You will find out about all the exciting stuff going on with the RSPB in the east of the UK. We cover our sites in the following counties: Norfolk, Suffolk, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, and some of our great Lincolnshire ones. So if you are if you have never heard of the Strumpshaws and Snettishams or Stour Estuary or Sutton Fens here is you chance.
The Thames Estuary is an incredible place for wildlife and it has some of the rarest bugs and beasties in the UK aswell as being one of the most important migration routes in the country for hundreds of thousands of birds. It is a highly developed area with some great examples of sustainable development such as DP World’s London Gateway port development. Sadly, there are also plenty of potential threats to the wildlife of this unique and special place. The Thames Estuary Airport and the Lower Thames Crossing are two high impact developments that we are currently looking at as part of our casework.
I have to admit though, that working within the planning system can sometimes feel a bit like you’re stuck in Groundhog Day.
This is the experience I have had recently with the proposed Lower Thames Crossing. It is a new crossing which would be east of the existing Dartford Crossing and the Government believes it is the only long-term solution to the well known congestion problems there. We believe that if it is considered properly it can provide a solution to the congestion, be economic and have minimal impact to wildlife. A win – win!
The crossing has been on the cards for at least the last 5 years and has been fully investigated with various options (there were originally 5 options A – E) slowly being ruled out. Options D & E were eliminated by the government because research indicated they would only make a minimal improvement to congestion at the existing crossing, they would be incredibly expensive and they would have a serious environmental impact. It made sense to everyone.
However, over the last month various MP’s have again raised the issue of options D & E and asked for David Cameron to reconsider them. In light of the overwhelming evidence, that these options would not provide an effective solution, would be hugely damaging to some of the most important habitats along the Thames and would be vastly more expensive than the other options, this seems bizarre. Groundhog Day rears it’s ugly head once more!
Both these options have been estimated to cost between £3.5 and £10.5 billion in stark contrast to option A which is only estimated at £1.25 to £1.57 billion and they would have a disastrous effect on important wildlife sites along the Thames, including the RSPB’s newly created wetland site Bowers Marsh. They would completely destroy some of the Thames greatest homes for nature.
These special places are some of the few remaining unspoilt natural habitats along the Thames and the mudflats and saltmarshes provide crucial food and resting areas for thousands of wintering geese, ducks and waders.
The RSPB is trying to work within the planning system to achieve sustainable development. In the context of the Lower Thames Crossing this means that if the government decides a crossing is necessary it should effectively tackle congestion problems and be built and designed in a way that causes least harm to the environment and contributes to the economy. Only by considering planning in this way will we achieve a sustainable future for ourselves and the wildlife that we depend on.
We need your help to remind MP’s that the Thames is a special place and it is important to wildlife and people. Together, we can fight to see that the Thames remains an incredible home for some of the world’s most amazing creatures. If you have a Twitter account we are asking you to mention @RSPBEssex and tweet your local MP telling them how you feel about development in the Thames.
Alex Cooper – RSPB Conservation Officer for Essex
Blogger: Jo Sampson, Project Manager
Calling all visitors and residents of North Kent, South Essex and London; The Big Picture – Greater Thames Photography Competition is open for entries! With a break in the weather and a wealth of winter waders out on the marshes, what better time to get out and enjoy your local green space? – here to tell you more about it is Stef Lawrence:
The competition is open to anyone and everyone, from 8 year olds to 80 year olds, from avid photographers to those of you who have captured a great moment on your smart phone! We want to see what nature in the Greater Thames means to you.
Picture: Evie and Annabel at RSPB Northward Hill enjoying the sunshine and taking photos to enter into the Young Photographer category – Good luck girls! Photo by Jodie Randall
Alongside the chance to win some fantastic prizes and a print of your photograph, finalists will be invited to join us and our expert judges aboard the historic Light Vessel 21 for an awards ceremony like no other. Following the ceremony in May, selected photos will be part of The Big Picture – The Exhibition which will be displayed at locations all over the Greater Thames!
Sunday saw the launch of the competition, with the first of our photography workshops taking place at RSPB Northward Hill - and what a stunning day it was!
