March, 2012

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South East

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  • Sorry starling fans

    I apologise. I give in. I didn't mean it. SORRY!

    Mindblowing. Wouldn't you love to be part of it?When I said there are no starling murmurations in London anymore in an interview about the Big Garden Birdwatch on BBC London, what I meant was that you don't see those huge, dense clouds of starlings that London once enjoyed. Yes. I know there are still starlings and some of them do swirl about like a dervish at a drum and bass party, but not in the same numbers as pictured here on the right.

    I know there's a small colony of starlings about two streets away from my house, but I have never yet seen nor knowingly heard a starling in my garden. I love them, I wish had some.

    If I'm wrong, please let me know, cause I'd love to be able to share it with more people. I remember watching a mini-display at Chichester Rail Station as I waited on the platform for my train home. You can see them over the pier in Brighton and at our Ham Wall reserrve as pictured above.

    What's amazed me about the Big Garden Birdwatch [BGBW] is the decline of the blackbird. These territorial and quiet garden dwellers are slipping away and we'd not really noticed. They're another species that rely on insects for food, Surely we can't have degraded London so much that it's now now bug-free?

    This is why we must not crumble to the temptation of a quick economic fix to escape the financial crisis. We must make sure investment in development and jobs comes with the environment at its core, whether it's CAP reform for farmers producing our food or proposals for airports in the Thames Estuary. Protecting the soil, plants, bugs, birds and other wildlife that form the natural world is crucial to our survival.

    I've been heartened by one result from your BGBW reports. Generaly speaking in  London, house sparrows appear to be on a level and maybe even a slight upwards incline after years of decline, It's far too early to celebrate. We can't say the species is saved yet. Sometime in mid-June we'll be asking for your help to count sparrows in London as part of a study updating research conducted ten years ago. 2012 could be the year we all saved the cockney sparrow.

  • It's the economy... sustainable.

    Last year Chancellor George Osborne declared in the Commons that laws protecting our environment were "a ridiculous cost on British business” and he proposed ripping them up.

    Gorgeous London, seen from the east over Rainham MarshesSleep soundly in your beds tonight, calmed by the knowledge that your local park, river, woods and the whole country won't be covered in concrete; and that birds, animals, plants and marine life (actually, not our marine life) will still be there when you wake-up. Was it all a bad dream?

    The Department of the Environment,  Food and Rural Affairs [Defra] review, sparked by the Chancellor's off-the-cuff guff, has reported back and dismissed his assertions. They reaffirm the Government’s support for the Birds and Habitats Directives, and then go further, demonstrating that these vital environmental safeguards do not act as a brake on economic development.

    But has the damage already been done? Over the past couple of weeks the RSPB London office has recorded an increase in desperate emails and phone calls from people moved to step-up their action for nature. They opened their curtains to find either chainsaws, bulldozers or diggers have removed trees, scraped away wildflower meadows or excavated great holes where birds, bats, butterflies and rare plants once greeted them.

    The problem isn't the development. The problem is that there was a perception created that economic necessity trumped the environment. As the clever people at Defra have pointed out, the environment is our friend. Thinking about, and working with, the interplay between nature and our aspirations to build businesses, communities and healthy economies saves money and makes for a better end product.

    So take a moment to stare out your window when you wake-up tomorrow. Listen to the soundtrack of nature. See if you can guess what will be the first living thing you see beyond your immediate family, partner or neighbours. Will it be a majestic and mighty London plane tree with its mottled trunk and emerging lime green leaves? Maybe a local cat stretching to welcome the morning sun? Or perhaps a blackbird with its yellow rimmed eyes scouring some grass for a breakfast snack. Them remeber. All of this ... it's our natural economy and it is priceless.

  • Budget watch

    How was it for you?

    I gave up smoking years ago but even I wince at the notion of £7.50 for a pack of twenty. £5 for your average bottle of wine may help me drink less and I rarely buy beer in London pubs 'cause I can't then afford the bus fare home.

    A gratuitous but gorgeous image of a goldfinchOn the plus side for London. We'll have superfast broadband connections and improved cycling lanes. The Chancellor fiddled and played a merry tune with a dearth of strings on his violin of options.

    He declared "environmentally sustainable has to be fiscally sustainable". How right he is. But how wrong that he doesn't see the value in reversing that statement. Fiscally sustainable has to be environmentally sustainable and that's where his strings snapped, his bow shredded and his violin snapped. More roads and tax incentives for oil and gas drilling won't help us towards that carbon reduction target set by Number 10. Where are the incentives and investment in projects and businesses that improve our lives and create jobs suitable for those that need them who live in areas of least mobility.

    Will ducks on your local park pond sink or swim as a result of the budget? Will swifts returning from their African wintering grounds scream in annoyance?  Will goldfinches lose their gilt? Not overnight, but then they have bigger worries. Those ducks have to survive drought. The swifts returning to nest in the gaps in your eaves will find their old nests sealed-up as you draught-proof your home to prevent expensively heated warm air seeping from your house. As for those goldfinches ... they'll at least give us something to smile at as their bright yellow and red colours catch us by surprise.

    The RSPB's vision for the future is one where we see London's Thames Estuary as the well-oiled and silent processing plant that it is. Its marshes quietly going about the business of filtering water, locking away carbon and protecting our Capital from the impact of storm surges. It's wildlife thanklessly re-processing and composting waste and ensuring that the natural processes that provide us with air to breathe and food to eat continue. The Thames estuary is in my view the most beautiful factory in the world.

    That said. I have fallen in love with a boring machine that is as far removed from the wilderness of the estuary marshes as it's possible to get. Its use will have a remarkable impact on one bit of the Thames estuary. The Crossrail drilling machine will be spewing out soil, gravel and clay that will soon form an exciting and enormous new wetland habitat at Wallasea. It's all come about as a result of habitat regulations that George Osborne declared hampered development. 

    More than 19,000 people emailed the Chancellor as part of our pre-budget "Wake Up George" campaign. Thank you if you are one of those who stepped-up for nature with us. If you missed the opportunity, there are plenty more steps we can take together. George Osborne's kindly delayed announcing the Government's aviation review conclusions until "later this summer", after the London Mayoral elections. We'll be asking you to walk alongside us to ensure the legacy we pass on to the next generation is one where ducks bob safely on ponds, swifts glide and dive above our heads and goldfinches continue to look glorious.