This blog is filled with references to some of the top sites for wildlife in the UK, Europe or even at a global scale.
But this weekend the focus is on that special place close to our own backdoors. Our gardens. It’s Big Garden Birdwatch weekend!
How many of us have had a lifetime’s interest sparked by getting to know the birds and wildlife we share our gardens with? Jack (who’s five) was watching BBC Breakfast this morning when Big Garden Birdwatch came up – ‘Oh Daddy, we’ve got to do Big Garden Birdwatch this weekend’ – pretty much sums it up really!
So have a relaxed hour with your family and help make this year’s Big Garden Birdwatch the best yet!
In the time of foot and mouth, when the countryside was closed I visited Dungeness. It felt like half the population of Kent was clinging to the furthest extremity of the county, evicted from more familiar landscapes.
Dungeness is not like other places. A tiny railway a huge nuclear power station and, in their season, alive with birds.
Here’s a compelling evocation of the place – part of BBC Radio 4’s Nature series. Paul Evans tells the story of this world of shingle.
The RSPB has been part of the Dungeness story for over 100 years and we are still campaigning to protect this special place from harm – you can read about our opposition to plans to expand Lydd Airport here.
One theme that should stand out from this blog is that protected areas are extremely important places! In the European Union, wildlife legislation – in the form of the Birds and Habitats Directives – has enabled real gains to be made for wildlife.
Yet wildlife in these protected areas, along with the rest of life on this planet, faces the unprecedented challenge of climate change. What will be the role of protected area networks in the face of wildlife populations responding to find their optimum climatic conditions?
Any strategy for the future must start from what we have today – and our protected areas are the best places for wildlife now. The Birds and Habitats Directives have, at their core, the ability to designate sites (forming the Natura 2000 network throughout the EU) – but the protected area stuff (though crucial) is just one part of the range of measures set out in the legislation.
Change is inevitable – and the response, both in terms of the management of protected areas and increasing their extent will build in resilience that will be crucial to the ability of species to adapt and survive. Habitat creation is a vital means of extending the area available to wildlife - our Wallasea Island Wild Coast project (pictured)is a good example of this approach in action.
We are convinced that the Birds and Habitat’s Directives, if interpreted correctly and fully implemented, provide further potential to ensure species and habitats have the best chances of adapting to climate change.
If you would like to read more about this topic, my colleagues Andrew Dodd, Alice Hardiman, Kate Jennings and Gwyn Williams have written ‘Protected Areas and Climate Change: Reflections from a Practitioners Perspective’ published in the Utrecht Law Review.
I’m often asked if the current proposals to build an airport in the middle of the Thames estuary with roads and barriers linking both the Kent and Essex’s coasts is ‘serious’? The sub-text for the question is usually ‘should the RSPB be putting resources into developing a position on what looks like a project unlikely to happen’.
It feels serious – and it would be wise to assume that those promoting the project are serious about it. The time an idea like this really starts to call on our resources is when the plans develop beyond their current ideas stage.
We’d rather they didn’t go any further because the scale and impact of the airport plus its associated infrastructure would profoundly damage the Thames estuary (let alone it’s contribution to climate chaos). We think it’s a seriously bad idea.
A good indicator that a project is going to ‘go large’ is the amount of support it starts to gather, so the lack of support from David Cameron, leader of the Conservative Party, is timely. Is this the end of the latest estuary airport proposal? Almost certainly not, though the lack of political backing is a major handicap for Mayor Johnson’s plans. Is this the last airport proposal for the Thames? History indicates that would be an unlikely hope. The future of the Thames estuary is very important to the RSPB – our commitment to this special place is considerable and that will continue and grow, seriously!
It’s a busy time for Parliament looking at the Government’s draft national policy statements (NPSs). Our post on 20 January reported on the Transport Select Committee’s look at ports. The week before we were up in front of the Energy and Climate Change Committee looking at the energy NPSs (an hour and five minutes into the session if you want to watch the video).
We stood shoulder to shoulder with other NGOs (Campaign to Protect Rural England, Friends of the Earth and WWF) in our criticism. It wasn’t easy covering six NPSs in an hour, especially as one of the MPs took us rather off piste with an attack on NIMBY NGOs. We’re not trying to stop all development – in fact, much of the energy infrastructure which will be built over the next few years is vital if we’re to move to a low carbon economy.
But we do believe that proper strategic planning, with good community consultation and environmental assessment, is essential to steer development away from environmentally-damaging options.
That’s what we haven’t seen in the draft NPSs, and that’s the message the Committee heard from us. You can see some summaries of the discussion here and here.
We also sent the Committee the report we commissioned on the NPSs’ appraisals of sustainability, hot off the press. We’ll be publishing it soon, so watch this space.