November, 2012

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Bugs, Birds and Beasts in the East

All of our up to date fun and frolics in the East from office antics to great conservation stories and those magical connections with nature.
  • Choose life; wear a poppy

    I don’t know whether I can write about Remembrance Sunday. As a subject it is so full of meaning and so full of feeling that I wonder if I can do it justice. Yet here I am and here are my words; I only hope that they can do enough.

    You see poppies everywhere at this time of year. On the tunic of a glittering Zoe Ball as she tells us, bouncing and beaming, of the winners and losers in this week’s Strictly Come Dancing. Our neighbours wear them, school-teachers wear them and we see them in chaotic boxes on shop counters as we struggle with be-gloved hands to find the right change for a pint of milk.

    Everyone one wears them because, my goodness, isn’t that the least that we can do? To take the time to drop a pound in to that shop counter box. The merest of benevolent gestures to remember those people that found themselves, and still find themselves, in the middle of a battlefield.

    It’s a very easy thing to do; spend a pound and wear a poppy. What’s not so easy is to examine what lies behind the symbol. To try to imagine the immeasurable bravery of young men and women running to their deaths. Or perhaps they survive but live with the sounds of destruction ringing in their ears. The brutality, the devastation, the sacrifice. The fact that we continue to fight, and lose life upon life in war.

    The most important thing to remember however has got to be that those lives cannot be lost in vain. John McCrae wrote in his famous poem In Flanders Fields, ‘To you from failing hands we throw the torch; be yours to hold it high.’ So, how can we hold that torch high? In other’s death should we celebrate life? The fact that because of others, we live?

    I think we should. And that’s why I will wear a poppy. Because poppies are a celebration of life against all odds. A symbol of growth, colour, vibrancy, existence; the first to appear even on the churned, blooded ground of a battlefield. It is a flower, so often overlooked at other times of the year that provides us with confirmation of endurance; a symbol of what is yet to come and what we should live for.

    There are many stories of people turning time and again to nature to prove the worth of life. That even after atrocities, disaster and the finality of death there can be renewal and new life. But is there any symbol more significant, more heartfelt or more abiding than the open-faced blood red heart of the Remembrance Sunday poppy?

  • All aboard...

    As i pulled into the quayside there was a strong coastal smell. Rich, salty seaweed, damp wood from the pier, and pungent shellfish remains from the cockle van parked up at a jaunty angle. The enigmatic herring gull soundtrack was faint on this particular morning, but it was there none the less.

    This trip was a first for me. I was heading out on an old sailing barge called Victor to see the wildlife of the Stour Estuary in Suffolk.  With 30 other eager folk, we boarded the vessel wrapped up in layers of thermals and hats and gloves. As we chugged out of the harbour, a sense of escape came over me. There is something incredibly therapeutic about seeing land disappear and sailing off into the distance! And what a sight we were sailing towards. Estuaries are often overlooked places. As the tide quietly comes and goes, lapping over the glorious mud, it is easy to see how in our busy lives we neglect to take stock of such an important place. As the tide retreats, the claggy carpet of mud reminds me of a bowl of custard with a thick layer of skin glistening on top! And it shares similar calorific values too. A square meter of intertidal mud has the same calorific value for wading birds as a mars bar does for us! No wonder birds and wildlife thrive in this kind of habitat.

    Our guide for the morning was RSPB’s very own Rick Vonk and Master of the Estuary Extraordinaire. He hardly paused for breath, eager to point out all the wildlife. Common scotters darted past the boat blissfully unaware of all the eyes transfixed on their flyby. Gulls, golden plover, seals, curlew and knot all appeared in abundance and we had a constant stream of wildlife entertainment. As the clouds of knot moved across the sky, the boat-trippers ooooh’d and ahhh’d at this feathered fireworks display. The Estuary here holds an enormous population of wintering birds, up to 30,000 most years. Birds that rely upon this area to survive the winter, building up their energy for the breeding season. However, current pressures on UK estuaries are making them much more vulnerable places and bird numbers are deceptively low. The Stour Estuary has national and international designation for it’s importance for wildlife, but erosion is playing havoc. Sadly, 60% of all the saltmarsh in this estuary has been lost in the last 40 years, mainly due to sea level rise. Me telling you all this is one thing, but there are only so many adjectives in the dictionary! Experiencing it for yourself is quite another and there are plenty of trips to go on over the winter. For more information and to book a place, please call the RSPB’s team in the Stour Estuary on 01206 391153 or email stourestuary@rspb.org.uk

