This weekend I am the latest character to feature in a half-hour BBC News Channel documentary series entitled On the Road with....
The documentary will be broadcast on the BBC News Channel at the following times: Saturday 16 July 00:30am; 15:30pm. On Sunday the item will be broadcast at: 02:30am; 10:30am and 10:30pm.
I feel humble because I am in good company: previous people to have featured include Nigel Kennedy, the Headmaster of Eton and Tracey Emin.
I also feel humble because, for the purposes of this programme, I am simply a entree into the whole work of the RSPB. I am sure that wildlife will come across well as will my RSPB colleagues who are also interviewed. My hope is that the programme provides a window into the scope, passion and expertise that the whole organisation offers.
And let me know what you think.
If I can get out from behind the sofa, I may even watch it myself...
The countdown to summer recess has started and that can only mean one thing - wave upon wave of policy announcements. Despite being preoccupied by the hacking scandal, ministers and civil servants are keen to clear their desks before going on holiday.
Sometimes, things just don't quite get resolved in time and with Parliament rising on 19 July, it is touch and go as to whether ministers will be able to announce their decision on bovine tuberculosis. Just in case you were wondering, here is our current position.
Even our frends in the European Commission take a break over the summer, and proposals for reform of the Common Fisheries Policy emerged this week. Our initial response is shown here.
Further analysis of the Electricity Market Reform proposals suggested that, although it pulled together a clear plan of action, actually there was not a great deal that is new. Alongside the renewables roadmap which I blogged about here, the White Paper announces four main things.
1. A floor price for carbon in order to give market certainty about the carbon price. (A floor price sets a level below which prices cannot fall.) This is not new. It has been Conservative policy for years and was announced in the 2011 Budget. The main aim has always been primarily to provide support for nuclear. The extent to which it does so will depend upon the price set and whether nuclear new build costs are as low as the industry claims. The price will start at £15.70/tonne CO2 in 2013 and rise to £30 in 2020 and £70 in 2030 (normalised at real 2009 prices).
2. Long term contracts for low carbon electricity, renewable (including biomass power), nukes and carbon capture and storage. This is essentially a feed in tariff where electricity generators are paid to produce low carbon electricity below a given tariff, or have to give money back if electricity sells for more than the set tariff. The idea is to give long term market certainty in terms of price. They consulted on this so it is not brand new. Implementation is likely to take years, legislation through to 2014 and letting contracts through to 2019.
3. An Emissions Performance Standard (EPS) for all new fossil fuel electricity generation. This is an old idea that we in the NGO world have been pushing for years so it is nice to see it getting traction at last. The level will be set at 450g CO2/kWh is however too high. It should be 350. The government has set it at 450 mainly for security of supply reasons, so that it will allow continued burning of coal. Combined cycle gas turbines should already give emissions well below 450, down near 350, although 450 will mean that new coal fired stations will need to be about 40% better than existing plant (much of which is anyway old and clapped out). There will be regular review of the EPS, the next completing in 2015. The govt intends to rate biomass at zero emissions – bad if not done right, see stuff on biomass below.
4. A capacity mechanism. This is a means of trying to ensure security of the electricity supply. A quarter of generation will close down soon and quite a lot of new generation is intermittent or fluctuating (i.e. wind). The UK Government is still consulting on this and will come up with legislation in 2012.
This summer has now seen publication of the Natural Environment White Paper, the Electricity Market Reform, Common Fisheries Policy and the EU Budget provided implications for the Common Agricultural Policy. The result of all of this is that the whole policy landscape for how we value and sustainably manage our natural resources has changed. It will take time for us to fully appreciate whether this will lead to more or less wildlife...
Chris Huhne published the long awaited Electrictity Market Reform White Paper today. It outlines a vision for "secure, affordable and low-carbon electricity".
It includes a roadmap for renewables energy deployment to 2020.
Now, those that know me appreciate that I like a plan. This is why I welcome the detail provided by today's paper. If any government is serious about tackling issues such as a financial crisis, climate change crisis or biodiversity crisis, then it makes sense to have a clear plan.
The threat of climate change to wildlife is real. Yet another report emerged today illustrating the potential consequences of runaway climate change. I should declare a vested interest here: in my twenties I did butterfly research with one of the co-authors, Rob Wilson from Exeter University. But allegiances aside, it is in the interests of nature conservation to take swift action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
This is why we support the energy revolution demanded by the climate crisis. Yet, our view is that this revolution must take place in harmony with the natural environment.
And this brings me back to the roadmap. I will not attempt to do just to the detail that was published this afternoon, but the inclusion of Tilbury Power Station as a case study in the section on biomass prompts an initial response.
