December, 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
  • The end of the year is nigh

    Barring an environmental catastrophe (which really would be a bad way to end the year), this will be my last post of 2011. 

    It has been quite a year.   I have a fabulous new job which allows me to support the breadth of the RSPB's conservation work.  And I get to visit fabulous RSPB reserves like Abernethy, Bempton Cliffs and Dove Stone.  That can't be bad.

    2011 was the year that the coalition government began to outline its ambitions for the natural world through the Natural Environment White Paper and English Biodiversity Strategy.  Both of these documents were informed by the groundbreaking National Ecosystem Assessment which provided compelling arguments for better investment in nature. 

    Alas the year has also thrown up a whole load of new challenges: continued decline in farmland and woodland birds, threats to EU funding for wildlife-friendly farming, the economic growth imperative in danger of eclipsing environmental protection (through new planning proposals and reviews of environmental regulation), and, sadly, the inadequacy of the global response to tackling climate change.

    Throughout this period, I have tried to give you an insight into the work of the RSPB and our views on the topics of the day.  Below, in traditional end of year fashion, is my top 10 posts of the year (in chronological order). 

    I hope you enjoy my mini review of the year.  I look forward to picking up the story (and the fight) in the new year.  Until then, have a peaceful and relaxing Christmas.

    Martin's Top Ten Blogs of 2011

    1. Breathless over nature: a eulogy to the UK National Ecosystem Assessment.

    2. Don't cut the life from the countryside - the sequel">Don't cut the life from the countryside - the sequel: highlighting the threats to EU funding for wildlife-friendly farming

    3. The selfish gene at work within Whitehall: describing how some government departments might undermine Defra's Natural Environment White Paper ambitions

    4. New planning policy is a backwards step for nature: our initial response the now infamous consultation on the draft National Planning Policy Framework

    5. Conkers and bottle tops: reminiscing about the decline of full fat milk

    6. 7 Billion reasons to rethink our economy: acknowledging the impact of global population on nature and outlining our proposed response

    7. In search of happiness: reflecting on the Government's plan to establish a well-being index

    8. How green is the government? 29 critical friends have their say: the NGO report on Government's ambitions to be the greenest ever

    9. The Habitats Regulations ; the case for the defence: dealing with the consequences of the Chancellor's autumn economic statement

    10. A sad day for badgers and farmers: responding to the Government's decision to proceed with a badger cull

    Did I miss any of your favourites? What would you like to hear more about in 2012?

    It would be great to hear  your views.

  • In praise of those who give to charity

    I enjoyed an icy evening carol singing with the neighbours yesterday.  It is rare that I have a chance to exercise my baritone voice in public (or in private nowadays thanks to my daughter's sensitive ears) and so I made the most of the opportunity.  While we worked our way through some of the classic carols, the kids ran door to door collecting money for charity (alas not the RSPB).  Apart from one house with a rather aggressive looking dog, we were given a warm reception and the rattled tins were filled.

    There are about 170,000 charities in the UK, benefiting from the generosity of millions of people and playing an incredibly important role in modern society. 

    The RSPB is one such charity.  And our million + members are our lifeblood.  It's not just about the money - although in these tough times, their loyalty is much appreciated.  We also have 615,000 volunteers who offer an incredible gift of time - undertaking over 1.5 million hours of work a year .  They help us assess the status of wild bird populations, support nature reserve management, run wildlife explorers groups and advise farmers on how to manage their land for nature. Many of these activities are undertaken incredibly locally, either in or around people’s garden’s/neighbourhoods or within 10 miles of their home.

    They also campaign. 

    As discussed in an article by Juliette Jowit in the Observer yesterday, supporters of charities will not stand idly by if their interests are threatened.  Over the past five years, an astonishing 700,000 of our members have supported at least one of our campaigning actions.  I am under no illusions, the environment remains low in voters' motivations.  But, as I said to Juliette, our members do have a tendency to vote - 96% the last time we asked. 

    I would love it if politicians invested in nature because they knew it was the right thing to do, but I'd settle for them doing the right thing because it made sense politically.

    So, if you are a member of the RSPB, thank you for whatever you have done to support us this year. 

  • A surprising thing - part 2

    This week I posed the question - which are the 5% of vertebrates that you cannot find on the current RSPB nature reserve network?  And, thanks to my colleague, Mark Gurney, here is the answer:

    Pool frog, Silver Bream, Common Sturgeon, Bleak, Allis Shad, Stone Loach, Barbel, Vendace, Gwyniad, Houting, Gudgeon, Burbot, Grayling, Lesser White-toothed Shrew, Brandt's Bat, Nathusis' Pipistrelle, and Myotis alcathoe.

    Mark elaborates...

    "The figures do not include marine species (either for RSPB reserves or for Britain), so there are no cetaceans or turtles in them, but they do include both resident seals because they breed on land.  Of the native land and freshwater vertebrates we have:

    • All 6 reptiles.
    • 6 amphibians.  We are missing Pool Frog, which became extinct in Britain but has been released at a few sites.
    • All 3 jawless fish.
    • 30 of 42 native fish.  We are missing Silver Bream, Common Sturgeon, Bleak, Allis Shad, Stone Loach, Barbel, Vendace, Gwyniad, Houting, Gudgeon, Burbot, and Grayling.  Some of these are widespread and probably occur on our reserves, but most of our fish records are from electrofishing at reedbed sites; we have few fish records from other sites.
    • 41 of the 45 terrestrial native mammals.  We are missing Lesser White-toothed Shrew, which is found only on Scilly, where we have no reserves; Brandt's Bat and Nathusis' Pipistrelle, which are both quite widespread but hard to identify and they have not been confirmed from RSPB reserves; and Myotis alcathoe, which is so cryptic that it was added to the British list only a couple of years ago.
    • All the regular birds (about 300)."

    So now you know!