A year ago, I gave you some wishes for 2011.
Perhaps some of them were a bit ambitious but let’s see how they turned out.
Wish 1. Dungeness is, finally, given the protection it deserves and is cherished both for its wildlife and as a great place to visit and get close to nature. We’ll have to roll that one on as we await the outcome of the public inquiry that ran through much of 2011.
Wish 2. In England we want the Natural Environment White Paper (NEWP) to be a landmark in the history of nature conservation and be the point at which the coalition Government adds meaning to it’s aspiration to be the greenest government ever. Two cheers for NEWP – coming out of the part of Government that doesn’t seem to regard being green as an ironic challenge!
Wish 3. The wildlife of Talbot Heath, in Poole, is not lost to the pressure of housing development. We await the outcome of a public inquiry ... keep wishing.
Wish 4. Wise decisions are taken on the Humber that enable port-related development to go ahead (with all the jobs that will create) while ensuring that the area’s natural environment is effectively protected and cherished. ABP have shown the way to do it with their Green Port Hull proposal ... showing that integrating good business with effective conservation is possible.
Wish 5. What do we want? Marine Protected Areas! When do we want them? Now (in other words 30 years after they were actually due). We were sadly disappointed as further delays were announced.
Wish 6. The Scottish Government says no to Hunterston and turns its back on dirty coal. It’s been a roller coaster of a year for Hunterston but ending positively with a clear rejection by Ayrshire Council ... but there is a way to go yet.
Wish 7. Mersey barrage? It was the wrong option 20 years ago – it’s the wrong option in 2011. Say no now. No was said – for now.
Wish 8. Letter to the Future hits new heights in terms of support. It did, you’re all fantastic. And we handed it to No 10 on the day we launched Stepping Up for Nature.
Wish 9. Our new campaign will build on the support of the hundreds of thousands of you who are already stepping up for nature – and you have and we are!
What no one envisaged a year ago was the degree to which the environment would be caricatured as a block on economic recovery by the highest levels of Government. There were stirrings the forests – but no sign of the wind of grassroots mobilisation in England that blew the doors of DEFRA off their hinges for a while. Planning (again in England) was in the spotlight – but the row over the En Pee Pee Eff (and the National Planning Policy Framework became know) was still months away.
Feels like 2011 was a grim year for the natural environment. I think that it will act as a stimulus to environment movement, to us all – it should, as the threats are real and growing.
There’s never been a more important time than this to step up for nature.
Follow me on twitter.
Step away from that tin of sweets!
OK - stick a few in your pockets - and take them with you, if you must! But do take the chance to get outside over the holiday period. I'm sure you'll have your favourite walks and places to go - but do have a rummage through all the natural richness provided by RSPB's nature reserves.
What's your favourite place?
Follow me on twitter
I hope you have a wonderful Christmas and thank you for reading the Saving Special Places blog. I'm very grateful to several colleagues who have joined the blog team to bring you stories from the front line of nature conservation. 2012 will bring a lot of challenges and your support will more important than ever. But in the meantime can I thank you and share a couple of pictures taken last winter at our own special place - The Lodge, Sandy, Beds.
Birch leaves with frost - photo credit Andre Farrar
The Lodge in winter - photo credit Andre Farrar
The RSPB’s Minsmere nature reserve attracts 90,000 visitors a year, pumps nearly £3m into the local economy and supports around 100 full time job equivalents locally .
Oh – and it’s one of Europe’s best nature-stuffed, life-enhancing, spectacle-watching places as well. It's so good it is has collected the world's top wildlife designations and is part fo the EU's series of Natura 2000 sites. But if you really want to know how special it is - why not plan a visit, you'll be very welcome.
This, broadly, was the message we shared with Eastern England MEP Richard Howitt who visited our flagship nature reserve recently.
Richard Howitt MEP with the RSPB's Ben McFarland signing up to the protection of our finest wildlife sites
You can read more about his visit here on the Minsmere blog – but I will include Richard’s quote here: Richard told us that he thinks, “It is vital to ensure that special places such as Minsmere are protected for future generations because a thriving economy, ultimately, is based on a healthy environment. I am concerned at proposals by the UK Government to weaken the Habitats Regulations, as this would serious threaten the future of many wonderful places for wildlife.”
