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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!

The usual

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Waxwings - I actually went out looking for them in east Northants yesterday and failed completely despite many recent local records.  Did see lots of rowan berries, industrial estates and redwings though!  Will I ever see a waxwing this winter?

Farmland birds -  a short blog of a week ago has attracted a large number of comments - mostly from a so-called 'Essex peasant' otherwise known as Essex farmer and NFU mouthpiece Guy Smith.  The comments are mostly longer than the original blog!  Guy has problems with Hope Farm, the Farmland Bird Index, and most things that the RSPB does.  Makes for an interesting read if you are interested in that type of thing.

Dancing - now is the time to download Bird is the word to try to get it to be the Christmas Number 1. 

Last date to order from the RSPB before Christmas - 15 December.

  • jane griggs - no he hasn't has he?  I wish I had detailed records of the places where I saw birds in my youth so that I could compare them with now.  But it is clear that whilst at the local gravel pits many species have increased in numbers, on farmland many have decreased.

  • Hi trimbush,

    Fair point and supermarkets are very adept enticing us to consume more. I would still contend that it's still to do with us as consumers. These offers offers keep coming as we go for them, but as you imply supermarkets have to accept some responsibility as well, the prices they pay suppliers etc.

  • Essex peasant doesn't seem to me to have answered mirlo's question about whether he agrees that wildlife on farmed land is in a better or worse state than 25 years ago.  It's quite a simple question.  I'm sure the wildlife around me is worse - and I've lived in this bit of countryside all my life (although I'm not a farmer).  There are fewer of many of the characteristic birds of my youth.  Fewer skylarks and fewer English partridges. I'm not a bird expert but it's pretty clear to me that farming has driven wildlife to the edges of the fields and sometimes driven it away completely.

  • Hi curiousPan

    I'm soory to say it but I expect it to get even worse - why - Supermarkets - eg Tesco PLC 2 for 1, 3 for 2

    Nowt to do with farming!

  • CuriousPan - welcome! And thank you for the kind comments.  Good comment - when it comes down to it, everything is consumed by the 6.5bn of us on earth, and some of us consume more (more food, more water, more energy, more space, more resources) than others.

    trimbush - I will blog on badgers soon.  It can be a Christmas present for you - although it might be the type that you want to return to the store after it's unwrapped.  We'll see.

  • Hi Gert

    I've just checked out the Badger Protection League's website - as I said - no mention of the RSPB as a member - neither is the Woodland Trust mentioned - why I wonder - surely not letting political / financial matters influence their 'beliefs' are they?

    So why hasn't the RSPB joined the BPL ??  Perhaps Mark can tell us.

    Interesting isn't it?  

  • Dear Mark et al,

    Firstly thank you for an engaging blog. I peek at it every now and then and it’s always of interest. This last discussion has promoted me to respond as it’s been a great insight into what I feel is key debate that should be at a national level. As we are essentially an urbanised society farmers can be viewed as ‘custodians’ of our rural and natural heritage that we all enjoy. They have the right to earn a decent living from it (they own large chucks of it) but I also think that they have an obligation to ensure its integrity. Nevertheless, I’d like to bring a 3rd party in to this mix; that is us as consumers. Since the food farmers produce is consumed by us we also have a part to play. In these cash strapped times we may well demand our food at the lowest possible price, but at what cost to our rural environment? Are we prepared to pay higher prices for food produced by farmers who care about the food they grow/rear and the environment? It is our demand that’s an economic driver; which made me recall a study from 2008 stating that 18% of the food we purchase is thrown away. What a lot of food to waste.

    In my view this can also be viewed as ‘wasted production’ that requires farmland. If we wasted less and paid a fair price may be more farmers would be happy to view their business as combining food production and conserving wildlife (they do not need to be mutual exclusive). Isn’t this what the higher level agri-environment scheme is all about? The price we as tax payers are prepared to pay for what we wish to conserve, recognising farmers as stewards of our rural landscapes but requiring certain obligations in return. I’m not a farmer (a rather cashed strapped student) but I do value the food that responsible farmers produce as well as our wonderful natural spaces and wildlife. My point is that we all have part to play. As much as farmers have to act responsibly we have to think of the consequences of our consumption. When I see a t-shirt for £5 I do wonder how on earth can it be made, shipped, stocked and sold for that price. I don’t intend preach, just wish to make my point that this debate is not just about ‘good and bad farmers’ but also about our demands as consumers.

    Keep up the good work and like your last commenter I hope more farmers  ‘welcome the RSPB with open arms’ and we as consumers also support those who want to provide good food whilst caring for our rural environment.

  • Hi Gert

    Doesn't the RSPB say - If govt decides to cull sick badgers to stop the spread of bTB in deer, cattle, alpaca pigs etc - we ain't gonna let them on our land

    You can nitpick the words but that's where the RSPB is - unless it's recently re-discovered its responsibilities and well-hidden morality

  • "Why does the RSPB support / promote Tuberculosis in Wildlife?"

