Blogger: Erica Howe, Communications Manager
We reported on some rather shocking news this week. The hen harrier is the bird most likely to become extinct in England because of human pressure. I’ve only ever seen a hen harrier once; on a visit to RSPB Titchwell Marsh last Christmas. As I stood on the path i was freezing with the bitter wind blowing through my rather unsuitable, not-very-winterproof-coat! My eyes were watery with the cold and i was trying desperately to ignore the darkness that was starting to fall upon me. I spent ages scouring over the reedbeds for barn owls, stubbornly trying to catch a glimpse of my favourite bird. From the distance a pale, slow figure appeared from behind the silhouted trees. As it glided over the reedbeds trying to get some much-needed food before settling for the night, I realised that this was no barn owl. For no more than five minutes, I was privaledged enough to stand and watch a hen harrier. For those five minutes, the cold evaporated and the wind held its breath. It was a priceless experience.
Now, when i think back to that day at Titchwell, it puts my experience into a whole new light. The chances are, I won’t see another hen harrier in England. Certainly not in such unexpected circumstances. When i think about the significance of that cold afternoon it makes me so very sad. Wildlife numbers will fluctuate; we live in a fast-changing world and ups and downs will be a way of life. But, to drive a species to extinction is unforgivable.
Bird crime is mindless criminality, plain and simple. However, It will be a very real contribution to the demise of such a stunning creature. The hen harrier is just one species struggling for survival in a time when we are supposed to be putting our faith in the ‘greenest government ever’. Quite frankly, they are failing miserably. If the hen harrier disappears from England, we will witness the government breaking its recent commitment to avoid any human-induced extinctions before 2020.
Well George Osbourne should certainly be pleased with himself. In a season of goodwill and peace on earth, he has left a huge black cloud over the future of our environment. His recent attack on the habitat regulations was disappointing to say the least. It certainly won’t do birds like the hen harrier any favours.
I never thought that our environment and the wildlife that lives in it could change so dramatically in my lifetime. There will be birds that my grandchildren may never get to see. There will be habitats that are forever lost to development that my grandchildren may never get to walk amongst. Yes, it makes me very sad, but it also fills me with confidence to think that there is still something we can do about it. Visit www.rspb.org.uk to find out how.
Article in EDP on Saturday 17 December.
Photo by Andy Hay (rspb images)
A Week in the life of a media heart!
Erica Howe - Communications Manager
What a week! It has been busy, emotional, hectic, funny, scary, and all in the last five days.
Monday morning was the calm before the storm, but a really inspiring start to the week. Together with the Broads Authority, The RSPB is looking to the future to plan how we can manage landscape scale conservation in this valuable area. This is really exciting for the RSPB and it means that we can talk to a whole host more people about the health and wealth of the Broads. The Broads is right on my doorstep and somewhere I love to go on a day off. Whether you go for a stroll around the Strumpshaw Fen reserve to clear your head or you want to go in search of otters, playfully gliding along the water’s edge, you won’t be disappointed with the abundance of wildlife there. Working together with more people and organisations will mean big things for the Broads. It is exciting times!
On Tuesday I travelled to our HQ, The Lodge to have a meeting with some colleagues. Going to The Lodge is always lovely, bumping into friendly faces in the corridor and hearing updates from all areas of the RSPB. I can’t discuss a trip to The Lodge without telling you about the canteen!! It’s the heart of the place and always buzzing with conversation, full tummies and passionate debate about something conservation related. As we indulged in a hot lunch, colleagues across all areas of the RSPB will come over and say hi. I sing the praises of the RSPB a lot; the protection of species, the habitat work, the scientific research, the volunteer troops, but equally, it makes me very proud to say that I work for the RSPB simply because of the people I work with. It might just be the festive spirit, but we’re certainly a happy bunch.
The role of a communications manager involves a lot of random comings and goings and often early starts for media interviews and the like. Wednesday was no exception. As my alarm went off at 5.30 and I rushed to Norwich station to get my 7.00am train to London. As I did, I thought of everyone else, warmly tucked up in their beds. How wrong was I? The train to London was jam packed and it would seem that there are actually quite a few early risers in Norfolk! I was taking a trip to London to meet Crossrail in their offices, at Canary Wharf no less. Having to hand over your passport for a meeting was a tad daunting, but after we took the lift to the 38th floor and sat down in the meeting room with a cuppa, all seemed to be going well. That was until I turned round and saw the view! Being sat 38 floors up in the centre of London isn’t a problem, but when the meeting room has clear glass walls on the edge of the building, the meeting took a whole new path. I suddenly got a bit ‘height sick’. Every time I glanced out of the corner of my eye I could see London, a long way down, looking like a toy village. Beyond the immediate view straight down, was the o2 arena, the Thames winding its way round the city, the BT tower in the distance and many other landmarks. Just as i popped out of the meeting to get another cup of tea, I missed the highlight of everyone's day - two peregrine falcons swopping past the window! I will be honest, I was petrified! The meeting itself however was not in the least bit scary and we had a wonderful day discussing the RSPB’s Wallasea Island project.
