is good to see that the momentum generated by the forestry debate earlier this
year is alive and well. The campaign to save our forests demonstrated the
huge value we place on our iconic landscapes and precious wildlife. The
Government’s response was to convene the Independent Panel on Forestry in
England, which is beginning to consider the various issues and options.
grass-roots movements that were formed in the midst of the forestry furore are
not represented on the panel. ‘Our Forests’ has been launched to co-ordinate
public opinion and will doubtless be lobbying panel members, including our own
Chief Executive, Mike Clarke. We welcome this – it’s important that the
national view is recognised and that people feel they are having a say on the
future of England’s public forest estate.
are lobbying Mike too. He sits on the Panel as an independent expert on
forestry. The public forest estate is the single most important direct
contribution the Government can make to restoring biodiversity on behalf of the
have been campaigning for decades for improvements to our forests through the
restoration of ancient woodlands and heathlands and the enhancement of historic
cultural landscapes. We will continue to do so. This may require some changes
to the way our forestry is managed but, when all’s said and done, it’s about
securing the right outcome for wildlife and for people.
For once I’m not thinking about cricket (well I am a bit because there is a test match on). We have the Ashes safely in our possession, thank you very much - so I can afford to think of other things.
I’m talking biodiversity strategies. Even more exciting than a five match test series? Certainly of great importance to our future well being and that of the planet.
So, as we eagerly anticipate the launch of the England Biodiversity Strategy (due out the end of this month) it is interesting to look at what the Australian government have already included in theirs.
The Aussies, keen to get early runs on the board, produced their strategy back in 2010, whilst the rest of the world was still debating the global plan for biodiversity in Nagoya. Refreshing to see that this plain speaking nation was prepared to set some clear targets and not afraid to call them targets either. They identified 10 measurable targets for 2015 from public participation to monitoring.
The scale of their country and its biodiversity is impressive but so is their ambition. They aim to increase the area of natural habitat managed primarily for nature conservation by 600,000 km2 by 2015. (Yes, that is 60 million hectares!). We don’t have that much natural habitat left, let alone a commitment to manage what we have ‘primarily for biodiversity conservation’.
OK, ok they have a huge country, a fraction of our population density so it is easy for them, yes. But that just makes their target to establish and manage four collaborative continental-scale linkages to improve natural connections even more impressive.
Now you may not believe this but, I’m bit of a competitive chap and I don’t want to see our Government out played by their antipodean counterparts. I’ve already commented previously on this blog that the white paper includes some good stuff on increasing the extent of priority habitats and getting wildlife sites into management. But where are the areas that we should be able to outscore the Aussies?
I think there are three:
1. An effective deliver plan for globally threatened species on UK overseas territories (but that’s a UK issue, not to be covered by the EBS, I will come back to this at a later date).
2. A state of nation report setting clear baselines for biodiversity (priority species, habitats and sites), where were we in 2000, 2005 and in 2010. We pride ourselves on knowing a lot about this pink (or green?) bit of the map. Let’s set it all down in one clear assessment including where the gaps are.
3. A clear programme addressing the specific needs of threatened species in England.
The White Paper promised a strong implementation of the Nagoya commitments and leading by example at home. One of those commitments was about improving the fortunes of those threatened species that were most in decline. Back in 2007, hundreds of experts on biodiversity (the Big Society in action?) helped the Government carry out a detailed review of species and habitats. This listed an alarming 304 species in England that had declined by over 50% in the last 25 years. Sadly, there will be more species that could be added to this list since 2007.
Will the EBS deliver or will we fall behind Australia? We will have to wait until the end of the month to find out.
I spent yesterday at the Cereals Show near Sleaford. Yes, I know, you envy my glamorous lifestyle. I went along to the Oxford Farming Conference debate on CAP reform and market volatility.
After a while, I felt a little strange. Something wasn't quite right. I heard three oblique references to the RSPB (we were co-sponsoring the event), but it struck me as a little odd that the audience - and panel - seemed unable to refer to us directly. We were the "environmental pressure group", or the "blue logo". Despite having dark hair and glasses and bearing a passing resemblance to a slightly haggard Harry Potter, I was feeling more like Lord Voldemort. I suddenly felt that we were the "organisation that cannot be named".
There is a serious point here. We have seemingly managed to find ourselves in a situation where we are, if not feared, then somehow different, or apart. To add to my puzzlement, just 500 yards away, the RSPB had a stand that was bustling with enthusiastic visitors - farming friends that already work with us and potential farming friends who are keen to work with us, or to get some advice about what they can and should be doing to help farmland wildlife.
Can I get something straight? We want to save wildlife in the countryside. We know that farmers want to do this too. We want to work with farmers, while trying to help government find ways of encouraging as many of them as possible to do the right thing. Improving the countryside, whilst maintaining a healthy, economically viable farming industry, is a challenge that has emerged from both the NEA and the NEWP. This is possible.
So, after leaving Sleaford, I headed for Brussels (see, my lifestyle is more glamorous than you thought). I'm here for a series of meetings with officials about CAP reform and the EU Budget. Yes, the 27 Member States are gearing up to 'agree' the financial perspective for the 2014-17 period.
It's a huge opportunity for spend to be targeted towards EU public policy objectives, such as the desire to halt biodiversity and begin its restoration by 2020. Alas, debates about UK rebate and reduction in overall levels of expenditure may scupper significant reform.
But - here's a simple stat for you - for the period 2007-13, 976 billion Euros of EU taxpayers money will be spent on eight programmes including agriculture, fisheries and biodiversity. However, just 0.2% of that budget will be spent on saving widlife. This despite the fact that 65% of habitats across Europe are under serious threat due to the lack of proper management, the negative impact of harmful subsidies and inappropriate development.
We're trying to do something about this with partners across Europe and here's a paper which outlines our position. I am looking for some glimmers of hope from my meetings today.
And I am also hoping that we can work in partnership with farmers to weave some magic on all of this.
There is nothing better than sitting out in the garden at the end of a day, glass in hand and hearing swifts screaming overhead. It is a delight - one that I savour in my little, scruffy patch of Cambridgeshire during the precious summer months. Alas, like so many migrants, swifts are in trouble.
They have declined by a third in recent years, leading to them being placed on the amber list and meaning they are of serious conservation concern. The causes of the decline are still unclear, but loss of nest sites due to building improvement or demolition is a major problem.
We're keen to get a better idea of where they are seen and nesting. This is why a we launched the swift survey. The public response to the call for records has been overwhelming. We've now made almost 25,000 records of swifts around the UK available on the web, via the National Biodiversity Network. It uses the information to encourage developers, local councils and building companies to retain or create nest sites.
Swifts are not the only migrants in trouble. Wood warblers (down by 61%), turtle doves (by 70%) and cuckoos (by 44%) are all struggling. The RSPB is trying to get to grips with the causes of the declines (habitat deterioration on breeding and wintering grounds, mismatches in the timings of seasonal events due to climate change etc) but we remain largely in the dark.
We're not going to give up trying to get the bottom of the problem. We'll continue to do what we can in the UK and work with BirdLife Partners in Africa. Because that is what we do. Day after day, working with others to try to look after the millions of other species on which we share this planet. So that my kids and their kids can continue to be enthralled by wildlife around them.
Big piece of news yesterday - a Derbyshire gamekeeper has been found guilty of attempting to illegally trap and kill birds of prey. Read about the story here and here and watch it here. The RSPB team that carried out the investigation deserve enormous credit for their professionalism, dedication and courage. Here's hoping that the punishment acts as a deterrent to others...
And here is a first person account from Mark Thomas - it's well worth a read.