     

    As featured in the EDP, Saturday 17 November

  • TIME FOR ACTION: Funding fears for wildlife-friendly farming

    Blogger: Paul Forecast, RSPB Regional Director in the East

    " Over the past 40 years Europe has lost 300 million birds and in just the past 15 years we have lost 70% of European grassland butterflies.  Farmland wildlife remains in crisis.  Following proposals released yesterday, the situation will get a lot worse unless leaders make the right decisions next week on the 22 & 23 November."

    This year sees the 25th anniversary of the Agri-environment Scheme in England, and many such schemes have delivered fantastic results for wildlife,  but rather than protect and boost this vital source of funding,  signals from Europe’s politicians, including our own, point to  an uncertain future. Agri-environment money is a lifeline for wildlife and a vital income stream to farmers. Therefore the new proposal to slash funds by an unbelievable 9.1% are astonishing.

    A reduction of this amount could spell disaster for wildlife in England, and the rest of Europe. As well as being important for widespread but declining species such as the skylark and yellowhammer, agri-environment schemes are essential for less well-known species, including stone-curlew. It is possible that without this funding, these species could be lost from our countryside within a decade.

      Stone curlew by Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)

      Yellowhammer by Tom Marshall (rspb-images.com)

      Skylark by Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)

    Since the first agri-environment schemes were introduced in 1987, tens of thousands of farmers and landowners have helped wildlife. Here in the East, Chris Skinner is a conservation farmer who manages a square mile of countryside at High Ash Farm, two miles south of Norwich at Caistor St Edmund.

    In 2006, he entered the large-scale Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) scheme, monitored by Natural England, which provides funding for him to farm the vast majority of the land for biodiversity benefits, as long as he meets strict criteria for species growth.

    He said: “The public wants us to farm in an environmentally and wildlife-friendly way, but that does cost money. “Without these funds I cannot afford to farm my land to the benefit of wildlife and have to go back to more conventional ways of farming which would be disastrous for the farm wildlife and the taxpayers who come to enjoy it.”

    A survey of farmers in the UK has revealed that 96% think environmental work on their farms would be impacted if payments for wildlife-friendly farming agri-environment schemes, were stopped or reduced.

    The EU Budget is under enormous pressure, in fact the odds for it being cut that are probably so short you wouldn’t waste the bus fare to the bookies. But EU leaders have to demonstrate that there are bits of the budget that simply must not be cut.

    The agri-environment scheme is one such example and the proposals to cut it must be rejected. If these savings have to be applied elsewhere then there they must fall on areas of EU expenditure that cannot demonstrate value for money and do not help our farmers to become more resilient, more market orientated or rewarded for protecting and improving the environment. When it comes to the CAP, we know where savings can be made, and it isn’t here. Cuts are inevitable but making the cuts to the right areas and moving money into the most effective areas is what is most important.

    David Cameron will be meeting his European counterparts in Brussels next week on 22 and 23 November.  If you care about the future of the funding that benefits our countryside, then we call upon you to step up for nature and email him (yes, it actually works).  Urge David Cameron to safeguard this spending and get us, the public, more for the money spent on agriculture by visiting www.rspb.org.uk/steppingup

    Follow more up to date news next week by searching for #RSPBSteppingup and #EUBudget on Twitter @RSPBintheEast.

    Together we can make a difference in Europe and your local countryside.