At times it’s felt like we’ve dominated the BBC this week! It’s been so ‘newsworthy’, today I’m going to reflect on some of our main stories from the past few days.
We have been completely floored by the rumour circulating in Brussels that funding for wildlife-friendly farming could be axed from next week’s European budget. Unfortunately, nothing we have heard in the past 48 hours or so have give us any crumb of comfort. The threat still seems very real.
My stint at Hope Farm for a piece on BBC Breakfast was just the start of the media coverage defending this vital source of environmental funding. It was discussed on Radio 4, Radio 2, Farming Today and Sky Radio channels and my interview was run throughout the day on the BBC News channel with views of others incorporated as the day went on. We’re already receiving countless messages of support from farmers wanting to see the ongoing protection of wildlife so expect to see and hear more about this in the coming days.
We found ourselves on the BBC again towards the end of this week, although this time I was able to hang up my microphone and pass to my colleague Andy Simpson, Head of Education at the RSPB. Like my guest blogger said yesterday, we had an absolutely key initiative with some of our education provider partners to respond to a demand by teachers to allow every child to have access to nature, called ‘Every Child Outdoors.’ MPs have today been invited by their local school to come and share an outdoor learning experience with them to see firsthand the enormous benefits to be gained from regular contact with nature.
credit: David McHugh
This story was used on BBC Breakfast and the BBC News Channel, with Andy, our president Kate Humble and the Field Studies Council’s Rob Lucas among those waxing lyrical about the importance of learning outside the classroom. It also appeared on Radio 5 Live and BBC General News Service. It’s simple really; there’s no better way to learn about nature than to go outside and get a bit of mud under your fingernails.
And we ended our week in the media on a high note - quite literally. A library created by the RSPB and the digital radio manufacturer PURE has shown that the blackbird is the clear winner of the dawn chorus and this was reported in the Daily Telegraph, The Metro and The Guardian. I’m sure we’re all in agreement that the warbling of the blackbird is a welcome addition to any outside space!
I have broken with tradition today and have invited a guest blogger, our Youth and Education PR Officer, Caroline Offord, to talk about our exciting Every Child Outdoors activities:
“Having access to discover, learn and play outdoors was an essential part of my childhood. I spent hours playing outside, pretending the tree at the end of our garden was The Magic Faraway Tree and would whisk me off to strange new worlds or that the circle of toadstools was a fairy ring and if I sat still and watched closely, one day I’d see them.
I never did see the fairies and apart from muddy knees and grass stains, I was never transported to faraway lands. But I always appreciated the wildlife around me a little bit more from having had the chance to explore and play outside.
We’ve all heard the stories of unhealthy, inactive children attached to their computers and mobile phones. Children today – and many adults too – have less contact with the natural environment than any previous generation, this is despite all the evidence about the positive impacts contact with nature brings to a child’s education, health and wellbeing.
If a child hasn’t ever got their hands mucky, climbed a tree, discovered the darkness of a cave or felt sand between their toes, how can we expect them to care enough to protect wildlife?
Recent research by the RSPB found that there is overwhelming support for getting every child outdoors, with 92 per cent of the public agreeing that experiences of nature are still important to children today.
More than four out of five people also agreed that schools should play a role in providing them to all children.
We believe that every child should have access to nature and tomorrow (Friday), the RSPB, the Field Studies Council and the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust will respond to this demand by opening the doors to all their teaching sites and centres.
The RSPB President, Kate Humble, has given her support to the event. See how she got on at our Ynys-hir Nature Reserve with children from Warren Farm Primary School in our video:
School children have invited their local MP to come along and share an outdoor learning experience with them at our field teaching sites as part of a UK-wide initiative to get every child outdoors.
We hope these MPs will get their hands dirty and their feet mucky and see first-hand the enormous benefits to be gained from regular contact with nature for children and become champions for learning outside the classroom.
We were encouraged by the recent commitments made by Government in their Natural Environment White Paper to remove unnecessary rules and barriers to learning in the natural environment.
The RSPB is calling for three things: more room in the curriculum for this type of education, for teachers to be trained to feel confident and competent to teach outside the classroom, and for there to be a clear message from government that this kind of education is a vital part of children’s development.
We know that all children, given the right opportunity, love nature and being outdoors. It is vital they are given the opportunity, whether through their family or their school to benefit from real life “hands on” experiences where they can see, hear, touch and explore the world around them.
And, maybe one day, they’ll be luckier than me at spying those fairies!”
Thanks, Caroline! I’m looking forward to taking part in this. Tomorrow I’ll be at our Rainham reserve, where I’ll be joined by two local MPs, Jackie Price-Doyle and John Cruddas. I’ll tell you all about it, as I’m sure I’ll get my hands dirty...
Yesterday I highlighted the threats to Pillar 2 of the Common Agricultural Policy. The rumours that Pillar 2 may be scrapped are continuing to circulate – you may have seen me on the BBC (about 22 mins in) yesterday talking about it. Some of the journalists we spoke to approached the EU Commission for comment – no-one would confirm or deny the rumours. This is a worrying sign and the threat is so great that we simply have to take it seriously. Agri-environment funding is vital to the future of our wildlife and we can’t afford to wait around for the EU budget on 29 June.
It is interesting to see how the possible cut to AES has become such a big story. Suddenly the very abstract debate about the EU budget became real. And this budget may see us through to 2020 so if we get it wrong we will be stuck with the consequences for many years.
