Part of the RSPB's mission is to raise awareness of nature conservation and to do that we need a cracking media team and an abundance of good stories. We are not short of either.
It was a good news week last week, and we very nearly featured in in a soap too. The Observer printed a feature about the land grabbing that's happening in Kenya's Tana Delta to make way for crops for biofuels. We arranged for the paper's writer to visit the Tana Delta with Nature Kenya to see first-hand the affect it was having on the people who lived there and the wildlife.
In The Sunday Times , AA Gill compared BBC's coverage of Glastonbury to that of Springwatch and asked 'Who'd have thought that rock 'n' roll would turn into the urban, middle-aged wing of the RSPB?' - I think we'll take that as a compliment...
The BBC covered our story about data from the satellite-tracked seabirds in Scotland showing that they're travelling further for food. This is all part of our FAME project (Future of the Atlantic Marine Environment) and as time goes on will hopefully give us answers to why we've seen some dramatic declines in numbers of these birds. Also on Tuesday BBC 2 aired a programme called The Truth About Wildlife, where Chris Packham took a look at the nation's wildlife and its conservation. The episode focused on farming and the decline of many farmland species. The RSPB's Cath Jeffs was interviewed about the red-listed cirl bunting.
The Daily Telegraph (the article's not online, unfortunately) reported how we've been working closely with the Forestry Commission to create an osprey-friendly environment in Kielder Water and Forest Park in Northumberland and how this week all that hard work's paid off. In a breakthrough for bird conservation, a second pair of ospreys have produced a chick, which means it's the only place in England in more than 170 years where more than one pair of naturally recolonising ospreys have bred successfully at the same time.
I wrote a letter to The Times after reading an article in the paper on Monday entitled "Millions more trees will be felled to fan flames of the wood-burner revolution". I think sustainable wood fuel has its place, but we need tight rules to ensure we don't destroy forests overseas to produce biomass so we can meet our renewable energy targets. I said as much in my letter and the paper printed it on Wednesday.
Despite lots of householders, building companies, and local authorities doing great things to help swifts as they spend the summer in the UK, it seems that many people are doing all they can to stop them breeding successfully. We've learned of people going to unbelievable lengths to stop the birds getting access to nest sites, such as putting up spikes, scaffolding, and plastic and we told Radio 5 Live all about it when one of our media officers was interviewed on Thursday morning.
And finally, I mentioned how we (kind of) appeared in a soap this week. Well, those of you that listen to The Archers may have heard Kirsty and Pat discussing the positive results of Patrick's bird survey and how excited they got when they discovered numbers going up. OK, so they didn't actual mention the RSPB by name, but we all know what they meant!
We'll see what next week brings. As things stand at the moment, I am due to be in the Today programme tomorrow morning talking about the Our Rivers campaign and on You and Yours on Thursday talking about biomass. Things may scupper these plans, but it is always good when our work is noticed and picked up by the press.
Other than a few fleeting mentions in the media, the furore around the future of England’s public forest estate seems to have simmered. The Independent Panel on Forestry has started to examine the issues and a few public pressure groups have mobilised. But it certainly isn’t the political hot potato that it was in February and March of this year.
But it’s important that we don’t forget about it. As we said repeatedly earlier in the year, it’s a complicated issue and our views on it can’t be fitted comfortably onto a placard. But basically we want to make sure that, whatever happens, we get the best possible outcome for wildlife, habitats and people. And then it’s about finding the best possible way of achieving this.
The results of a recent re-survey of deciduous woodland bird populations showed that 9 out of 34 bird species have suffered serious declines. Some, such as willow tit, have declined by more than 70%, one of the largest bird declines in any UK habitat. Changes in the structure of woodlands, caused by a lack of management, are thought to have had the biggest influence. And it’s not just birds - alarming declines in woodland butterfly and plant species have also been recorded.
The Forestry Panel for England will need to address any shortcomings in the management of our woodlands if these iconic landscapes, and the wildlife that lives in them, are to have a secure future.
So, what do we want?
We’d like to see improved woodland management for rare and threatened wildlife, through the protection, restoration and extension of our native woods and priority open habitats, such as heathland.
We also need to ensure that the right trees are in the right places. This may sound a bit odd, but some important habitats have been overplanted with the wrong species of trees, often to provide commercial timber. Planting of non-native conifers has damaged some our most important habitats – both ancient woodland and heathland.
It’s shocking to realise that over 80% of England’s heathland has been lost over the past 200 years, which has had a devastating impact on the wildlife that depends on it. We’d like to see these special and important places restored and see an increase in heathland species like the woodlark, Dartford warbler, sand lizard and heath tiger beetle. And restoring our ancient woodlands could benefit species such as hawfinch, lesser spotted woodpecker and the glorious purple emperor butterfly.
