Guest post from Charmian Flowerday, RSPB Project Manager
Last Monday was quite a special day for me –
Now don’t get me wrong, I know that going to visit a farm in a small village in Cambridgeshire to see construction work might not be everyone’s idea of an inspiring way to spend your morning - but in my book it was.
I’ll start at the beginning... one of the things I love about the RSPB is that it’s ambitious, and we’ve got some pretty ambitious targets for practicing what we preach about combating climate change. Our aim is to reduce the emissions we produce as an organisation by 3% each year and to generate half of our energy from renewables by 2020.
My part to play in this big plan has been to deliver a project to install solar photovoltaic panels on our reserves. I’m also a fundraiser and the extra challenge was to deliver this at no overall cost to the RSPB. As a charity, if we want to do anything we have to raise the money from somewhere to do it.
So almost exactly a year ago we started to assess which of our reserves might be suitable for solar PV on roofs or as new car port canopies. There were lots of things to consider - from physical constraints (you can’t use a car park shaded by trees!), to what we planned to do on the reserve in the next few years (no point in putting PV on a building that’s going to be completely changed in 6 months time), to how big an electrical connection there is (you need to connect to the national grid and some of our sites are pretty remote). Another big consideration was the effect development might have on wildlife – PV panels are pretty low risk as there are no moving parts, and we picked roofs and car parks especially since they have low wildlife value. Even so, some of our reserves like Dungeness are so special that even the car park is really important for bugs!
From over 200 reserves, we put together a suite of about 30 suitable sites. We found an investor who was willing to pay for the work in exchange for the income the systems would generate through the government’s Feed In Tariff (FiT) scheme, and we geared up for delivery by the deadline when the FiT was due to change at the end of March 2012.
A few months into the project, disaster struck – the government announced an early change to the FiT rate, a move that caused a lot of controversy and that killed our plan stone dead. We thought that was it, but thankfully early in 2012 we found a new investor who was willing to support the construction of roof based systems on half a dozen of our reserves at the new FiT rate. Fantastic! Since then, we’ve been working away with Solarcentury and Ethical Power to get everything installed by the end of July when the next set of changes come into effect.
Back to the story... So after 12 months of planning, here I am at Hope Farm about to get my first glimpse of solar panels being installed.
I met Gerry, the guy from Ethical Power who has been managing all the installations and who I’ve spoken to on the phone a lot – great to put a face to a name – and he showed me all the work that was going on. When I arrived the electricians were busy installing the inverters and smart meters that will manage the electricity being produced by the system. The rails that hold the PV panels were already fixed to the roof and the team was busy attaching the shiny blue PV cells, the bit that we all recognise.
So on Monday I went away from Hope Farm with a smile, having seen a piece of the big plan in action – all in all, a pretty good day in the “office”.
Guest Blogger: Jim Densham – Senior Land Use Policy Officer (Climate) at RSPB Scotland.
After 7 years of hard work the kind people at the RSPB allow staff to take a sabbatical. Quite a lot of RSPB staff do bird surveys for their sabbatical but whilst I love nature, I’m only an occasional birdwatcher (when I remember my binoculars). At the same time as I was thinking about what to do on my sabbatical, I had been chatting to a colleague about ‘slow travel’ and was working on how we can do better at telling people about real examples of the impacts of climate change on birds and wildlife – especially impacts we are already seeing on our reserves. So my sabbatical Green Travel to Green Places fuses those two things:
I am doing my journeys in weekly chunks through the summer and I have recently finished the first week, taking day trips from my home in Glasgow. Already I’ve seen quite a few climate related things on my low-carbon journeys.
RSPB Baron’s Haugh reserve – Floods and high water levels have been much more frequent on the Clyde in recent years and this is causing problems for birds at Baron’s Haugh. The wetland is often flooded at winter, but even when I visited in June heavy rain upstream meant water levels were up, the river bank had been eroded and nests had been lost.
RSPB Skinflats reserve and the Inner Forth - Climate change is causing sea levels to rise and is squeezing and eroding the remaining saltmarsh habitat between the tidal river and the sea walls. Without the protective saltmarsh, sea defences need more regular costly maintenance or could be breached leading to a potentially disastrous flooding. At the Skinflats reserve I saw how the RSPB is working to return a field to a saltmarsh habitat by carefully managing water levels and how more of this habitat recreation along the forth could help to prevent future flooding.
RSPB Loch Leven reserve - Managing the water levels on the reserve is increasingly difficult. With climate change projections showing even less summer rainfall in the future the reserve staff are creating new reservoir area to store winter rainfall on the reserve. This will help to keep the wetlands wet through the year.
RSPB Lochwinnoch reserve – It’s well known that we will expect to see bird species moving north with climate change. Although I didn’t see them on my visit, the reserve staff told me that nuthatches have been more frequent here since 2001 and are moving north.
It has been a wonderful experience so far – especially showing that you can get to RSPB reserves without a car. It has also been fascinating to see how our dedicated reserve staff are working to manage the reserves in new ways which will help wildlife to adapt to the impacts brought on by the changing climate.
You can find out more about my travels and future journeys at my blog Green Travel to Green Places http://greentraveltogreenplaces.wordpress.com/ or follow me on twitter @JimDensham
Are you taking the slow travel route this summer? Do share your experiences!
Dominated by the Grangemouth oil refinery and Longannet coal-fired power station, the Inner Forth in Central Scotland might seem like an odd place for a vast area of visionary wildlife conservation. But when the RSPB’s UK climate change team came together on a rainy Scottish morning, the Forth Estuary was teeming with birds. From noisy, piping oystercatchers shooting overhead, to rolling flocks of redshanks, this is an area that’s already rich in wildlife.
Here we are looking fairly soaked.
Jim, smiling at the front, summed up the Scottish approach to weather perfectly when he said it wasn’t as bad as the previous day because it was slightly less heavy rain – I wonder whether Eskimo communities have more words for snow, or Scottish people more words for rain. Anyway, the poor conditions are why this is such a terrible photo.
The RSPB’s Inner Forth Futurescape project plans to improve the prospects and visibility of the wildlife on the estuary. Improving the visibility won’t be hard given both the terrible weather and the decidedly primitive current birdwatching facilities:
The prospects may seem harder to address. Climate change is one of the long-term threats to the estuary and its wildlife. Fossil fuels like the ones processed and burned here on the Forth are locking us in to long-term climate change and its consequences, which for the Forth means sea level rise and a greater likelihood of flooding and coastal erosion.
Without pause in our efforts to slow global warming, the RSPB is tackling this challenge head on and making the most of an opportunity. At our Skinflats nature reserve, we’re trialing a new approach of creating more space for the river at high tide, expanding the existing saltmarsh. Not only could this help ‘soak up’ future flood events better; it is also great for wildlife. We hope in future this can be done on a bigger scale to protect farmland and communities along the estuary. The new saltmarsh habitat is peppered with pools and gravel islands that will soon become ideal habitat for nesting birds like terns and for wintering wading birds. A great place for local people to enjoy the wildlife and natural beauty of a great estuary. And also, perhaps, a place to bring home the need for, and limits to, efforts to adapt to climate change.