This blog is where you can read about the places we work to protect and the people on the front line. The scope of this blog covers planning, the policies and legal framework that exists to protect the best places for wildlife and of, of course, the individual cases that are the daily work of staff across the UK. We help BirdLife International partners overseas – and you will be able to read contributions from Europe and further afield.
Of course – probably of the best way to save a site is to a acquire it as a nature reserve – this blog will sometimes feature our reserves and the role they play in future of our wildlife, but the full story of the RSPBs network of nature reserves is told elsewhere: http://www.rspb.org.uk/reserves
This blog features the contributions of many individuals – I will have the pleasure of holding the ring and acting as the narrator to this compelling story. So a little about me; I’m Andre Farrar and my first active involvement with the RSPB was in the late 1970s as a volunteer with our Leeds Local Group http://www.rspb.org.uk/groups/leeds.
I was one of many who wrote to their MPs as part of the campaign to get the best outcome for what became the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981). It wasn’t perfect but it was a good start. Thirty years on, I’m still in the thick of it campaigning for our protected areas and special places for wildlife. Are we winning? Read on and find out, and see how you can help.
The RSPB is the UK partner of BirdLife International. One of the greatest contributions that the partnership continues to make to global efforts to conserve birds is the identification of the most important places for them. We have a 'just what it says on the tin' name for them - Important Bird Areas (IBAs). News has just been released by the BirdLife Partner is Australia, Birds Australia, of the publication of a new volume 'Australia's Important Bird Areas'. The list of 314 sites covers a mere 44 million hectares, which is 21x the size of Wales or, alternatively, around 55 million football pitches. Here's some more information.
The next challenge for conservationists in Australia, which is shared around the world, is ensuring the IBA network receives effective formal protection. Almost half of this massive network is currently unprotected. In the UK, despite having a thirty-year run up since the Birds Directive came into force, there is still a long way to go to convert knowledge of where the best places are into effective designations. There has been some welcome progress in Scotland but there is a long way to go before the network is fit for purpose both on land and, especially, at sea. Lets hope the Australian authorities have a sense of urgency to match the scale of their special places.
Here’s the first update from the Public Inquiry currently underway in Newport.
If you want to catch up with the story so far – you can read the first post. In short, this Public Inquiry is now looking at an appeal into refusal of a retrospective planning application for development of an aerodrome which could affect the Newport Wetlands and nearby Severn Estuary through disturbance.
So, the Inquiry finally got underway with ecological evidence from the appellant’s expert witness that flights from the airfield have not had an impact on the birds of the Newport Wetlands and the Severn estuary. On cross-examination, two key issues came out. He acknowledged the potential for aircraft to cause disturbance to birds, stating that without conditions, there is the potential for increasing use of the airfield to cause disturbance to birds. In addition he admitted that he had not personally seen aircraft from the disputed airfield over-flying the key sites (which they currently can, and on occasion, do) and the levels of disturbance that this causes.
Day one ended with Newport City Council building a case that that the appellant had failed to show that the development would not have a ‘likely significant effect’ on the important bird populations nearby. The term ‘likely significant effect’ is one of those critical terms that influence how planning matters affecting our most important wildlife sites (such as the Severn Special Protection Area) will go. If you can’t show that your proposal (or in this case your already built aerodrome) won’t have a likely significant effect, then this has specific consequences under the terms of the Nature Directives. In particular, whether there is a need to carry out an Appropriate Assessment, which is an analysis that will determine whether a plan or project will have an adverse effect.
The second day featured the appellant’s planning consultant, agreeing (under cross-examination) that an Appropriate Assessment was necessary. This helpful acknowledgement moved the focus of the Inquiry onto the conditions that would need to apply to the operation of the airfield to avoid the risk to birds – and whether these were adequate or enforceable.
With the RSPB’s expert witness about to take the stand the Inquiry was left with the question that the appellants’ suggested conditions might not provide enough certainty to ensure that there would be no adverse effect on the SPA.
Step forward Dr Tony Prater. Tony has worked for the RSPB for 30 years and prior to that established the Birds of Estuaries Inquiry that was set up in response to, amongst other things, the proposed third London Airport on Maplin Sands in the Thames. He is a leading authority on waterfowl and wetland conservation and played a key role in developing the Newport Wetlands reserve.
His evidence built the case that you could not safely say that there would be no adverse effect based on the inadequate data provided by the appellant. While conditions on the use of the airfield could ensure that the adverse effect is avoided, how enforceable and how reliable they are remains a key question for the Inquiry.
To be continued …
Over the last five years we have been working hard to support our Polish Partner OTOP (BirdLife in Poland) with their Via Baltica campaign. Key Natura 2000 sites in north-east Poland are under threat from a series of road projects on this international road corridor, which will link Helsinki to Warsaw via Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The corridor upgrade is taking place as a series of separate projects rather than being planned in a strategic way. But today there is good news. The Polish Council of Ministers has taken a strategic decision on a new route for the Via Baltica expressway based on the recommendations made by experts and the findings of a Strategic Environmental Assessment. This new route will avoid damaging three Natura 2000 sites: the Biebrza Marshes, and the Knyszyn and Augustow Primeval Forests.
The decision is a major step forward for the conservation of Poland’s unique nature and represents a significant move in the right direction towards the proper implementation of Polish and European environmental legislation. But our work is not over – unfortunately this decision does not automatically halt the current road construction inside Kynszyn Forest or other environmentally harmful road projects planned on the old route. The wildlife of this region is particularly varied with lynx, wolf, beaver, crane and elk having key populations here. Added to this, the aquatic warbler and greater spotted eagle are two birds at risk of global extinction which have their greatest populations within the European Union in this landscape of forests, valleys and marshes.What needs to happen next? The Polish authorities must implement their decision by ensuring that the Via Baltica is constructed on the new route and must stop the current piece-meal upgrades. With the new route for the Via Baltica corridor settled there is no need to continue with these large scale projects on the old route which will needlessly damage Natura 2000 sites.
Read more about the Via Baltica on our Saving Special Places page