July, 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.


Read about our Investigations team, working hard to keep our birds and wildlife safe
  • A study in scarlet (and blue, green, gold...)

    While the Nottinghamshire bee-eaters are drawing a crowd, one artist is turning his artistic talents to depicting these beautiful birds in paint.

    Celebrated wildlife artist Darren Woodhead, friend of the RSPB, was invited to make studies of the birds. Having driven down from Scotland (on his birthday!) he was given special access to the quarry car park by CEMEX. Work was carrying on around him as he painted the resident bee-eaters, his faithful dog Inca by his side (she was more interested in the butterflies than the birds!). I caught up with him to find out what it’s like painting these colourful subjects.

    Darren Woodhead, artist

    “How cool is it to have them in the UK? They’re really, really smart,” says Darren, paintbrush in hand, peering through his scope at the bee-eaters, perched in their favourite tree. “That combination of blues and oranges is really lovely. Previously in the UK I’ve only ever seen them fly overhead, so this is a new one for me.”

    He continues: “All my work is done outside in the field. It’s about getting to know the birds and their characters. They’re lovely when they start to preen – you can get some really nice angles. They watch the aeroplanes fly over, and it’s lovely to see the switch of their heads.”

    Darren lives and works just outside Edinburgh, and nature is often his subject of choice. “I’ve just come back from Norway where I was painting great grey owls, and I’ve been working on seabirds quite a bit. But I never thought I’d be painting bee-eaters this summer!”

    You’ll have the chance to win a bee-eater print, created by Darren, at BirdFair 2017.

    Artist Darren Woodhead talks about his experience painting the Nottinghamshire bee-eaters.

    Watch the video here:

  • New arrivals for Nottinghamshire bee-eaters!

    After touching down in East Leake quarry on 25 June, the Nottinghamshire bee-eaters have successfully hatched chicks – just the third time this has happened in a decade.

    Nearly 10,000 people have come to see these spectacular birds, some travelling from as far afield as Cornwall and County Durham. But while visitors have been enjoying the birds, behind the scenes RSPB protection staff have been guarding three active nests. And we are delighted to announce that the first of the nests has hatched!

    UPDATE 26/7/17: It's a hat-trick! All three bee-eater nests have now hatched young.

    Dan Branch, RSPB

    Yesterday afternoon the behaviour of the adults attending 'nest 3' changed with a burst of visits and prey items going into the nest. The other two nests are now also on the verge of hatching and we expect all three will have young by the weekend.

    24hr wardening will continue until all the nests hopefully successfully fledge young. The threat of human disturbance has now been replaced with that of predators. A fox has been seen and deterred from the quarry several times in recent nights, so we still have a way to go.

    Bee-eaters and nest in burrows that reach up to 10ft (3m) often in sand banks, in which they lay 3-8 white eggs.

    Says Mark Thomas, RSPB senior investigations officer: “Bee-eaters are sociable birds and nest together in small groups. Often pairs will enlist the help of a single, younger bird to help bring food and rear their chicks. Bringing up junior is very much a community effort.”

    Birdwatchers can expert their first views of the chicks in around three weeks’ time, once they fledge.

    Please remember that bee-eaters are Schedule 1 species and their nests are protected from disturbance.

    Finally we would like to thank all the brilliant volunteers, CEMEX (particularly quarry manager Scott Saunders), Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust, farmer Brian Burton and all the visitors!

    How to see the bee-eaters: Follow your sat nav to LE12 6RG. Car park open 6am-7pm at a cost of £5 (half of which goes straight back to the RSPB to help us protect the wildlife you love).

  • Plan B-eater

    The RSPB’s investigations unit doesn’t just deal with dead birds – sometimes our role is to prevent crimes being committed in the first place by operating species protection schemes.

    Last week the surprise arrival of seven bee-eaters provided a colourful interlude to our usual routine. The magnificent, multicoloured seven turned up at East Leake CEMEX Quarry, near Loughborough, on 25 June and quickly began to draw a crowd. As with the last few times bee-eaters have shown up, we knew we needed to act.

    Before the Millennium, there were just two breeding records of bee-eaters in the UK. These exotic, kaleidoscopic visitors certainly look more suited to their southern European and African homelands, but increasingly they’ve been turning up on our grey and rainy isle, appearing at random in County Durham (2002), Herefordshire (2005), Isle of Wight (2014) and Cumbria (2015). Another species being pushed north by climate change, it would seem.

    With word spreading quickly on Twitter, and working with our business partners CEMEX UK, a plan was put in place to protect the colony and make sure no-one wandered into the active quarry. After speaking to a local farmer, we’d soon secured a nearby field for parking. Road signs were ordered. A Twitter shout-out later and we’d appointed volunteers to marshal the car park and point the way to the best viewing spot, and two wardens to protect the birds for the duration of their stay.

    Bee-eaters are Schedule 1 birds, giving them the maximum level of legal protection and meaning anyone who disturbs them – or worse – could face jail. Hopefully our efforts would simply make it safe and easy for people to enjoy the sight of these spectacular birds.

    Two days later, on Wednesday, I hopped in the car from the Lodge in Sandy to see how the viewing scheme was shaping up – and to get my first ever look at a bee-eater. It was a distinctly British summer’s day, by which I mean grey and cold, making the birds stand out even more vibrantly: little rainbows against a cloudy sky. I heard them first, calling from an ash tree, then saw small shapes flit between the top-most branches. A lady with a scope offered me a closer look, and I broke into a smile. There were three sitting together, taking turns to dart up and catch bees and butterflies, which they’d toss into the air before catching them again in their blade-like beaks. Playing with your food, to disable the sting, is essential if you’re a bee-eater.

    'Plan B' has proved a great example of people working together to safeguard wildlife and encourage people's enjoyment of it. We had a chat with the farmer (who turned up in his muddy Landrover having just been to calve a cow) and he was delighted with the birds’ arrival, and happy to host rows of cars on his land. A huge thanks also goes to CEMEX, who have enabled thousands of people to see the birds and helped keep both birds and people safe. And @NottsBirders have been great in creating a ‘buzz’ (sorry) on social media.

    2500 people came to see the bee-eaters over the weekend, and we expect the birds to be around for at least a month more. Details of how to visit below.

    Says the RSPB’s Mark Thomas, who has co-ordinated ‘Plan B’: “Bee-eater sightings have been on the increase: pushed northwards by climate change, these exotic birds will likely become established visitors to our shores, and thanks to partnerships like this one with CEMEX we can provide the right habitats to accommodate them.”

    How to see the bee-eaters: Follow your sat nav to LE12 6RG. Car park open 6am-9pm at a cost of £5 (half of which goes straight back to the RSPB to help us protect the wildlife you love).

    For updates and to join the conversation see @RSPBbirders. Here's one of our favourite tweets from Spain (Translation: 'Look what 5 bee-eaters have done in the UK..')

    And we're loving your bee-eater selfies -