This blog is a celebration of the nature in the South East and highlights ways you can get involved and explore nature in the region. If you've got news of the South East’s nature that you'd like to share, please contact the RSPB South East office on 01273 775333 or email SERComms@rspb.org.uk
It seems you can hardly turn on a radio or listen to some popular beat combo performing live without the unique sound of a banjo or ukelele insinuating itself into your mind and causing your fingers to twitch and shoulders sway.
Now. Thanks to Flatfoot Johnny of south London, you too can get to grips with a four string and save Asia's vultures from extinction. They're currently vanishing faster than the dodo ever did.
Flatfoot Johnny - or John Deller - is a craftsman. He grows gourds which he then treats and turns into amazing instruments. He also uses recycled materials such as old cigar boxes or tins. You can win one of these handmade gourd banjos, normally retailing at some £450, for the small investment of a fiver. In return, you get a funky sticker and the chance of being drawn as the winner of this beautiful and fully functional object. It may well change your life.
One thing's for sure, buying a sticker will change the lives of Asia's vultures. Four pounds out of every five will go towards the project based in India which has already done so much for these weird, vital and ... yes.. ugly birds. They're not much to look at, but they did help keep rabies down and other diseases that affect people. They are nature's undertakers and without them, dead animals are often left to rot where they drop, encouraging the spread of packs of wild dogs and rats which feed on the corpses. It's an unpleasant world, but those brilliant vultures were expert cleaners.
The vultures disaperance has had religious impacts too. Zoroastrans [Parsis] used to leave their dead on 'Towers of Silence' so the bodies wouldn't contaminate the earth, water or air. Vultures were integral to that way of life. Now there aren't enough vultures and the ancient religion has been forced to find other ways to deal with the remains of supporters.
Please buy one of Johnny's stickers and help restore a broken, but essential, part of Asia's natural eco-system.
There was a time when I'd mumble "I work for the RSPB", in that awkward moment after someone's asked, "what do you do...?"
I was self consciously worried I'd be labelled a bird nerd and immediately deemed boring, as that's the common conception, or should I say, mis-conception.
These days, I gush out that I work for the most fantastic conservation charity in Europe. We give freedom to refugees, futures to excluded school students, introduce young people to the dangers and excitement of playing with water or scrambling over trees and grassy banks and holding frogs. Oh. And inbetween that and saving the world, I give people in positions of authority a hard time about how they can join us all in making the world a better place.
Most people are supportive, but far too many find the challenge of saving nature too daunting. make their excuses and leave. This is the moment where I holler: "Hold on. Don't be overwhelmed. Yes we're currently losing two thirds of the UK's wildlife and yes there isn't a magic bullet to make everything better. But doing nothing will let the other third slip away too. Give us a hand."
The things you do or don't do have an impact. There are harsh realities too, like which species to save. All you can do is make the best decision possible based on the evidence at that specific time and place. Next week the evidence may suggest a different course of action. But both decisions will have been right at the time they were made.
Like all my colleagues working and volunteering for, or those supporting, the RSPB, I have a single task; giving nature a home. Can you imagine a world with no nature?
What we eat. What we throw away. How long we run a tap. Whether we concrete over a lawn. All these things have consequences. So does leaving some grass to grow long and turn to seed. Planting a hedge instead of putting up a impenetrable fence in an urban garden will help prevent London's hedgehogs becoming extinct. The hedge allows them free access to roam. The hedge will also provide food and shelter for lots of wildlife too. Water is life, so a garden pond becomes a garden womb; continously pouring forth life; even midges and mosquitoes, but don't panic. There are pippistrelle bats in your eaves that hoover up some 3000 flying bugs every night. When the bats sleep the day shift of swifts takes over to keep the world in balance.
If you do one thing for nature this week, make sure others know about it. If every Londoner followed your example, that would be almost eight million actions. You can see how it mounts up. This past fortnight, the RSPB has reintroduced short-haired bumblebees to Dungeness. We've started building a major new wetalnd reserve and flood protection site at Wallasea Island in Essex using soil excavated from London's Crossrail tunnels. We've handed in a third of a million signatures to Downing Street calling for Marine Conservation Zones. We've instigated a criminal investigation into the felling of a tree where rare white tailed eagles had made their first nest.
We are the RSPB, join us in Giving Nature a Home.
A recent and challenging article by food writer Jay Rayner says buying global is better for the environment and after reading his evidence, the man once famous for waxing off his body hair, has a point.
But, let's remember he's a food writer and this article, promoting his new book, is a narrow view of a complex world.
Our recent State of Nature report clearly shows nature's in trouble and you can watch none other than Sir David Attenborough explain it all here. So with 60% of our UK wildlife slipping away from existence, will buying globally help? No.
Many of the small farms that Jay is happy to send to the wall in favour of the global market are responsible for maintaining some of the most precious plots of land we have in the UK; it's called High Nature Value farming. People like Harry Goring (pictured) from West Sussex or Liz Davidson from Essex.
They work hard to make a living and if we follow Jay's reasoning, we would remove what small profit they struggle to make. The differences in emissions Jay quotes are important, but so too is maintaining the land management that supports some of our most treasured wildlife. Hedgehogs and turtle doves are just two of the species that could well go extinct in the UK in my lifetime.
This isn't an urban versus rural argument. This is about trhe way we live, the way we feed ourselves and how much we value the natural world and processes that allow us to live the way we do. Let's remember Jay is a food writer so he can ignore the bigger picture. I salute him for signposting us down this route.
We can all do something about it and here's an easy first step; write to your MP. They'll soon be deciding how much tax payers money should go into a budget that should support high value nature farmers. They'll be coming under pressure from vested interests to put that money elsewhere, so we need a show of support demanding our investment delivers a healthy and thriving natural world for us and for wildlife. If that fails, defy Jay's reasoning and continue to buy UK produce to safeguard the natural inheritance we'd all like to pass on to the next generation.