Discover and learn
RSPB Phoenix is for teenage members of the RSPB. If you are already an RSPB Wildlife Explorer you will automatically become an RSPB Phoenix member from your 13th birthday.
As an RSPB Phoenix member you will receive BirdLife magazine every two months, and also get Wingbeat – the only environmental magazine written by teenagers for teenagers - four times a year.
As well as articles about wildlife, the environment and conservation, Wingbeat runs many special offers and competitions.
You also have free entry to RSPB nature reserves and the sure knowledge that your membership is helping to conserve wildlife in the UK and abroad.
Each year, a conference is held for Phoenix members. It's been held in London where we had the chance to visit Westminster, Leighton Moss in Lancashire one of our most important nature reserves and Minsmere reserve on the Suffolk coast to name but a few locations.
This year we are offering the chance for even more teenagers to get involved with the conference, thanks to funding by the National Lottery through Awards for All.
Written by Phoenix members. Our blog has interesting stuff about the natural world and the latest news on what we've been up to.
Election time is looming in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Politicians are dusting off their manifestos, the public are gearing up ready to cast their votes, and Bob is back on the campaign trail.
You may remember Bob from the 2015 general election. He is a small red squirrel and his aim is to put nature back on the political agenda by collecting as much support from politicians and the public as possible. Through doing this, Bob will ensure that our natural environment is kept safe for our children and future generations.
I should add that as the elections are in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, only people resident in those countries can vote for Bob. But if you live in England, don’t worry. You can still help by telling your friends who live in other countries in the UK about Bob’s campaign and encouraging them to support it.
Protecting wildlife is vital, and yet it often feels like a political afterthought, placed down below issues of immigration, the economy and benefit cuts and considered to be something not worth spending money on. Bob’s aim is to change this, urging MPs as well as the general public to back his campaign and write to their party leaders asking them to support nature.
All the countries with elections this year have familiar species resident in them which are now under threat as well as a huge range of unique habitats - mountains, coasts, woodlands and freshwater lakes and river to name but a few. Wales contains huge breeding colonies of Manx shearwaters, puffins and other seabirds which nest along its coast, in addition to many endemic species such as the Snowdon lily and Skomer vole. Wales and Scotland are now the only places in the UK where ospreys breed, while Scotland itself is the last stronghold of many animals which once roamed across the whole of Britain, for example the capercaillie, Golden eagle and Scottish wildcat. The wildlife of Northern Ireland is perhaps less well known but equally significant, with the corncrake now extinct there and the Irish hare under threat from non-native European hares. Last but certainly not least, Wales and Scotland contain most of the UK breeding population of red squirrels!
The British Isles have some of the most varied habitat in the world packed into such a small area. It is crucially important that politicians consider this fact. Government collaboration can help ensure that our ecosystems are protected, while politicians have already shown us at the Paris climate conference that they are capable of considering the environment. We now need them to go even further than that and make nature a priority.
So, how do you support Bob’s campaign. You’ll have to act fast – there are only a few days left before the election. Go to the campaign website: https://www.voteforbob.co.uk and fill in a petition. It doesn’t matter which political party you intend to vote for; the idea behind “Vote for Bob” is to get everyone on the side of nature no matter what their views may be on other issues. The more votes collected, the more we can show politicians that the public cares about nature and wants to see it protected. As well, you’ll find details of your political candidates on the website when you enter your postcode, and you can contact them directly to ask them to back Bob. Also, don’t forget to share the campaign on Twitter and Facebook and tell your friends to support it!
Posted by Phoenix Forum
This week we have a guest blog from one our Wingbeat readers Bessie Hyman, highlighting the plight of the house martin:
My name is Bessie Hyman, I am 14 years old and I live in Somerset by the River Avon. I enjoy photographing and exploring nature. My dream job would be as a conservationist or wildlife cameraman.
Ever since I can remember I have been interested in nature. One time when I was about seven, I stood in the garden with the bird book my neighbour had given to me for my birthday, trying to work out whether the birds fliting above me were swallows or house martins.
I discovered the ones nesting by our house were swallows and the ones disappearing behind over our roof were house martins, and at that time I was simply amazed by their beauty. But as I got older I started to realise that these birds might not always be there; that they were struggling and needed our help.
House martins are small birds belonging to the family Hirundinidae which also includes swallows. In the winter they migrate to Africa, although very little is known about where exactly they go. They are very rarely observed in Africa, which some people believe is because they spend their time on the wing, hunting above the rainforest out of sight. But maybe in several years’ time new technology might be available which will allow for them to be tracked as they migrate.
