Stuart Housden's blog

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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.

Stuart Housden's blog

Director of RSPB Scotland. Blogging on conservation topics & many of our projects.There will be an emphasis on Scotland,but the rest of the UK & work with BirdLife International will get mentions too.You can also follow me on Twitter @StuartHousden
  • Letter to Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform

    Letter to Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform

    RSPB Scotland has always believed that, because nature transcends national boundaries, it needs cross-border co-operation to protect it and a common set of international standards that enable it to thrive. Regardless of the future governance options or constitutional debates that may arise in Scotland following the EU referendum, RSPB Scotland will continue to campaign for the best standards of environmental legislation to safeguard our wildlife and to halt the impacts of climate change. With this in mind we, supported by other conservation organisations, have written to the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, Roseanna Cunningham MSP, to ensure that there is an equivalent or enhanced level of protection for wildlife as that which is currently provided for under EU law. You can download and read this letter using the link below. 

    This letter to the Scottish Government mirrors the RSPB's calls across the UK following last week's referendum - you can read more on this in Martin Harper's blog.

  • Investing in Our Countryside

    Investing in Our Countryside

    Wildlife across Scotland continues to change, with serious long term declines now evident. So how do we have a greater positive impact on the fortunes of our species at a time when less government support is available? Protected areas for example have been essential to target corncrake recovery and blanket bog restoration in Scotland, but they’re not enough on their own to prevent wildlife declines. What’s more, other policies, like the CAP and CFP, continue to work in opposition to conservation measures, and the market pressures on food producers don’t yet value conservation so what’s the solution? These are some of the issues that were up for discussion at the ‘Investing in Our Countryside’ dinner, which we co-hosted with lawyers Turcan Connell on the 31st May.

    The event was part of Green Week - the biggest annual conference on European environmental policy, which this year took place from 30th May to 3rd June. Focusing on the theme ‘Investing for a greener future’, this year the conference aimed to contribute to answering the broader question of how to achieve smart, sustainable and inclusive growth in Europe. Each day of the week focused on a different aspect of the main theme and member states were encouraged to hold satellite events, such as our dinner. 

    Nicholas Hanley, Director of DG Environment's Directorate for Global and Regional Challenges

    The evening was kicked off with the above address from Nicholas Hanley, Director of DG Environment's Directorate for Global and Regional Challenges, which was recorded in advance of the event. As Mr Hanley states, “...declining budgets have taken their toll on biodiversity” and “ will cost a lot to replace natural systems with artificial solutions, therefore investing in our natural capital is not a cost, but saving cost – a true investment in a sustainable future.” I echo this and also agree that “...well managed protected areas deliver benefits for both wildlife and people.” It’s refreshing to have a European Commission representative stand up for the Natura 2000 network at a time when the directives behind them are in grave danger of being watered down, despite strong public and political support, including most recently from David Cameron.

    Though we are not telling anyone how to vote in the EU referendum, and understand people will decide based on multiple issues, the RSPB believes wildlife is safer in Europe wheere concerted action can address the needs of nature across the continent. But, whatever the outcome on the 23rd June, it is clear more investment is needed in the Scottish countryside. Over 60% of species have declined in the past 50 years. Nature matters, for its own intrinsic value and the ecosystem services it provides, but without conscious investment nature is likely to be further degraded, as ‘efficiencies’ drive more specialisation  and intensification of land use.

    We recognise that public finances are tight. So, the Scottish Government needs to be smarter in how public funds are used – more joined up, better targeted and focused on delivering real outcomes, such as those outlined in the Biodiversity Route Map to 2020. It’s apparent that there is also an underinvestment in education, training and advice, which would help to better equip those who work the land and manage the countryside with better knowledge and skills to do so in beneficial ways.

    The private sector could deliver a good deal more, too. There is great potential for Scottish businesses to trade on the basis of a clean and green image, but this must be based on substance. And we need to make it more attractive for the private sector to invest in nature, too.

