June, 2017

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.

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.
  • Fat birds of barley

    Author: Emily Kench. This blog post originally appeared as a feature in the Eastern Daily Press Weekend magazine on 10 June 2017.

    It’s hard to avoid the media’s perception of a perfect body these days. Whether it is Myleene Klass taking a dip in the jungle, or Peter Andre baring all in a calendar – the concept of a flawless body is everywhere.

    Luckily nature is largely unaffected by our crazy quirks, and stays... well just as nature had intended. Despite being associated with the descriptions: stout, dumpy, heavily built, and known in some areas as the ‘fat bird of barley,’ the corn bunting is still able to embrace its physique and even its name. Originally, ‘bunting’ was used to describe a plump or thickset person, and the corn bunting truly lives up to this as the largest of the buntings.

    Photo credit: Andy Hay

    It may therefore be a surprise to hear that the movement of this bird has been defined as fluttering flight, suggesting elegance, subtlety, and glamour. See this bird take-off though and you will soon realise it’s anything but. Yellow legs dangle from a streaky body that merges into a large head and stubby bill, defying aerodynamics. The song that accompanies the flight also lacks sophistication with likening to ‘jangling keys’.

    Photo credit: Andy Hay

    However, the corn bunting proves that good looks are low on the priority list in nature, and superficiality has no place. Whilst the bird may be dull in appearance, it has a rather colourful sex life. Male corn buntings are highly promiscuous, mating and breeding with up to 18 females (6 simultaneously!) over the course of the summer, which makes it even more worrying that these underrated birds are on the decline, in spite of such heroic efforts.

    In recent decades, the sight of a corn bunting in lowland farmland, perched on a post or wire was far from out-of-the-ordinary. Yet, since 1970, the species has declined by a shocking 90%; the corn bunting is in trouble.

    Photo credit: Andy Hay

    For many years, the production of cereal crops allowed the corn bunting to thrive but lately, with growing demand for food, farming has intensified. Changes in the production of cereal crops - the timings of harvesting and changes to crop species – as well as the removal of hedgerows to make space for more crops, has led to this decrease in available winter foods and habitats. An increase in the volume of pesticides used also leaves less insects for chicks and seeds for adults in the summer months.

    Still, like with so many of our other farmland species in decline, we should not lose hope! Trends can be reversed and we can offer wildlife a home alongside farming. In principle, farmland birds are quite low maintenance really and only have three main needs to survive and flourish: a safe place to nest; food in spring and summer for their chicks; and food and shelter over winter.

    At RSPB Hope Farm – our 181-hectare arable farm in Cambridgeshire – we have implemented the ‘big three’ and once lost bird species have begun to thrive. Since the RSPB’s purchase in2000: skylarks quadrupled, linnets quintupled, yellowhammers doubled, lapwings, yellow wagtail and grey partridge have all colonised the farm. Overall key breeding bird populations increased by 190%. The fat bird of barley had other plans though and teased staff for 16 years despite honing territories just 5 miles down the road.

    Photo credit: Andy Hay

    Finally, back in the summer of 2016, the corn bunting, didn’t just make an appearance, it put on a show. RSPB researchers found a corn bunting nest on the farm with four eggs in it; three of these went on to hatch and two chicks fledged! With this successful breeding and with at least one, and possibly two, other singing corn buntings on the farm we are optimistic for the future.

    Patience really is a virtue.


    A list of the available RSPB member packages could be found here: www.rspb.org.uk/join

    List of activities to follow in order to give nature home in your garden could be found here: www.rspb.org.uk/myplan

  • Eating our way to a world richer in nature

    Author: Rupert Masefield. This blog post originally appeared in Let’s Talk.

    Food, glorious food! Is there any aspect of our lives and the world we inhabit that is not touched in some way by food? It’s everywhere: at work, at home, at school, in our fridges and freezers, on supermarket shelves. Social rituals are built around the meals we share with our families, friends and colleagues, and what we eat is becoming more and more central to our ideas about healthy living.

