One publication that appeared with almost no fanfare on Defra’s website yesterday was the Department’s new paper on how it intends to discharge its responsibility towards the UK Overseas Territories (OTs). These 14 Territories, scattered right across the globe, are home to some of the UK’s most internationally important wildlife, including one third of the world’s breeding albatross and the largest coral atoll on earth. They’re also packed with unique and threatened bird species- 33 at the last count, more than the entire European continent.
Sadly, the threatened wildlife of the Overseas Territories (OTs) has frequently been overlooked by the UK Government in the past. Nothing expresses this more simply or tragically than the date of the last OT extinction: 2004 (the year the last remaining specimen of the St Helena Olive tree died). An outcome which would have been almost unthinkable if the tree had existed on an island off the mainland UK.
We think the wildlife on these Overseas Territories is rather special and which we, as UK citizens, have a responsibility to protect. This is why we spend so much time and effort doing what we can to save some of these threatened species such as the Henderson storm petrel shown below. We have just completed a major expedition (led by RSPB scientist Richard Cuthbert who also took the photo below) to restore an island paradise by removing rats which were driving the Henderson petrel to the edge of extinction.
But we know that action by RSPB and other NGO partners will be insufficient on its own.
We’ve long been pushing for more attention to be paid to the OTs, and are therefore very pleased that every Government Department has been asked to publicly state how it will fulfil its duty towards the OTs. Defra undertook a very collaborative approach in compiling their paper, and we were delighted to see within it a commitment to developing an implementation plan for their OTs Biodiversity Strategy. The current version of the Strategy was a great start, but didn’t have any goals or specifications on how it would achieve them to protect wildlife. We’d love to work with Defra to help develop this.
The OTs is an area which could be a relatively easy and cost-effective win for Defra, whilst delivering enormous benefits for biodiversity. Progress here is also essential if the UK is to have any hope of meeting its 2020 targets for biodiversity. Whilst home to over 85% of the UK’s threatened wildlife, the OTs receive only 0.1% of Defra’s biodiversity conservation spending and have no full-time Defra staff dedicated to working with them nor any specific OTs budget line. It’s been estimated that £16m per year for 5 years would be required to meet all their biodiversity priorities, whilst Defra support staff could provide enormous help and technical advice to small OT Environment Departments. Even in these austere times, this doesn't seem a huge amount of cash to do an enormous amount of good.
As the UK Government prepares its new White Paper on the Overseas Territories, we’ll be pushing for the commitment to develop an implementation plan to be included, and hope that 2012 may be the year that the UK Government steps up to its responsibilities in the OTs.
Have you ever been to one of these Overseas Territories? Do you care about what happens to the wildlife in these far-flung places? What should Defra be doing to help?
It would be great to hear your views.
...if they fail to comply with European regulations". That was the message from the Prime Minister in the second part of his interview with John Craven on Countryfile last night. If you missed it, you can watch it again here. He was talking at the time about animal welfare standards. I wonder if he feels the same about those Member States that have yet to establish a comprehensive network of protected in the marine environment as determined by the EU Birds and Habitats Directives?
He also supported the "difficult" decision of announcing two pilot areas "as part of a balanced package of measures" to tackling bovine tuberculosis. I look forward to seeing the rest of the package.
But, I must not be too sniffy, I was pleased that the Prime Minister (the first?) agreed to be interviewed on Countryfile. It suggests that it is politically important for him to be seen to be engaged in rural issues. And while it was disappointing that John failed to ask any questions excplicitly about wildlife, in my mind it reinforces the need for NGOs and their members to continue to pressure politicians to be as good at it can be on protecting the environment. Unless the voters tell their elected representatives about their concerns for the environment, can we really blame them if they direct their energy onto other pressing matters?
So, my advice to anyone that reads this and cares about nature - make your local MP your pen pal. Tell her or him what you think about how the goverment is getting on protecting wildlife and tackling climate change, tell her or him about the species or special places that matter to you and are at risk from planning reforms, tell her or him that the Habitats Regulations are an appropriate test of sustainable development and tell her or him about your frustration that we still have no comprehensive network of European sites in the marine environment. And tell her or him that you'll be in touch again soon.
Have a good week. And do tell me if you will be writing to your MP sometime soon...
...yes I do always salute magpies. I have to otherwise who knows what dreadful thing might happen.
And today it's Friday 13th, so, please be careful at home, at work and with your Friday night planning. And be extra careful if you bump into any of our much maligned corvid species.
Crows, ravens and magpies have played a significant role in the folklore, superstition, and mythology of humans for many years, with spotting one or more of these birds often been thought of as bad luck. But the gang in the office have identified a few examples to dispel the myth that all natural sights are bad omens.Here are four examples which we dug up...
