When we started the Bird of Prey Campaign last year and invited people to sign up to a pledge to stamp out the senseless killing of these beautiful animals we knew that it would capture many people’s attention.
But we weren’t quite expecting it to become the stuff of the tabloid celebrity gossip columns.
Hollywood A-lister Leonardo DiCaprio was spotted recently by The Sun watching peregrines at an RSPB viewing point at the Tate Modern in London. He was so taken with the graceful falcons that he signed our pledge and added another name to the list of the campaign’s supporters.
But Leo is not the only celeb who is appalled at the treatment of birds of prey and wants the killing to stop. The pledge has also been signed by Lionel Blair, Rory McGrath and Nick Cave. Now that lot would make a strange dinner party, wouldn’t they?
So if you want to join the illustrious list of people who have signed the pledge then click here and add your name right away!
Wildlife Lesson Number 1,574: If you’re looking for a reliable animal, try a snake.
Trying to tell stories about wildlife can be frustrating at times – especially when the little critters in question don’t bother to turn up when required. Inviting journalists to our reserves to see some of the creature we’re trying to protect is always a gamble – and it can be embarrassing when they go away empty handed.
Such worries were preying on my mind when I met up with the reporter and cameraman from BBC Breakfast this week to film the capture of some smooth snakes – Britain’s rarest reptile.
We arrived at a patch of heathland near Bournemouth yesterday to search for some of the elusive animals, which were destined to be released 100 miles away at a secret location in Devon. The non-venomous, and very timid, smooth snake was last seen in Devon 50 years ago and the relocation project is a joint effort between ourselves and the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust.
With the camera rolling we began lifting the corrugated iron strips which had been laid down for the snakes to shelter under. Amazingly within minutes we had our first slithery specimen and a couple more followed soon afterwards. In fact in less than an hour tramping about the heath I managed to tick off two thirds of the UK’s native reptile species (smooth snake, grass snake, slowworm and common lizard – I still need an adder and a sand lizard to complete my list).
If you caught the slot on BBC One this morning then you will have seen a short film of us gathering up the snakes accompanied by Bow Wow Wow’s 80s New Wave classic Where’s My Snake, followed, live on air, by their release into their new heathland home.
The story was a great way to get across the plight of our lowland heathland – a habitat more endangered than the rainforest – and also remind people that the RSPB ain’t just about birds.
So next time I’m wandering despondently across a boggy marsh with an expectant camera crew in tow praying for the arrival of some wildlife – any wildlife – for them to film, I’ll cast my mind back with a wistful sigh to the wonderful little smooth snake who always turns up when you need him.
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Are we being invaded?
It does seem so, from reading the papers recently. There have been quite a few stories in the news in recent weeks about invasive non-native species. The most famous of these is the grey squirrel, but we’ve also been hearing about crayfish, mittened crabs and, ahem, ‘killer’ chipmunks.
For a conservation organisation this certainly a tricky issue. We tracked down the RSPB’s expert on the issue, Paul Walton, to get to the bottom of the matter. Here’s what he had to say…
It is one of the least understood of ecological issues - yet it is one of the main ways that humanity impacts the natural world: the introduction of non-native species.
A huge number of living species – perhaps as much as half of global biodiversity – owes its very existence to the fact that the world is effectively divided-up by physical barriers that stop different ecosystems and ecological communities from mixing.
These barriers are the oceans, mountain ranges, deserts, rain-shadows and currents. They have forced evolution to operate independently in different parts of the world, producing diverse and regionally characteristic floras and faunas - giving us, for example, tigers as forest cats in Asia, but jaguars as forest cats in South America. The effect runs right through the living world.
People, however, have a long history of moving animals and plants around the globe and – either deliberately or inadvertently – allowing them to establish in new areas. This effectively breaks down these geographical barriers to species movements. Free from native predators, pathogens and competitors, the new non-native arrivals often flourish and sometimes – all too often – create severe problems for native wildlife. Islands and freshwater lakes are particularly vulnerable.