    It’s impossible to overstate the importance of food in our lives, but how we consume it is just one side of the story. Just as our eating habits have a huge impact our personal health, how we grow the food we eat has an impact on the health of the countryside and the wildlife that lives there. It’s generally agreed that a healthy diet is a good start when it comes to improving our personal health, so can we also eat our way to having a healthier natural environment in the landscapes where our food is grown?


    The edible landscape

    Three quarters of the land area of the UK is used to produce food, making the British countryside a truly edible landscape. Outside of our towns and cities, almost everywhere you might care to look you will see evidence of food production in action: fields of wheat and corn in the spring and summer, pastures being grazed by sheep or cattle, sugar beet growing in neat rows. We’re not the only creatures depending on the countryside for sustenance though.

    Photo credit: Ben Andrew

    The rich wildlife of the British farmed landscape is one of the great joys of living in or visiting the countryside. No-one who has listened to a skylark in full song, or watched a barn owl quarter a field as it hunts, or seen a kestrel hovering over a ditch, can fail to appreciate just how special the wildlife of the countryside is. Unfortunately many of our most iconic farmland birds are finding life in the modern farmed landscape difficult, due to loss of habitat, food plants, and increased herbicide and pesticide use. Turtle doves, for example, have declined by more than 96 per cent since the 1970s, and urgently need us to take action to save them.

    Photo credit: Andy Hay


    Eating for nature

    Agricultural and environmental policy plays a big part in how nature-friendly our farms are, but we can all make a difference by supporting farmers who are already helping wildlife. Many farmers work hard to look after wildlife on their farms, and the more consumers can do the support them and encourage others to follow their example, the better.

    Here are some top tips for how you can help nature through the food you eat:

    • Try to buy organic foods where you can – it is often great for birds and the environment.
    • Reduce the amount of meat and dairy in your diet – not only is it healthier to eat less meat, it helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation.

    • Look out for meat from 'Conservation Grazing' schemes when you shop – cattle grazing is extremely important for maintaining many areas of wildlife rich habitat.
    • Buy direct from farmers at farmers markets, farm shops and box schemes. You can even speak to the farmer about wildlife on his farm, and buying direct from a wildlife-friendly farmer will give them a better return on their produce.

    • Look out for wildlife-friendly food labels like the LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming) marquee, or Conservation Grade ‘Fair to Nature’ (used by Allison Flour, Steve’s Leaves and the RSPB amongst others).

    For more ides for how you can help nature through your food choices, visit www.eating-better.og


    Four farmland birds to look for in the countryside this summer

    Turtle dove – more than half of the UK’s remaining turtle doves are now found in the East of England. Loss of arable weeds that turtle doves feed on has seen their numbers fall drastically, but farmers and conservationists are working to replace these lost plants and provide turtle doves with the food they need to successfully breed. Listen out for their purring turr-turr call coming from area of scrub and thick hedgerows.

    Photo credit: Andy  Hay

    Skylark – renowned for their distinctive song flight, to establishing their territory males fly vertically upwards from the ground singing continuously as they go until they reach their pinnacle and descend back to the ground. The whole display can last five minutes. Farmers are helping skylarks by providing them with bare plots on the ground where they can nest.

    Photo credit: Chris Gomersall

    Yellowhammer – males are unmistakeable with their bright yellow head, breast and belly. Look for them singing from the top of a hedgerow on the edge of fields. Their distinctive song is often described using the phrase ‘ a little bit of bread and no cheese’!

    Photo credit: Andy Hay

    Lapwing – one of the most distinctive birds in flight and with amazing aerial courtship displays, lapwings can be seen in many parts of the countryside, including arable fields and wet grazed pasture. They are known colloquially as peewits after their high-pitched whistling flight calls.

    Photo credit: John Bridges

    Visit a farm to find out more about farming and farmland wildlife

    Every June, hundreds of farms open the gates to welcome visitors on Open Farm Sunday, giving people the chance to see what farming is all about. This year, on Sunday 11 June, the RSPB will be holding an Open Farm Sunday event at its wildlife-friendly demonstration farm, Hope Farm, in Cambridgeshire.

    Find out more about Open Farm Sunday on Hope Farm at www.rspb.org.uk/hopefarm

    Find an Open Farm Sunday event near you, visit www.farmsunday.org