Working to protect our uplands
Vitally important – for people and wildlife
The UK’s mountains, moors, hills and valleys – also known as the uplands – comprise vital habitats. Increasingly, these areas are a refuge for species that were formerly more widespread across the UK.
They're not just great for wildlife: the uplands are also vitally important for wider society. Much of our drinking water is sourced here, vast amounts of carbon is stored in peat soils, and upland places provide opportunities for recreation.
An uncertain future
However, the uplands are in a poor state. Habitats such a blanket bog are badly degraded and a number of bird species are declining. For example, UK hen harriers have declined by 14% since 2010. Similarly, curlews are declining across the UK, and a recent BTO/RSPB analysis indicates that this decline in curlew numbers is negatively associated with arable farming, woodland cover and predator numbers.
What's more, upland farms are especially vulnerable to change as a result of the UK’s likely withdrawal from the Common Agricultural Policy following the Brexit decision. In view of this, RSPB Cymru hosted a conference in April 2017, to help shape the future of upland farming in Wales. This brought together farmers, farmers' unions, landowners, politicians, civil servants and conservationists in one place.
Our response: how we're taking action
The question is, what are we doing to protect uplands and the wildlife that calls them home?
Our work to improve the uplands is well underway. At Abernethy Forest, a project to expand an area of native pinewood is in progress. And in six landscapes across the UK, our curlew recovery programme is up and running, and involves habitat management and predator control. It aims to improve the fortunes of these threatened birds.
Our blanket bog land holdings in northern England, Wales and Scotland's Flow Country host some of the most ambitious peatland restoration projects in Europe, with positive impacts on dunlins, curlews and golden plovers. At Dove Stone in Greater Manchester, dunlins in particular have responded well to our blanket bog restoration work. Peatland restoration is also now progressing at Airds Moss in southern Scotland, and in Northern Ireland, an INTERREG-funded project aims to restore 2,228 hectares of blanket bog.
We remain concerned about the impact of burning on blanket bog. The European Commission is pressing the UK Government to stop burning blanket bogs in England, and to restore damaged sites.
Keeping track of hen harriers
The RSPB's hen harrier LIFE project continues to tag record numbers of nestlings across the UK, and we're set to tag 70 birds by the end of the project. We're also part of the Northumberland Hen Harrier Protection Partnership, which saw three nests successfully fledge 10 chicks under its watch. However, we need to remain vigilant, as raptor persecution continues.
Our uplands will require continued investment, but by working in a targeted way, we are confident that we can turn their fortunes around.