Since 1981, all wild birds, their eggs and chicks have been protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (WCA). This means they cannot be killed, have their eggs taken or have their occupied nests destroyed unless this is done under licence.
We have been quite vociferous over licensing recently, particularly in relation to our anger at licences issued by Natural England for the destruction of buzzard nests to benefit shooting businesses. Although we have opposed the issuing of licences for the purpose of protecting game interests, we need to rely on the WCA licensing system for conservation, occasionally, too. And, in the interests of openness, I thought I’d share this information with you.
The bulk of the work we complete under WCA licences relates to ‘disturbance’ of wild birds, including those sensitive or rare species listed on Schedule 1 of the WCA. For example, armed with licences authorised staff and volunteers can: monitor the nests of declining wading birds; erect temporary fences around the nests of Montagu’s harriers in arable fields; or place nest protection cages over little ringed plover nests, or electric fencing around little tern colonies. All of this work is done to increase the breeding success of threatened bird species. We have also needed to rely on the licencing system when setting up reintroduction projects for red kites, corncrakes or cirl buntings, or when our investigators try to thwart the attempts of collectors to steal the eggs of some of our rarest birds.
In all of these cases, disturbance is temporary. And, all of this work is only done for research, educational or conservation purposes. Every year we submit a comprehensive report of all our work carried out under these licences to the licensing authority.
Occasionally, we also have to control certain bird species under licence on some of our reserves, but only after all possible management has been done but failed to provide all the conservation needs for those species of concern. In most cases, this is to recover the numbers of threatened wild birds: for example, we remove certain predators to aid the recovery of ground-nesting bird populations. We always favour approaches - such as habitat management and predator exclusion techniques – but, as a last resort, killing may sometimes be necessary.
It is certainly not an everyday tool, and it must be justified on a case-by-case basis. In line with legal requirements and our own policies, we will only contemplate predator control when predation is shown to pose a threat to species or populations of conservation concern, and is sufficiently serious to warrant action. We will also only countenance lethal control where there is no satisfactory alternative and where any control measures are restricted to the predator, are humane and are capable of reducing predation pressure.
To benefit breeding wading birds, such as black-tailed godwit or lapwing, we carry out lethal control of carrion crows on some reserves. This happens under the so-called general licence, which means – like everyone using this provision - we’re not obliged to submit records on the number of birds killed (which we think is wrong), but we keep the records anyway and here are the most recent figures we have available:
In 2011-12, 292 crows were killed on our reserves. Eleven magpies have also been killed under general licence on RSPB reserves for conservation purposes during the same period.
To protect breeding terns from predation, licensed control of herring gulls, lesser black-backed gulls and great black-backed gulls is also undertaken on specific reserves as a last resort. In 2011-12, 76 large gull nests were destroyed (mostly lesser-black-backed gull) and three adult lesser black-backed gulls were shot on RSPB reserves. Both herring and lesser black-backed gulls have an unfavourable conservation status. So we would never carry out lethal control which endangers the predator species.
We also carry out control (through egg oiling) of introduced greylag and Canada geese on two reserves in England for aircraft safety. In 2012 this amounted to 73 greylag goose eggs and 25 Canada goose eggs. Also 195 eggs of introduced barnacle geese have been destroyed on another reserve to reduce the impact of aggressive behaviour towards nesting species of conservation concern. At one site we also oil Canada goose eggs to prevent hatching to avoidserious crop damage to a neighbouring landowner.
The licensing system for permitting disturbance or control of wildlife exists for particular problems and we believe it is legitimate to make small-scale interventions for conservation, or as the law allows. However, we remain opposed to any plan to reduce the integrity of the licensing system and make it easier to kill things in general.
Following the launch of the State of Nature report, I am keen to stimulate a debate about what else we need to do to live in harmony with nature. Over the next few weeks, people from differing perspectives will propose their One Big Thing for Nature. Today, I am delighted to welcome Ruth Davis, who has previously worked for Plantlife and RSPB and is now Chief Policy Advisor at Greenpeace UK.
The State of Nature report, detailing over half a century of decline in the richness and beauty of our countryside, fills me with sadness. I know that the millions of other people in the UK feel the same.
Ours are a group of nations whose identities have grown from the land; whose poets – from Shakespeare, to Clare, Thomas, Hill and Duffy - have dug their words out of the soil; and whose people have struggled not just to secure the vote and decent wages, but to retain common land and to be allowed to walk the hills. If we lose the battle to protect our corner of the natural world, it is no exaggeration to say that our history as peoples will fade before our eyes.
Yet somehow we find ourselves paralysed - faced down by an economic philosophy that tramples on our deeply held values and affections with apparent impunity. This is the future, and it hurts. So, to borrow (tongue in cheek) from Lenin, what is to be done? Well, to me, the most inspiring – and the only politically credible - way to reclaim our country from the grip of this brutal form of accountancy, is to rebuild its institutional and social, as well as its environmental fabric. Then, we will have a chance to defeat the divisive logic that pits nature against prosperity, and presents the protection of wildlife as an impediment to our common good, rather than an intrinsic part of it. Here are three ideas that might help.