If a blackbird makes a nest on your roof, it is said to be a traditional sign of good luck. Seeing the sight of two blackbirds together is also said to bring good fortune. As very territorial birds, it is quite a rare spot, so keep your eyes peeled.In addition to the legendary four-leaf clover, did you know that the kingfisher is seen as a very lucky bird? In Europe it’s said that to carry feathers of the kingfisher will act as a good luck charm, believed to bring health and happiness.And as the warmer months approach, keep an eye out for butterflies. If the first butterfly you see is white, you will have a good year.In the current economic climate, most would do well to dispense with any arachnophobic tendencies. It’s believed by some that a spider dropping onto your face or clothes - particularly a tiny 'money spider' - indicates your finances will improve.The lesson from this is clear - if you want to get through today unharmed - get outside, have a walk and hang around with a brace of blackbirds and spider. You see - nature is good for you.
Do you know of any other great nature surperstitions?
P.S. If you do need a reminder about how to post a comment - this blog entry here makes it easy.
P.P.S. I salute you Mike Langhom (and the magpie) for your image below.
Today the RSPB’s team studying ‘our’ birds in Africa head back out to Ghana to resume their field work after a brief spell in the UK over Christmas. I thought it would be good moment to provide an update on what we're up to away from the UK and to give you a personal insight into the life of an international research scientist.
This is the third winter of work that is attempting to understand the extent to which dramatic declines in some of our best loved migrants are being drive by changes in their wintering grounds in Sub Saharan Africa – species like turtle dove and spotted flycatcher (both down by over 80% in the last 40 years) and cuckoo (down by over 60%).
The field team is led by RSPB scientist, Chris Orsman, now in his third ‘Africa winter’, joined by two experienced ringers Birgitta Bűche and Roger Skeen whose skills will be invaluable in the next phase of this work. These three will work alongside a scientist from the British Trust for Ornithology and, together, they will provide hands on training for fellow-team members from the Ghana Wildlife Society – the Birdlife (NGO) partner in Ghana.
Having spent two winters surveying migrant and resident birds as far north as the dry Sahelian savannahs of Burkina Faso, south to lowland humid rainforests in Ghana , the team have taken up temporary residence in an area of Central Ghana. Here, where forest meets savannah, two key species – wood warbler and nightingale - are present in relatively high numbers and the team will continue where they left off in December, catching and radio tracking these species on their wintering grounds. This intensive study of individual birds has proved incredibly effective in understanding a bird's use of habitats and food resources on the breeding grounds – we hope it will provide equally valuable for wintering birds and provide clues about the vital habitats to conserve.
And if you want to know what life is like for a scientist working in the field, here is a typical day in the life of Chris Orsman...
"Up before dawn (ca 4:30), breakfast of a cuppa and local tea-bread then netting or survey work until 11:00 when hot weather cancels play 30-35°C and superstrong overhead sun. Lunch of rice and groundnut soup or “red-red”, sliced plantain and beans fried in red palm oil. A spot of post lunch data entry, then back to the field once more until dusk.
My most memorable moment was being able to track down the first of the radio-tagged wood warblers (see Mike Langham's image below). Waving our antenna overhead, and clearly getting closer and closer, eventually the receiver was telling us to look up – and there it was with colour-rings gleaming, foraging away in the canopy, and quite oblivious to us it’s captors standing there below . Fieldwork gold!!
It’s at times difficult and dusty, or hot and humid, or maybe slow and bone-shakingly frustrating (eg urban traffic on pot-holed roads!). But it’s (almost!) always fun with a great team from the UK and Ghana, studying a fantastic bird in an amazing (and frost free!)country. Overall, not bad!!"
Chris - there are one or two of us who are just a little bit jealous. Good luck to the team and I look forward to reporting positive results in due course.
There is a lot going on at the moment. And I am here to help.
If you are concerned about High Speed 2, why not read my colleague Andre Farrar's blog here.
If you are concerned about the implications of us leaving Europe you could always listen to my interview on Farming Today last week. You can find it here about 8 minutes in. I waffle a bit - but you should be able to get the gist.
If you are concerned about the future of the United Kingdom... well that's one area where I really am not going to comment.
But, if you just want to be distracted by all of this, why not simply take a moment to look at the image below.
This picture was taken by a licensed doormouse surveyor called Liz Cutting at our Wolves Wood Nature Reserve in Suffolk. It is our first record of the species in the reserve's 40 year history. As Liz says, the discovery of dormice at Wolves Wood is testament that if you have a solid block of well-managed woodland with plenty of suitable habitat, dormice will respond. And they have, which is great.
Surely one to warm even the coldest of hearts.