Soon enough, I was back on the train heading to Norwich, getting myself ready for another ‘day at the office’. No sooner had I walked in on Thursday than I was rushing out again. BBC Look East wanted to film the new Island Mere Hide at Minsmere Nature Reserve for their tea time news slot. I was in the car and driving to Minsmere before you could say, ‘save me a mince pie’.
This is the first time I had actually seen the new Island Mere Hide, and what a surprise! It is stunning. A beautiful building set in one of the most stunning locations in the whole region. The sun was setting and the reeds were twinkling with the fading light. BBC Look East were delighted with their footage and as it gradually got dark, we retreated back into our cars and got on our way. It’s an odd experience doing a TV interview. It’s a lot of fun, but it’s never quite as glamorous as it’s made out to be. For two hours we stood, freezing waiting to get just the right shots. When it came on the TV that evening, it was a lovely to look at the fruits of our labour! The Island Mere Hide will be a fantastic place for families, nature lovers and birdwatchers to experience all things wildlife from otters, to butterflies, birds, to beasts!
And finally, Friday is upon us. Phew. It has been a pretty full-on week, but i wouldn’t have it any other way. We’ve thanked our fabulous Communications Team volunteer, Janet today because sadly, we won’t see her again until the New Year. We’ve also been having lots of giggles with funny Christmas Hats for an RSPB montage photo – all in the name of conservation of course! I will let you into a little secret too, today i have indulged in some Christmas treats simply because it’s Friday and we’ve made it through the week! Here’s to a calm and relaxing weekend ....
Blogger: Sarah Green, Project Coordinator - Natura People Partnership Project
‘Yes!’ I hear you cry. Well that’s to be expected as you’re reading this blog. Lots of people appreciate the chance to get outdoors, experience the fresh air, discover some interesting wildlife and generally get involved with the natural world. I got to do this recently and I wanted to share my experiences with you all.
Having worked for the RSPB for a year now, I consider myself very lucky to be able to get the chance to visit and work from some of our fabulous reserves. On Tuesday I had the opportunity to work at our Minsmere office. Now, even though my usual Norwich office is lovely, with a garden that’s great to sit in (in the summer at least!), getting out to Minsmere is always a thrill. This particular visit was made even more special as I persuaded our Livestock Manager and Reserve Assistant to take me to visit the Koniks (thanks Andy and Paul!).
You can’t see it in this shot, but they’ve got a lovely dark stripe going from their neck to their tail.
It’s a rare privilege to get up close with these wonderful animals. Although they are technically wild and don’t get much human interaction, they are also incredibly friendly and not particularly shy. One particular fella got so interested he decided my jacket might make a tasty snack (hint: this is not a recommended equine food source!). Despite the bitter wind and the cold fingers we managed to round up the small herd and scan their microchips, checking that all were well.
On the journey back to Norwich I got to think about the other inspiring creatures I’ve seen.
In April I visited Zwin in Belgium, and, being relatively new to the birding world, I was delighted with the amount of storks on the site (it was later explained to me that these were captive stock). I remember being particularly entranced by their nests – never before had I realised that these nests could get several feet deep, with other birds nesting in them too.
In November I visited Parc du Marquenterre in Northern France and espied my first kingfisher. Excited doesn’t begin to cover it, I was still grinning the next day! The bird stayed put for a few minutes, allowing me to see it diving into the water and returning to the branch several times. Never had I realised the blue was so bright.
So, why did I get to visit these places? Well, I work for a project called Natura People. Provincie West-Vlaanderen in Belgium (working at the Zwin park), Provincie Zeeland (working at Waterdunen) and Natuur –en Recreatieschap de Grevelingen in the Netherlands and RSPB Minsmere are working together to save nature, or as the project brief puts it, “ensuring the long term protection of the natural environment”.
