I grew up in Bristol and went to Bristol Grammar School where a couple of masters (Derek Lucas and Tony Warren) were instrumental in fueling my interest in birds. I was in the Young Ornithologists' Club.
In the school holidays I practically lived at Chew Valley Lake - a bicycle and a pair of binoculars were all I needed.
My parents liked nice scenery and walks in the countryside and that gave me plenty of opportunities for birding.
I spent a few years when rare birds were very important to me but aside from the very occasional lapse they aren't any more!
I did a Ph.D. on pipistrelle bats but most of my research before joining the RSPB was on bee-eaters in the south of France (nice eh?) and great tits and marsh tits around Oxford. However, the first scientific paper I wote was about the lekking behaviour of great snipe.
I joined the RSPB staff in 1986 as a researcher, became Head of Conservation Science in 1992 and Conservation Director in 1998 - all have been great jobs!
Jonathon Porritt's blog is well worth reading even though he lashed out in several directions in its current incarnation. As a fellow blogger I notice that he writes less often and gets fewer comments than I do (although his current blog is receiving corrections from other NGOs). Perhaps Sooty, trimbush and other regular commenters on this blog might like to give Porritt a comment or two.
But if you do visit that blog you won't find much mention of nature - the blog is hot on politics and opinion but cold on empathy with birds, bees, badgers or brambles - so visitors from this blog to Porritt's might find their way back here quite quickly. Although his coat of arms does have a snake and a couple of lions' heads on it.
And maybe Jonathon's lack of everyday familiarity with the business of saving wildlife leads him to mistakes in his views. He states that FC management of forests is more cost-effective than the RSPB's management but provides no evidence of this. It's quite a difficult comparison to make, and as far as I know it hasn't ever been done. But Jonathon seems to know the answer. Has he actually done any sums or is he guessing? I think he was guessing. He certainly didn't bother to check with us first.
If we were to try to make the comparison (which I think would not be very informative) you would have to allow for different types of forest, of different sizes, in different geographic locations with different aims. Has this been done without me noticing? And we manage wetlands, coasts, heaths, cliffs and woods - all of which have different management costs. But I don't have any argument with Jonathon's thesis that FC management is pretty good - it usually is.
And later in his blog, Jonathon states that FC land of SSSI status is in better nick than the RSPB's. His lack of familiarity with how these figures are put together and what they mean trips him up again. 93.7% of RSPB land of SSSI status is in 'good nick'. Of the 6.3% that isn't in good nick, Defra and NE have agreed that 6.24% is the responsibility of others - such as the Environment Agency for the water quality that arrives on our nature reserves. The other 0.06% is absolutely down to us and if that's not good enough then maybe I should be whipped in the streets! If this all seems a bit complicated, then yes it is. That's why it helps to understand it if you are going to pronounce on it. I only bore you, gentle reader, with this because Jonathon is adamant that we 'tell it as it is' - so, Jonathon - that's how it really is.
But lest Jonathon Porritt's testy blog, or my slightly less testy comments on it, should mislead anyone, we agree over quite a lot. The RSPB is not unhappy with the status quo of state ownership of 'heritage forests' and we would be very happy if these sites remain in state ownership. It wasn't our idea even to suggest that they shouldn't be. And we aren't pressing for them to be handed over to us or the National Trust or Woodland Trust or Wildlife Trusts or anyone else. The RSPB doesn't see itself running the New Forest in the future - wonderful place though it is.
And that's why an article in today's Sunday Telegraph which states that government has decided not to sell off or lease off National Nature Reserves is welcome. To be fair, although this is painted as a turnaround I don't think it had ever been decided that lease-off or sell-off was going to happen, although it always seemed to be in the mix of options, but then our discussions with Natural England and Defra officials were always of the 'no option has been ruled in or out' variety.
