The RSPB is very proud of its longstanding history in standing up for wildlife. From our foundation in 1889 where we campaigned for the ending of the plumage trade – a fashion responsible for the destruction of tens of thousands of egrets, birds of paradise and other species – we have been giving nature a voice to politicians and decision makers, asking them to act in the best interests of our wildlife and countryside. The actions of our members have contributed to the protection in law of some of our most iconic species and 124 years since our foundation, we are still the leading voice for wildlife in the UK. But, despite our successes, we still have many challenges to contend with and cannot continue to be successful without the dedicated support of people like you. These days we must of course tailor our requests to MSP’s in Holyrood, when important issues affecting Scotland’s wildlife are being decided.
With that in mind, we are currently advertising a new volunteering opportunity-the Campaign Champion. We will offer support and training to help with this key work and you will be part of a network championing Scotland’s wildlife and Special places. This role will involve being a local voice for nature: signing campaign actions, writing letters to your MSP or visiting them at their constituency office to tell them why the cause is so important.
The potential of harnessing the motivation of RSPB membership was demonstrated to me over three decades ago now, during the long debates at Westminster over the Wildlife and Countryside Bill. When introduced to Parliament it had very modest ambitions, but thanks to the hard work of RSPB staff and the massive groundswell of active support from our members, the final Act had been significantly improved. All SSSI’s were to be safeguarded, many species of birds were protected and we even helped butterflies with some of the UK’s rarest species like the swallowtail receiving protection for the first time. This was largely thanks to RSPB inspired amendments to the legislation. The membership really excelled themselves then, and have continued to do so throughout our history, lending their crucial backing to our campaigns and initiatives to defend our wildlife for future generations. The new campaign champions will continue this critically important and grand tradition, and we hope that some of you will join this important initiative to help the spread of our important message.
If you are interested in the opportunity, please email email@example.com or visit the RSPB volunteering webpage.
State of Nature in Scotland
Yesterday I participated in a ground breaking event. I hosted the launch of the Scottish end of the State of Nature report. This is a collaboration of expert bodies pooling data about wildlife species and diagnosing the problems they face. 25 organisations all deeply concerned at the loss of wildlife – the species we share our islands with, came together to draw a line in the sand.
Scottish wildcat by Roger Wilmshurst.
The logistics of connecting London, Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff together so we could all see Sir David Attenborough’s emphatic call to arms – tested our technology. But it was a triumph!
In Edinburgh some 100 guests and partner organisations assembled at the Museum on Chambers street. After Sir David spoke, I ran through what the report contained and the key messages for Scotland. Usefully the partnership have produced a specific insert for each Country of the UK, and Scotland’s can be read here.
Fresh water pearl mussels via bbc.co.uk
The package is a triumph for the authors, including my colleagues Dr Mark Eaton, Dr David Gibbons and many others from across the partner organisations. But it is even more a celebration of all those unsung volunteers who year in year out contribute to the bird, butterfly, plant or other species surveys that take place across all corners of the UK. This knowledgeable band means we now know what is happening to 3,148 species across the UK, which although impressive is just 5% of the 67,500 we care for- our wildlife.
What I told the reception can be read here. But in essence nature must have a home in our country and so we must invest in its future so we can be certain that can happen.
With Deborah Long and Paul Wheelhouse at the launch.
I was pleased that Scottish Government Minister Paul Wheelhouse MSP joined the platform and set out some of the initiatives the Government is planning to deliver on the commitment to halt the loss of Biodiversity by 2020 (a target agreed by all EU countries) under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. The Minister also set great store by the forthcoming Biodiversity Strategy, which has cleared the Scottish Cabinet and will be launched soon.
I think halting the loss of Biodiversity (ie the decline of wildlife) should be a minimum aspiration for Scotland. I want to see a recovery of some of the special species that Scotland is responsible for – the wildcat, pine hoverfly, Dark bordered beauty moth, Irish ladies tresses, freshwater pearl mussel and many more.
Pine hoverfly by Ross Watson
Last up was my colleague Deborah Long who runs Plantlife Scotland, but is also convener of Scottish Environment Link. She reminded everyone that we need to invest in Nature – think long term and support the efforts of small specialist organisations which encouraged volunteering, ecological expertise and lifeline projects for a myriad of species across the Country.
