Martin Harper's blog

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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 Vote National Bird Campaign: Iolo Williams urges you to vote for... the Red Kite

    Iolo Williams (whose speech at the launch of the State of Nature report in 2013 was a YouTube sensation) has kindly offered to champion Red Kite as his nomination for our National Bird.  If you agree with him, then why not cast your vote today.  David Lindo's National Bird Campaign runs until 7 May so you only have two more weeks to make your mind up.

    The red kite is stunning. With its pale head, orange-brown body and long, russet-coloured tail, it’s one of Europe's most beautiful and elegant birds of prey. During the Middle Ages, it was one of our commonest raptors and as late as the 18th century, several pairs were reported to be nesting in the city of London. For the next 200 years, however, this species was persecuted to the brink of extinction. Birds were trapped, poisoned and shot in their thousands and by the 1890s, the red kite had become extinct in England, Scotland and Ireland, leaving a mere handful of pairs to cling on in the remote upland valleys of south west Wales. 

    Thanks largely to the unwanted and persistent attention of egg collectors, the remnant population increased painfully slowly and in the late 1980s, the decision was taken to reintroduce birds from the continent into England and Scotland. Since then, both the native Welsh population and the introduced birds have been remarkably successful and today, the total UK population is in excess of 3,000 breeding pairs. Red kites are now found throughout much of their former haunts from Pembrokeshire to Norfolk and from Wiltshire to the north of Scotland.

    No other British bird has come so close to the brink of extinction before defying all the odds to flourish in our modern landscape. It’s a survivor, a raptor that has withstood everything we humans could throw at it. No other bird is more deserving of your vote as Britain's National Bird than the red kite. 

  • The Vote National Bird Campaign: Miranda Krestovnikof urges you to vote for... the Puffin

    The second candidate in David Lindo's Vote National Bird Campaign is the puffin championed today by RSPB President, Miranda Krestovnikof.  If you are persuaded by Mirdanda, then go ahead and cast your vote

    It didn’t take me long to decide which contender would get my vote in the National Bird campaign; for me it’s the puffin that’s the obvious winner.

    What’s not to love about them? They are strikingly beautiful birds with a real personality. They are unmistakable even from a distance with their distinctive flattened, brightly coloured bill. Their appearance is heightened by red and black eye markings and orange legs... almost as if they are about to appear on stage in a panto! They are the real clowns among seabirds and their comical faces put a smile on my own face whether I see them in the flesh or on a photo. They remind me of crazy wind up toys that potter about erratically looking surprised at all times. I just think they are the most charismatic birds!

    I’ve been lucky enough to get close to puffins a number of times during my TV career – I’ve filmed them on Skomer and the Shiants and I even ringed one last year.  There was a lot of biting and pecking, but it’s easy to forgive those cheeky faces.

    I was once standing in front of a puffin burrow doing a piece to camera when one stood right in front of me with a sort of annoyed expression and then ran right through my legs.  I was blocking the entrance to its burrow and it was a bit miffed to say the least.  

    One of the best places to guarantee (as much as you ever can with wildlife) to see a puffin is at RSPB Bempton Cliffs in East Yorkshire. Within two hundred metres of the visitor centre you’re surrounded by puffin nooks and crannies and those gorgeous faces appear inquisitively. You can get close to the action from six, safe cliff-edge viewing platforms. After all the excitement you can look round the brand new seabird centre and enjoy that well-earned cup of tea.

    So come on, please join me in voting for the puffin, a bird with the looks and the personality!


  • The Vote National Bird Campaign: Stuart Winter urges you to vote for... the Robin

    To give you a break from the election campaign, over the next ten days I shall be profiling the ten birds in the shortlist for David Lindo's Vote National Bird Campaign.  Today, Stuart Winter (journalist and 'Birdman' for the Sunday Express) urges you to vote for the robin.

    Adjectives attach themselves to the much-loved robin with the same robustness as this most endearing of birds defends its territory.

    Chest-pumping, chirpy, cheeky, cocky... And these are just words that start with the letter C! The robin has become a flying thesaurus with its devotees only too willing to find increasingly flattering ways to pay homage to its countless attributes.

    What’s more, the characteristics that robins display so vividly as they brighten our gardens with their flaming breasts and sibilant song are  those we value most in not just other people but in our island race: small of stature but big of heart; friendly, loyal and endearing yet belligerent and uncompromising to all those who dare extinguish its vitality or threaten its domain. Robins are the avian embodiment of John Bull, Britannia and any other British hero you care to mention. Little wonder that most celebrated legendary figure of them all, the scourge of the Sheriff of Nottingham and the leader of Sherwood Forest’s Merry Men, was called Robin.

    The redbreast’s place in our rich literary history – Chaucer, Blake and Wordsworth, who mentions robins in no fewer than 14 of his poems – is matched by the way we associate the species with our most sacred holidays. Not only is the robin a mainstay of Christmas celebrations, it is a symbol of resurrection, the redness of its breast stained by the blood of Christ.

    In 1961 the robin was chosen as our unofficial national bird after the British Section of the International Council for Bird Preservation were tasked with finding a suitable candidate, a challenge played out in the letter pages of The Times. Six decades on it is time to honour the robin for time immemorial with official recognition as the National Bird of Great Britain and by Act of Parliament, if need be. God Save the Queen. God Save the Robin.