March, 2012

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.
  • Perspectives of the Thames - a bird's eye view

    Continuing our series of guest blogs from around the Thames estuary, here Rolf Williams the RSPB's Kent Communications Officer, takes to the skies

    Have you ever shopped at Bluewater in Kent, or how about Lakeside in Essex? They cater for tens of millions of shoppers each year. As I flew over them at 1,800ft it truly dawned on me how terrestrially routed we are, our mindset utterly shaped by the need to move across the surface of our home by means of feet, wheels or rails. These two enormous retail developments are only two and half miles apart; they exist in such proximity only because the River Thames divides us.

    Even though many of us love birds, and do our best to feed them and provide nesting opportunities, we don’t really ‘think’ like a bird, or appreciate the world in which they move. To gain that perspective I took a flight in a powered hang glider and, by the time we landed, I had a totally new perspective of the Thames and the Medway, what it means to birds, and even more startling, the physical mark that the RSPB and its partner organisations leave on the landscape.

    The world becomes very much smaller as soon as you are flying. With the wind in our tail it took only tens of minutes to fly from RSPB Rainham Marshes (beyond the Dartford crossing), to RSPB Seasalter just west of Whitstable.

    The ground was a myriad of textures reflecting the multiple land use, arable fields, towns and villages, industry and, of course, the marshes. Along North Kent, the grazing marsh forms a contiguous habitat fringing the south bank of the Thames. The waters of the Medway and Swale Estuaries looked a tropical blue, feeding the salt marshes and creeping over the mud on a tidal flood.

    Neighbours and partners, RSPB Motney Hill and Riverside Country Park. Photo RSPB

    I realised that were I a wetland bird looking for a place to feed or roost, the hotspots were obvious, and, were I disturbed from one place, I could see where the next opportunity lay, and it wasn’t far. A redshank on the Hoo Peninsula could be feeding on the spectacular new wetland habitat created on the South Essex Marshes in five minutes – it takes me an hour to drive there. The strange worm-like scrapes and rills put into the fields by the RSPB to hold water and attract birds were among the most conspicuous marks on the landscape – engineering projects on a truly landscape scale.

    At 1,800ft, great black-backed gulls were passing us, and from there, we could see Dover and the English Channel even though we were over Gravesend. It suddenly made sense to me that birdwatchers on Canvey Island have observed skuas (a truly oceanic bird) blown up the Thames by storms in the North Sea, rising on updrafts and heading in land over the Hoo Peninsula for the sea. The wetland habitats in our care are so clearly stepping-stones to places much further afield to a human, but well in sight to a migrating bird.

    From my precarious position suspended under canvas I could also see Stansted, City and Southend Airport, and planes homing in on Gatwick, Luton and London Heathrow. The air is resonating with plans to put an airport in the Thames Estuary, on the Hoo Peninsula even. From my bird’s-eye view, the impact was tangible. 30 years ago, in another feat of avian adventure, the RAF dropped a bomb right in the middle of Port Stanley airfield. Putting an airport here would have the same impact. It would punch a hole right through the middle of the Thames’ green runway, taking out an enormous swathe of internationally protected habitat.

    The shock waves of such a development would be felt right across the surrounding landscape, to the detriment of people and wildlife far beyond the localised destruction. From the QE2 bridge looking east, the green ribbon of opportunity for nature on both sides of the river, where 300,000 birds and at least as many people take respite, would be cut to pieces.

    Where the Medway meets the Thames - looking west to the Hoo Peninsula. Photo RSPB

    I flew over plenty of examples of sustainable development in the Thames Estuary and it was also blatantly clear that people were benefiting from their natural environment not suffering because of it. What has happened this year is that the Department for the Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs designated the Greater Thames Estuary a Nature Improvement Area, bringing partnerships and funding to restore, enhance and create habitat.

    Let’s continue to work together on that, while ensuring that a Thames Estuary Airport doesn’t happen.

    Our next guest blog will give a perspective from Essex.

    Follow me on twitter

  • Great Expectations and profound concerns

    Today's guest blog gives a flavour of what it's like to face the obliteration of your local landscape - with all its connections and heritage - not to mention internationally important wildlife.  Friends of North Kent Marshes was formed in the heat of battle ten years ago when last the airport planners came calling.

    David Leans’ epic film adaptation of Charles Dickens’ “Great Expectations” starring John Mills, opened with the lines, "Ours was the marsh country, down by the river, within as the river wound twenty miles of the sea."

    It was powerful, evocative stuff, and today we live on those very same marshes, have raised our families here, and we fought with all our might to save this most precious wilderness from becoming the UK's largest airport. On the back of the ‘No airport at Cliffe campaign’, we formed Friends of the North Kent Marshes to promote, protect and celebrate all that is so important about the area.

    In the film, the marshes and the estuary are brooding, wild, almost menacing. And so they can be. But they are also magnificent, welcoming, and life-enhancing; they feel like they are part of your very being.