Recently house martins have been declining and although still widespread now, they may not be such a common sight in the not too distant future. House martins appear to have dropped 65% in just 40 years, not only in England but also in the rest of Europe, causing them to be amber listed. Any further reductions could mean they become red listed along with other species that have seen declines of 50% or more over the last 25 years.
It is clear that they are plummeting, but why? Well it seems that nobody really knows. There are several theories: one is that new building techniques are not allowing for nesting space and walls are too smooth for mud to stick to. This could mean that many broods are unsuccessful due to unsuitable nesting sites. Another theory is that climate change could be affecting when house martins arrive in the UK, meaning that they miss the highlight of nesting activity. Could climate change and drought be making it harder to find suitable nesting materials? Their nests take around 1,000 beak-sized pellets of mud to build. Have changes in land use affected insect populations making it hard to find food?
Whatever the reason it is clear that house martins need our help. The British Trust for Ornithology has set up a survey to hopefully discover why they are in decline. The first part will consist of volunteers mapping nest sites. The second part will consist of observing nests. They can then try to tackle the main issues and give house martins the best chance they can.
If you are interested in this subject and would like to find out more you can visit: www.rspb.org.uk/discoverandenjoynature/discoverandlearn/birdguide/name/h/housemartin/
Or go to my blog at: photographingdabblingducks.wordpress.com
Posted by Maurice Tse-Laurence
In December this year Birds of Conservation Concern 4 was published, highlighting the status of birds in the UK, Channel Islands and Isle of Man. The results remind us how important it is to get as much information about UK bird numbers as possible, worth bearing in mind with Big Garden Birdwatch on the horizon.
At a glance, from 1996 to 2015, the number of species which are now no longer breeding have increased and the number of species on the red list have increased too. In fact, this document has placed more species into the red list than ever before. There is bad news as previously common species become increasingly rarer. But there are examples of conservation success where hard work and well directed funding has made a noticeable impact.
Geese, puffins and wrynecks
Starting with those who aren’t doing so well, some species have made a definite faster decline than others. For example, the White-fronted Goose has dropped from the green list in 2009 to the red list in 2015. The Long-tailed Duck being another example. The Temminck’s Stint, Wryneck and European Serin have made the worrying descent into now not breeding in the UK at all. I quote ‘the wryneck is the first once-widespread species to have been lost as a breeding bird from the UK in nearly 200 years’1. If you split the red list into habitats, the one worst off is the woodland. This has the largest proportion of birds on the red list.
However the largest growth on the red list in terms of habitats comes from species in the uplands (e.g. the Curlew and Dotterel). Farmland species are also still of concern. For example it can’t escape your attention that Turtle Doves are still declining at an alarming rate. Breeding seabirds aren’t doing too well either, the Puffin amongst others joined the red list. It can’t be denied that this is all worrying news but it also reaffirms the need for action. Climate change talks are currently going on and doesn’t this give evidence to why we need to frankly hurry up! The evidence is here. Climate change is disrupting marine food chains, the climate that some of our breeding birds need is moving north and it’s also negatively affecting the flyways that many of our species use. Time to do more I think.
More on turtle doves
Putting this into context, Turtle Doves (which I’m afraid are well on the red list) are the fastest declining UK bird. Every six years the population halves. If this continues, in the next couple of years they may join the list of ‘former breeder’ in the next Birds of Conservation Concern. To save this species, the threats on migration needed to be studied. In the summer of 2014, the RSPB Centre for Conservation Science tagged Titan with a satellite tracking device. They were then able to watch his migration in 2014 and 2015. Overall they solved the mystery of the dove’s migration and the route can now be studied and hopefully protected to help save this bird. It’s a fascinating story and shows how funding in the right areas with people working together for the right aims can produce results. Hopefully this will one day help to move this species out of the red list.
Credit: RSPB Images
It’s not all doom and gloom. Conservation has been proven to work by this review. The Bittern and the Nightjar are examples of this because they have moved from the red list to the amber list. The creation and management of applicable habitats has allowed these species to start making a recovery. Overall the green list has increased by 22 species. So I’d say it’s time to use these stats for good. We know what’s in trouble and what habitats are containing the most threatened birds. I know it’s not simple, but with directed funding and protection of the areas most at risk which are rich in wildlife, surely we can try and slow this decline in populations and biodiversity? I don’t think this has ever been as important as it is now.
