of decline, It's far too early to celebrate. We can't say the species is saved yet. Sometime in mid-June we'll be asking for your help to count sparrows in London as part of a study updating research conducted ten years ago. 2012 could be the year we all saved the cockney sparrow.
What a whirlwind couple of weeks. Won Government funding to protect and improve the Thames Estuary thanks to support from Defra. Introduced South Hackney and Shoreditch MP Meg Hillier to our Wild Place Your Space project. Launched a million-pound fundraiser with Tesco's for our tropical rainforest work and I ran a workshop on Corporate Social Responsibility for some staff at the European HQ of digital imaging company Ricoh.
You'd think there wouldn't be much room left for anything else but I also tarted up my frost ravaged garden, just in time for a second forecasted cold snap to hit the newly potted-out plants, bulbs and seeds. Our climate's being very unpredictable but I'm banking on 2012 remaining dry with big swings between extremely hot and bitterly cold. These extremes are a result of climate change and it's hard to find garden plants that will cope with both. Imagine how wildlife will cope!
We do seem to be making great progress despite the economic climate. Hand on heart I can say that there are plenty of silver linings appearing round the edges of clouds; sadly there are also bigger clouds scudding across the horizon to obscure all once again.
Boris Johnson's still pursuing his vanity project of an airport in the Thames Estuary, flying literally against the tide of evidence and common-sense from residents, landowners, airlines, Government departments and conservation groups like the RSPB.
Our amazing WPYS social inclusion project in the Lee Valley is doing great things but will soon reach the end of its three-year lifespan. It recently took refugee families into the Lee Valley and gave them a sense of normality and freedom that few participants have ever experienced. On International Women's Day they'll be working with an Asian Women's Group in their wildlife garden.
Our Together for Trees partnership with Tesco is going to be great, but the global economic situation is driving illegal loggers into desperate acts of violence and smear campaigns as they increase their efforts to rape our natural heritage and launder their stolen wood and pulp through squeezed economies.
Being an eternal optimist, I know we'll overcome the illegal loggers. Wild Place Your Space will leave a legacy and a wealth of experience to help new projects bring people closer to nature; and that estuary airport will be too heavy to get off the ground. Small individual steps take us ever closer to a saner world, but the more people that join the journey, the easier and faster it will be.
This week we've had amazing footage of a sparrowhawk lunching on someone's lawn in west London, recordings of muntjac deer barking in the night in Hackney and great views of tawny owls and herons in central London parks. Our house sparrow project has completed its insect counts, recording more than 139,000 specimens in our trial seed plots.. and that's just the bugs over 2 mm in length.
This explosion of wildlife would suggest all's well with the world. It isn't. We're losing the struggle to support and save wildlife and it couldn't be happening at a worst time. The focus is on economic growth with a lot of pressure from investors, Government and industry to build, build and build some more.
The results of our Big Garden Birdwatch will be out soon and that will give an idea of how London's birds are doing. Remember that birds give us an idea of the health of our surroundings, so changes in bird populations tell us a bit about changes that will affect us. Farmland birds and common garden birds are both struggling in London and the southeast.
A new global study has found that seabird numbers are also falling. Their decline has been less obvious as it's all happening out at sea and out of sight.
Being an optimist, I'm not disheartened. Despite all the doom and gloom, many people are giving their time and energy to support wildlife. People like 12 year old Bethany Reeves (pictured) from Merton. If admirable young people like her and the thousands of others can see the worth of it all and understand the need for smart development, hope burns eternal. We can build and invest in infrastructure and improve our economy, our health and our wildlife. Doing it this way means we have a better future to pass on to other generations. What better investment could you make?