RSPB Nature reserves got double billing on BBC Breakfast with the weather forecast coming from ‘Home of Springwatch’ Ynys-hir (don’t forget Springwatch starts tonight for its three week run).
Our nature reserve at Dungeness has featured in this blog more than any other site and apart from a slight case of author bias (sorry) the main reason is our long-running opposition to the extension of nearby Lydd airport.
But today we’re celebrating a milestone in the restoration of a lost bee – the short-haired bumblebee – as they are released on to our reserve, not far from where they last occurred in the UK nearly a quarter of a century ago.
But of course the key to success is not just the return of the bee – but the quality of the habitat that is there for them. We’ve been working with local farmers to ensure the right nectar-rich flowers are there in profusion.
Short-haired bumble bee going in for the nectar. Picture Dave Goulson RSPB Images
The return of the short-haired bumblebee is partnership between Natural England, the RSPB, the Bumblebee Conservation Trust and Hymettus
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This blog has been following the story of many special places for wildlife and the people who work tirelessly to save them, nurture them and make them accessible for others to enjoy.
It’s 100 years since Charles Rothschild’s idea that the best places for wildlife should be protected led to the founding of a movement that, today, is the Wildlife Trusts.
There’s loads of fascinating material here and an interactive timeline and everything.
Over the years I’ve worked with several of the individual county wildlife trusts on innumerable projects, joint initiatives and pieces of casework bringing strength and breadth by combining our approaches.
Two nearly did become one – in the 1970s plans to merge the RSPB with the Society for the Promotion of Nature Conservation (the forerunner of the Wildlife Trusts). Nearly but not quite – yet through all our recent shared history we continue to work closely together in the conservation family.
But our origins were very different. By 1912 the RSPB (the R was added in 1904 as we are in retrospective mood) had been pushing our campaign to stop the slaughter of birds for fashion for 23 years. We’ve always relished the long game!
This famous photograph of our sandwich board men telling the tale of the egret dates from 1911.
We would have been characterised as having a ‘species focus’ back then (though one possible name was the Society for the Protection of Birds, Plants and Pleasant Places) – and we still do. Rothschild’s list of 284 reserves published in 1915 framed the Society for the Promotion of Nature Reserves in different way with a clear focus on the importance of the land.
It wasn’t until the early 1930s that the RSPB had a go at the nature reserves game – we secured nature reserves through purchase and the gift of land on Romney Marsh and Dungeness. And we’re still there.
The protection of special places was a dominant theme during the 20th century – intensifying as pressure on our natural environment increased. After the Second World War legislation set up the ability to designate places as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Nice idea and nice badge – but not very effective at delivering real protection in the 1970s destruction or damage of SSSIs reached 12% per year.
This attrition of nature was dramatically slowed after the passage into law of the 1982 Wildlife and Countryside Act – SSSIs (Areas of Special Scientific Interest in Northern Ireland) had come of age. The landmark W&C Act was brought into law as a direct result of our membership of the European Union. Now the EU gets a very mixed press in the UK – but one aspect has never been in doubt, the environmental protection driven by the Nature Directives has been a buttress of protection of nature across the EU and in the UK.
The 1979 Birds Directive (require bedtime reading, I know) required the UK Government to put in place effective laws. Its sister act – the Habitats Directive came later and we can now celebrate 20 years of the best wildlife sites in the EU – they are labelled Natura 2000 sites (not a term that is familiar in the UK) and they are the best and most important sites for nature at a continental scale. Many of them feature in these posts. The Forest of Bowland in Lancashire, the Thames Estuary, Dungeness in Kent. The designation doesn’t make them safe ... but it’s a good place to start.
Along with Natura 2000 came LIFE funding – a mainstay of many vital conservation programmes over the last two decades. We’re grateful that LIFE funding is enabling us to bring our Futurescapes programme to life (pun intended) with new staff and engagement activities across the UK. Our programme complements the Wildlife Trust Living Landscapes as we all recognise that the future lies in working together and thinking big.
Happy birthday Wildlife Trusts, here’s to the next 100 years.
There was a time when buzzards were hemmed in the west of Great Britain. As a child buzzards were a holiday sentinel as we travelled from Kent to Devon or Wales or Cumbria or Scotland.
First-buzzard was always a special moment – a sign of special holiday places. But then the return had last-buzzard, a sad departure to the more intolerant east of the country.
Buzzards weren’t constrained by their own fondness for the west – their distribution map was plotted by decades of intolerance, a victim of Victorian industrialisation of hunting.
Back in Kent, in the 60s and 70s we didn’t have buzzards. Well, hardly – the odd rumour of a pair here or there.
My father often wondered if we should have them – the countryside looked ideal, he missed them in a way; the landscape wasn’t complete.
And then, slowly at first – the recovery began. I was living in the north of England at that stage and had seen the Cheshire buzzard population fall gradually to zero. And then they were back, here and there at first.
An outbreak of tolerance? Definitely. Stamping out (to some extent) the bad (and illegal) practice of poisoning making a massive contribution.
And eventually they returned to Kent. I saw one from the garden of my family home in 2002, catching the wind over the downs. Sadly my father didn’t live to see it – I think of him when I hear them call.
Huge credit is due to the local farmers and landowners around my home – the richness of the countryside in their stewardship (including buzzards) adequate compensation for sharing a few pheasants.
