February, 2010

Get involved

Get involved
There are loads of fun ways you can help nature with the RSPB... Share your experiences here.

Saving special places

Saving nature’s home is a big part of our work. Read the stories from the people on the front line of saving the best places that wildlife need to survive.
  • Special Places at Sea – consultation due to close soon

    The the idea of protecting the best places for nature on land is a familiar and accepted way of doing conservation.   The best of the best – our Natura 2000 site network – has been a success (there’s a long way to go to complete the network, but that’s another story).

    The requirement to protect the best sites at sea has been there for as long as it has on land – but the UK’s approach has, until recently, been well, all at sea.  There are many reasons for this, not least the difficulty of encountering the wealth of wildlife that’s actually there.

    However – set against the woeful lack of progress it's great news that 12 sites are now in the pipeline.  On 26 February consultation ends on two Special Protection Areas (SPAs) and 10 Special Areas of Conservation.  The SPAs are the Outer Thames and Liverpool Bay.

    If you look back at what I wrote previously (the ‘all at sea’ link above) you will see that we are broadly supportive of these designations even though the SPAs do leave out important populations of birds.  One of the species that does feature in both is the red-throated diver.  The birds spend the winter in Liverpool Bay and the Outer Thames in large numbers.  At this time of year, they are in winter plumage – like the larger of the two illustrations.

    So there is still time to make your voice heard in this important consultation – here’s the link.  Many thanks if you have already done it.

  • What a lot of waterfowl

    Lots of posts on this blog have featured wetlands and, in particular, the UK’s coast and estuaries.  This is no coincidence – this country’s coastal heritage really puts us on the world map of conservation issues.  As we look forward to the end of winter hundreds of thousands of wildfowl and wading birds are preparing to head north to their artic breeding grounds having survived another winter on our coast sustained by the rich food supply and warmed by the ocean currents of the North Atlantic drift.

    Yet more birds will be passing through on their way north, highlighting the role the UK plays as a vital link in the chain of migration.  The UK is an international mixing pot of birds like turnstones (pictured)heading to Greenland and even arctic Canada or bar-tailed godwits setting off for Siberia.

    So how do we know all this?

    At the heart of the discoveries about our wetland birds are the dedicated people who have been studying them.  These are the bird ringers and counters – the vast majority amateurs and volunteers – who have painstakingly gathered the raw numbers.  We owe them all a huge debt of gratitude.

    The RSPB along with our partners the British Trust for Ornithology, the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, have just launched the latest report of the Wetland Bird Survey (WeBs) covering the winter of 2007/08.  It’s a chunky little book packed with numbers that provide an unparalleled level of understanding about how our wetland bird populations are changing and showing which are our most important sites.

    Although wildfowl (ducks, geese and swans) have been counted for longer, the forerunner of WeBs – the Birds of Estuaries Enquiry – started over forty years ago in direct response to the conservation challenge of building cases to defend estuaries from threats.  The conservation movement was ill equipped to fight proposals to build London’s third airport off Foulness on the Essex coast, not least because the data just wasn’t there.

    A lot has happened since those difficult days.  The Ramsar Convention provided international pressure to protect wetlands ‘especially as waterfowl habitat’ – so that demands reliable data.  The European Union’s Birds Directive gives effective and targeted protection to sites supporting migrating birds – the background to why many of our estuaries are designated as Special Protection Areas – making them part of the European Union’s network of the best wildlife sites – known as Natura 2000.

    Of the top twenty sites for waterfowl in the UK, five are threatened by barriers or tidal power generating barrages – here’s the list (the number in brackets is the average number of birds the site supports).

    The Wash (371,308)
    The Thames Estuary (186,302)
    The Solway (122,602)
    The Mersey (79,504)
    The Severn (69,482)

    We’ve been working hard to prevent these damaging proposals coming forward (while at the same time championing innovative ways of harnessing tidal energy) – but despite the highest levels of protection these special places are still not safe.

    The work continues on many fronts – but what is absolutely certain is the vital role of WeBS now and in the future providing the best information on which to base the wisest of decisions. 

    So – keep counting!

  • Let the train take the climate strain?

    Is it a good idea to have a high-speed rail link between London and Birmingham?  Simple question – so what’s the answer?  It should be yes shouldn’t it?

    Along with many others – in particular the communities along the, as yet, undefined route – we await the publication of the Department for Transport’s report into High Speed 2 (HS2) which will bring much needed clarity. This report is expected towards the end of next month.

    Here’s the check-list we will be applying to the report when it arrives on our desks:

    • HS2 must avoid damage to environmentally sensitive and protected areas.
    • It should contribute to carbon reduction targets (taking account of the carbon costs of construction, the trains used, the success of shifting from high-carbon modes of transport and the type and amount of energy being used to power the trains).
    • HS2 must not be viewed in isolation from the rest of the transport network and other policies aimed at cutting carbon and protecting the natural world.  There is a risk HS2 will pre-empt the National Networks National Policy Statement (NPS).  We hope, at least, to see the NPS published alongside the HS2 report – failure to link HS2 fully into local national and international rail networks would be inexcusable.
    • HS2’s (considerable) funding must not suck resources out of the rest of the rail network.
    • There should be full compliance with environmental law in planning HS2, including assessment of reasonable alternatives to the preferred route option as part of a full Strategic Environmental Assessment.

    In our experience, there is a world of difference between wanting to support a good idea and taking a position on an actual proposal.  We won’t know our position until the report is out and we’ve had a chance to look at the detail.

    You may be wondering why this proposal is HS2 – HS1 was formally known as the Channel Tunnel Rail Link.  I can recall the creeping dereliction that was caused by the endless uncertainty over the route into Ashford.  The stakes are massively high to get this right – if you live between London and Birmingham, let me know what you think.