There are some similarities between NNRs and FC 'heritage forests' as this blog has pointed out several times. One is that the FC doesn't own all the land it manages and that not all NNRs are state-owned either. In fact, it is a little like the situation with RSPB nature reserves - some we own, some we 'almost own' (but don't) because they are on very long term leases and others we have significant but much shorter leasehold tenure. Land ownership is important but it is the quality of land management that matters to wildlife, and it will be the quality of land management that will also determine people's enjoyment of NNRs and state forests in future too. So we should focus on that as well as the important ownership issue.
A coalition of NGOs has agreed some principles which determine how we feel any change in ownership or management of state-owned or managed land (including NNRs and FC land) should be managed. These may well have influenced the government decision, which we think is a good one, not to sell off or lease off those NNRs in public ownership - or maybe they didn't - it's always difficult to know. And Caroline Spelman is quoted in the Sunday Telegraph as saying "We look forward to continuing to work closely with our NGOs, to tap into their expertise to make sure our National Nature Reserves are looked after in the best possible way." and that is welcome.
How about this for an idea? Retain heritage forests and state-owned NNRs in public ownership. Merge Natural England and the FC into a Forest and Wildlife Service that ensures the best management of these sites in perpetuity. That management may, or may not, involve a bigger Big Society role for NGOs such as ourselves - our mind is open on this subject. But such a move will quell public anxiety, protect the public value of that land and perhaps deliver some savings that government seeks and all with a touch of Big Society. It's not an idea that we have promoted to the Government, as yet. But what does Jonathon Porritt think of that? And, more importantly to me, what do you think?
That's enough for now - time to go out for a walk and see some wildlife. And I never got on to SS - later!
What the 38 degrees petition and all of the protest that has been going on does show is that people care about the natural environment and thats a good thing. It also shows the power of socila media to get lots of people to click a button to say that they agree with a cause, what it doesn't necessarily show is that the online activity will translate into further action, although I hope it does, perhaps but supporting one of the organisations that JP mentions in his blog [especially the RSPB].
Whilst none of us can know for sure the effect that the established conservation and environmental NGO's have had with their lobbying of government, neither can we know for sure what exactly has been the effect on government of the mass protests provoked by the suggestion that they might be about to sell off the nation's forests. But I suspect that the latter will help the former by making politicians more sensitised to the situation they find themselves in, more willing to listen to different but well thought through opinions and perhaps less likely to pursue ideas [such as the sell off of NNR's] than they might otherwise have been.
As former US President Truman once said "It is amazing what you can accomplish if you don't mind who gets the credit" a statement that perhaps we all and perhaps on this occasion in particular JP could do with remembering.
No chance of me going on J P blog as I think he goes off beam too often and think he is a self publicist or something like that.Think that must show I am not a fan.
I am totally delighted that the NNR Sell Off has been stopped it risked devolving managerial expertise and the clear exercise of our international duties. In budget terms as with FC are an irrelevance before the giant budgets of pensions, NHS, housing benefit, the military etc
Re FC and NE lands merger and I think I suggested that point a little while back; Yes I do completely agree. I think its a very good idea both in human expertise terms and the integrity of the natural resource.
JimDixon - indeed - but worth thinking about all the options I think.
Bob Philpott - many of those habitats could end up with a Forest and Wildlife Service. The definition of 'heritage' forest is important here.
Mark, That is a good idea. Partly. That will protect the heritage forests and NNRs. But - where do the planted ancient woodlands, the heathlands and other areas end up. Do we forget about them.
In my area there are several FC wwoodlands defined in this paper as small commercial woodlands. Each has a small rough car park and very active with walkers. Good places for Lesser Spotted Woodpecker if you are lucky. Evening brings out the 3 species of deer, the odd woodcock and I keep trying for nightjar (without success). Small parts are flailed for butterfly. These will still go and I suspect sooner rather later because these are probably uncommercial for FC because of the size.
Interesting idea about a merger of the FC and NE land management roles. I assume this is what you mean or do you mean a full merger? However, the analysis will only work in the current era if it's clear how local institutions, local people and local wildlife NGOs will be involved. Jim