It's been great! Thanks for everything.
And if you want to keep in touch with Mark Avery in the future then visit markavery.info
Did I mention the book of the blog?
I hope you've enjoyed reading this blog over almost 2 years - over 700 blogs have been posted. Does anyone claim to have read them all? I doubt it.
I've enjoyed writing here enormously - sometimes it has been a bit tricky to fit in with the rest of my work and the rest of my life but it has been great.
And being the RSPB's Conservation Director has been fantastic - it's a great job in a great organisation. As I said on the Today programme on Monday - everyone should be an RSPB member!
My successor, Martin Harper, will be picking up the blog reins as well as everything else - I think he's very brave, as I had 10 years of the job under my belt before I started this blogging lark. Good luck Martin - I'm sure you'll be great at the blogging and at everything else too.
And trimbush, Jockeyshield, Sooty, mirlo, lazywell, nightjar, redkite, Stackyardgreen, Bob Philpott, miles, Gert Corfield and others - be nice please! I wonder why I put you all in that order?
And a bit later today there will be a last blog which tells you how to keep in touch - if you want to.
The most common subject on this blog has been farming and the decline of farmland birds (and there are lots of extracts in the book of the blog).
Be in no doubt - many farmland birds have declined and they symbolise and stand for the declines in plants and insects in our farmland.
I say 'our' farmland because we British, maybe particularly we English, feel a great affinity for the countryside - it's in our literature, poetry and psyche. So although we don't own it, we feel close to it.
And although we don't own the countryside, we are pouring large amounts of our money into it in the form of grants (to carry out wildlife-friendly farming) and income support (money for being a farmer) for farmers. So I've always thought that the 'leaders' of the farming community could be just a little more grateful and eager to please the rest of us.
Farmers - they're a funny bunch. Some are lovely, some you just want to throttle - much the same as conservationists, politicians, school teachers, plumbers or any other large group of people. I can almost honestly say that some of my best friends are farmers and none of my worst enemies. Some farmers are doing loads and loads of stuff for wildlife and others are doing precious little. That's hardly surprising really.
What the RSPB has achieved at Hope Farm is an indication of what the countryside could be like and still be highly productive in food terms and yet be much more productive in wildlife terms. It's not the RSPB's job to talk to every farmer in the country and try to persuade them to 'do a Hope Farm' or at least something similar - and maybe even something better (I'm sure we don't know all the answers). No, it's not our job to do that and yet we are pouring large amounts of RSPB members' hard-earned money into doing just that. Where farmers are keen to step up for nature then the RSPB will step up to help them, if we can. We've increased the scale of this work enormously whilst I've been Conservation Director (nothing anti-farmer here, you see).
However, it will take more resources than we have, and more time than nature has, to fix everything this way. As well as that advisory work we need government to make it easier for farmers to do the very best things and more difficult to do things that don't add up to much wildlife benefit. That is a Big Government job - it's 'Big Money' and it ought to provide 'Bigger Wildlife Outputs'.
And so, what Defra needs to do is to adjust the details of the Entry Level Scheme so that it is just a little bit more testing for farmers (not very much at all - we aren't talking thumbscrews here) and a lot more productive for wildlife. Simple ask - if the Defra Ministers are reading this blog (and I'm sure that they will have this pointed out to them) - that's what I'd like as a leaving present please. But it's not for me - it's for wildlife, it's for good value from public spending and it's not against farmers.
The UK Overseas Territories are a funny collection of places, mostly islands, which speak volumes about the UK's colonial past.
We will go to war to protect their sovereignty but will we protect their wildlife?
The UKOTs are populated by 240,000 British nationals and are visited by over 1.6 million UK citizens every year and yet are mostly overlooked in Whitehall. Defra is the department responsible for the biodiversity of the UKOTs, yet does not have a single full-time member of staff member working on this complex area of British biodiversity.
