Bugs, Birds and Beasts in the East

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You might be surprised to read that our work is far broader than nature reserves and Big Garden Birdwatch. Read more about what else we do.

Bugs, Birds and Beasts in the East

All of our up to date fun and frolics in the East from office antics to great conservation stories and those magical connections with nature.
  • Tracking Montagu's harriers journey from East Anglia to Africa once again

    Monitoring Montagu's harriers 

    Written by Emma Tovell

    Following in the footsteps of the satellite tracking of three Montagu’s harriers Mo, Madge and Mark in 2014, the project  to monitor the movements of the UK’s rarest breeding bird of prey is once again underway in East Anglia. The project is led by Dutch researchers from the “Montagu’s Harrier Foundation” alongside conservationists from the RSPB, and aims to learn more about this summer visitor and the incredible journey this beautiful bird takes every year back to Africa for winter.

    Mark, the first UK Montagu's harrier to be fitted with a satellite tracker, delighted everyone back in April by returning to his breeding grounds very close to where he was originally tagged. He has since been spotted displaying with a female and it is hoped he will have successfully bred this year, in contrast to last year when he spent the summer as a helper at several Monty's nests after being unsuccessful in fathering his own chicks. 

    Mark, the first Montagu's harrier to be tagged in the UK, preparing for flight after being fitted with his new tracking backpack in 2014. Credit: RSPB

    Mark, photographed here in 2014 shortly before release, has made his way back to the UK this year. Credit: RSPB

    East Anglia is the place to be

    East Anglia is an extremely important breeding ground for this striking migratory bird, known to bird watchers affectionately as “Monty’s”, with three of just seven UK nesting attempts being recorded in East Anglia in 2014, largely on lowland farmland rather than marshes - Lucky as nests on farmland produce more chicks for this specially protected bird!

    UK breeding populations of Montagu’s harrier have been in sharp decline since the 1970’s, meaning the opportunity to monitor this incredibly rare UK breeding species using lightweight, lifelong satellite trackers is welcomed by conservationists and wildlife ecologists alike.

    Mark being released in 2014 after satellite tagging. Credit: RSPB

    Mark Thomas, who leads on Montagu’s harrier conservation work for the RSPB, said: “This is an exciting and important application of satellite tracking technology that will help us to monitor their movements and locate their feeding areas to understand more about these harriers’ not just here in the UK, but in their wintering grounds in Africa and on their migratory journey in between.”

    This year's stars

    The three birds fitted with tracking backpacks in East Anglia this year include one male and two females which have been named Roger, Rowan and Rose. Roger is striking in appearance with piercing eyes and plain grey plumage contrasted with black wingtips and white underside characteristic of male Montagu’s harriers, whilst the females sport mottled brown feathers, a white rump and speckled eyes. 

    Jim and Raymond release Rose after fitting her with a lightweight tracking device. Credit: RSPB

    A close up of Rowan. Credit: RSPB

    It has recently been discovered that Roger, named after the late Montagu’s harrier expert Roger Clarke, is actually supporting three different females with chicks! Whilst the two females Rowan and Rose continue to hunt increasingly further from their nest sites, in order to find food for their hungry fledglings as they prepare for autumn migration. 

    Ben displays Rogers impressive plumage and pointed wings. Credit: RSPB

    Keep up to date with the journey of these elegant birds of prey

    Follow Rowan, Rose and Roger on their incredible journey from the end of summer as they leave for autumn migration, and hopefully many more journeys in years to come, via a satellite tracking map on the RSPB website.

    Keep up-to-date with the latest from our Montagu’s harriers by following us on Twitter @UKmontagus

    Get involved: report your Monty's sightings

    A hotline opened by the RSPB earlier this summer for members of the public to report sightings of the striking, rare bird. “We’ve had dozens of reported sightings over the summer,” said Mark Thomas, “and one of them even lead to the discovery of a previously unknown pair, which is brilliant and shows what a valuable tool it is”. The hotline remains open and any sightings can be reported to 01767 693398 or emailed to wildlife@rspb.org.uk.

    The striking birds of prey make there way back into the wild in 2014. Credit: RSPB

  • The true value of nature

    Guest blog from Dr Rob Field & Dr Richard Bradbury RSPB Conservation Scientists

    How do you put a value on a nature reserve like Wicken Fen?

    Man — despite his artistic pretensions, his sophistication, and his many accomplishments — owes his existence to a six inch layer of topsoil and the fact that it rains. ~ Anon.

    The natural world has always provided for us, and throughout history we have valued that, but perhaps not monetarily.

    Is it possible to put monetary values on some of the benefits conferred by nature?  It’s much easier to put values on some things than others.

    As the proverb says, two of the chief benefits we get from nature are food and water, but we value one easily with money and the other less so.

    Cultural benefits of nature are difficult put a value on

    Flood control, water quality, regulation of climate and spiritual values are all examples of other benefits we get from nature, either directly or indirectly, but which are often not fully appreciated or accounted for within current economic models.

    Yet a reduction or loss of these “ecosystem services” can have severe economic, social and environmental impacts. But, because they are not easy to value, they lose out to the more easily quantified services in many assessments of the value of particular land-uses to a community.