It was a great event, but it is the start of a process not the end in itself. We look to the Scottish Government to deliver a powerful Biodiversity Strategy that sets the right framework for real action. Which encourages the partnership and harnesses the enthusiasm of the NGO sector. And which gives the courage decision makers need to say no to developments which would damage and erode our wildlife heritage. And yes, delivers some joined up thinking across the land use policy sectors to ensure farmers, foresters, businesses and individuals maximise the wins for ‘eco-system’ services that underpin much of Scotland’s industries, but in ways that enhance wildlife and the experience of people.
Photo credit Andy Hay
Politicians are skilled in the art of compromise. And yet we all know the truth about compromise – it satisfies no one. Our European institutions, namely, the Council(of Ministers from across the EU), Commission and Parliament, are now in the middle of trying to reach a compromise agreement on how to reform the Common Agricultural Policy. The outcome is likely to be one that everyone can just about live with but which falls way short of the many aspirations for this highly complex, and expensive EU policy.
Change, as history demonstrates, comes slowly in the realm of agriculture policy; reform moves at glacial pace. There are bureaucrats and lobbyists who have spent whole careers doing nothing else! Indeed the first policy paper(which I confess to being involved with writing) the RSPB published on this subject was in the early 1980’s.The tragedy though is that the challenges these reforms must address are moving apace –much faster than the speed at which policy responses are introduced. Whether it’s environmental challenges such as rapidly declining farmland biodiversity, climate change or diffuse pollution or challenges such as improving the competiveness of agriculture and encouraging new entrants, the CAP’s response always seems to be too little, too late. This round of reforms probably will result in a CAP of a slightly greener tinge and in a somewhat more equitable distribution of funds between and within Member States. But these are minor adjustments compared to what’s needed given the crisis facing wildlife across the EU.
Whatever the EU compromise struck, probably towards the end of June, one thing is certain. The large amount of flexibility that Agriculture Ministers across Europe are calling for to enable them to respond to national and regional needs, will be core to the agreement. The Common Agricultural Policy looks less ‘common’ by the day. The upside of this will be the opportunities it gives to those Ministers who wish to be bold and forge new paths, within the framework of the regulations. Will Scotland’s Richard Lochhead be one of the bold ones?
Scotland is well ahead of the game in thinking about how to implement a new CAP and some of the options the final agreement is likely to contain – the Cabinet Secretary, Richard Lochhead, is to be applauded for this. The only problem is, we’ve started to think about modes of travel before we’ve decided our destination. Knowing where we want to go to will determine whether it’s better to go by bike, car or train and which route to take! Ambition is likely to be constrained by the resources available, especially to fund management to protect and restore our wildlife. Scotland still has rich wildlife resources in its High Nature Value Farming Areas .But those who care for this heritage face many challenges.
The decisions taken in the next 6-12 months will decide the path we set off on and the destination we reach by 2020. This is incredibly important, for it will determine what legacy we leave future generations. Will we stand then and look across Scotland’s rural landscape and see we took the right decisions? Will our communities be prosperous and invest time and energy in protecting landscapes and the finest wildlife sites? Or will we find ourselves back ploughing the same old furrow and wondering why so little has improved, and why wildlife continues to disappear from the countryside? Now is the time for vision and a clear statement of what we want the future of agriculture - and the natural environment it depends on - to look and be like. Investing in landscapes and wildlife-is not a peripheral luxury-its what taxpayers across Scotland, and the rest of the EU so evidently want. Can our politicians think about the longer term and deliver the means to do it?
A little over 30 years ago I started work with the RSPB, as an assistant investigations officer (see photo to the right). Well actually I was the assistant investigations officer, aiding Peter Robinson who ran ‘Investigations’. It was a UK wide remit – in those days we didn’t have specialist Investigations staff based in Scotland, or indeed anywhere away from the Lodge. So I travelled far and wide, often clocking up 50,000 miles a year in pursuit of egg collectors, falcon thieves, poisoners and rogue gamekeepers.
The persecution of raptors was an abhorrent crime then and remains so today. I well remember discovering huge chest freezers full of dead raptors that had been sold or passed to a taxidermist by gamekeepers and the like. But to be honest if you had told me then that 30 years later this despicable persecution would still be rife, I would have found this impossible to believe – oh the naivety of youth!
