May, 2009

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.

Mark Avery's blog

I'm the RSPB's Conservation Director. My aim with this blog will be to comment on matters of conservation importance and give you a few insights into the RSPB's conservation work - there's plenty to write about!
  • Up at 05:15 - and still late!

    About three weeks late actually!  Today I did the first of two scheduled visits to count birds as part of the BTO/JNCC/RSPB Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) and I've usually done it at the beginning of May. 

    The BBS provides the information on which much of our information on changes in common breeding birds is based.  Volunteer observers, like me, make two visits in spring/summer to a 1km square and record all the birds on each of two 1km transects.

    This is the fifth year I have covered this particular square - a potentially dull area of arable crops with a green lane cutting through the farmland.  But nowhere is dull when you get to know it.  It's because I can compare this visit with previous ones that makes it much more interesting for me - and the fact that we can compare this year's visits with earlier years across over 1000 randomly-selected sites across the UK that makes it such a powerful monitoring tool.

    It was a sunny morning with a light easterly wind - a heavy dew soaked my shoes within minutes of starting.  Not surprisingly, I didn't see another person.

    It all seemed pretty birdless to me.  There were plenty of chaffinches and wrens, and a few skylarks but not as many as usual, I thought.  The odd yellowhammer.  A reed bunting in the oil seed rape.  And a cuckoo - I don't think I've heard many of those here.

    As I squidged back in my soaking shoes just after 07:00 it felt like a job well done but I was fairly sure that bird numbers were down on the usual counts. A painted lady flew past - an early riser for an insect!

    But when I got home, entered the data online, and looked at the counts from previous years I cheered up a bit.  The numbers weren't actually very different from the average of the past four years!  That's the great value of well-designed and documented surveys rather than relying on the unreliable memories of individuals.  Whitethroats may be down a bit (although lots of people tell me that they have more than usual!) but I have already this year seen more great-spotted woodpeckers than in the previous four years combined, today's cuckoo was the second since I started and today's mistle thrush was the first ever.  Let's see what the second visit in three weeks time will bring.

    But even if bird numbers haven't declined since last year, this is still a walk which delivers rather little wildlife.  The birds, wild flowers and interesting insects are all pushed to the sides of the enormous fields into the poor, unmanaged hedges.  There is no evidence of any wildlife management or deployment of environmental schemes to help nature here.  It feels like what it is - a walk around the factory floor of a highly efficient industry.  This industry's products are commodities - wheat and rape seed.  Wildlife here has to cling on as best it can - it isn't being given much help.

  • Don't be wet - speak out for your river

    There is a potentially very good piece of European legislation called the Water Framework Directive which is being implemented in a sadly unambitious way in England and Wales.  We'd like you to tell the Environment Agency about the state of a river that you know.  Already 600 people have responded to our call to speak out for rivers they care about.  If you haven't done so yourself then you have until 22 June to make your views known.  Visit Our Rivers and have your say - speak out for otters, dragonflies, water voles, kingfishers and fish! And why not do it today?

    The Our Rivers campaign is a joint one between the RSPB, WWF, the Angling Trust and the Association of Rivers Trusts.

  • We're all butterfly watchers now!

    You may have noticed - there is the most stupendous influx of painted lady butterflies happening right now.  Once you realise - you'll see them everywhere!

    I saw my first of the year on Sunday (two at Stanwick Lakes in Northamptonshire) and have seen lots every day since.  On Monday afternoon I was at Salcey Forest (again in Northamptonshire) and visited the tree-top walkway - and there were painted ladies flying rapidly northeast at tree-top height at the rate of about one a minute.  Yesterday in London I saw two flying along Victoria Street.  There are lots in the gardens of The Lodge here in Bedfordshire and they were the main topic of conversation amongst RSPB staff at lunch time.

    These are migrants - they've come from north Africa - and this year is one of those exceptional years when painted ladies are everywhere.  Butterfly Conservation is tracking the migration closely and would like your help in recording the sightings http://www.butterfly-conservation.org/article/9/100/butterfly_migration_is_biggest_for_years.html .