I've handed the reins of my blog over to Mark Avery for most of June. Mark's sharing the successes and challenges of saving nature around the world in the run up to the Rio+20 Earth Summit.
Twenty years ago when the world last met in Rio, the UK Prime Minister, John Major, and his Environment Secretary, John Gummer, came back to the UK full of enthusiasm for conserving nature. Let’s hope that the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, and UK Environment Secretary, Caroline Spelman, come back equally invigorated this time.
I can remember the impetus given to global nature conservation by the 1992 Earth Summit and UK nature conservation got a shot in the arm too. Suddenly government was focussed on which species to save and how to save them.
Not all of the hopes of 20 years ago have been met, but the UK has a pretty good record on nature conservation and the RSPB has been closely involved with many of those successes.
Bittern numbers reached a UK low point of 11 booming males in 1997 but already by then action was under way to improve the management of some sites that had become less suitable for the species and also to create new reedbed habitat to enable the species to expand to new sites.
Many of us working at the RSPB at the time worried that the bittern might disappear from the UK (again – it went extinct in the UK in the 19th century too) on our watch and that certainly focussed our minds. Research was undertaken to understand better exactly what bitterns needed and EU environment grants helped fund a programme of habitat restoration and creation on a wide range of nature reserves managed by the RSPB, the Wildlife Trusts, National Trust and others.
That well-informed and well-implemented recovery programme was very successful. Bitterns have spread out of East Anglia and now regularly nest in Somerset, Lincolnshire and Kent as well as looking as though they will spread further. Now there are over 100 booming males spread across the country and the booming song of the bittern is again becoming a more familiar sound of spring wetlands.
All that collaborative work on bitterns was greatly helped by events in Rio a few years earlier. Nature conservation had risen up the political agenda, politicians made speeches about the moral imperative to protect the life with which we share this planet and some money was forthcoming to implement recovery plans.
For the first time, the UK had a list of species that was agreed between government and nature conservation professional about which species to save and how to go about saving them. The future looked rosier for bluebells, butterflies and bitterns and indeed there have been many conservation successes in recent years based on clever research of threatened species and then determined implementation of the right actions.
UK success stories include the recovery of the large blue butterfly in southwest England, the return of the red kite to the skies of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, the return of the otter to much of England and the restoration of wetlands, heaths, forests and meadows.
In my lifetime the language of nature conservation has become more positive. Yes, there are great challenges facing us, but nature conservation has some great successes under its belt too. Now we talk of restoring, recreating, reintroducing, returning and recovery – the language shows that we can hope to put things back, to replenish and revitalise the natural world. Maybe that was the message of Rio 20 years ago and can be the message of Rio again this month.
Tomorrow I will write about more success stories – global ones in cold places.
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Dr Mark Avery is a former Conservation Director of the RSPB and now is a writer on environmental matters. We’ve asked Mark to write these 20 essays on the run up to the Rio+20 conference. His views are not necessarily those of the RSPB. Mark writes a daily blog about UK nature conservation issues.
"In my lifetime the language of nature conservation has become more positive".
Sorry Martin but that statement is an act of moral contortion in the face of the evidence. Rio 1992 has failed on all its key targets, the most important was that by this time the planet would be moving towards favourable conservation status. It is nt. UK is facing systemic collapses across its "intensive countryside" ie there are lots of cuckoo in France etc. The most important global issue "anthropogenic pollution" is deepening and accelerating.
Conservation professionals should eyeball this fact honestly. To state somehow "Now we talk of restoring, recreating, reintroducing, returning and recovery – the language shows that we can hope to put things back, to replenish and revitalise the natural world. Maybe that was the message of Rio 20 years ago and can be the message of Rio again this month".
Of course that was the message of Rio ! It was written into all its agendas. These were clearly time framed. Please do not twist yourself up in some sort of rebranding of this collosal failure............
One important key to controlling capitalism is the closure of the offshore tax havens. How an earth can RSPB's definition of "sustainability" avoid this issue ? The 1% owning it all and simphoning off an undue return to where it is not subject to democratic control?
Why did Rio fail ? Because capitalism uses nature as a resource to exploit ? This is more unbridled than ever and every substantial indicator is down ? Red Kites at a species level are in decline etc etc
Yes there are positives but across the spectrum overall the story is profoundly negative. Honestly ! Without a serious evaluation of capitalism and the dynamics of power and why Rio has failed there will be no progress at Rio plus 20 .
The only positive is that the era of cheap abundant energy is over and the economics of shortage MAY work in the favour " of restoring, recreating, reintroducing, returning and recovery".
Peter - you seem to have missed the fact that it isn't Martin writing these blogs, but me, Mark Avery. Careful reading always repays the effort!
This essay is one of 20 in the run-up to Rio - and over the next few weeks the essays will highlight challenges and successes. Personally, I am as frustrated as you sound about the lack of progress on some of the 'big picture' elements, but it would be wrong, and rather dull, only to bemoan the failures.
And the language of nature conservation has undoubtedly become more positive (even if these thoughts are not fully embedded into bigger politics). The amount of habitat restoration and recreation, and the number of reintroduction projects, does, I still contend, demonstrate that nature cosnervationists are correcting some of the wrongs of the past. But there is much more to do - and everyone can play a part in doing it through supporting the best wildlife NGOs, being politically active and making personal choices of lifestyle that will help nature.
Thanks for your comment.
Really late Mark but missed this one and a really great positive one as I read it.It seems to me we have moved a long way forward in the last twenty years by starting to conserve things and recognising what needs doing,that is the experts and general public.The downside is that the Political side have gone the opposite way but think in the long run public opinion will shine through especially as there are so many good volunteers.