Martin Harper's blog

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
  • Squaring up to our food and farming challenges

    I'm on holiday this week, so I've lined up Dan Crossley, Executive Director at Food Ethics Council, for a this guest blog post.

    The RSPB is among ten organisations that have come together to call for a more integrated approach to policy across food, farming, the environment and public health. In a new report, 'Square Meal: why we need a new recipe for the future', we set out a different vision for food and farming. The Food Ethics Council is a fellow contributor to Square Meal report.

    Summer is in full swing in the UK. People are out enjoying the sunshine. Schools are shut. Parliament is closed. Commuter trains are quieter than normal. Life rumbles on at a slightly slower pace.

    In contrast, our food and farming systems continue apace – and the challenges posed by ‘business as usual’ in the way our food is produced and consumed aren’t getting any smaller.

    Thirty three percent of under 18s in the UK are overweight or obese; many hundreds of thousands of our citizens are struggling to be able to afford to eat and we’ve lost 44 million pairs of breeding birds in less than 50 years.

    That’s why I have a food-related summer plea – which comes in three parts

    Firstly, when you’re tucking into your next summer meal, pause for a minute and think about what’s gone into making that burger, salad or sandwich.

    Think about the water needed for the ingredients to grow, the ecosystem services (like pollinators) that the ingredients depend on, the energy needed to process it, the labour that’s gone into growing and making the food and the oil needed to transport it all.

    For a few minutes, try putting yourself in the shoes of one of those key ‘actors’ that have helped make your meal – whether it be a farmer, the land, a food manufacturer or a retailer. How does that make you think differently about the food you’re eating?

    Secondly (if that’s got you thinking more about food), please look at our recently published Square Meal report.

    Spoiler alert…. It’s a bunch of NGOs (and academics) calling for, amongst other things, an overhaul of food and farming policy, a long-term vision, more joined-up policy around food and farming, greater collaboration and strong leadership from government.

    So, what’s new, you might wonder?

    Well for me, what’s exciting and hugely powerful is that it’s the first time the 10 organisations involved have come together in this way (to list them in full, it’s the Food Research Collaboration, the RSPB, the Food Ethics Council, Sustain, the Wildlife Trusts, the Soil Association, the National Trust, Eating Better, Friends of the Earth and Compassion in World Farming).

    We have our differences, but we’ve put them to one side here, because we all want food and farming systems that deliver for people, animals and the environment – for the long-term.

    Thirdly, please go beyond summer reading and actively join in the Square Meal debate. If you care about your natural environment, your health and wellbeing, the welfare of animals, and the fair treatment of those working in producing and selling our food, we’d love to hear your views.

    We shouldn’t underestimate the power of our collective voices. If we all come together and show government how public health, conservation, and social and environmental concerns and their solutions go hand in hand, imagine how much better our food and farming systems could be.

    The Food Ethics Council works to build fair and resilient food systems that respect people, animals and the planet, by helping food businesses, government and civil society address ethical concerns at the heart of decision-making about food and farming.

  • Hen Harriers: two things

    I am going on holiday tomorrow: travelling with the family by train to the Pyrenees.  Lucky me.

    Before I go I wanted to do two things.

    First, to wish people well for a successful Hen Harrier Day on Sunday.  Although I will not be able to join the hundreds of people that plan to participate in the rallies.  I do plan to join the thousands of people that I hope take part through social media (so-called 'thunderclap').  This is a great opportunity to highlight the plight of this wonderful species and put a spotlight on illegal killing.

    Second, to thank all those that have helped with our hen harrier nest operations this year.  Compared to last year’s disastrous breeding season, it has been pleasing to be able to report three successful nests in England. 

    This could not have happened without the support from volunteers, local raptor workers, and staff from the RSPB and other organisations, who have spent countless hours walking the hills in search of harriers and have diligently reported their hen harrier sightings to the hen harrier hotline, aiding the coordination of efforts by all.

    We owe thanks too, to the organisations which have supported this work, which include United Utilities, Natural England (especially for providing satellite tags), the Forestry Commission, the AONBs including Forest Of Bowland AONB, the National Trust, the National Park Authorities, the Police Forces, Northern England Raptor Forum, Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, the Moorland Association, Defence Estates, Ribble Valley Borough Council, Lancashire County Council, and finally, the BBC for featuring the hotline on recent Autumn/Winter/Spring-watch programmes.

    We also owe a big thanks to the dauntless volunteers and staff who have watched over the Bowland nests night and day in all weathers and the estate’s farming and shooting tenant who funded the diversionary feeding. 

    I have previously written that it is ridiculous that in 21st century England, we have to mount 24 hour surveillance 7 days a week to protect these nests. But we do - thanks to the tireless efforts of these brilliant people.

    All those that take part in Hen Harrier day on Sunday look forward to the day when persecution (and therefore nest protection) is consigned to history and hen harriers can fly freely over the moors of England once more.

    And finally, there may be one or two guest appearances on this blog while I am away.  I look forward to blogging for nature again later in the month.

  • Revelling in diversity

    One of the great joys of the UK nature conservation scene is the rich mix of organisations that you get to work with.

    There are societies, charities and local groups that work on pretty much every taxonomic group including algae, amphibians, badgers, bats, beesbryophytes, bugs, butterflies, cetaceans, dragonflies, fungi, hedgehogs, plants (x2), sharkssnails, spiders, trees, oh and birds.  There are also 47 wildlife trusts and an organisation dedicated to marine conservation.

    I think that this diversity is worth celebrating.

    Each organisation is full of people that love (and know a lot about) nature.  And each organisation contributes hugely to our knowledge of the natural world.

    To some, the sector might look messy and in desperate need of rationalisation.

    To others (including me), the sector is brilliant because of its diversity. Without it, we would not be able to harness the expertise and enthusiasm of those with very specific interests - many of whom give their time for free.  Without it, we would not be able to report on the state of nature.  And without it, nature conservation and perhaps our society would be poorer.

    This is why I urge you to go in search of something new and join one of these great organisations. 

    But those that donate to these organisations might expect us to work better together to make sure their money works hard for nature conservation.  I agree.  That's why we are trying to deepen collaboration between organisations and ensure that there is a clearer conservation strategy behind which we can collectively rally.  This doesn't need to be written down but it is helpful to roughly know where we are heading and that we are all, more or less, going down the same path together.  

    This is why we are developing a shared agenda for future species monitoring, why we are increasingly sharing data and ideas for research, why we are working together better on nature reserve management, why we are working together to restore wildlife at a landscape scale and why we want to collaborate to influence others to do more for nature.

    Yes, at times, organisations might sharpen their elbows and feel competitive to one another - mainly regarding media profile.  But the real competition comes from organisations that are happy to trash the environment in pursuit of other goals.  Given the ever increasing pressures on the natural world, we need solidarity within the sector.  And, I believe this solidarity is growing which can only be a good thing.   

    The investment of effort in building partnerships is worth it.  Together we can and will be mighty.