So that’s why I’m angry at the proposal by DEFRA to include draconian techniques of nest destruction (shooting or poking) and capturing adult buzzards as part of a project to reduce the impact of buzzards on the 40m pheasants released into the countryside each year.
I’m not alone, Martin Harper, our conservation director has more to say – and asks you to write to your MP, please do.
Buzzard by Mike Langman
For those of you who remember the comedian Bob Newhart – his stock in trade was giving one side of a telephone call to historic figures. Imagine the conversation if someone was to propose releasing pheasants.
Hi – yes, you want to do what? You want to release pheasants in to the wild.
... each year!
Have you thought this through?
They weigh how much?
As much as all the other birds in the country?
And then you want to shoot them ...
... not all of them
What happens to the rest?
3,000,000 get run over ...
... are you sure you’ve thought this through?
It’s not going to fly, is it?
The RSPB is the UK partner of the BirdLife International, we work with partner organisation on projects that make a real difference to bird conservation – Sarah Sanders, our RSPB head of partner development, is in Tanzania, and here’s her update on a vital project in the Uluguru Mountains.
With funding from UKAID, the RSPB is working with the Wildlife Conservation Society of Tanzania (WCST) to enable communities to benefit from the sustainable management of the Uluguru mountains. The area is a biodiversity hotspot, home to plants and animals found nowhere else in the world. It is also an important water catchment for Dar es Salaam.
As part of the project team our visit started at a tree nursery in Mbete, run by a the primary school. We were accompanied by Godfred Maumba, Ward Executive Officer and member of the Technical Advisory Committee.
The nursery has produced over 20,000 tree seedlings since the beginning of the year. We were delighted to hear from the head teacher how the students are involved and how the nursery has been integrated into the curriculum.
It was then off on a march to the top of a steep hill by Ramadan, the nursery manager. We passed through lots of small farms (shambas), mainly cultivating maize with a few bananas. Our walk took us to a 4ha site where the local government has given the land to the community to plant trees for conservation and to reduce soil erosion and increase water productivity. All of the seedlings are transported by foot to the site so a real test of endurance and commitment from the community as the benefits will be felt beyond the village, downstream by the water users in Morogoro.We then began the trek to Choma, a project village only accessible by foot and at an altitude of just under 3,000 feet. It was worth the climb, which took over an hour, to meet Kudra Musa, Chair of the poultry group and advocate for home gardens. He proudly showed how the project has supported his demonstration site, properly terraced and growing beans, carrots and bananas.
Learning from a recent exchange visit to a CARE project on the other side of the mountain, he has divided it into 3 parts: personal consumption, produce to sell and for seeds for the next year. He is hoping to use the chicken manure from the poultry shed for fertiliser in the years to come.
There are around 800 people living in Choma, mostly practicing small agriculture on tiny parcels of land less than a hectare in size. He is hoping that by demonstrating the benefits (potentially up to a 60 percent increase in yields) that they will adopt the terrace approach to reduce pressure on the forest and soil erosion. Already 28 people have signed up so it is looking positive.The challenge is how to extend the approach to all small farmers, and there are hundreds if not thousands in the catchment, and for it to continue when the project ends in two and half years time. In the UK we have agri-environment schemes to incentivise farmers to adopt environmentally friendly agricultural practices. There is nothing like that here in Tanzania so we are hoping to pilot a Payment for Environmental Service (PES) scheme so that farmers are paid to implement improved agricultural methods so that water quality and quantity is improved for the benefit of the water users downstream.
We have developed a business case which shows that conservation of the water catchment area upstream will save the water company money as they won't have to spend so much on treatment. The challenge is to put this into practice, particularly when there are so many farmers working on small parcels of land. We also have to convince the Ministry of Water and the Water Companies of the benefits. We have a lot of hard work ahead!But we should go back to Kudra, as his produce will have to be transported to the Morogoro market on foot. As we walked back down we passed a group of women returning up the mountain with empty baskets. They had got up early in the morning and sold all their bananas. Talk about hardwork, they do this everyday!
The RSPB is the UK partner of the BirdLife International, we work with partner organisation on projects that make a real difference to bird conservation – Sarah Sanders, our RSPB head of partner development, has recently sent me an update from Tanzania.
I have done the 200km journey from Dar-es- Salaam numerous times but I never cease to be amazed by the Uluguru mountains. 60km from Morogoro you catch your first tantalising glimpse as the Ulugurus emerge from the flat plain. Rising to over 2600m, the forested tops are rarely in view, usually covered by cloud.
Part of the Eastern Arc Chain, these are mountain islands, home to many plants and animals which are found nowhere else in the world including the critically endangered Uluguru bush shrike. They are also the main source of water for Dar.
So why am I here? The Ulugurus are facing an increased demand for fuelwood from a growing poor population – this is putting this unique environment under threat.
Unsustainable farming practices are spreading up the steep mountain slopes causing soil erosion and a deterioration in water quality and quantity. With UK Aid funding, we are working with our BirdLife partner, the Wildlife Conservation Society Tanzania, to support communities to reduce their dependency on the forest by developing woodlots outside the forest for fuelwood and to encourage the use of fuel efficient stoves. We are also supporting alternative livelihoods like bee-keeping and vegetable gardening.
In the next couple of days, Rose Kyando, the project manager and I will be visiting some of the villages to see how these activities are progressing. Some of these communities are only accessible by foot. As there has been a lot of rain in the last month so it is going to be very muddy.
More from Sarah shortly.