September, 2016

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.

Saving Species

The need for species conservation has never been greater. Despite notable successes in improving the fortunes of a number of bird species, more are being forced onto the list of those that need attention, both globally and in the UK. If we want to have a
  • Sociable lapwing: tagged birds on the move

    With three tagged birds from 2015 still transmitting, autumn migration has now started and the birds are beginning to move south.

    Follow the flock at the Amazing Journey website

  • Impressions of fieldwork in Sierra Leone

    Guest blog by Amy Fitzmaurice, Senior Research Assistant, RSPB Centre for Conservation Science

    I am carrying out a study in Gola Rainforest National Park, Sierra Leone, to look at the patterns of crop loss due to damage from wild animals and ways to reduce the impact of crop raiding. I am coming to the end of my stay here and would like to share my impressions of the rainforest, with its fascinating wildlife and welcoming local communities.

    Crop raiding on vital food crops

    I have been employed to carry out a study to look at the overall impact of crop raiding by wild animals on staple food crops grown around the forest edge in the Gola Rainforest National Park (GRNP). When vital agricultural activities are conducted close to the forest in order to feed families and sustain livelihoods losses caused by wild animals damaging crops are inevitable. My study will contribute towards minimising the impact of this crop raiding and will help wildlife and agriculture to exist side by side.

    First impressions

    The plane journey to Sierra Leone took me over mountains and a sea of orange desert. The second I stepped off the plane, a wall of dry heat swept over my body. Getting to know the local people is easy, they are friendly and wave and ask you questions. They always ask where you are from, what your name is and why are you in Sierra Leone. I am enjoying asking them about their culture, history, future and their wildlife. I have learnt a lot so far and I am already trying to learn one of the local languages, Mende.

    Photo of Amy and the team in some land cleared for cultivation

    A day of fieldwork

    From working in other places in the world I was really looking forward to getting started on the fieldwork to see how it compared but no amount of experience could prepare me for the weather! The lack of shade and the dry heat mean there is a constant need to drink water and then when it starts to rain, it really pours. Working with my team and local farmers we start each day of fieldwork walking through the forests, plantations and farmbush in silence. For me this is a great time to think about the day’s work ahead.

    Focus of the study

    The study involves surveying fields of rice, cassava, peanuts and maize throughout the growing season, looking at the amount of crops growing and the amount being lost to animals. I am comparing the proportions of loss between fields which vary in size, their distance to the forest and surrounding habitat to see what might be done to reduce any damage and where to prioritise subsequent work.

    Fascinating wildlife

    One of my favourite things about working in tropical habitats is the smell and noise of the dark, damp forest and the general mystery of it all. The wildlife of Sierra Leone is varied and fascinating. I have seen some amazing species, including Western pied colobus monkeys and discovered endangered pygmy hippo poo on Tiwai Island. I enjoy listening to Campbell’s monkeys communicating in all the villages I stay at near GRNP, watching Egyptian mongoose running through the farmbush, and hearing the distinctive noise of the yellow-casqued hornbill flapping its wings. I have seen so many species of butterflies I have lost count!

    Photo of one of the many butterfly species to be found around the Gola Rainforest National Park

    Back to the village

    After a long day in the field collecting data, everyone is full of thoughts and on the walk back to the local village where we stay everyone is chatting away. The local villages I am working with are all very different, but one thing is the same in all of them, they all have spiders in the bathroom. This is the most challenging part of my fieldwork - to overcome my fear of spiders!

    More information about the Gola forests

    The RSPB is proud that we have worked in partnership with the Conservation Society of Sierra Leone and the Government of Sierra Leone for 25 years to protect and restore this amazing forest. Gola harbours 60 globally threatened species such as the enigmatic pygmy hippo and the beautiful Diana monkey, and directly benefits approximately 24,000 people living in 122 forest edge communities. Find out more about our Gola appeal here.

    You can follow us on twitter @Golarainforest and visit the RSPB web page on the Gola Rainforest: Sierra Leone's first Rainforest National Park.

    More information about the Gola Forests and the Gola Reducing Emissions for Deforestation and Degradation project (as a way of tackling climate change, to provide long term financing for the park and directly benefit forest edge communities) visit

  • State of Nature 2016 – summary of the report

    Guest blog by Dr Mark Eaton, Principal Conservation Scientist, RSPB Centre for Conservation Science and co-author of the State of Nature 2016 report. 

