New Forest on a new scale
In an exciting development, we acquired our first land in the New Forest National Park, one of the most visited landscapes in the UK. The area, known as Franchises Lodge, covers 386 hectares (almost 1,000 acres), and includes a large number of veteran trees, which are vital for wildlife.
Over half of it was gifted to the nation in lieu of tax with HMRC transferring to the RSPB as a trusted organisation, together with a legacy and a grant from the New Forest National Park Authority. We look forward to giving more updates over the coming years.
Good news at Snettisham
The story of the terrible storm surge that battered Snettisham on the Norfolk coast is has a happy ending. This year, we secured funding to rebuild the hide that was smashed in the storm. What’s more, it has been designed to be “climate-proof”, so that exceptionally high tides in future will not have such a damaging effect.
Part of the £140,000 was raised through an innovative crowdfunder. Other generous donors included WREN, Norfolk Environmental Waste Services, the Geoffrey Watling Community Trust, the Paul Basham Trust, Jeanne and Ray Arnold, and the Leslie Mary Carter Charitable Trust. Look out for the new hide in early 2019.
Progress at Sherwood Forest
We've also been busy building for the future within perhaps the most famous forest in the UK. Seven months after we put in the footings for a new visitor centre in Sherwood Forest, we celebrated the building becoming watertight in a topping-out ceremony with our partners on the project. The new centre opened to the public in August 2018.
Hope Farm lives up to its name
More good news came from Hope Farm in Cambridgeshire, which produced an extraordinary crop of wildlife last year. The farm, which the RSPB purchased at the turn of the millennium, is home to 17 of the UK’s 19 “at risk” farmland birds, and numbers have risen by a staggering 226% on average since 2000.
Yellowhammers have shot up from 14 territories to 34; skylarks from 10 to 35 pairs; and linnets from 6 to 22 pairs. Grey partridges, lapwings and yellow wagtails have all recolonised the site since it came under RSPB ownership. Butterflies are doing well too: we've seen a 213% increase in butterfly numbers since that first summer and the brown argus, common blue, purple hairstreak and small copper are all new species for the farm.
Visitors also flocked to Nottinghamshire's East Leake Quarry when a hat-trick of brilliantly-coloured bee-eaters arrived from tropical Africa again last year. Once security for the nesting birds was ensured, we opened the site to visitors and 10,000 people came to see the beauties.
Local volunteers worked wonders, quarry owners CEMEX were generous hosts and farmer Brian Burton loaned us a field for parking. Sadly, wet weather meant that none of the chicks survived, but it was a glorious and much-appreciated attempt, which we hope will be repeated again next year.
Satellite-tagging reveals secrets
From one rare bird now to another: the Montagu's harrier. We learned a great deal this year when satellite tagging showed that our Montagu’s harriers winter in Senegal and Mauritania. The tagging also revealed that the four or five pairs which breed here return every year to the same area – the same field even.
They may be our most vulnerable regular breeding birds too. The Norfolk female dubbed “Sally” on BBC Springwatch disappeared – another suspected victim of persecution. Our investigations team’s work to protect the harriers has relied on cooperation with landowners, the expertise of the Dutch Montagu’s Harrier Foundation and support from Mark Constantine, owner of Lush cosmetics.
Active in Nature
More than 7,000 people have got fitter and enjoyed nature at the same time thanks to a pilot project funded by Sport England. Visitors to Strumpshaw Fen in Norfolk enjoyed activities such as Nordic walking, kayaking and cycle rides. Rainham Marshes locals also tried walking, cycling and running, as well as “bouldering”, a type of rock climbing without ropes. We're aiming to expand the Active in Nature programme to other reserves, encouraging wider audiences to our sites.