    Suggest you read the RSPB web site trimbush - nothing in there about supporting or promoting TB in wildlife that I can see - but am happy to be corrected;

  • Gert - I found your comments very stimulating and I'm sure I'm not the only one.  Thank you.

  • And I guess this is what this debate is all about  - point scoring. Personally I can't explain in enough words how uninterested  I am in that and it's certainly not why I follow Marks blog.

    Now, making a profit is something I do know about - it's my day job. But there's profit and there's profit isn't there. Profit at all cost is the unhealthy and non sustainable side of business and I am guessing, that like many large commercial businesses, particularly those with shareholders, there will be some large farming businesses where this is all that matters. And their motivation will be that every square inch of land that is farmed (whilst still cross complying of course) and stuff the wildlife. Any moral or altruistic duty doesn't figure here.

    Fortunately we are living in a more enlightened age these days - more and morelarge businesses have sustainability policies, environmental policies, CSR, and yes - they do stick to them and make more profit as a result.

    In a farming context look at Jordan's cereals and Yeo Valley - the latter's recent advert made me weep with joy as they managed in 2 minutes to connect sustainable and organic farming with young people far more effectively than anything the NFU has managed. And they must be raking the money in - wildlife pays!

    Does the NFU advocate their members to have these policies in place? Can't find it on their web site.. Under their link 'Environment' there is a further link headed 'Wildlife Issues'. What about some Wildlife Advice?

    Anyway the point I'm trying to make (not score) is that business is moving on in terms of sustainability, CSR etc - pay attention at the back!

    Also kids are being educated in environmental issues, climate etc. The most telling for me was when my daughter asked why there were no butterflies in a field of dominant rye grass. The next generation will be more demanding and will want answers and buy accordingly so time to move on. Farmers should be welcoming the RSPB with open arms! (and thankfully a great many do)

    All this coming from a member of the Public eh

  • Hi Bob P

    In short Bob - POPPYCOCK !!

    Why does the RSPB support / promote Tuberculosis in Wildlife?

    Doing nothing is not an option

    The RSPB's decided but it won't tell even its 1 M members

    The RSPB has failed to show - so far - any leadership on this matter

    At least it's not a member of the Badger Protection League

    Whilst bTB is still rampant farmers cannot respect or believe ANYTHING that it does or says!

    PS - Mark - get it sorted! Now please!

  • Mirlo, Mark,

    in answer to your question , with regards to birds, I can do no better than refer you to page 16 of the RSPBs state of British Birds  , in amongst the RSPB comment you can see a table that looks at the overall situation and there it is writ large and clear, in the last 20 years most bird species have been stable, some have gone down in numbers but MORE have increased.

    As for plants and invertebrates I think the situation is equally mixed. My only comment with invertebrates is that quite a lot of avian insectivores such as swallows and woodpeckers have increased ( see for instance  - and yet again none of these species are not on the FBI despite the fact that Green woodpeckers and swallows in particular are very common on farmland).

    And I do encourage farmers to undertake conservation more seriously, if you are in the vicinity of Basingstoke tomorrow night  you can come and listen to me talking to North Hants NFU where I will do exactly that.

    sorry you find my comments 'puerile' ,

    Essex peasant  - 7-1 up, come on Mark lets have another couple of positives like your remark about Barn Owls.

    Trim Bush - hail fellow essex person  

  • Trimbush

    ---- "in harmony with the RSPB you say" - "TOSH" I say !------

    To be honest I don't (and I hope others don't) mind whether you work in harmony with the RSPB, Wildlife Trusts, Woodland Trust or anyone else.  All I think Society would like (or at least my bit of it) is that landowners work in harmony with wildlife and help and improve, for future generations, the environment that morally (if not legally) belongs to all of us.

    I would like to think that people accept that the RSPB has a major place in guiding the protection of the environment and has the scientific background to understand and advise on ways forward.  With such a large organisation there will be topics where you will disagree with the RSPB.  I am happy to declare that I have previously been an RSPB Council Member and even then can find things to disagree over.

    Working together is the way forward, dismissing harmonious working as Tosh is surely a little bit of Tosh in its own right.

  • Hi mirio

    LET IT RIP ! (not Rest In Peace - although it just as well might be)

    I too was an 'essex peasant' once - living in Gt Baddow near Chelmsford and followed hounds with the Essex Farmers, Essex Union and Essex hunts - I suppose I'm now a 'Staffordsquire Peasant' - "manage some land with wildlife in mind" you say - "in harmony with the RSPB you say" - "TOSH" I say !

    We know how the RSPB wishes to 'manage' Tuberculosis in wildlife - don't we - Ask Mark!