    The State of Nature 2016 report brings together data and expertise from over 50 organisations, providing us with the clearest picture yet of how wildlife is faring across the UK, and its seas, Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories. Here are a few of the key findings of the report.

    56% of UK species have declined over recent decades

    The report reveals that over half (56%) of UK species assessed have declined since 1970. Of the three taxonomic groups assessed - vertebrates, invertebrates and plants – a higher proportion of invertebrates are declining than other taxonomic groups, with 59% having declined since 1970.

    Average species abundance or occupancy (a measure similar to abundance for species too tricky to count) has fallen by 16% since 1970

    So not only are the majority of species declining, overall numbers are falling, and have continued to do so in the last few years. As above, the decline in invertebrates – down by 29% on average – is greater than for other taxonomic groups.

    15% of species in Great Britain are thought to be extinct or threatened with extinction

    More than one in ten (1,199 species) of the nearly 8,000 species assessed in the UK are under threat of disappearing from our shores altogether, including species such as the high brown fritillary butterfly, rigid apple moss and bog hoverfly. 2% of species have already gone extinct from Britain.

    Photo of High brown fritillary butterfly - under threat of disappearing from UK

    Of the taxonomic groups that have been assessed it is plants that face the highest level of threat with 19% of plant species threatened with extinction, including small fleabane and corn buttercup.

    Photo of small fleabane - a plant under threat of disappearing from UK

    New biodiversity intactness index shows UK is one of most nature-depleted countries in world

    New research published in the journal Science and included in the State of Nature report reveals that the UK has lost significantly more nature over the long term than the global average. Of the 218 countries assessed for ‘biodiversity intactness’, the UK is ranked 189, a consequence of centuries of industrialisation, urbanisation and overexploitation of our natural resources.

    Drivers of change in the UK’s wildlife

    New research, published in the journal PLOS ONE earlier this year, and included in the State of Nature report for the first time, quantifies what has caused the changes in our wildlife – the ‘drivers of change’. The science reveals that agricultural management and climate change have been the two major drivers of wildlife change in the UK in recent decades. Modern farming approaches, including increased use of pesticides, loss of hedgerows and other non-cropped habitats, the loss of mixed farming and a change in sowing seasons, have been the key drivers of wildlife decline affecting farmland birds such as the turtle dove and yellowhammer.

    Photo of dormouse - climate change could be driving declines in dormice

    Climate change has both positive and negative implications on UK wildlife including some expansion of range for some species like Dartford warbler and conversely loss of range for others such as the mountain ringlet butterfly and dormouse.

    Photo of Dartford warbler which could be benefiting from climate warming in UK, although losing out across Europe as a whole

    Examples of conservation action

    There are many inspiring examples of how conservation action can turn around the fortunes of wildlife. Throughout the report there are case studies that demonstrate how conservation organisations, governments, businesses, landowners, communities and individuals have worked together to help the UK’s nature.

    • Habitat restoration – we highlight the restoration of heathlands for silver-studded blue butterflies, the recovery of upland bogs that benefits both wildlife and their capacity to contribute to flood control, and the creation of new intertidal habitats through managed realignment of coastlines.
    • Species recovery – the report give numerous examples of how species have been brought back, such as the reintroduction of pine martens, red kites and large blue butterflies following local or even national extinctions.
    • Working with land owners and managers – truly landscape-scale conservation recovery can only achieved working with farmers and other land managers. We discuss how agri-environment schemes support farmers to undertake wildlife-friendly farming action, and how a raft of projects providing advice are aiding the recovery of species including marsh fritillary butterflies and great yellow bumblebees.
    • At a local level – individuals and local communities can make a real difference, and we showcase the UK’s first Hedgehog Improvement Area, efforts to re-think Bristol as a nature reserve, pond creation on a massive scale, and give numerous ways of how volunteers can contribute to the recording of wildlife and thus help future State of Nature reports.

    Photo of large blue butterfly - which has been successfully reintroduced to the UK

    Photo of Pine marten – recovering across Scotland, and now reintroduced into Wales

    Actions you can take to help wildlife

    The State of Nature partnership is reaching out, asking readers to get involved in helping wildlife by taking action: although the report paints a picture of decline, it also demonstrates how conservation action by individuals can make a difference.

    You can get involved in wildlife monitoring, volunteering, creating homes for wildlife, campaigning, and living sustainably. To find out more take a look at the fantastic new State of Nature infographic and find out about exciting projects being run by a wide range of State of Nature partners.

    Find out more

    Read the State of Nature 2016 report

    Follow #stateofnature on twitter