October, 2015

Our work

Our work
You might be surprised to read that our work is far broader than nature reserves and Big Garden Birdwatch. Read more about what else we do.

Martin Harper's blog

I’ve been the RSPB’s Conservation Director since May 2011. As I settle into the job, I’ll be blogging on all the big conservation topics and providing an inside view of our conservation projects. I hope you enjoy reading it and feel inspired to join in t
  • Good Cop? Bad Cop? What will Paris really deliver?

    John Lanchbery, RSPB Principle Climate Change Adviser brings us up to date with the latest climate negotiations from Bonn...

    In a month from now, World leaders will meet at a UN conference of parties (COP) in Paris. They are set to agree a new global treaty to both combat and adapt to climate change.

    It will update and largely replace the old UN climate agreements, agreed in 1992 in Rio and 1997 in Kyoto. But will the new global deal really be an improvement?

    The World has changed a lot since Rio and Kyoto. The greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change have risen rapidly over the last twenty years, no longer caused predominantly by the developed countries but by the emerging economies too. China overtook the USA as the World’s biggest emitter some years ago.

    We are on track for the average temperature of Earth to rise by about 4 degrees C, twice the globally agreed UN goal of staying below two degrees.

    To put this in context, 4 degrees C is roughly the difference between the peak and trough of a major ice age, except that the temperature will just go upwards. We have already used up two thirds of the global carbon budget consistent with staying below two degrees and need to cut emissions rapidly to zero by mid-century.

    Fortunately, nearly all government realise our predicament and have committed to tackle climate change together, a big change from Rio and Kyoto.

    More than 140 nations accounting for 90% of all emissions have pledged to cut or limit their emissions. However, taken together these pledges are unlikely to keep temperature rise to less than three degrees, let alone two. The Paris treaty needs to rectify this situation by including a ratchet to decrease emissions further every five years.

    The long series of negotiations leading to the Paris meeting finished last week in Bonn. There is now a draft treaty that all governments feel that they "own". This which will be given to ministers and leaders to complete in Paris.

    The draft contains many options, some good, some bad. If leaders choose the best options then we will have a pretty good treaty. We will know in six weeks time.

  • Halloween ghosts?

    Tom Lancaster, Senior Land Use Policy Officer, gives us this guest post on the new IUCN Red List. It, sadly, doesn't make good reading...

    Grim news always seems to come with grim weather, and the pitiless rain yesterday was somehow a fitting prelude to the news that both the puffin and the turtle dove has been added to the IUCN Red List of species facing the risk of global extinction.

    Turtle dove. Image by Andy Hay (www.rspb-images.com)

    Joining the turtle dove is the lapwing – the charismatic ‘peewit’ that is so beloved by farmers and conservationists alike. For birds that were once so ubiquitous in the English countryside, the re-classification of these two species as Vulnerable and Near Threatened respectively should be a wake up call for all of us.

    Also released this morning were the most recent statistics for wild birds in England and the UK. These two species are both identified as farmland specialists on the Government’s Farmland Bird Indicator (FBI), which this year shows a 2% increase overall.

    Over the years we have got used to a fair bit of argy bargy about these statistics, so it’s nice to be able to welcome a slight increase. Unfortunately there is pretty big BUT...

    The but is this: unless we see another increase next year and the year after and the year after that, this will just be a blip and not a new, upwards trend (the hard line on the graph). And it’s the long term trends which will be the decider in avoiding extinctions of species, either nationally or locally.

    To bring this to life a bit more, it’s perhaps useful to think of the FBI as a large ship heading in the wrong direction. Without torturing the metaphor too much, if we’re to turn it around, we don’t just need one small turn of the wheel, but successive turns. So to reverse this downward trend, one years increase is not enough – we need instead to build on this increase with another next year, and the year after that before we make a dent in hard line below.

    Population trends of farmland birds in the UK: Source: RSPB, BTO, JNCC, Defra.

    Population trends of farmland birds in the UK: Source: RSPB, BTO, JNCC, Defra.