    There is a rich cultural heritage here; our medieval landscapes have been superimposed with Norman churches, ruined castles, Napoleonic forts, and a more recent industrial history of cement and explosives. The Magna Carta is said to have been drafted in the old rectory at Cliffe.

    But this human history is underpinned by an even deeper natural heritage. The estuary is an ever-changing landscape of soaring skylarks and ghost-like owls, of huge flocks of dunlin and knot, of herons and egrets fishing the margins while grebes and avocets dance on the pools.

    Avocet in flight - picture RSPBImages

    We have the UK's largest breeding heronry at RSPB Northward Hill

    Our wildlife and habitats in the Thames estuary are so important that they have the highest protection under local, national and international law and if our government chose to destroy these globally important sites on an economic whim then nowhere in Britain would be safe from development.

    Quite unbelievably we are back where we were only ten years ago, explaining to a new set of government ministers why there can NEVER be a new hub airport in or around the Thames estuary.

    We have been here before & every time it has been rejected but we are appalled that some of those in the coalition Government, the Mayor of London, Lord Foster and others are so unaware of the facts and are seemingly still so ignorant of the global importance of the Thames estuary and its wildlife.

    However, we who live around the estuary are aware of the facts and do know why the government must not allow such inappropriate development here

    Our wildlife and habitats in and around the Thames estuary are so important that they have the highest protection under local, national and international law and if our Government chose to destroy these globally important sites then nowhere in Britain would be safe. 

    A twelve times greater risk of birdstrike even after aggressive bird management would make an estuary airport the most dangerous major UK airport to fly from. Safety could not be guaranteed!

    An estuary airport would be extremely expensive £50 billion and upwards. It would not meet the requirements of the aviation industry and would result in the closure of Heathrow and the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs in west London according to aviation experts.

    The argument for a massive increase in aviation capacity cannot fit with the UK Governments targets to reduce emissions

    To site a gargantuan 4 runway 24/7 major new hub airport here would have catastrophic effects on people, wildlife and the planet, it would be environmental vandalism on a grand scale!

    We call on all government departments involved in this major decision to listen to the RSPB - who can explain why the arguments put forward by the Mayor of London, Lord Foster and others are so deeply flawed on so many levels - economically, environmentally and ecologically.

    As communities, alongside the RSPB and many others, we are once again stepping up for nature, talking to the media, making banners, erecting placards and putting No Estuary airport stickers in our cars We are  saying  NO ESTUARY AIRPORT anywhere and everywhere we can.    

    We are ready and we will fight any attempt to destroy our natural heritage with the utmost vigour.

    No Thames Estuary Airport - 2012 the campaigning begins again.

    Friends of the North Kent Marshes

    Conservation and Communities United

  • National Planning Policy Framework: still happy

    I have now read the new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) line-by-line, comparing it with last year’s draft.

    I am impressed, and still happy, as Martin Harper reported in his blog yesterday.

    Why am I so happy? Martin mentioned our top three red lines. The Government has listened to us on all three points, and the result is a much more balanced document that we believe will help to deliver the Government’s own objectives in the Natural Environment White Paper.

    Here are some extracts that make me really pleased: all things that planners or the planning system have to do, which have been added in the published version:

    • ‘Pursuing sustainable development involves seeking positive improvements in the quality of the built, natural and historic environment, as well as in people’s quality of life, including ... moving from a net loss of biodiversity to achieving net gains for nature
    • ‘recognising the intrinsic character and beauty of the countryside’
    • ‘recognising the wider benefits of ecosystem services’
    • ‘contributing to the Government’s commitment to halt the overall decline in biodiversity, including by establishing coherent ecological networks’
    • ‘encourage the effective use of land that has been previously-developed (brownfield land), provided that it is not of high environmental value’
    • ‘identify and map ... wildlife corridors and stepping stones that connect them’
    • ‘where Nature Improvement Areas are identified in Local Plans, consider specifying the types of development that may be appropriate in these areas.’

    And here are some good things which were in the draft thanks to our influence, and are still there in the published version:

    • ‘... encourage multiple benefits from the use of land in urban and rural areas, recognising that some open land can perform many functions (such as for wildlife, recreation, flood risk
       mitigation, carbon storage, or food production)’
    • ‘identify and map ... areas identified by local partnerships for habitat restoration or creation’
    • ‘local planning authorities should ... not identify new sites or extensions to existing sites for peat extraction’
    • ‘... ensure ... high quality restoration and aftercare of minerals sites takes place, including for agriculture ...
      geodiversity, biodiversity, native woodland, the historic environment and recreation.’

    I could go on, but I’d like to end with thanks to a terrific team. Lots of people were involved, but I’d particularly like to thank Brendan for his determined technical advocacy, Alice for leading our campaigning, Annabel’s policy input while dealing with the Localism Bill, Laura for her parliamentary advocacy, Julia for keeping us sane, Penny our legal advisor and Nathalie Lieven QC for her advice on SSSIs.