May, 2011

Our work

Our work
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.

Martin Harper's blog

I’ve been the RSPB’s Conservation Director since May 2011. As I settle into the job, I’ll be blogging on all the big conservation topics and providing an inside view of our conservation projects. I hope you enjoy reading it and feel inspired to join in t
  • So, is this spring?

    Just my luck.  The rain has come and the wind has picked up.  This afternoon (after watching the boy perform as a clown in the school show), I am off up north to our hut on the Northumberland Coast for the long weekend.  I had planned to take the kids on a seabird trip out to Coquet Island or the Farne Islands (pictured in sunnier times) but I think the boats are unlikely to go out in this weather. 

    But, if you are stranded indoors this weekend and you are still in need of a wildlife fix, there is some good news.  Springwatch is back on the telly on Monday night.  And this year it is coming from one of RSPB's nature reserves - Ynys Hir.  It's a fantastic site - a mix of Welsh oak woodland with wet grassland and saltmarshes.  I think armchair naturalists are in for a real treat.

    A week or so ago, the prospect of Springwatch at the end of May seemed a little odd - we appeared to be entering mid-summer.  But, now that the dark clouds have finally arrived, we can sit back, relax and hopefully enjoy nature being amazing from the comfort of our living rooms.

     BBC Springwatch is on Monday at 8pm, BBC2. Follow our Ynys-hir blog for behind-the-scenes news from the reserve.

  • MESMErised by and for wildlife

    Northumberland didn't disappoint.  It rarely does.  The rain stayed away and although the wind was strong, the skies were big.  The seabirds were, as ever, spectacular - none more so than the gannets.  Although the boats stayed in the harbour, I spent two delightful evenings watching the gannets do what they do best - go fishing.  But it is more than fishing - it is aerial harpooning.

    Staying at the hut meant that I missed my very brief cameo performance on Countryfile (it's about 20 minutes in) talking about farmland wildlife.  While some continue to want to investigate the impacts of predation, the RSPB is convinced that the fortunes of farmland birds could be turned around by making environmental stewardship more effective.  And this is why we are delighted that Defra has been looking into this very issue.  They have even given the project its own acronym - MESME.  I know, it is a little odd. 

    But advice will soon be given to ministers and we await their verdict with interest.  In its coalition agreement, the UK Government stated that it was committed to "restoring biodiversity".  They don't have much money at the moment, so they need to make sure existing subsidies work much harder for wildlife. 

    In one of his final blog entries, my predecessor laid down this gauntlet to Defra ministers:

    "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. "

    Even if ministers weren't mesmerised by Mark's blog, I do hope that they are convinced of the logic of tweaking the scheme so that wildlife benefits. 

  • First day in a new job


    I've started my new job as Conservation Director of the RSPB today. 

    I feel lucky to be doing a job that I love with a bunch of brilliant people around me. 

    My challenge is simple: to try to protect and build on Mark Avery's legacy and do more to look after the millions of species with with we share this planet.   Mark has made an enormous contribution to the RSPB and nature conservation over the past quarter of a century.  Having worked with him closely for more than a decade - he was my boss for the last seven - I, and I know many others, will miss his passion, insight and plain-speaking.

    One thing I won't thank Mark for is the in-tray that I have inherited.  Those of you who have enjoyed reading his top twenty sticky issues will appreciate that the environment movement, and the RSPB in particular, has its work cut out to help and cajole governments to meet their ambitious commitment to halt biodiversity loss and begin its recovery by the end of the decade.  The political climate is not easy - there is currently little money to go around, successive governments have pursued a deregulatory agenda and pressures on modern life mean that there is less time for  people to stop, think and appreciate the wonders of the natural world.  But I am an optimist: most of the problems facing wildlife - from non-native species to climate change - are fixable.  We know what needs to be done, but often leadership and political will are lacking.

    I will work with my new boss, Mike Clarke, to ensure that the RSPB does whatever it needs with political intelligence, creativity and courage.  I am sure that any of you reading this will tell me when we fall short.