The introduction, by people, of mammal species – particularly cats and rats – on islands has probably been the biggest single cause of bird species extinctions over the past 3 centuries. Moreover, with the growth of international trade and the effects of climate change, the problem is set to intensify.
RSPB staff keep a keen eye out for potentially damaging non-native species on our nature reserves, particularly aquatic plants that have escaped from gardens and can have devastating impacts on wetland habitats. We have, moreover, been closely involved with constructing policy and legislation on non-native species issues, both nationally and internationally. We do not advocate the ‘demonisation’ of non-native species, nor the eradication of every plant or animal brought to the UK by people: some non-native species do not have a direct detectable effect on native wildlife, and some species are too well established for any realistic practical response. However, where native wildlife is threatened, and where a practical response is possible, we do promote effective and humane measures to protect species and habitats from damage or extinction.
The principal aim is to improve our ability to prevent damaging introductions before they happen - always better than a 'cure' - and then to establish a rapid response capacity and effective control mechanisms for damaging non-native species that do become established.
We will continue to help develop and implement the government’s GB Non-native Species Strategy, and we are pressing for effective EU legislation on non-native species. Currently national legislation is patchy and inconsistent across the EU, and we need to bring all Member States to a minimum standard in this regard: if any one country allows the preventable establishment of damaging non-native species, wildlife across the whole European Community is then put at risk.
Just a quick one - to give you a gentle nudge in the direction of a little film we made the other day.
Barn owl chicks have hatched for the first time at the RSPB's Hope Farm - in a box donated to us by the National Farmers' Union.
We had a lovely afternoon down on the farm recently watching the chicks getting ringed and weighed along with our director of conservation Mark Avery and the NFU president Peter Kendall. We took a video camera along and you can read the full story and watch the short film we made here.
Our Head of Climate Change Policy, Ruth Davis, found much to celebrate in the Government’s plans for a transition to a low carbon economy. Here are her thoughts:
I very much hope today’s announcement marks a watershed in the long, hard battle to tackle dangerous climate change.
It would be a truly grudging climateer who was not delighted by Government’s commitment to a real renewable energy revolution, while seeking to safeguard our natural environment. It is hugely welcome.
The RSPB will be urging all parties to build on this strong foundation in the years to come. This is an area where consensus is precious and hard-won.
There was much more to chew on in the plans announced today however, and we now have a chance to consider whether those plans match up to the scale and urgency of the crisis.
The big question is whether the ambition matches the science of climate change. The answer, sadly, is not yet. The UK needs to halve emissions by 2020 if we are to do our bit in keeping the global temperature increase to 2 degrees. The figure in today’s announcement was 34 per cent.
So, apart from the good news on renewable energy, how do the plans for other parts of our economy measure up?
On energy efficiency, the piloting of 'pay as you save' green mortgages for homes is welcome, but then energy efficiency is a no-brainer; the one area that is all gain, no pain. We simply need lots more, much faster.
On the future of the electricity sector, reforming the regulator Ofgem is very welcome as are plans to ensure fast grid connections for renewable energy. However, there is still no clear vision for future power. Firms will continue building high-carbon power plants unless they know these have a limited life span in a low-carbon UK.
The Committee on Climate Change recommended an almost zero-carbon power sector by 2030. Government are promising us ‘a 2020-2030 route-map’. By the time it is drawn up, new coal plants could have already locked us into a high carbon future. All parties need to push urgently for an emissions performance standard, to drive long-term emission reductions in the power sector.
On transport, the Government focussed on vehicle efficiency and electrification - measures the RSPB has championed as an alterative to environmentally destructive biofuels. Yet, on the same day, we and others boycotted a party marking the anniversary of the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation - a wrong-headed policy which promotes the inefficient use of those biofuels. It is time to say clearly that biofuels are not a technology of the future.