You will find out about all the exciting stuff going on with the RSPB in the east of the UK. We cover our sites in the following counties: Norfolk, Suffolk, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, and some of our great Lincolnshire ones. So if you are if you have never heard of the Strumpshaws and Snettishams or Stour Estuary or Sutton Fens here is you chance.
I walked into work this morning fresh with thoughts about a new year, a new calendar and new adventures. It’s amazing how therapeutic a clean slate is. It’s the 2 January and heading back to work feels the same, but different! It’s funny how we take to a new year, with renewed enthusiasm, the promise of making a change for the better. The irony being that every year, we say the same things!
I arrived at my desk after having ten indulgent days off to find my phone flashing violently, full to the brim with frantic messages about a rather peculiar incident. Over the last few weeks, much of our countryside has suffered from heavy rainfall. Fields were turned into swimming pools, cars were abandoned along flooded country lanes and park benches merely peeked from the crest of swollen river banks. Anyway, i digress. The situation we were faced with was this. A seal had managed to swim from the sea, near Kings Lynn, for 50 miles to a flooded field via the mouth of the flooded Great Ouse in the Wash. The seal then heaved itself up onto the flood defences that surround the lakes at RSPB’s Fen Drayton Nature Reserve, and proceeded to swim in the water on the nature reserve. He was captured on camera by a local visitor and the footage was promptly posted on the internet. A few clicks later and the entire national media centre wanted to see our new found seal friend. What a morning! Working for the RSPB is never dull. And a seal having a great escape to one of our nature reserves shouldn’t have surprised me. We’ve fondly called him Seal McQueen!
Year after year, we may resolve to do the same things; change our habits, encourage positive attitudes and healthy living, but isn’t it refreshing when things turn unexpectedly? It forces you to go with the flow and simply enjoy what life throws at you. And you truly never know what might turn up on your doorstep. I will be taking part in the RSPB’s annual Big Garden Birdwatch later in the month and although i remain realistic that the usual suspects will appear, i have a quiet confidence that beyond my kitchen window, in the depths of my garden, something extraordinary will turn up and take me by surprise. You may not have a seal turn up in your back garden, but who knows what might stop by. The RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch takes place 26 and 27 January. For more information, go to www.rspb.org.uk/ Birdwatch or come to see us at the Forum in Norwich on 26 and 27 January between 10pm and 4pm.
As featured in the EDP, Saturday 5 January
I am genuinely excited about this! Not only have a we got a fantastic event on at the Forum in Norwich but I've moved house so get to do the Big Garden Birdwatch for a whole new garden.
I've started preparing already. I'm saving my yoghurt pots to make some fatty seed feeders and I'm putting seed out on the bird table (a disused patio table, there's no glamour there) each morning. The great thing? I can see that it's working. This morning I watched as a blackbird made her cautious way down. Hopping from branch to branch until she's within spying distance. A quick glance round to check the coast is clear and whoosh, she's on the table!
Blackbird by Nigel Blake (rspb-images.com)It gives me such pleasure to do these little things for the garden birds and I know many of you will understand where I'm coming from. That's why the Big Garden Birdwatch is such a great thing to be part of. Nevermind that it provides the RSPB with important baseline figures for garden bird populations (which it does, and that's great). What it really provides is the chance to take the time to appreciate the wonderful wildlife that right outside our windows.
On the 26 and 27 of Jan, whether you're snuggled up with a cup of tea and your scorecard or joining in with a fun local activity, I hope you'll take the time to get closer to the nature in your garden, park or greenspace.
You may have picked up that there has been quite a lot of media attention around the increase in proposals for large scale solar panel installations (or ‘solar farms’) in the region lately. The Conservation Team at the RSPB in the East comments on lots of planning applications each year to safeguard the region’s wildlife and habitats, and have already commented on eighteen solar farm proposals in the past three months.
Sunset over Wallasea Island, Essex - Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)
The solar ‘gold rush’ is thought to have been triggered by a reduction in government subsidies for large-scale solar installations after April 2013. Companies are therefore keen to progress schemes while the benefits are greatest.
Overall, increasing renewable energy generation is a vital part of preventing the worst effects of climate change. Solar power can play an important role in this, but providing clean energy must not lead to unacceptable impacts on our wildlife and habitats. The main concern about effects of solar farms on wildlife is the potential for loss of important habitat for vulnerable species, especially feeding sites and areas to breed. Although this may not be a permanent change (as the solar panels can be removed in the future) when important habitat is rare effects on wildlife could be serious. This is most likely to happen if proposals are located within, or close to, protected areas, such as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and Special Protection Areas.
So far, solar farm proposals in the east have avoided these kinds of protected areas but we still carefully screen and comment on those in the wider countryside that we are able to respond to, to protect our important wildlife there too. Thankfully, we have not had to object to any proposals that we have been consulted on in the east to date, as significant effects on wildlife and the natural environment have been avoided.
In some cases it can be possible to amend the scale or design of a proposal to remove or reduce impacts and we recommend this for proposals that risk having negative effects on wildlife. For example, there is potential for aquatic insects such as dragonflies and damselflies to be attracted to lay eggs on solar panels. This may be avoided by the simple measure of adding obvious borders to each panel to reduce the effect.
Where solar farm applications may affect farmland wildlife, such as farmland birds of conservation concern, we encourage developers to incorporate features like hedgerows and flower rich field margins around the solar farm so loss of important habitat can be avoided. This can lead to a net gain for other wildlife, such as insects and small mammals, as the features that are put in place often provide more opportunities for wildlife than the habitat that was available before.
Wildflowers - Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)
So all in all, how solar panels will affect wildlife depends a lot on location, and scale. Our aim is to make sure solar farm proposals don’t risk unacceptable harm to wildlife and habitats and deliver biodiversity benefits. This way, the fortunes of wildlife in our wider countryside can be improved at the same time as fighting dangerous climate change.
What are your views?