An ambitious vision for nature
We've made great progress towards our goal of doubling the land we manage for nature by 2030.
The RSPB cares for more than 200 nature reserves across the UK, covering an area four times the size of the Isle of Wight, but with nature still in decline we want to do more to help.
That's why we're aiming to double the area of land we manage for wildlife by 2030.
It's an ambitious vision, but thanks to the generosity of our members and supporters, I'm delighted to say that we have made good progress towards our goal and have increased the area by 30,000 hectares (ha) since 2005, with 1,108ha added in the last financial year.
Below is a snapshot of what your support is helping us to achieve for nature. Together, we really are making a difference.
Completing the jigsaw
In Scotland we were really pleased to be able to connect the two parts of our Mersehead nature reserve in Dumfries and Galloway, by acquiring 112ha of land, including dune grassland and land we will restore into wetland.
This simply wouldn't have been possible without the £285,000 raised through donations to our appeal, and we can’t thank our supporters enough.
The expansion of Mersehead is great news for wildlife, because the new piece of land will allow us to manage water levels across the whole reserve, so we can get conditions right for wetland species such as lapwings and redshanks.
Mersehead is also an important site for natterjack toads and recent counts have shown that the population is doing really well. In fact, if you visit in May, you’ll hear more natterjacks calling there than at any other site in Scotland.
Mersehead from the air
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Bringing bogs back to life
Elsewhere in Scotland, we were able to extend our rugged and beautiful Forsinard Flows nature reserve in Sutherland by purchasing an area of conifer plantation to restore into blanket bog.
As well as storing vast quantities of carbon, the peatlands of the Flow Country are a stronghold for a wide variety of wildlife, from rare bog plants to hen harriers.
However, in the 1980s large areas of the peat bogs were damaged through drainage and the planting of non-native commercial conifer trees. As a result, much of the area's special wildlife disappeared.
Now we have acquired another area of non-native plantation we can get to work removing more trees and blocking ditches.
We are beginning to see encouraging increases in the numbers of golden plovers, dunlins and greenshanks at Forsinard and there is evidence that our restoration work is allowing the bog to absorb greenhouse gases once again, helping to tackle climate change.
At the opposite end of the UK, down in east Kent's Lydden Valley, we're undertaking another restoration project on newly-acquired land that could help wildlife adapt to climate change.
Like in so many marshland areas, historical drainage for agriculture dramatically reduced Lydden Valley's appeal for wildlife.
But we're hoping to reverse this by blocking drains and restoring the network of "grips" – shallow meandering watercourses that provide vital feeding areas for wader chicks.
When the restoration is complete it will not only provide vital habitat for wetland species, it will increase flood protection for the neighbouring village too.
With Lydden so close to the south coast, the new wetland could offer a convenient refuge for species being pushed north by climate change. In a few years’ time there may even be purple herons, night herons and cattle egrets feeding in the wetlands there.
Leaving a lasting legacy
Another wetland site benefitting from the generosity of our supporters is Ham Wall in Somerset.
It's a wonderful place for a variety of wildlife, including bitterns and water voles. Great white egrets can also be found here and we noticed that these elegant birds were feeding on the reserve but nesting just outside of it.
So when we had the opportunity to extend the reserve, using money left to us in a legacy, we jumped at the chance to protect and enhance both parts of their home.
Saving curlews with cows
Across the water in Northern Ireland, Lower Lough Erne is a really important site for curlews, which have declined by 64% since 1970 and now appear on the Red List of birds at risk of extinction in the UK.
We already manage a number of the lough's islands, which provide vital breeding habitat for curlews, so we were delighted when we were able to purchase Trasna Island to increase the amount of habitat available to these struggling birds.
Curlews rely on open habitat to raise their young, so our first task will be to remove the scrub that has encroached across the island. We may then employ the help of some island-hopping cows.
These "living lawnmowers" do such a good job of grazing vegetation and keeping it in good condition for wildlife that we regularly move them between islands by boat – which makes for a rather unusual sight!
As well as recording some heartening increases in bird numbers, we've also seen many of the other 16,000 species on our reserves doing well.
For instance, 2016 was a boom year for orchids, with more than 6,000 fen orchids at Sutton Fen in Norfolk and a record 1,014 Irish lady’s-tresses orchids at Lough Beg in Northern Ireland.
We were also really pleased to rediscover the rare stump lichen at Abernethy in Scotland, after an absence of 18 years.
Back in 2009, we joined forces with the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust to re-introduce the UK's rarest reptile to Devon and 2016 saw us reach an important milestone in the project – the first confirmed wild breeding of smooth snakes at our Aylesbeare Common reserve.
These secretive reptiles were last recorded in Devon in the 1950s, but disappeared as a result of habitat loss.
The fact that smooth snakes are now breeding on our reserve is great news, and clear evidence that our management is creating ideal conditions for heathland wildlife.
We're hoping to reach a cricket century next year!