With blue skies all around, looking out over the reserve from the viewpoints was breath taking. The recent floods have provided perfect conditions for our ducks, with thousands of wigeon enjoying the soggy marshland. Looking over the Thames towards South Essex, marsh harriers patrolled the landscape and lapwings were strung across the skyline. Nature photographer, Jodie Randall, was on hand to offer her top tips, while Roger Kiddie and his bird ringing team treated visitors to some fantastic photo opportunities. As well as learning all about the crucial scientific data the team gather when ringing the birds, visitors also had the opportunity to get “hands-on” with nature and help to release the birds back onto the reserve.
Picture: Visitors (young and old!) lend a hand and learn about the science behind bird ringing - Photo by Jodie Randall
Deadline for entries to The Big Picture is midnight on 22nd April – so you still have plenty of time to get out and capture that perfect shot!
If you would like a chance to explore an iconic hotspot for nature in the Thames or would like some expert help with your entry, why not join us at RSPB Rainham Marshes at 1pm this Sunday 23rd February. We’ll be taking a casual stroll around the reserve with one of Rainham’s expert guides and wildlife photographer James Porter will be joining us to offer advice. Prices are as follows:
RSPB member - £4.00Wildlife Explorers member: £1.50Adult non-member - £5.00Child non-member - £2.00
For more details on guided walks or how to enter the competition, look out for a link to the competition web page which will be available soon at www.rspb.org.uk/greaterthames or email email@example.com.
Blogger: Dr Rebecca Laidlaw
Last year Dr Jen Smart wrote a guest blog for Martin Harper called “Where have all the waders gone and how are we going to get them back?” In that blog, she identified some key things that will be important if our vision of landscapes with thriving wader populations, such as lapwing and redshank, are to be realised.
Wetland, Mike Norton
Wouldn’t it be great if we had the time and money to do everything we could to benefit waders everywhere? But the reality is that time and money are scarce, so lots of effort has gone into places where breeding waders still occur, and that just happens to be nature reserves. Now we definitely need to manage those reserves to the best of our ability so they produce a surplus of young waders. But, there would be little point in reserves being wader factories if the surplus didn’t have anywhere to go. Providing great wader habitat on farmland between and around nature reserves is a sensible strategy if we want to fill wetland landscapes with waders again.
This sounds like we have this whole problem worked out, doesn’t it? But it’s complicated because our research tells us that waders are also limited by predation. The focus of our current research is to understand whether the way we manage wet grassland landscapes has any influence on wader predation. When we look at this over a large number of years and at the scale of a nature reserve, we find that lapwing nests that have lots of neighbours, in wet areas that are close to patches of tall vegetation are more successful. We think this is because more neighbours equals more eyes and better defence, water may make it difficult for land predators to move around and that patches of tall vegetation provide alternative food for the predators in the form of small mammals. But, maybe we are still thinking too small in terms of scale, after all generalist predators like foxes move over very large areas. Also, there could easily be differences between nature reserves and farmland in the way that predators affect waders, there are far fewer waders, the grasslands are drier or the other food available to predators may differ. So we are scaling up our research to consider these processes across whole landscapes, but to do this our most important partners are farmers.
Lapwing, Kevin Simmonds
Across the Broads, RSPB and UEA with assistance from Natural England, are working with forty farmers and other grassland managers in an ambitious research project to understand whether the way these farmers are managing their wet grasslands for waders has any influence on how successful those waders are. This project started in 2013 and is funded for two years by Defra.
Last week I found myself in a village hall in the Norfolk Broads with a great bunch of farmers, land agents and conservation managers discussing our research work and landscape management for breeding waders. The event was really just a way of saying thank-you to everyone involved so far and a great opportunity to gain feedback about last years research and to talk about plans for the coming breeding season.
We also heard about a great initiative called Broads Land Management Services, where RSPB staff use their specialist knowledge and equipment to help farmers in the Broads deliver the right sort of management for breeding waders. How do farmers fund this sort of management? Fortunately, agri-environment schemes such as Higher Level Stewardship provide the financial support for exactly the sort of special management measures that waders need.
While it was good for us to be able to describe our research work face-to-face, the highlight for me was when we opened up the discussion. It quickly became clear that while individuals will be able to do their bit for breeding waders, thriving wader landscapes will only be possible with co-operation between different landowners, often with different priorities. Days like this give me real hope that by working together and talking to one another we can highlight any practical issues we might face when it comes to implementing our research findings. Hopefully this means that breeding waders will be able to benefit from our research – and soon!