This project is made possible through Interreg funding, specifically the 2 Seas programme. This is a pot of money set up to encourage cross-border working. Since wildlife doesn’t respect human geographical boundaries it is crucial for conservation organisations to work together to achieve our shared goals. The four project partners are working together to improve our visitor facilities and develop the economic case for investing in nature reserves. The more people we get interested in the environment, the more people will value it, and the more species will be saved.
Who can argue with that?
Find out about the 2 Seas programme here. To read more about the Natura People project and Minsmere, visit the reserve’s own blog and view the Interreg tagged posts.
Blogger: Aggie Rothon, Communications Officer
I remember picking up our Christmas turkey one year. I was only small, but I can still recall the slow drive up a rain sodden path following signs for ‘Norfolk Black turkeys.’ A few sheep grazed in the fields to the left, bundled up in their thick winter fleeces. Fluffy-footed chickens padded around pecking at stray pieces of straw avoiding the low-lying sheepdog in the farmhouse porch.
Some would say that the turkeys met a rather grim end, reared for Christmas. But I wouldn’t have wished a better life for a turkey that was destined for the table. The woodland and pastures of the farm providing year round foraging, with straw beds in airy barns for when the nights drew in.
With only a small number of mouths to feed this Christmas, I’m on the hunt for the best possible (slightly smaller!) alternative than a Christmas turkey. For me, the best has to be meat reared in a natural way, grazing outdoors, in what’s called an extensive system. Not only does this seem to produce better tasting, happier meat, but this way of keeping livestock can reap huge rewards for wildlife.
To see this in action I visited the RSPB Ouse Washes Nature Reserve. Long ditches fence in acres of grazing, dotted with the white and caramel colours of cattle. It looked like they had room to spare and that’s because they did; these animals graze at half the density of intensively reared cattle. Over the expanses of flood plain that they roam, they find not only grasses but plants such as yarrow, parsley and buttercup. The cattle’s selective grazing over this mix of vegetation produces what is called a ‘mosaic sward’, the lumps and bumps, tufts and short patches that create the Washes rough grassland.
This varied grassland means the Ouse Washes cattle eat a mixed and natural diet. In the process however, they also create perfect habitat for ground nesting birds such as lapwings, redshank and snipe. In springtime the reserve is alive with the nasal, bubbling call of lapwing and the bounding and downward flutter of skylark defending their nests. Redshank alight on fence posts like children in the first flush of adolescence with their ungainly stick like legs, long beaks and reaching neck.
If I buy beef from the Ouse Washes, I will know as we all sit down to Christmas dinner that I have ‘bought in to’ the conservation of wildlife. My custom will support a process where I know where my food has come from, the good life it has lived and in turn what it has created to support further life.
Want to know more? Go to www.riversidebeef.co.uk
As featured in the EDP, Saturday 10 December
Blogger: Rachael Murray, Media Officer
Suffolk Police, and RSPB in the East are appealing for information after a barn owl was found shot at a nature reserve in Suffolk. Derek Turner, from Saxmundham, found the bird on Tuesday 23rd November whilst walking his dog at nearby RSPB nature reserve, Snape Warren.
The barn owl survived the incident, and is currently in a local bird rehabilitation centre. It is hoped that the bird will be released back onto the nature reserve later this month when it has fully recovered.
Derek explains: “As I approached the owl, I could see that it was badly hurt. It was obvious that it had a damaged wing, but it was only when we got it to the vet that we were given the shocking news that it had been shot. “I accompanied RSPB staff with the owl to the vets and have been to visit it in the rehabilitation centre now too. Thankfully, it is doing really well, and I hope to be able to join the RSPB when they release it back onto the reserve.”
It is believed that the act was a malicious attempt to cause harm to the bird, and both local police and the RSPB are keen to find out more about the incident.
RSPB Investigations Officer Guy Shorrock said: “It’s shocking that anyone would want to shoot such a beautiful and harmless bird as a barn owl. Many people get a huge amount of delight from seeing this ghostly apparition floating over the Suffolk countryside at dusk as it hunts voles and mice in the fields and hedgerows. We appeal to anyone with any information about this wicked act to contact Suffolk Police immediately”
PC Mark Bryant, Wildlife Crime Officer with Suffolk Police, added: "We are investigating this incident and are asking anyone who may have seen someone shooting on this RSPB reserve site to come forward."
All birds of prey and owls are fully protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. A person convicted of killing one of these birds could be fined up to £5000 and /or six months in jail.
If members of the public have information about this crime they can call the RSPB on 0845 466 3636. All information will be handled in strictest confidence.
Photo credit: John Bridges