Some have questioned whether the RSPB was right to sound the alarm. We will never know for sure – but there will be many looking at the EU budget on 29 June thinking that perhaps they should have raised concerns a bit earlier. Be in no doubt that some drastic scenarios are being considered – others who know about these things have been busy fanning the flames of this story. We are really hoping that farmers’ groups join the battle now – we have kept the message simple and uncontroversial to enable them to back this call which is one we know is dear to the hearts of the many farmers we work with.
There is no question of this being about “food production vs. the environment” – indeed, it is the CAP “2nd pillar” that contains the resources to improve farm competitiveness. Let’s make sure we don’t see it cut back without rallying to the cause. But for the RSPB the key issue is to make sure that there is enough money to fund agri-environment schemes, so the aspirations agreed in Nagoya can be delivered.
Farmers are up for it – indeed, there is already a long queue wanting to join these schemes who are being told to wait. They won’t wait around until 2020 – and why should they?
So, please, if you haven’t done so already, sign up to our campaign. The failure of the Commission to stamp on these rumours means the threat is even more acute than it was 24 hours ago.
It’s ironic, isn’t it, that a recent BBC poll, in which listeners were invited to choose their own Desert Island Discs, had “The Lark Ascending” by Vaughan Williams as the nation’s favourite piece of music. If these cuts go ahead, it won’t only be castaways on desert islands who need to resort to Vaughan Williams to evoke the song of the skylark. It will be all of us, right here in the UK and across Europe.
Last summer, the RSPB fought to save farmland wildlife from public spending cuts. We wrote briefings, lobbied ministers, our members bombarded the Cabinet with 90,000 emails and farmers put placards up their fields urging the UK Government not to cut the life from the countryside. We were ultimately relieved that Caroline Spelman managed to secure some growth in the higher level stewardship scheme.
But now, rumours are circulating in Brussels that a greater threat has emerged. The threat has surfaced in the run-up to the latest EU budget, which is due to unveiled on June 29.
President Barroso has to oversee a tough budget round, but leaks suggest a leaning towards cutting the CAP budget, by toppling the so-called Pillar 2, which provides funding for measures to improve Europe’s countryside, including: wildlife conservation.
This would be a disaster for wildlife and for many farmers (particularly in the uplands) whose businesses are increasingly dependent on these schemes.
Many species are entirely dependent on agri-environment schemes which reward farmers for protecting threatened wildlife. If the schemes are lost, in the UK, it is not farfetched to say that some threatened species, including the turtle dove and cirl bunting might lost from our countryside. Across Europe, from Portugal to Cyprus and from Ireland to Finland, a wide range of wildlife will be affected, including the great bustard, which is already facing the threat of global extinction.
The irony is that last year the European Union, under President Barroso’s leadership, pledged to halt the decline in wildlife and begin its restoration by 2020. The UK has reinforced its commitment to the Natural Environment White Paper. And today the EU Environment Council is meeting in Brussels to agree a Biodiversity Strategy for the EU. Without a bolstered agri-envionment package, there is not a cat in hell's chance of countryside wildlife recovering.
If Barroso approves a budget without a CAP with nature at its heart, the President risks erasing wildlife from the map of Europe, breaking promises and undermining decades of conservation effort, which has spared the greatest wildlife losses. Cuts to agri-environment funding would be totally unacceptable.
We are not going to take this lying down. We have to roll up our sleeves and get stuck in. What else can we do? We'll work closely with our BirdLife International partners to lobby the President and the European Commission to remove these potentially devastating cuts from the budget.
But you can help as well. Please join our campaign. We need to demonstrate the public support for sustained investment in wildlife-friendly farming.
Here’s a test. What Government minister do you think said this recently?
“I believe our natural environment can be better cared for. Historic habitats that have been destroyed can be re-established. Species that have become trapped in isolated refuges must be reconnected. Monotonous swathes of brown masquerading as 'green belt' should be improved to live up to their name and be refilled by nature. And the green belt should be somewhere in which people, especially those in towns and cities, can hope to encounter nature and air and openness personally, rather than view it from a nose pressed against a car window on a ring road.”
Caroline Spelman? Richard Benyon?
No, it was actually Greg Clark, minister for planning policy and one of the architects of the Government’s reforms to the planning system in England. I can’t recall a planning minister ever being this positive about the natural environment. Thank you!
Greg Clark said it to an audience of planners at conference where the RSPB happened to be presenting a workshop asking whether this government’s approach was for the ‘greenest planning ever’, and urging planners to step up for nature.
Contrast this welcome approach with the publication a day later of a ‘working draft’ of the proposed ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’, which will be a central plank of the Government’s forthcoming National Planning Policy Framework. The so-called presumption in favour is essentially a policy device to encourage more development. Ah, I should have said sustainable development, shouldn’t I?
There are some nice words about sustainable development buried in the preamble to the presumption. They recognise that our long-term economic growth relies on protecting and enhancing the environmental resources that underpin it. Exactly. That’s precisely the message coming from the UK National Ecosystem Assessment and the Natural Environment White Paper.
But the nice words are submerged by the strong emphasis on economic growth. In fact sustainable development seems to be redefined with growth as the number one priority. Worse, planners are expected to say “yes” to development as the default answer. Where’s the even-handed approach to decision-making that we need in the highly contested world of land use planning?
I am convinced that Greg Clark gets it about the natural environment. But there are forces in Whitehall that don’t yet get it, and would like to see development at any cost. There’s still a chance for the Government to get it right in the National Planning Policy Framework. Here’s to truly sustainable development, with nature at its heart.