Firstly, why don’t we work with housing campaigners to develop a plan for green affordable homes? We could support fair rents and the release of empty properties. But we could also demand that the country’s biggest landowners – Government, universities, churches, the Crown, for example - put a proportion of their land into community land trusts, to build houses in places that will not damage nature. By supporting housing schemes in the right places, as well as opposing those in the wrong, we will demonstrate our commitment to the common good.
Secondly, let’s tackle food, farming and wages. Many small farmers don’t earn enough to get by, let alone to farm in the way that they and we would like. At the same time, millions of people earning less than a living wage have little choice but to buy the cheapest food on offer – which is cheap precisely because farmers are not being paid enough. Farmers, customers, and employees could demand that big supermarkets pay a living wage, give farmers a decent price at the farm gate, and buy from farms that protect our land, water and wildlife.
Finally, let’s create an independent institution to safeguard our land. After years of political interference, Natural England is not so much a muzzled watchdog (to borrow Peter Marren’s phrase) as a neutered one. When its death warrant arrives, in the form of a proposal to merge it with the Environment Agency, let’s not negotiate the terms of its execution. Instead, let’s propose a new body, accountable to Parliament and the Crown, whose job will be to insist that Government applies those laws, hard-won by the people of this country, that exist to protect our land and wildlife from short-termism, vested interests and state-sanctioned greed.
Do you agree with Ruth? And what would be your One Big Thing for Nature?
It would be great to hear your views
Following the launch of the State of Nature report, I am keen to stimulate a debate about what else we need to do to live in harmony with nature. Over the next few weeks, people from differing perspectives will propose their One Big Thing for Nature. Today, I am delighted to welcome Harriet Mead who is on the steering group for New Networks for Nature as well as president of the Society of Wildlife Artists.
So much of our perception of the natural world and the environment seems to be coloured by guilt. Guilt on a personal level: that we may use the car too often or that the green beans we want in November were grown in Kenya, but also guilt at just being a member of the human race with our relentless need for space, fuel and food. We are bombarded with stories of looming environmental catastrophes: melting ice caps, disappearing rainforests, insecticides killing bees, ash die back…it goes on and on. The feeling of helplessness is tinged almost with resentment that just by existing we are having an impact on the natural world.
The sense of guilt is hardly a positive way of getting the environmental message across. Of course we need to know the perilous state of the world and take responsibility and try to make a difference at whatever level, be it globally or locally. And on many occasions we do need to shock and rally responses. But guilt can make people turn away from things. We need people to turn towards the natural world so that they realise that it belongs to them, that they actually can help. The natural world is something that they can take pleasure in and have an influence on, not something that is nagging, wounded and desperate and perhaps cannot be saved.
It is worth taking time to actually look at what it is we are saving and why we should care. And this is where I feel there should be more cross over between art and conservation. I believe that creatives are invaluable for breathing life onto the bones of research. Artists who celebrate the natural world through their own personal view of the subject can convey a sense of place and show us why we should care. Like our artists, the great nature writers and poets can celebrate the unassuming and transport us to the heart of the subject, and film makers and photographers find beauty and wonder in nature and the environment and document the individuals and build stories. It’s all about seeing and communicating. It’s a fresh way of looking that can work alongside conservation and communicate on many different levels with all ages from a multiple of backgrounds.
I’m not some hippy wandering around with rose tinted spectacles thinking that all we need is love to save the world. We need science. We need research. We need solutions. I just think we also need to remember to celebrate. We need to bang the drum for what we have and make the person on the street turn towards conservation rather than shuffle away. By lighting and feeding that spark of care and involvement the fire of hope will burn brighter. And hope is the ultimate weapon in our armoury. Without hope the army of scientists, conservationist and creatives working for the natural world would have to admit defeat. Creativity is another language in which to spread the message of conservation. Let’s face it we need as many voices as we can get.
Do you agree with Harriet? And what would be your One Big Thing for Nature?
It would be great to hear your views.
Following the launch of the State of Nature report, I am keen to stimulate a debate about what else we need to do to live in harmony with nature. Over the next few weeks, people from differing perspectives will propose their One Big Thing for Nature. Today, I am delighted to welcome Andy Lester, Conservation Director of A Rocha UK. A Rocha is a Christian environmental and nature conservation movement which now operates in 19 countries on five continents, including the UK. Its work encompasses practical involvement in nature conservation projects and ecological research, campaigning on biodiversity issues and engaging with churches, schools and communities.