And it’s not just about the wildlife. It’s also about you and me. Woods and forests need to be managed with people in mind, providing local areas for recreation, education and the enjoyment of wildlife.
The Forestry Commission does some things well, but there are quite a few things that need to be fixed. For example, an area of heathland and ancient woodland almost twice the size of the Isle of Wight continues to be damaged by conifer plantations on FC-managed land.
These are some of the issues that we will be asking the Forestry Panel to consider. What do you think?
I love my job. I spent yesterday at the wonderful Bempton Cliffs nature
reserve. A quarter of a million noisy, smelly majestic seabirds on a 2.5km
stretch of the East Yorkshire coast.
It was a joy to be able to go out on a boat and mix with the gannets,
kittiwakes, puffins, guillemots and razorbills. It's the largest seabird colony
in England with a rich history of seabird protection. It was here at Bempton
that the Association for the Protection of Seabirds was established by the Rev.
Henry Frederick Barnes, vicar of Bridlington, between 1849 and 1874. He led the
way in campaigning to end the mass slaughter of seabirds caused by the
Bridlington shooting parties. Westminster eventually took note and the Sea
Birds Preservation Act was passed in 1869.
It may surprise you to know that I am the son of a vicar myself. So, as I bobbed about on the waves at Bempton, taking in the sights, sounds and smells, I was inclined to applaud the efforts of Rev. Barnes.
Today, not only are we protecting and showcasing the seabird nesting sites,
but our research into the feeding and resting habits of these birds should
underpin future marine protected areas. But for that to happen, we need, once
again, to demonstrate public support for seabird protection. This is why 142
years on from the Rev. Barnes' efforts we are encouraging people to step up for
seabirds and sign our latest petition.
Having been sunburnt whilst walking in the Mamores over the weekend, I spent yesterday in the sunshine at the Langholm Moor Demonstration project. Didn't you know - it is always sunny in the hills of Scotland.
It was a privilege to be able to visit a site that I had heard so much about.
Given the conflict that has existed between driven grouse moors and birds of prey, I wanted to see for myself what Langholm was trying to achieve.
The RSPB is one of the sponsors and I was impressed by the enthusiasm, dedication and collaborative nature of the project.
Its aims are clear and worth repeating here:
- to establish a commercially viable driven grouse moor. Within the timeframe of the project, it is the intention to sell driven grouse days producing an annual income in excess of £100,000.
- to restore an important site for nature conservation to favourable condition
- to seek to demonstrate whether the needs of an economically viable grouse moor can be met alongside the conservation needs of protected raptors, especially the hen harrier.
We are in the fourth year of the project and we are closely monitoring the populations of red grouse and hen harrer. With population of hen harriers declining (tragically down to 4 pairs in England), we need to find solutions quickly.
Given the nature of my visit, it was a treat to see a pair of hen harriers out and about foraging for food for their chicks. It was unclear whether they were taking food from one of the diversionary feeding stations - a measure that has been shown to work but unfortunately has not yet been taken on elsewhere.
What is clear, though, is that it would be great to see this majestic bird recover throughout its range.
I'm in the midst of a very busy few days. Today I'm visiting Langholm Moor in Dumfries to see some of the work we do with our partners there. And then I'm heading down to our reserve at Bempton in Yorkshire to do some filming with the BBC. I'll tell you more about all of this soon. As far as the BBC filming is concerned, all I'll say is that I'm following in some very glamorous footsteps....
And it follows an equally hectic week last week. Amongst the blogs about our efforts to save EU wildlife funding from the axe, I may have missed some of the other RSPB stories that were in the news.
If you read my blog last week, you'll know that RSPB scientists have embarked on an epic trip to Henderson Island to destroy the rodent population that threatens the grey-brown Henderson petrel. I was pleased to see that this "voyage of conservation" received widespread coverage, including pieces in The Indpendent, Daily Mail and on Radio 2 and Radio 4. This is a bird that nests only on the remote UK Overseas Territory, and which is already sliding towards extinction, so this trip is vitally important for the wildlife on the island.
Another great piece of work by our scientists that was trumpeted this week was efforts by a team braving inclement Russian weather to collect a clutch of spoon-billed sandpiper eggs in an emergency bid to save the bird from extinction. Efforts by the RSPB, the WWT and Birds Russia were highlighted in the Daily Telegraph and Virgin News.
Our conservationists have been busy a bit closer to home too, and this week saw the arrival of a new batch of sea eagle chicks at Edinburgh airport. The eaglets will be raised at a secret location, as part of ongoing efforts to reintroduce them across Scotland by the RSPB and our partners, SNH and FCS. This story was used nationally on the BBC website and in The Times, Daily Telegraph and many Scottish media outlets.
So, after a very frantic June, July looks like being just as busy. And that's just the way I like it!