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.
  • Simon Says: This isn’t about rich or poor, big or small

    Blogger: Simon Tonkin, RSPB Senior Farmland Conservation Officer

    For those of you taking an interest in the latest developments in wildlife friendly farming and the EU Budget, let me reassure you, the current CAP system does have a good element about it; namely in the form of agri-environment schemes.

    These Schemes pay for wildlife improvements, soil and water protection and the conservation of historic sites. Currently there is an inadequate financial commitment from the CAP for these schemes, and this needs to be improved not reduced if the EU is to realise its target of halting the loss of biodiversity by 2020. The reality is, we will lose species in the UK without an appropriate and well-resourced agri-environment scheme that provides habitats on farms for our wildlife. With over 70% of the UK farmed in one way or another it is of pivotal importance for our wildlife, otherwise we face silent and impoverished fields and our world will be much poorer for it.

    Let me also clarify, we do currently produce enough food to feed the world. The problems are; how our food is distributed, political barriers and how sustainable that production is. To support a resilient agricultural system for the future, we need to pay heed to the decline in our farmland wildlife. Without a functional ecosystem, we will struggle to grow crops and ensure we have long-term food production.

    This isn’t about rich or poor, big or small, but it is about delivering public benefits from public investment. Therefore, to make an ill-thought cut to the CAP in this area shows no logic. Analysing the CAP expenditure, you can soon find out that you don’t actually need more money in the system and you CAN still make cuts. However, in particularly austere times, they should transfer money into the CAP where it’s needed most not make a cut to the one area of the CAP that delivers real public benefits. Agri-environment schemes are the good side of CAP and deliver for rural populations and importantly ensure our countryside isn’t devoid of wildlife. It also means that agricultural life is more resilient for the future with pollinating and predatory insects, birds and mammals, soil and water protected, so that we have a basis for agriculture for the future and an environment that give us a real quality of life.

    Without sufficiently funded agri-environment schemes, the reality will be further losses of skylarks, corn buntings, water voles, farmland butterflies and moths and ground beetles. Of course I don’t fancy that much and I’m quite happy to pay for it as much as the next man. From our scientific work, we can see there are half as many farmland birds in the UK as there were when I was a child and because we have lost too much already and our ecosystems are broken, it’s time to stop and fix that. The good side of CAP will let our farmers, the keepers of the countryside, do this for us.

    Kind regards

    Simon

    P.S. If you are convinced that you can make a difference and have words in David Cameron’s ear then follow the link here and complete the e-action

    www.rspb.org.uk/steppingup

     

  • 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.