The State of Nature report at first glance makes for some truly depressing reading. Whilst the facts and the figures are not entirely unexpected - others stand out as an appalling testament to the state of our nation ... no more so than the knowledge that we have lost 44 million birds since the 1960s. No wonder our countryside and our towns and cities seem bereft of clouds of wheeling swifts, flocks of chattering house sparrows and large autumn murmurations of starlings.
But all is not lost. There is real hope - and if anything this report serves, in the words of Sir David Attenborough, as a wake-up call, an opportunity for real hope and genuine inspiration.
So what happens next? What is the next big thing that can really reshape the conservation arena? In the book of Romans in the New Testament St Paul says; “But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not already have we wait for it patiently”. (ch 8, v24-25) This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to take stock at not just the state of our natural world but also the deeper state of the nation and in doing so find real reasons to hope again.
For our charity, the journey starts with God: that the planet belongs to Him. Psalm 24:1 says, “The Earth is the Lord’s and everything in it ...” and that our role is as the stewards or protectors of the planet.
In this context we believe that the answer to the State of Nature report is found in empowering individuals from the ages of 3 to 103 with a deep excitement and reverence for nature. That does not just mean loving nature - but loving a creative God, who through evolutionary principles has created a world of intricate detail, immaculate design and incredible revelation. To make this happen we are working with churches to create urban and rural blueprints for change. That means encouraging community groups, with church support to take on brownfield sites, waste ground, old gardens, churchyards, allotments, former industrial sites and transforming them into creative community expressions of hope.
From inner city Glasgow, to urban London and from the Gower to Sussex we are working with a multitude of organisations and inspired individuals determined to make a difference. We are also running a green church award scheme to encourage churches to take practical local action for wildlife. This then is an opportunity to develop a network of imaginative, conservation focussed, small scale, entirely accessible locations on our doorsteps. So that when things get tougher - which they surely will, each of us has a place to go and become re-inspired.
This is the only way forwards. A nation dedicated to local expressions of hope and inspiration. If we all play our part, the next State of the Nation won’t be as challenging as this last one - and there will be enough good news to keep us focussed and hope-filled.
Do you agree with Andy? And what would be your One Big Thing for Nature?
Following the launch of the State of Nature report, I am keen to stimulate a debate about what else we need to do to live in harmony with nature. Over the next few weeks, people from differing perspectives will propose their One Big Thing for Nature. Today, I am delighted to welcome Jon Nott, General Secretary of Woodcraft Folk, the co-operative children and young people’s movement.
Creepy crawlies were my gateway to an interest in nature as a child in the 1970s. Lifting rotting logs on walks down a former railway track near my home to watch the woodlice scurry and picking caterpillars off the cabbages on my Grandad’s allotment. Then came an interest in plants, particularly trees that could be climbed (or which dropped conkers) or bushes which attracted butterflies. I didn’t know what an eco-system was at the time, but by exploring what you would find in amongst the roots of a tree, which insects were attracted to the flowers and which birds nested there, I developed a fascination with the inter-relatedness of living things.
How different from the childhood experiences of many born in the 21st century, whose experience of nature is mediated, managed and controlled by parents with a fear of even partially wild places such as the woodland in the local park or the waste ground reclaimed by weeds. George Monbiot has called for “rewilding” as a response to the devastation of our natural environment. I think we need to complement this with a “rewilding” of human society, starting with childhood.
Our over-protective approach to children says that it is better to keep them indoors in front of the TV or the computer than let them get a few bumps and scrapes learning how to climb trees or pay for the juiciest blackberries with a few scratches on the arms or snags in their clothes, better to risk obesity than nettlerash exploring a local ‘wilderness’ with their friends.
Yes, there are dangers, but there is a danger in wrapping our children in cotton wool as well. A key component of safeguarding children is teaching them to understand risk and react appropriately - not to avoid it at all costs. Experience in other fields, such as traffic management, show that seemingly counter-intuitive schemes, such as reverting to mixed spaces where motor traffic and pedestrians intermingle, raise awareness and reduce risks.
Children who develop a love and respect for nature through their own experience will grow up to be far better advocates for defending biodiversity than those who only watch David Attenborough’s wonderful TV programmes (of course it does no harm to do both). We've seen that happen in many Woodcraft Folk projects, for example the Wokingham Action Project.
That’s why I’d urge parents and teachers to take the opportunity to explore nature with their children. Whether that’s through local groups like Woodcraft Folk, Young Ornithologists or Ramblers, or independently using brilliant guides such as the National Trusts’ 50 things to do before you’re eleven and three-quarters.
If you really get the bug, then bushcraft activities and Forest Schools are an excellent way for children to develop a deeper relationship with their natural environment while learning valuable skills.
The immediate benefits of great fun, growing self-confidence and exercise that’s nothing like PE are obvious, but I hope we’ll also be laying the foundations for a new generation of nature defenders. The State of Nature report certainly shows that we need them.
Do you agree with Jon? And what would be your One Big Thing for Nature?