July, 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
  • Time for a break

    I have now been the RSPB's Conservation Director for three months.  It really is a fantastic job - I feel so lucky to be able to work with such talented and committed people and to have a window onto the breadth of the organisation's work.

    But, to be honest, I could do with a bit of a break.  So, I am off for a long weekend to our family hut in Northumberland and will soon be travelling to France for a fortnight's holiday.

    So, to give you advance warning, I may blog a little less frequently during August.  I am not expecting the world to stand still - and I will pop back for the odd posting - but it is time to recharge the batteries before the fun and games begin again in September.

    Before I head north, it is worth recapping on what we have managed to achieve over the past three months.

    We have successfully launched our Stepping Up for Nature campaign following the elections in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

    We have (literally) set sail to save the Henderson petrel from extinction.

    We have influenced (with mixed success) a raft of policy announcements including the UK National Ecosystems Assessment, the Natural Environment White Paper and the National Planning Policy Framework.

    We have had our first major fight with the European Commission over their proposals for reform of the Common Agriculture Policy as part of the the EU Budget.

    The past 3 months have been busy, but tremendously rewarding. I've learned a lot - and I'm still learning!

  • In praise of the Big Birding Society

    Yesterday, the BTO, JNCC and RSPB published the latest Breeding Bird Survey results.  This updates trends in the UK's widespread breeding birds up to 2010.  At a time when we are being encouraged to think differently about how people can help the State deliver public services, it is worth remembering that the BBS would not happen without volunteers.  Last year, 2,519 volunteers helped to collect the data to inform the report.  They would each have invested about six hours of fieldwork.  They will have made two early-morning visits to their randomly selected 1-km square during the April-June survey period and will have recorded all birds encountered while walking two 1-km transects across their square. Together, these volunteers managed to record data from 3,239 1-km squares. A fantastic achievement.

    Our view is that this form of monitoring is essential to identify current conservation problems, allowing us to decide among competing priorities for deployment of limited resources.  By providing information on the trends of individual species biodiversity monitoring tells us which species we need to worry about.  It also provides information to help us assess whether we are living sustainably by keeping an eye on how the other species on which we share this planet are faring. 

    And the BBS is one of the most powerful surveys we have.  By using birds as an indicator of wider biodiversity, it provides a snapshot of the health of the natural environment.  And, because this is the sixteenth year that the BBS has been running, the survey is able to detect trends in populations to help assess effectiveness of conservation policy and practice. 

    Here are the headlines from this year's results:

    • Since the start of the survey in 1994, 26 species have shown significant decreases, with the greatest declines being in willow tit, turtle dove, wood warbler, whinchat, nightingale and yellow wagtail (pictured).
    • in 2010, a number of species reached their lowest levels since the survey began; including farmland species grey partridge, lapwing, skylark, rook and starling, along with the long-distance migrants turtle dove, swift, yellow wagtail, and nightingale.
    • Between 2009 and 2010, notable declines were detected in stonechat (-53%) and kingfisher (-39%), possibly due to prolonged freezing conditions in recent winters.
    • The small-bodied birds coal tit and long-tailed tit reached their highest levels since 1994, despite recent cold winters. Numbers of blue tits and goldcrests, which fell between 2008 and 2009, showed signs of recovery. It will be another year before we can report on the impact of the 2010-11 winter.
    • The good news is that 40 species have increased significantly since 1994. The increases reported for red kite (+475%), great spotted woodpecker (+139%), blackcap (+73%) and whitethroat (+25%) are amongst those to be pleased about. However, of the 20 red-listed species monitored, only tree sparrow and song thrush have shown significant increases since the start of the survey, and even so song thrush decreased significantly between 2009 and 2010.
    • In the last year the house sparrow has also shown a significant increase (11%), largely due to an 18% increase in Wales. In Scotland, house martin, tree pipit and willow warbler have increased significantly since the start of the survey in contrast to the declines shown in the UK as a whole.

    It's too easy to take this information for granted.  But just imagine if we didn't have this system.  We would have no meaningful way to understand the health of the natural world and no means of working out which species were in trouble to enable us to allocate finite conservation resources.  So the 2,519 people who annually give up six hours of their time every spring to collect information about birds are doing us all a huge favour.  They are the genuine heros that make up our big birding society.

  • Help put sustainability back into planning

    The debate about the relative merits of the new National Planning Policy Framework has started.  As discussed on yesterday's Today programme, it seems that those who do not embrace the reforms will be painted as anti-growth and therefore somehow out of touch - not accepting the reality of the need for economic recovery. 

    But that is too simplistic and misses the point.  As my colleague, Simon Marsh, points out in his blog, unless economic growth is sustainable, we will be storing up problems for our children.  The reality is that the NPPF has gone too far by clearly places one ‘pillar’  of sustainability – economic growth – higher than the others as an objective for the planning system.  This inconsistency is carried through the entire draft, and is a departure from the current approach of the planning system which seeks to give equal weight to environmental, social and economic needs in decision-making.

    This is such a fundamental shift in emphasis, that we will be rolling up our sleeves to fight this.

     If you are equally concerned about the direction of travel, then you can help by joining our campaign here.