    These are the views of RSPB Scotland of course, but as details were discussed and debated around the dinner table, spurred on by some fervent speakers, one thing became clear; we need the public to be alerted to the dangers and invest more effort in telling politicians they care. The first in a set of globally agreed targets for biodiversity – the Aichi targets –- states that ’by 2020, at the latest, people are aware of the values of biodiversity and the steps they can take to conserve and use it sustainably.’ We all need to work harder to achieve this.

    ‘The countryside’ is often thought of as somewhere people visit for recreation and this idea of the environment and nature being separate from us first and foremost needs to change. There was a strong consensus around the table that, from childhood, people need to be reconnected with the land and wildlife around them. Children must be given the necessary experience to understand what nature Scotland must care for. People must be connected with nature to care.  

    It was also suggested that we need to mainstream a sense of concern and care for nature throughout society, in a similar way that the Climate Change movement has done. The media can help us do this, but people can feel powerless when they hear lots of doomsday stories. Similarly, it was pointed out that it’s not just the media that can be overly negative. Stakeholders, including ourselves, can all be guilty of starting from a place of discord when trying to work out new policies. And so maybe we all need to have a more positive stance, give hope, lead by example and so move forward by first seeking areas of agreement rather than dispute?



  • How did nature do in the elections?

    The election results are in and the new MSPs are gathering in Holyrood. How did nature and the environment do? They didn’t grab the headlines, but in numerous hustings across Scotland organised by RSPB Scotland, Environment Link and our partners, candidates were put through their paces. The Hustings were well attended, and unfailingly polite and respectful. But passions did shine through on occasion.

    One of nature’s strongest advocates was ‘Bob’, a red squirrel character, who spearheaded our awareness raising campaign. It was remarkably successful with over 122,000 messages generated to the candidates, and no less than 181 of those standing for election ‘backed Bob’. Thank you to each and every one of you!

    But of course that was the fun part. Now it gets serious. With biodiversity in decline across much of Scotland, many of our protected sites (SSSIs and EU Natura sites) in ‘unfavourable condition’, birds of prey still being illegally killed, new developments, including poorly located windfarms putting wildlife at risk, we cannot afford to be complacent. There is much to be done. On top of this, the funds made available to SNH and through the CAP to support nature and high nature value farming are being squeezed. Scotland’s wildlife, countryside and green spaces need all the friends they can muster in Holyrood.

    So here are my top seven ideas for the Scottish Government and the new Parliament:-

    • Every school child should have the opportunity to visit a wildlife rich greenspace or local nature reserve, to be given a quality day with a field teacher – every year.
    • The Government should commit to fund its Biodiversity 2020 routemap, to ensure the high priorities identified within it are delivered.
    • The SNP’s proposal for a ‘Good Food Nation Bill’ must ensure that the links between good food, healthy eating, sustainable production and space for nature in Scotland’s farmland are recognised.
    • The Government should introduce a system of licensing for Sporting estates that requires sustainable land management, care for peatlands, native woodlands and other habitats, and which regulates species management effectively, including observance of the law. Sanctions for the breach of conditions must be serious and commensurate with the impact of any breaches.
    • The Scottish Government should introduce a spatial strategy for renewable development, guiding developers to areas where there is least concern, and alerting them to those areas where development is inappropriate or problematic. We need more renewable energy both on land and at sea, but it all must be of the right type and in the right location.
    • The marine environment is one of Scotland’s real treasures – with our long and diverse coastline, islands and large continental shelf.  With the Crown Estate transferring to the Scottish Government, now is the chance to create meaningful Marine Protected Areas, and deliver the long overdue EU Special Protection Areas to protect seabirds. An era of sustainable fisheries, action to combat the bycatch of birds and other marine creatures and an end to damaging fishing methods is now possible.
    • The Last Scottish Government has led the way in recognising the value of peatlands for wildlife, clean water and as carbon sinks sequestering atmospheric CO2 and locking it up. But plans are faltering and funding is hard to come by. Scotland must be a champion for Peatland science and conservation.