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.
I spent an enjoyable day at our Leighton Moss nature reserve in north Lancashire. It’s a place I know well it’s over thirty years since I first visited this special corner of the world – on a coach trip organised by the Leeds RSPB local group. I was there to host a roadshow for colleagues on our new campaign, Stepping Up for Nature, but I did get the chance for a pre-breakfast walk around the reserve.
Step on to the reserve and there’s wildlife everywhere- a blackcap just tuning up in a hawthorn by the path, two red deer framed in a gap in the reeds, querulous black-headed gulls posturing and pairing in a small nesting colony in front of the hide.
I could only spend a little time in Lillian’s Hide before dragging myself away – I was supposed to be working after all! But just a short time amongst the reeds and watery landscape of Leighton Moss refreshed the spirits and reminded me of the wealth of life that lurks in reedbeds. And by spooky coincidence – we’ve just put out this story reporting on a recent programme funded by Natural England called Bringing Reedbeds to Life – and here’s where you can read more.
Here's one of Mike Langman's panels in the education room at Leighton Moss that captures the richness of the reeds
We’re sometimes moaned at for going on too much about birds (can’t imagine why!) – but our nature reserves are home to over 13,000 species – so birds are really a minority shareholder in our wild estate. Bringing Reedbeds to Life really highlights the role reedbeds play for water voles and moths such as the rare small dotted footman. BirdsPlus – I would say.
If you get the chance – do plan a visit to one later in the spring.
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My colleagues at the sharp end of our work to save special places from harm are in the midst of one of the busiest periods we can remember (and some of us can remember quite a long way back).
I’ve been following the lengthy public inquiry into plans to extend Lydd Airport in Kent (here’s a link to that one) and today we launch into a shorter inquiry concerning plans to build houses at Hurstleigh Park in Berkshire.
We’ve been at the heart of striving to ensure the network of the Heathland sites to the SW of London are effectively protected. The network is known as the Thames Basin Heaths (not the most alluring of names) - it is protected by law and is designated as a Special Protection Area.
And all that striving has been effective – the area is inevitably going to be one where development is an ever-present factor and if the Thames Basin Heaths are to survive and thrive then the standards of planning need to be high. Both the location and the provision of recreational land to take the pressure off the heaths are crucial. And there has been substantial progress with local authorities working within a framework that recognises the special, and fragile, nature of the heathland.
Hurstleigh tests that proposition and we welcome the chance to argue our case at a public inquiry – you can read more here.
Nightjar - one of the ground-nesting birds that make the Thames Basin Heaths so special. Their nesting habits make them particularly vulnerable to disturbance. (Picture: Grahame Madge)
So is this build up activity linked to the current uncertainties in the planning system in England? Hard to make that link as most cases have been rumbling along for ages and way before current planning reforms. Hurstleigh has come forward quite quickly and may be a taster for the future – as developers test the bounds of sustainability. One thing is for certain – we aren’t planning for a quiet life any time soon.
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I promised you I would report after my evening out in Ely.
Lovely venue (the Maltings in Ely) – filled with an impressive audience of farmers and partner organisations.
The starting point was our fenland farmland bird recovery project (funded by Natural England) – and we heard from project officer Niki Williamson about the strong partnerships she has formed with fenland farmers. This particular project just has a few days to run before it transfers into our Fens Futurescape programme.
(Apols for all the fs – if you are reading this aloud do feel free to stop and wipe the screen)
Lapwings are birds of farmland and wetland
Our presence in the Fens is best known through our reserves – Lakenheath, the Nene and Ouse Washes and Fen Drayton (do try and visit during the spring). Restoring and enlarging the wetland bits of the Fens is a key part of our vision (only 3% of the original 3000 square km of wet fenland remain – so there is real scope to do this) – but in any analysis the majority of the Fens is now and will remain farmland.
A Fens future rich in wildlife will involve everyone pulling in the same direction – our own fenland work sits alongside the Great Fen project in the west of the area and National Trust’s vision for Wicken Fen. We’ve long recognised the importance of the agricultural land (the bulk of the area) for farmland birds – that’s been the reason for our recovery project after all – and the pride in achievement evident in Ely last night is great foundation for the future of Fenland.