The RSPB is steeped in the drive to protect all native bird species. For example we campaigned to offer raptors legal protection. We successfully banned the evil pole trap in 1904, and worked tirelessly throughout our history to see our internationally important birds of prey protected. First through local Acts of Parliament and then latterly by drafting what became the 1954 Protection of Birds Act.
Given this I do find it disappointing that anyone should think I – or the RSPB - would do anything that gives comfort to anyone who persecutes birds of prey. By being steadfast in this subject we have won praise but also made many powerfully connected enemies. Just read some of the letters in Shooting Times or even from journalists of the standing of Magnus Linklater. I know firsthand that some charitable trusts and corporate sponsors who don’t favour applications for support from RSPB – simply because of our unyielding support for birds of prey and our desire to see the law upheld.
Many people share our passion, but it saddens me that some of them use their zeal to target the RSPB as happened recently in the Sunday Herald. I don’t doubt for a minute that these critics are just as concerned as I am about what happens in the uplands of Britain to our hen harriers, golden eagles, peregrines and other birds of prey. But in my view their energies would be more constructively directed at MPs and MSPs to strengthen the legislations to protect birds of prey – and at the courts to raise penalties for those who break the law.
Contrary to their assertions, the Scottish Birdfair held at Hopetoun House on 11-12th May – does not give cover to lawbreakers, nor does it signal any lacking of our commitment to tackle wrongdoing without fear or favour. We are committed to our continuing resolute opposition to the despicable perpetrators of raptor crime. And on my watch that will never change.
2013 is going to be an important year for the land use planning system in Scotland and a real test of the Government’s concern for the natural environment. Amongst various important changes, the third National Planning Framework (NPF) for Scotland is in preparation. The NPF provides a national spatial overview of the country and indicates what type of development the Government believes should happen, and where.
Menie Estate SSSI May 2006 (prior to Donald Trump's development)
To be honest the Scottish Government have a lot to prove to show that the planning system isn’t all about how unpopular, environmentally damaging projects can be bulldozed through against the wishes of local people and those of us who care about Scotland’s wildlife. Although they made a promising start to their first term in Government by refusing consent for the Lewis wind farm in 2008, that was quickly countered when they went out of their way to call in, and overturn, the local authority’s decision and approve Donald Trump’s SSSI wrecking golf course in Aberdeenshire. They also put forward a number of environmentally damaging proposals in the last NPF, NPF2. Not least of these was a coal fired power station at Hunterston in Ayrshire, which would have concreted over a large part of an important intertidal sand flat for wintering water birds as well as emitting masses of additional greenhouse gas emissions. The power station was vigorously opposed by RSPB Scotland, a coalition of other environmental and faith organisations and received well over 20,000 objections (making it the most unpopular application ever in Scotland) before it was eventually abandoned by the developers last year.
The proposed Hunterston development would have damaged important habitat for wintering water birds like redshank (photo: Andy Hay)
NPF2 isn’t all bad though. It includes some promising wording on the value and importance of Scotland’s natural environment. It also identifies a “Central Scotland Green Network” (CSGN) as a national development, which aims to improve the quality of the natural environment across central Scotland, as well as providing new opportunities for sustainable transport and recreation. RSPB Scotland are making real progress towards helping deliver the CSGN through our Inner Forth Futurescape and our role as part of the Inner Forth Landscape Partnership.
We believe the next NPF needs to improve on this. As well as providing further support for the CSGN, it should identify the value of existing important areas for wildlife across Scotland and seek to improve their quality and add to them by identifying a “National Ecological Network” as a national development. This would enhance our existing network of protected wildlife sites and make them more resilient to the effects of continued pressure from development, other land use change and the effects of climate change. RSPB Scotland and the Scottish Wildlife Trust have jointly submitted a proposal for a National Ecological Network to the Scottish Government and we hope they will take it forward.
Protecting and enhancing our natural environment and creating new “green” infrastructure for wildlife will be every bit as important to creating a country where people want to live, work and invest as developing the built infrastructure so beloved of those convinced that “concrete pouring” is all that the economy needs . This is the year of natural Scotland, what better legacy than a commitment to enhance and invest in wildlife and green space? Or will we see more power stations and golf courses on protected wildlife sites in NPF3?