    New Study puts a value on Wicken Fen nature reserve

    To help put a value on ecosystem services such as the cultural benefits we get from nature  a group of experts (including the RSPB, the University of Cambridge, Anglia Ruskin Universities and Birdlife International) have developed a Toolkit for Ecosystem Service Site-based Assessment (TESSA) –  a set of methods that allow non-experts to make reasonable, scientifically credible estimates of some of the key ecosystem services a place may offer.  

    Marsh harrier. Photograph by Chris Gomersall (rspb-images.com)

    The study “Benefits and costs of ecological restoration: Rapid assessment of changing ecosystem service values at a UK wetland”, published this week, in Ecology and Evolution journal used the toolkit to value the ecosystem services offered by  a large area of restored wetland adjacent to National Trust, Wicken Fen NNR in Cambridgeshire.

    The study shows that compared with its former use as intensively farmed arable land, restored wetland can offer many valuable resources to people, of more than equal value to the ‘lost’ agricultural production and in addition to safeguarding the spectacular wildlife the reserve itself hosts.

    Wicken Fen nature reserve. Photograph by Paul Tuli

    The restored wetland can reduce flood damage and carbon emissions to the atmosphere and increase recreational use and the availability of grazing land.

    In 2011, each hectare of restored wetland was worth around US$200 more than if it had remained in arable cultivation, without taking farming subsidies into account, a cost to society.

    Whilst we cannot survive without the food that arable land produces, there is still an awful lot of it available (even locally – The Wicken vision area is 5,300 hectares of around 230,000 hectares of arable land in Cambridgeshire – that’s about 2%) and farmers are pretty good at getting a lot of food from each of those hectares. This study demonstrates that whilst food is more important than its monetary benefit alone, so are some of the other things that land gives us that are not so obviously valued.

    When tillage begins, other arts follow. The farmers, therefore, are the founders of human civilization. ~Daniel Webster, US Politician and Lawyer (1782-1852), Remarks on Agriculture

    Using the toolkit more widely

    TESSA has so far been used by conservation practitioners at more than 20 sites of conservation interest across five continents. The methods are applicable to a wide range of users, including natural resource managers, land-use planners, development organisations and the private sector. Find out more about the Toolkit for Ecosystem Service Site-based Assessment (TESSA)

  • For the love of plants (this Bank Holiday) #OperationWildTimes

    Blogger: Adam Murray, Communications Officer


    Well we have come full circle, my name is Adam and I love plants and gardening. I dismissed plants outright when I chose Zoology over Biology (including botany) for my undergraduate degree. My shoulders sank and I huffed at the thought of doing chores in the garden as a kid. Now look at me, #OperationWildTimes is up and running and you and I are now in a world of “plantification”. So you can imagine my disappointment, head-hitting-hands moment when I went to Geoffrey’s place with my 3 ½ year old and came across this.


    Are they saying spend money on more plastic and pretend to do gardening – “just like home”? Surely it is better to kick open the back door at home and do the real thing outside, it is cheaper and better for the children too, the sort of things long lasting childhood memories are made of. Haven’t they seen that gardening is now the coolest thing to do especially for the teenagers aged 16-18s and Under 35s. Well OK not necessarily cool but really rewarding, calming, and you can give you and yours a little oasis. Then you can go all Noah on the wildlife and build a place where they can call home too.


    Every evening since our garden has been done (save a few tweaks like wobbly paving slabs, decking and hammock post) Mrs. M loses me to my thoughts and the wildlife buzzing around me in the garden. I can’t tell you how relaxing it is. So now that I have caught the bug (and on a mission to ban all plastic versions of reality) I have been released like a captive born gardening beast out into the big wild world, eager to learn and see other creations.


    My first stop this week was the Exotic Garden, on Thorpe Rd in Norwich. As I had walked passed it for the last 3 ½ years on the way to work I had been meaning to go for a while but now the bug-bitten Murray made it happen. I was blown away by this surprising small plot of land that had managed, with clever winding paths and vistas around every corner, to create a magical wonderland. With magnificent monumental cannas and cacti and cascading sedums and house leeks, I was in plant heaven. The butterflies and bumblebees were going mad for it too. Just think, their garden is only 5 minutes walk away from my house and with the same micro-climate and south facing aspect – maybe we will have our very own wonderland in the future.


    Next up on my visits of inspiration was to our good friends at the RSPB Flatford Wildlife Garden in John Constable country. A pleasant old fashioned train journey to Manningtree from Norwich ended and we were met by the smiley face of Mark who whisked us off to the garden. There I soaked up the atmosphere, the young families on holiday frolicking around the garden following the treasure trail while the more sedate visitors sat and enjoyed their ice creams, watching nature pass them by. If you look closely you can find similarities between the more exotic gardens. The orchid like flowers of the country garden sweet peas, the tall standing teasels and thistley pom-poms of the echinops and the rambling ground sedums – in my minds eye close counterparts to their blousy tropical cousins. Not only do the architecture of these plants inspire in the garden but I love going there to pick up some plants to bring back home and learn some top tips too. Here are a few of those gems.


    My name is Adam and I love plants and gardening. Your mission should you choose to accept is to join our band of merry wannabe green-fingered folk and get out there this bank holiday and get dirty, it’s is good for the soul.


    Take a look below at the attached file from my interview with Mike the gardener about his thoughts on the power of getting outside and your hands dirty.