Let's be clear, bioenergy from woodfuel could be an important source of renewable energy but it needs to be produced from sustainable sources, for example from the careful management of native woodlands. This in turn can have significant conservation benefits as many species thrive on well managed woods. However, the rapid development of large-scale electricity-only plants on the coast of the UK is creating substantial demand for imports of woody material to be used as a bioenergy feedstock. This could have very significant impacts on the natural habitats and even lead to increased greenhouse gas emissions.
Here's a statistic to wake you up this morning: 37 large-scale biomass power generation plants have either been proposed, are in planning or in construction in the UK. The combined capacity is 3,950MW. This will require approximately 23.7 million tonnes of wood, which compares to the current 9 million tonnes that is produced from UK, much of which is already used by other industries. Do the maths. That's 14.7 million tonnes of important wood. The Decc report boasts that "the jetty at Tilbury has capacity to import 4m tonnes of biomass every year which can be used to generate heat, electricity or both."
We are just not convinced that this enormous amount of virgin wood can be sourced from the world market without detrimental impacts on forests, wildlife and the climate.
This is why the RSPB is arguing that in the forthcoming review of incentives for the renewable industry (banding of the Renewables Obligation), large scale bioenergy that uses imported feedstocks from virgin wood be removed from eligibility for the Renewables Obligation.
So, I am all for plans and I look forward to reading this one in more detail. But, I just hope that the plan includes the right safeguards so that there are no unintended consequences for nature.
This is a picture taken by Martin McGill of the first spoon-billed sandpiper chick that has hatched in captivity. It is an image that is sure to warm even the coldest heart and provides a clue as to the challenges we face in saving species from extinction.
It comes as the result of a joint initiative led by Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust involving a number of organisations (including the RSPB and the BTO) all working to save this critically endangered species.
The press release issued today says that "The species has dwindled to such low levels that it is feared that it could be extinct within a decade.
The bird is a migrant that travels 8,000 km along the East Asian-Australasian flyway each year from Russia to the Bay of Martaban, Myanmar and the Bay of Bengal in Bangladesh. On that journey and during winter they have been reported from Japan, North Korea, the Republic of Korea, China, Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar, Bangladesh and India.
The main reason for the long term decline in this species is thought to be the destruction of intertidal habitat on the vital stopover area of the Yellow Sea. The loss of this refuelling area is likely to have disastrous consequences for the species' migration.
Unsustainable levels of subsistence hunting, particularly on the wintering areas in Myanmar and Bangladesh, seem to be causing incredibly low survival among juveniles. It appears that very few young birds are recruiting into the breeding population, while the existing breeding pairs are ageing: this is a recipe for future extinction.
The international Spoon-billed sandpiper Task Force agreed that the two emergency actions needed to avert global extinction: to reduce the level of hunting mortality in the wintering grounds drastically, and to establish a captive breeding population as a safety net whilst also tackling intertidal habitat loss."
So this is the start of what may prove to be a lifeline for a species which would be a tragedy to lose from the wild. Many congratulations to the whole team involved for mounting such an impressive operation.
Most weekends I go for a run along the River Cam, west to Granchester or east to Baits Bite Lock. Perhaps best known for rowing and punting, for me it provides a little therapy before the week ahead and is also a haven for wildlife. As the mind wanders, I'll always see mallards, swans and moorhens. In summer, I am accompanied by the songs of various warblers and the sight of common terns fishing. If I am lucky, and my timing is right, I might even bump into a delicate swarm of mayflies.
It is because river wildlife is so special, that we are keen, as part of the Our Rivers campaign, to encourage people to tell us about the wildlife of their local rivers. We've joined forcess with WWF-UK and the Angling Trust to launch a public survey to collect information about the wildlife people in England and Wales encounter on their local river.
We want to hear which species people have seen in their area, but we are also asking what has changed and been lost.
As well as encouraging people to enjoy their local river wildlife there is also serious, and worrying, message behind this. Much of our native river wildlife is threatened by rural and urban pollution, over abstraction, sewage discharges and invasive species. An official Environment Agency report says nearly three quarters of rivers in England and Wales are failing European environmental targets.
For example, the drought helped focus minds on our old and creaking abstraction licensing system; 80% of licenses (granted primarily to power stations and water companies) for taking water from groundwater, rivers and ditch systems are effectively permanent with no time limits and very limited options to impose environmental conditions. In the run up the the Water White Paper expected in the autumn, we want the UK Government to set out a clear timetable to restore the flow of our rivers and end unsustainable levels of abstraction, with action in the 2015-2020 water company investment period.
Please do fill in the survey. We will publish the results for all rivers, including the Cam, later in the summer.