I was taken by this story, here reported by Patrick Barkham in the Guardian – announcing a study into the benefits of bird song – to us, as opposed to the birds themselves.
To readers of this blog it isn’t much of a revelation that bird song is a special and important part of our lives ... unravelling the details will provide a wealth of fascinating new insights into our relationship with nature.
But to enjoy bird song you need the birds to be there to sing. I’m writing this on the winter solstice, from now on light and life starts to creep back into our towns, villages and across the countryside. Already wrens seem a little bit louder and great tits are tuning up, their thinking is probably as wishful as mine as winter’s harshest times are still to ahead, but spring is on its way.
In a few short months, our resident birds will be joined by a flood of summer migrants, currently sunning themselves in warmer climes. And for a couple of months a voice so evocative fills the nights at a few (and diminishing) number of special places.
In the UK, nightingales are an English speciality and their haunting refrain has woven itself into our psyche. In 1924 the cellist Beatrice Harrison persuaded the BBC to broadcast a live duet with a nightingale. The response of the listeners was so great that the performance was repeated for the next 12 years. You'll need to scroll half way down the page.
Just up the road from Sandy, where I’m writing this, at Paxton Pits nature reserve the community come together each spring to celebrate their local nightingales, gathering in groups at prime locations to lose themselves in the liquid melody.
The deep sense of place and of timeless contact with nature is embodied in the song of the nightingale; here evoked by my friend and colleague Derek Niemann writing in the Guardian’s country diary.
Unlike the good folk of Little Paxton in Cambridgeshire, many communities have lost their nightingales, the heady song silenced as the numbers of this long distance migrant fall. The reasons behind this include the state of many woods, nightingales are birds of the scrub and are picky about the conditions they need.
Numbers are down 60% over the last 15 years – and over the longer haul, the picture is even worse, where as I youngster in the 70s I could have heard 10 nightingales – now only one sings.
But where they do occur they can be present in some numbers as they throw their songs back and forth. One such place is Chattenden Woods on the Hoo Peninsula in North Kent a recent post set out the background to the case – but the important news at the moment is that the consultation period has been extended until 13 January 2012.
The proposal is to build a development of 5,000 homes, a hotel and a shopping centre at Lodge Hill near Chattenden, and it is welcome news that the consultation period has been extended.
Alongside ourselves, Kent Wildlife Trust (KWT) and have already objected to the outline planning application because of their concerns over the likely extensive damage it will cause to the area’s wildlife. Buglife - The Invertebrate Conservation Trust – are due to submit their objection.
Places with nightingales often are home to other exciting wildlife and Chattenden Woods is not only nationally important for nightingales but also supports bats, lizards, grass snakes, adders, slow worms, newts, frogs, toads, badgers and rare insects.
The application also fails to address the potential increased recreational disturbance to the internationally important wetlands of the Thames Medway and Swale.
Here are the quotes we’ve included in a recent press release – showing the broad coalition of conservation organisations stepping up for this important site.
Greg Hitchcock of KWT said: “We all recognise the need for homes and jobs for people. Unfortunately, the development proposals will be very damaging to wildlife, and the measures to offset that damage are wholly inadequate”.
Sam Dawes of RSPB said: “It is outrageous that a development of this scale has been proposed on a site that is so important for some of our most iconic birds. Who has not been entranced by the song of the nightingale? The site is one of the most important in England for nightingales, and also supports many other dramatically declining birds”.
Sarah Henshall, Brownfield Conservation Officer of Buglife said “previous studies of the site indicate that it could potentially be one of the most important sites in the UK for rare and endangered invertebrates including the Shrill carder-bee. Invertebrates have largely been overlooked in the development plans- without proper surveys to find out what lives on the site how can they be protected?”
Sam Dawes added: “All three organisations recognise the need for regeneration in North Kent, but believe this should not be at the expense of its much-loved wildlife”.
“We all work closely with Medway Council on nature conservation issues and are urging them to listen to our concerns”.
We are all calling on local people to object to the outline planning application to protect North Kent’s wildlife.
The plans can be viewed online at: www.medway.gov.uk, planning reference number MC/11/2516.
Will Chattenden Woods survive as a venue for one of nature's most enthralling performers? The next few months will hold the answer and determine if generations to come will still be able to hear nightgales pour forth their song into the tender night.