December, 2007

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  • Goosey, goosey, gander, gobble.

    Barnacle geese (pictured), bean geese and white-fronted geese all dropped in to Rainham just before Christmas as a sort of early present and although it was only the 82 barnacle geese that stayed for the dog days of December, it was all very welcome.

    Adult barnacle goose - not eaten by me! Illustration by Mike Langman (RSPB)Barnacle geese get their name from an old fable that they grew from barnacles, the small hard-shelled sea creatures that cling to boat hulls and rocks. Because of this, Catholics were able to eat the geese during Lent because they were classified as fish!

    It wasn't this fable that inspired my choice of Christmas roast, it was a desire to have something other than turkey. The goose we picked up from our local butcher was a tad bigger than the bird we'd ordered but after a bit of surgery, it fitted in the oven! I'm glad to say that our Christmas goose dinner was very tasty.

    The number that settled on the pools at Rainham is great news for the volunteers and reserve staff who've laboured to create the habitats there. When I visited a couple of days later the place was alive with widgeon, the now famous barnacles and huge numbers of whirling, restless lapwings, not to mention an aray of other species such as long-tailed tit, bearded tit and brambling. The kingfisher's still putting on good displays for visitors and there are often sightings of short-eared owl, merlin, peregrine and marsh harrier. It was a nice way to end a busy year and to contemplate what 2008 may bring.

    In London, it kicks off with the Destinations show at Earls Court on 26 January. You'll find us at stand UK9 and we'll be there every day through to 3 February. Although we will be talking about the fantastic experiences available at our reserves we'll also be sharing details of the ground breaking environmental project we're running on the Indonesian island of Sumatra along with Birdlife International and Burung Indonesia, a bird and Sumatran tiger - one of the many species we aim to savewildlife NGO operating in Sumatra. If you decide to support our work at the event, you can leave with your very own soft, cuddly toy sumatran tiger! Come and say hello and find out more about the work of the RSPB and how we can work together to improve our environment to benefit people and wildlife.

    As for a New Year's resolution, I'm going to be back in my garden, planting a hedge of dog wood, beech, buckthorn, hazel and blackthorn to screen the end of the garden and create lots of shelter for the growing hordes of tits and finches that are now starting to visit. By the end of 2008 I aim to have said goodbye to the ugly and extensive concrete-slab patio and hello to some turf and wildflowers, maybe even a few dwarf fruit trees. If you're not sure what to do to change your life in 2008, visit our website for some good ideas that will benefit your physical and mental well-being while helping wildlife at the same time.

  • Has Christmas come early?

    A call to arms to address inadequate national flood protection and a kingfisher takes up residence at Rainham.

    I have been accused by co-workers of being the office scrooge this season and I do feel a bit scrooge-like. Beautifully wrapped presents but gosh, another pair of socks! Or, put another way, fine words on tackling flooding, but where's the action.

    Shrewsbury under waterIt would be easy for the UK government to pledge millions to dredge rivers, raise flood walls and build more drains, but that's tinkering around the edges when we should be looking to agricultural and land management practices that can help us better manage water surges. What I'm talking about is intelligent planning, restoration of floodplains and sustainable drainage systems that all help reduce flood peaks, giving communities time to prepare for the worst. This approach would also help wildlife and enhance our natural surroundings. More beautiful wrapping I hear you cry!

    Well, consider this. When my, recently departed, Gran moved in to her Hounslow home in the 1930's every house in that street had a front garden of grass and flowerbeds. Walk along that street today and almost every house has converted that green space to concrete to park a car on. Hard surfaces help send lots of water in to our drains. Those old front gardens used to help soak-up and then slow down that run-off.

    The sad thing is, you can have both car parking and a wildlife friendly, water absorbing front garden. Just visit our model wildlife garden in Regent's Park to find out how or sign-up for our Homes for Wildlife project to do your bit to reduce flooding and help wildlife. Your actions do make a difference.

    How fortuitous that we are now approaching that time when we all set ourselves a target for the New Year! The trend we're seeing with climate change suggests that this year's floods will become more likely. This strengthens the argument that while we should continue to push our government and world leaders to do more, we as individuals should also be doing more. Conservative estimates for meeting the cost of this year's floods in the UK quote a figure of more than £3 billion. We cannot afford events like this and neither can wildlife. In nearby Cambridgeshire the RSPB recorded over 500 pairs of waders flushed out of the Ouse washes, whilst our nature reserve at Minsmere saw newly laid and rare bittern eggs washed away in their nests by floods.

    Kingfisher in flight - but see the real thing at RainhamSo, where do we go from here? Let's see if we can all make a difference in 2008. It needn't be expensive, painful or of gigantic proportions but please make it positive for wildlife. If you ever wonder if it's worth it, tack a trip on the C2C rail line to Purfleet and visit our Rainham Marsh reserve to see the beautiful female kingfisher that's turned up there. It used to sweep past one of the hides but the installation of a dead branch has given it a handy perch. Words don't do it justice, just go along and see for yourself!

  • Brill wind brings hope

    We've been at the London Boat Show this past week with a stand all about our Albatross campaign and the work we're doing to convince the government of the need for a Marine Bill.

    Black browed albatross

    We're enjoying some success in saving the 19 species of albatross currently struggling to survive. We're not making as much progress with the Marine Bill. Despite cross-party support, we're still waiting for Gordon Brown to deliver on the promises made in Labour's election manifesto.

    Then, hey presto! The Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform announces the government's committing to offshore wind energy, big time. This is very welcome news and will help the UK on its way towards the EU target of sourcing 20% of our energy sustainably by 2020. To help them on their way to achieving this, we'll need some formal rules to sort out what goes where... oh, doesn't that sound like a Marine Bill?

    Wind turbineThe RSPB is all for wind energy. As long as it's the right turbine in the right place. You wouldn't expect a turbine to be put in the middle lane of the Marylebone Road now would you? There are rules and regulations on land to ensure development doesn't ride roughshod over everything else, and a similar form of governance is exactly what we're asking the government to introduce in our sea-lanes, along our coastline and in those areas important for marine wildlife.

    As usual, the RSPB isn't just heckling from the sidelines. We've been talking with energy suppliers, developers, coastal communities and other concerned groups. We have set some of our excellent scientists the task of carrying out lots of techy research. As a result we've started to create maps that could show where windfarms can safely be built without threatening bird migration routes, marine feeding areas, shipping lanes or other important areas of the marine environment. It's very much work in progress but if only the government would help us with this task, the job would smooth the waves, as it were, to ensure the rollout of offshore wind farms is all plain sailing!

    So, does this newly announced government commitment to wind power herald the blinking on of a light bulb in some dim part of Westminster hitherto unaware of the raucous shouts for a Marine Bill? I sincerely hope so, for who would really want a development free-for-all at sea. Where there is no control, history has repeatedly shown that humankind is the loser, although nature and wildlife often pay the price. No government would surely want to go down in history as steering in to a storm when it's within their power to calm the waters ahead, would they?

    It's enough to spur me in to writing to Gordon Brown and my MP to put their skates on, instead of eating them with a squeeze of lemon. To commit themselves heart and sole, be single minded of porpoise, get with the current thinking and stop quivering like a jellyfish on the issue. Introduce a Marine Bill, NOW!