We would love you to join us in supporting the new Tree Charter, developed by our friends at The Woodland Trust. Find out why it's important, what it is and how you can help in this guest blog by Nick Phillips, Senior Policy Officer at the RSPB, helping to lead on our forestry policy work. Nick writes...
Next year is the 800th anniversary of the original Charter of the Forest. This ancient document was a companion to the Magna Carter and aimed to protect the rights of people to access and use the Royal Forests, which Norman rulers were increasingly restricting. This included house hold names such as the New Forest, famed for its diverse mix of heathland and woodland which are now so important for wildlife.
As we reach the anniversary, it is time for us to reflect on how we want our trees, woods and forests to look in the next 800 years. There are growing pressures in the form of climate change, disease, development and neglect. The UK’s woodland wildlife is in crisis. The State of Nature report is one of the most comprehensive stock takes of wildlife in the UK. It highlighted that 60% of the woodland species we have data for are in decline. These declines are likely to be due to a range of factors, but changes to the way existing woodlands are managed are thought to be key.
(Hawfinch is just one of the many woodland birds in severe decline in the UK)
Trees, woods and forests make our lives better in so many ways. For example they provide places for relaxation, connection to nature, help to fight climate change, combat flooding and cool urban areas. They need us to stand up for them more than ever. This is why we are supporting a campaign to develop a brand new charter for trees, woods and forests that celebrates all the reasons people value them.
This new charter will be based around people’s individual stories about their own personal relationship with trees, woods and forests. It might be a story about your favourite woodland wildlife moment or an old memory of a woodland walk with your family. We need your stories to help us understand what people want and need from the UK’s trees. Tell us what woods and trees mean to you.
Your woodland stories will help us create the building blocks of a charter which will ensure woods and trees get the support and care they need.
Share your story and stick up for woodland. Find out more here: https://treecharter.uk/
It's been a while since we posted anything about fracking so I thought you might appreciate an update on where things are at across the UK.
It's a mixed bag, to be honest, with some countries doing better than others - as you will see.
There is good news from Scotland, as a moratorium has been in place on fracking for shale gas and coal bed methane extraction for over a year, and this was extended to cover underground coal gasification in October. Two separate review processes are currently taking place and a public consultation is expected in late 2016. We are engaging both as RSPB Scotland and as part of Scottish Environment LINK, in particular to ensure biodiversity issues are covered in the review process, as well as raising concerns about climate impacts.
There is an interesting position in Wales in that they have a sort-of moratorium. Welsh Assembly Members have said they will call-in any fracking applications that would normally be considered by local planning authorities. This means that the Welsh Government would decide on whether permission will be given. Not surprisingly the fracking companies are pushing back on this. Larger applications might well be decided at the UK level, and there are proposals to change the devolution settlement with regards to such development types.
In autumn last year the Northern Ireland Environment Minister announced that there would be a presumption against any fracking proposals, unless companies could show sufficient, strong evidence of its safety on all environmental impacts. This is great news but we will continue to keep an eye on the situation.
There is a very different picture in England where we have been fighting, with your help, to save protected sites from being included in areas licensed for fracking.
The Energy Minister, Andrea Leadsom MP, recently told a Parliamentary group that it is the Government’s intention to ban fracking at the surface in all protected areas. This means that special places such as Sites of Special Scientific Interest, including many RSPB reserves, will be put beyond harm’s reach.
The RSPB has long campaigned for special areas for wildlife and water to be no-go zones for fracking. Such a measure would protect rare and amazing wildlife like bitterns, water voles and kingfishers. This on-the-record statement from Government is very welcome. It suggests that when Government publishes its response to a consultation that was run in December last year, it will contain these protections. While these measures do not go as far as RSPB has been calling for, they are a sensible step in the right direction.
We consider that further changes are required in order to make sure that the UK’s regulatory framework for fracking is fit for purpose. These recommendations can be found here. But right now, we’d like to say thank you to all the campaigners who supported our online action asking Government to ban fracking in these special places.
Thanks to your efforts, it looks like we will get the decision we have been hoping for. We'll let you know as soon as we hear the Government's response.
If you haven’t yet taken the action there is still time to do so, in order to make sure that Government’s final decision is the right one. You can find it here.
It’s spring, and our nightingales have returned, swifts and swallows are back and breeding, and turtle doves and cuckoos can be heard calling on the breeze. Our migratory birds are coming back and they’ve crossed Europe from Africa to get to us.
Today marks exactly one year since we launched our Defend Nature campaign, joining hundreds of other organisations in the UK and across Europe under the umbrella of #NatureAlert to defend the Nature Directives, the laws that protect our shared nature.
These laws underpin a network of over 900 important and iconic sites for our wildlife across the UK and have given bitterns, red kites and avocets the protection they needed for their numbers to turn from sharp decline to rising and thriving populations once more. The Nature Directives set a level playing field for every country in the EU, so no single one can trash their environment for an economic advantage over a neighbour.
We spoke up for nature protection, so what was the result?
The scale of your response to the European Commission’s review of the Nature Directives, calling for them not to be weakened and instead properly put into practice, broke records and influenced MEPs and Environment Ministers across Europe (including our own, Rory Stewart MP) to stand up for them too - see the full story of what you’ve helped achieve here.
Whilst over half a million of us voiced our support for the laws that protect our nature, the Commission was also conducting a full, evidence-based review into how well they work. There is an overwhelming amount of both science and practical case studies to prove the effectiveness of these laws, but the draft findings were clear that problems occur where they aren’t implemented and enforced properly.
But we’re yet to hear from EU Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella what the future of these vital laws will be: the conclusions haven’t been published. In the coming weeks, the European Commission is scheduled to finally share the results of the “fitness check” of the Nature Directives.
Will the Commission go from #NatureAlert to action?
So now is the time, one year on from the launch of the campaign that made Commission history for its scale, to remind Mr Vella and his 27 Commissioner colleagues that we believe the Nature Directives are fit for purpose, and we want to see concrete action to ensure they can do an even better job than they already do.
Our Birdlife partners across Europe are calling on Commissioner Vella to do just that. Once the “fitness check” is published, the Commission needs to work on a clear way forward – a proposal for full implementation of the laws. If you’d like to add your voice to this pointed reminder that public support for our nature protection hasn’t gone away, please join Birdlife Europe’s Thunderclap on May 16th at 12.00 to urge the European Commission to get moving from #NatureAlert to action.
Here in the UK the country is considering the implications of the forthcoming EU referendum. Whatever the result on the on 23 June, the Nature Directives will continue to matter for our migratory wildlife, which of course doesn't respect political boundaries. These laws ensure that as our birds cross continents each year, they and the stopping points they rely on have the same level of protection across much of their route, which is why we must continue to fight to protect them.