Full report: http://www.britishbirds.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/BoCC4.pdf
The story of Titan: http://www.rspb.org.uk/discoverandenjoynature/discoverandlearn/tracking/turtle-doves/index.aspx and http://operationturtledove.org/migration-mystery-of-uks-fastest-declining-migrant-bird-solved
If you’re interested in the political side of conservation, you will have heard of the EU Nature Directives - legislation that, over the past 30 years, has provided the highest level of protection for vulnerable habitats and species. This December (2015) Environment Ministers from every EU country will meet to discuss how we ensure our birds and wildlife are recovering by 2020. The RSPB is working with its Birdlife partners across Europe to prevent the weakening of the directives - which have great public support, after over 520,000 people from across Europe signed a consultation supporting the directives.
Recently, I was lucky enough to be invited to speak as a representative of the RSPB’s Phoenix Forum at a event held by the RSPB and their German counterpart, NABU. Germany is one of the main defenders of the Nature Directives within the EU, so this event was aimed at sharing ideas and inspiration. Thanks to the involvement of another Forum member, Leanne Tough, at Brussels Green week earlier this year, the RSPB decided that a youth presence at such events was vital. Leanne did an incredible job speaking on behalf of young people (you can see her in action at 3:10 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dDBWH2jyH7c), demonstrating our power to influence policy makers and effect a positive change in the world.
The event in Berlin, ‘Nature and Land Use. A British - German dialogue on halting biodiversity loss and the need for policy reforms.’ was aimed at exploring the importance of effective legislation for nature, and how conservation organisations (such as the RSPB) can encourage governments to take vital action. I was asked to pose a challenge to the panel alongside a youth representative from NABU.
After convincing my sixth form that this opportunity would link in perfectly in with my German A level, I travelled to Berlin with the RSPB’s team (including CEO Mike Clarke; the Head of European Policy Campaign; and The Head of Agriculture Policy). They were all really friendly, explaining their roles within the RSPB, offering me advice on my ‘speech’ and asking for suggestions on how the RSPB can engage and inspire its youth membership. Upon arrival in Berlin, we made our way to the British embassy, after a brief tour encompassing the Brandenburg gate, the German Parliament, and the powerful Holocaust Memorial. The Embassy was incredible! I felt proud to be British, despite our government’s less than satisfactory attitude towards the environment... I then met Anais - my German equivalent, a young member of NABU - she told me how she had very recently spoken at a student rally against TTIP; it seems that, despite our common aims, German young people are more politically active. We both posed challenges to the panel, facilitated by Mike Clarke and made up of the Head of the German Ministry of Environment, DEFRA’s Head of EU strategy, the Secretary General of the German Advisory Council on the Environment, and Dr Simon Lyster, Board member of Natural England. My challenge was targeted at the decline of farmland birds in Europe and the need for effective EU legislation to preserve nature, and Anais’ at how our generation can inherit an EU that puts nature ahead of short-term economic growth. The discussion that followed was very interesting, encompassing a wide range of topics relating to the power of the EU, and how the UK and Germany can best work together towards shared environmental aims. The panellists were surprisingly frank, and it was later commented that this was likely to be due to the presence of young people - it’s a lot harder for adults to be vague about issues that will directly affect our future! Despite my anxiety at presenting to an audience of around 40 environmental experts, I really enjoyed the experience of presenting, although my public speaking skills still need development! It’s clear that young people possess a powerful voice in defending our natural world.
On my second day I was given a tour of Berlin by a young NABU intern, finishing up with a tour of the NABU youth headquarters, where we discussed how they engage young people - through events, internships and politically. Our conversation gave me lots of ideas, which we’ll hopefully be discussing at our next Forum meeting!
This opportunity highlighted two main things for me; firstly the need for us to work together as a European community - nature does not follow our borders; and the phenomenal power of the EU to effect positive change (through the nature directives and similar legislation). We must therefore not only lobby our own local politicians, but also european politicians. We can make our voices heard through traditional means, such as writing to MEPs, newer methods such as social media, or mass action, such as the recent worldwide climate marches. The impact that young people particularly can have is incredible - I hope the RSPB will continue to develop this, utilising the passion and enthusiasm of its young members.
You can find out more about the Nature Directives, what the RSPB is doing to protect them, and what you can do to help, here: http://www.rspb.org.uk/joinandhelp/campaignwithus/defendnature/
Lizzie Frost (blue dress) and Anais Sloman at the British Embassy, Berlin. Credit: NABU/H Krieg