    That these farmland bird declines have now reached the point were these once common species are now being classified as at risk of extinction is a damning indictment of all of us.

    If we hold collective responsibility for this situation though – Government, farmers and conservationists alike – it follows that we should have collective ownership of the solution.

    Central to the future prospects of these species will be the currently under-funded agri-environment schemes that have become so important to terrestrial conservation in the UK.

    The launch of the new schemes in the UK has been challenging, but the role that these, and of Natural England who are key to deliver it, have played in saving species such as the cirl bunting, corncrake and stone-curlew should provide us with hope that they can help again in reversing the fortunes of these two icons of the British countryside.

    In ecology, the concept of a ‘ghost species’ is the idea that, although individuals or relict populations may remain, the extinction of a species is inevitable. It is one that I find sad beyond words.

    In UK conservation, we’re used to applying this idea to species like the northern white rhino – species that are somehow exotic, and found on faraway continents.

    The fact that I could discuss this idea in the same breath as the turtle dove fills me with dread. But the knowledge that we have the capacity to act and the solutions at our disposal should inspire hope.

    The IUCN release must act as a clarion call for Government, farmers and conservationists to step up, and ensure that these species have a secure future.

  • An important step for our Defend Nature campaign

    RSPB Chief Executive Mike Clarke has written a guest post on a important step in our campaign to defend the nature directives.

    This week marked an important moment in our Defend Nature campaign.

    At a meeting of EU Environment Ministers in Luxembourg on Monday, nine countries including France, Germany and Spain, spoke up clearly in support of the EU Nature Directives in a letter to Karmenu Vella, EU Environment Commissioner.

    In the letter, the authors advise that the Nature Directives are ‘an essential component of biodiversity conservation in Europe’ and recommend that the Nature Directives be kept as they are with a focus on putting them into practice and enforcing them in full.

    This is a significant intervention in the fight to save the Nature Directives. Such a statement from Germany alone would be influential but, collectively, the signatories are a major barrier to attempts to introduce new legislation to replace the Nature Directives.

    Red kite. Image by Ben Hall (www.rspb-images.com)

    It is a moment that has been building for many months and is a direct result of the public support from the 520,000+ citizens across Europe who responded to the public consultation on the Nature Directives through the joint NGO campaign, Nature Alert (Defend Nature in the UK). This overwhelming show of support took key decision-makers by surprise and created the ‘public voice’ for Member State governments like Germany to show leadership on the natural environment.

    I know many of you will have been amongst these 520,000 – we know over 65,000 RSPB supporters did take part – and this is an important opportunity for me to thank you and to show you that public support can make a real difference.

    Of course, as positive a step as this is, the Nature Directives are not safe yet. Discussions and decisions also include the European Parliament, and will continue this autumn and well into 2016. We still need your help to secure their future. In the UK and across the EU, nature continues to struggle, as seen in the State of Nature assessment in the UK, or the recent mid-term assessment of the EU’s Biodiversity Strategy. The Nature Directives are key to reversing these declines – as the letter itself says, ‘it will not be possible to reach the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020 without them’.

    But the ministerial interventions this week, and the events I have attended over the last few weeks in Berlin and Brussels, give me much optimism and hope that we will succeed. At an event in Berlin earlier this month, we heard the voices of two young people: Lizzie Frost (17), a member of the RSPB’s Phoenix Forum, and Anais Sloman (21) from NAJU and a member of the Global Youth Biodiversity Network (GYBN); a combined youth membership of 475,000. They spoke with knowledge and moral force. Their challenging question was how can young people have confidence in the political process, if their concerns about the natural environment are not answered.

    But what can you do next?

    We’re asking you to send a personal message to your MP, saying you care and asking them to call on the UK Government – represented on the EU Environment Council by Biodiversity Minister Rory Stewart – to defend the Nature Directives.

    Also look out for the big conference on the future of the Nature Directives in Brussels on 20 November 2015 where the European Commission will be presenting the preliminary findings of the Fitness Check of the Nature Directives. We will be counting down the week before on social media, and I will be there speaking on behalf of Birdlife International in support of nature.

    Thanks again for your support.