February, 2010

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South East

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  • Lambs not for the slaughter

    Picture the scene. A family of five squelching through muddy fields alongside the banks of the River Lugg in Herefordshire. There's blue sky, sunshine, low temperatures and snow dusting the ground. Wrapped up warm and with cold wellies we're constantly encouraging our youngest to walk just a wee bit further (another two miles to be precise, but don't tell her).New born lambs in a Herefordshire field

    Then we spot a huddle of three sheep... they've separated from the main flock. To the surprise and amazement of us all.. we witness three baby lambs being born (see left).

    The cold temperatures are forgotten as we stand and stare and grin as each lamb kicks their legs in the air and their mothers lick them clean. It was a privelidge to witness. I grew-up with a farm as my playground, but my daughters are very much urban creatures and you won't get to see a lamb born as you wander the streets of London. Our youngest finished the walk by the way.

    It's moments like these that force you to look at nature. It happens in London too.Keith Dunning took this image from his London Office window, no one's looking, you can go "ahhh". Like the office workers who became addicted to watching the kestrels nest in the tree outside their third floor window (pictured right). They witnessed the eggs being laid, hatch and the subsequent care and attention showered on the chicks by the parents. Another "moment" interrupted a smooching couple sitting on the grass outside the Tate Modern. A peregrine swooped down and snatched a pigeon for lunch. Another species that gets people's attention is the ring-necked parakeet. Not a native, but being bright lime green and having a loud squawk, they make you look around to see what else might be perched in the trees.

    We have some events coming up to show herons and other birds in Battersea and Regent's Parks. These Dates with Nature are an opportunity to find out more about London's birds and other non-human residents.

    All this sounds sweet and fluffy.. but we work hard to ensure wildlife is looked after and accessible to all. We've been giving evidence to a Judicial Review at the Royal Courts this week against the Government decision favouring a third runway at Heathrow. They gave approval after consultation, but the approval was different to the proposal they'd originally consulted on. The RSPB opposes it on the grounds that it contradicts their self-imposed restrictions on emissions, completely at odds with their own legally binding action plan addressing climate change. Let's not forget the far from insignificant loss of a whole community and the wildlife and habitats that exist on the land required for a third runway.

    A third runway is NOT a good investment in our collective future. Investing in high speed rail links would be far better and would spread wealth beyond London, whilst also reducing pollution and improving public access to Englands green and rolling hills and valleys where you too could watch lambs tasting the air for the first time. Help us achieve this by signing our Letter to the Future.

  • Pilgrim fathers and peregrines

    RSPB Director of Conservation and WEx members at Winfield HouseEarly UK emigrants liked familiar things and among their home comforts, took house sparrows with them as they boldly went to conquer new worlds. They effectively made the humble cockney sparra a global species. House sparrows are now common across most of the world, especially the America's, where they continue to flourish. Not so in the London grounds of the US Ambassador's home.

    Winfield House, near London Zoo, sits in twelve-and-a-half acres of grounds and was given to the US Government by W H Woolworths heiress Barbara Hutton after the Second World War. To cut a long story short, Ambassador Louis Susman invited a small group of RSPB Wildlife Explorers to help survey his garden for the Big Garden Birdwatch.

    As I've mentioned many times before, house sparrows are almost extinct in central London, so I was hoping we'd find a surviving colony in the Ambassador's garden. There are wooded areas, long grass, plenty of shrubs, lots of seeds and berries and plenty of last season's dead plant growth where insects can overwinter. Put another way, ideal conditions for sparrows, but no sightings.

    Strong armed volunteers hold a mosaic peregrine aloft as Huw Irranca-Davies accepts the petition.. at the tail end!Stephen Crisp has been looking after the gardens there for twenty-four years and has been doing his best for wildlife. There are sightings of hedgehogs, rabbits, bats, owls and the inevitable fox. Our Wildlife Explorers counted seventeen different bird species over the hour-long birdwatch, including a fieldfare, great spotted woodpeckers and an abundance of long-tailed tits.

    There are peregrines nearby and occassionaly fly over the garden. It wouldn't surprise me to discover that they rest on the minaret of the Central London Mosque, which overlooks the grounds. Again, I've said it before, but we have more peregrines now living in London than you'll find in the Peak District uplands - the traditional home of peregrines. This worrying fact helped drive our campaign for birds of prey laws to be better enforced to stop peregrines, hawks and eagles from continued persecution. This campaign saw us hand in a petition signed by 210,567 people to Environment Minsiter Huw Irranca-Davies, aided by a 70 strong band of volunteers.

    With a growing number of peregrines in London, there's an increasing likelihood that they will at some point come in to conflict with people. Peregrines and their nests are heavily protected by law. So, if they decide to nest on a building it can have implications for maintenance of air-conditioning units, window cleaning or repairs to rooftop kit such as mobile phone masts.

    We've helped create a partnership of people, including the Metropolitan Police's Wildlife Crime Unit, that aims to offer the best advice on living alongside peregrines in London. The idea is to help manage the birds so that any impact is minimised and that the people in the building can enjoy the experience of being so close to these amazing birds. If you have any queries on peregrines, contact us, but the wildlife crime unit should be the first port of call if you come in to contact with a peregrine or discover some nesting on your balcony or roof.