The fight for nature starts with science

We’re working harder than ever to identify problems, develop solutions and put conservation into practice.

Conservation science

State of the UK’s birds

December saw the release of our annual State of the UK’s birds report. The 2017 edition took a close look at one of the biggest threats to global biodiversity – climate change. This is not just a far-off, theoretical scenario; we’re already seeing temperatures rising, rainfall patterns changing and our seas warming. The report highlighted the effect of these trends on a wide variety of species, from chiffchaffs, goldfinches and nuthatches shifting their distributions, to birds such as dotterels, whimbrels and Slavonian grebes facing increased risk of UK extinction.

It also demonstrated that there’s much we can do to help reduce the impact of climate change on our wildlife. Protected areas – such as our nature reserves – will be a vital part of our response to the problem.

Crowdsourcing conservation science

Last year we mentioned the launch of Project Puffin; this year we can report on its findings. We received more than 1,400 photos of puffins carrying fish in their bills. Thanks to more than 600 contributors – dubbed the “Puffarazzi” – early indications are that some colonies are struggling to find enough large, nutritious fish. Dr Ellie Owen summed it up: “Using citizen scientists is giving us data on a scale that we have never been able to collect before.”

Another species we’re continuing to learn more about is the hawfinch. In 2017 researchers continued to look into the causes of its decline, using tiny GPS and radio tags to pinpoint the hawfinches’ locations through the breeding season, find their nests and follow the outcomes of their breeding attempts. The research is ongoing, with a PhD student using genetic analysis of hawfinch droppings to examine what the birds eat and how they use their habitat.

Revealing natural benefits 

For the first time ever, we have developed a Natural Capital Account for our nature reserves in England as a contribution to the debate on how best to reflect the value of nature in decision-making.

Our reserves are special places for wildlife as well as people. Our Account is our first attempt to quantify the value they provide to the public. Even its partial assessment reports that the benefits provided by our reserves are more than twice that of the costs of delivery. But these benefits are overwhelmingly invisible in standard financial accounts.

Outstanding science

Thanks to the hard work of our scientists, the RSPB enjoys an enviable scientific reputation, demonstrated by our “citation rate”.  Of the 64 UK institutes that publish in the environment and ecology field, the RSPB ranks third on the number of citations per paper.

Richard Gregory, our Head of Species Monitoring and Research, has been named as Honorary Professor at the Centre for Biodiversity and Environment Research, University College London. Having our scientists recognised in this way clearly shows how highly our work is valued.