The UK Overseas Territories (UKOTs) are of outstanding importance for global biodiversity, home to iconic habitats and species, including over a third of the world’s breeding albatross population and arguably the most important seabird island in the world (Gough island). This biodiversity is highly threatened: there are now 74 critically endangered species in the UKOTs. Over 75% of the globally threatened species for which the UK is responsible are found on these small islands, including over 90% of the UK’s globally threatened bird species. With 33 bird species under threat of extinction, the UKOTs have more bird species of global conservation concern than the entire European continent.
Extinctions are an ongoing threat. The last global extinction in the UKOTs occurred as recently as 2004 (the St. Helena Olive), a fate which would have been unthinkable had the last specimens of the species occurred on an offshore Scottish island. The Gough bunting is predicted to go extinct within 40 years without conservation intervention. If the UK is to have a hope of meeting its 2020 biodiversity commitments, it will have to step up its responsibility towards the UKOTs and treat them as a true priority. Only 6 of the 33 globally threatened bird species in the UKOTs currently have action plans in place.
The tiny human populations of many of the UKOTs are unable to respond to the scale of action required. Support and assistance is required, but the UKOTs fall between the gaps: due to their status as UK Territory, they are ineligible for support from most international funding sources (e.g. Global Environment Facility), but they are also unable to access much UK funding (e.g. Heritage Lottery Fund) due to their location.
Our two advocacy asks of Defra are to: • conduct a UKOTs Disappearing Species Assessment of the state of the c.140 critically endangered and endangered UKOT species. (At present, no priorities for action have been identified and the status of many of the UKOTs’ globally threatened species is unknown).• establish a UK Overseas Territories Biodiversity Unit within Defra to coordinate HMG work on the issue- can’t be done ‘off the side of the desk’.
Much of this blog has been about what government should or should not do. But thank heavens there are plenty of things that nature conservationists can do without bringing politicians into it at all. And perhaps top of the pile is buying and managing land.
I can remember when there used to be occasional tensions within the RSPB between those who wanted to save nature through policy change and those who wanted to do it through land management. One of my achievements, such as it is, in nearly 13 years of being the RSPB's Conservation Director is to calm down those tensions and get people behind the idea that we need both - why tie one hand behind your back when you need six hands to make much progress anyway?
Much of this blog has dealt with public policy but much of my working life has been given over to spending millions of pounds of the RSPB's money on fantastic nature reserves. The first of these that we added under my Directorship was Dingle Marshes (still a great place) and I've never looked back since.
We've been adding to our land holdings in the Flow Country - where I first worked for the RSPB in 1986, when we had no land up there at all. Our Forsinard nature reserve is the largest of all our nature reserves now - that's a lot of growth in a mere 25 years.
I like to think of our 200+ nature reserves as a rather large family of teenagers. Why is that? Because hardly any of them is fully formed and grown up. But they have lots of potential.
It is in the nature of land purchase that you rarely have the opportunity to buy all of, or just, the land that would make the perfect nature reserve at the start. There's often that important bit of land (for access, or to allow proper control of water levels, or simply the 'best' bit) that isn't included in the original deal. And it's also in the nature of things that you rarely know when the remainder will be available for purchase. So I regard many RSPB nature reserves as unfinished - wonderful as they are, they are mostly unfinished.
But don't they do a great job? Nature reserves have played a big role in the recovery of populations of marsh harrier, bearded tit, bittern, avocet (of course!), corncrakes, roseate terns and actually a whole range of other birds and, very importantly, not just for birds. And over recent years, and into the future, RSPB nature reserves will also to do a good job for lapwings, redshanks, snipe, black grouse, choughs, cranes and who knows what other bird species? 25 years ago it would have only been the more visionary who would have seen that so many birds of the wider countryside would be increasingly concentrated in nature reserves.
Check out previous blogs on our nature reserves in general (here, here ) or some in particular (Nene Washes, Saltholme, Islay, Geltsdale and Otmoor).
Which is your favourite RSPB nature reserve - and why?
Did I mention there is a book of the blog? It even has tips about how to blog so you could start yourself.