May, 2011

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Saving special places

Protecting our best wildlife sites from damage is big part of the RSPB's work - read about our work from the people on the front line
  • Twite’s future goes up in flames?

    I expressed the hope in yesterday’s blog post that the twite that are just starting to nest in the South Pennines had escaped the worst of the moorland fires.

    The news isn’t good.

    Now twite need some introduction, as they are aren’t very well known.  Their close relative, the linnet, is much more familiar.  Their name comes from the nasal call they make as the bound across the heather.  A close-up view reveals a yellow bill and pale pink rump.

    Twite used to be a characteristic bird of the South Pennines, not hard to find in rough triangle of uplands between Huddersfield, Bradford and Rochdale.  They nest in the heather but depend on an abundance of weed seeds through out the spring and summer – they absolutely depend on the presence of good quality hay meadows.

    The population in the South Pennines is under huge pressure already with perhaps no more than 100 pairs remaining – my colleagues in the area are estimating that as much as 40% of them could have been affected by the fires currently gripping the area. The South Pennines is one of Europe’s top wildlife locations and is designated as a Special Protection Area.

    Now, it’s way to early to know exactly how serious the impact is – there’s a chance birds could relocate as it is still early in their breeding season – but it is undoubtedly a blow to the efforts to reverse the fortunes of this engaging little finch. We are part of the  England Twite Recovery Project (which is a partnership between: the RSPB; Natural England; Pennine Prospects – The Watershed Landscape Project; and Kirklees Council) and we’re working with farmers to help keep hay meadows as a feature in the landscape of the area, they are important in their own right but without them the future for the twites in England is bleak.

    The impact of these fires highlights the risks that befall wildlife when numbers re reduced and the population is restricted to a few key areas – their vulnerability to a disaster increases.  It is made even worse knowing that some of these fires will have been deliberately set.

    Our thoughts and thanks go to the people who are fighting the fires.

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  • The Age of Avalon

    In 1997 there were just 11 booming bitterns in Britain.  Bitterns, once memorably likened to a toasted heron by a young visitor to one of our reedbed nature reserves, have had a tough time. Driven to Victorian extinction, the fortunes of this secretive wetland dweller during the twentieth century were linked to the extent and quality of the right reedbed habitat. 

    Boom time for the toasted heron

    The low point in 1997 marked a watershed – if this bird was to make a comeback then we needed a plan, one that didn’t just concentrate on the flagship bittern but one that started to restore and recreate some seriously special places.

    So today’s news that there are at least 18 booming males in Somerset’s Avalon Marshes is a fantastic payback for 15 years of hard work.  The booming, of course, is the sonorous call of the male bittern so it will be later in the year before we fully know the outcome of the season – but the signs are good.

    Now let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves – bitterns in the UK are still not common, but their story is an important one as it shows that decline and loss is not an inevitable fate for the natural world. Make the right choice and nature can make a comeback.  It’s a lesson that is at the heart of our new campaign, Stepping Up for Nature, we going to keep the pressure on to stop  the declines of wildlife and start their recovery – not easy or short term, but achievable.

    And we aren’t alone – the funding for the Avalon Marshes (which includes the RSPB Ham Wall reserve) was part of an EU LIFE-Nature funding programme to reverse bittern declines.  Last year the site was one of 47 across the country with nesting bitterns – and gained extra fame as only the second place in the UK to host nesting little bitterns. The partnership is a close collaboration between ourselves, Natural England and the Somerset Wildlife Trust.  The future is exciting as we are now getting on with the £1.8m Heritage Lottery Funded Avalon Marshes Landscape Partnership.

    While I’m on – the RSPB Community Pages will be off for a refit for three days starting on 16 May.  But you will still be able to follow me on twitter.

  • We're back, and while we were away ...

    I've been to Wallasea Island catching up with progress on the Wild Coast project.  I met up with Hillary Hunter who is the face of the RSPB at Wallasea and is encouraging enjoyment of the island and its coast.  She was full of stories of the kayaking event at the weekend - and you can read about it in her own words here.

    Wildlife highlight of the trip for me had wings (rather spectacular wings) but wasn't the marsh harriers, little egrets or dashing yellow wagtails - it was a moth I'd not met before cream-spot tiger. 

    The RSPB Wallasea Island Wild coast project is in its infancy - elsewhere, at Titchwell in North Norfolk and Rainham up the Thames from Wallasea have been making the news because of the innovative designs of the new generations of hides that now grace the sites.

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