I grew up in Bristol and went to Bristol Grammar School where a couple of masters (Derek Lucas and Tony Warren) were instrumental in fueling my interest in birds. I was in the Young Ornithologists' Club.
In the school holidays I practically lived at Chew Valley Lake - a bicycle and a pair of binoculars were all I needed.
My parents liked nice scenery and walks in the countryside and that gave me plenty of opportunities for birding.
I spent a few years when rare birds were very important to me but aside from the very occasional lapse they aren't any more!
I did a Ph.D. on pipistrelle bats but most of my research before joining the RSPB was on bee-eaters in the south of France (nice eh?) and great tits and marsh tits around Oxford. However, the first scientific paper I wote was about the lekking behaviour of great snipe.
I joined the RSPB staff in 1986 as a researcher, became Head of Conservation Science in 1992 and Conservation Director in 1998 - all have been great jobs!
The most common subject on this blog has been farming and the decline of farmland birds (and there are lots of extracts in the book of the blog).
Be in no doubt - many farmland birds have declined and they symbolise and stand for the declines in plants and insects in our farmland.
I say 'our' farmland because we British, maybe particularly we English, feel a great affinity for the countryside - it's in our literature, poetry and psyche. So although we don't own it, we feel close to it.
And although we don't own the countryside, we are pouring large amounts of our money into it in the form of grants (to carry out wildlife-friendly farming) and income support (money for being a farmer) for farmers. So I've always thought that the 'leaders' of the farming community could be just a little more grateful and eager to please the rest of us.
Farmers - they're a funny bunch. Some are lovely, some you just want to throttle - much the same as conservationists, politicians, school teachers, plumbers or any other large group of people. I can almost honestly say that some of my best friends are farmers and none of my worst enemies. Some farmers are doing loads and loads of stuff for wildlife and others are doing precious little. That's hardly surprising really.
What the RSPB has achieved at Hope Farm is an indication of what the countryside could be like and still be highly productive in food terms and yet be much more productive in wildlife terms. It's not the RSPB's job to talk to every farmer in the country and try to persuade them to 'do a Hope Farm' or at least something similar - and maybe even something better (I'm sure we don't know all the answers). No, it's not our job to do that and yet we are pouring large amounts of RSPB members' hard-earned money into doing just that. Where farmers are keen to step up for nature then the RSPB will step up to help them, if we can. We've increased the scale of this work enormously whilst I've been Conservation Director (nothing anti-farmer here, you see).
However, it will take more resources than we have, and more time than nature has, to fix everything this way. As well as that advisory work we need government to make it easier for farmers to do the very best things and more difficult to do things that don't add up to much wildlife benefit. That is a Big Government job - it's 'Big Money' and it ought to provide 'Bigger Wildlife Outputs'.
And so, what Defra needs to do is to adjust the details of the Entry Level Scheme so that it is just a little bit more testing for farmers (not very much at all - we aren't talking thumbscrews here) and a lot more productive for wildlife. Simple ask - if the Defra Ministers are reading this blog (and I'm sure that they will have this pointed out to them) - that's what I'd like as a leaving present please. But it's not for me - it's for wildlife, it's for good value from public spending and it's not against farmers.
Trimbush, don't predators form an important part of a balanced eco system? They do in our world.
Trimbush - if I thought your enquiry was for a positive reason I would. But I suspect there's another negative agenda at play so I'll leave it to you to get the answer you're looking for. The internet is a wonderful thing, the answers are there if you can be bothered to take a look. Best wishes.
Well you left the best till last Mark,really,really last.
trimbush - ask the RSPB, I don't work there any more!
Thanks Mark - no doubt exactly what Gert was going to say!
I missed the bit to do with:-
"• How much is the Nation (via Lottery / Grants / DEFRA schemes, etc) contributing to the RSPB’s funding? - We know of the recent £317,000 (over 4 years?) for the Hen Harrier project – but what’s the total over say the next 4 years?"
Perhaps you or (even) Gert can link me to the Google pages for a complete answer!
trimbush - the right to roam applies to our land in the same way that it does to others - of course. Of our 200+ nature reserves, from urban London (Rainham Marshes) to remote moorland (eg Yell on Sheltand) the public are welcome to most of them - some are not publicised and some are very small. Non-members sometimes have to pay for car parking whereas members do not. I'm not sure whether any nature reserves charge non-members for access these days - we used to but I can't be completely sure that we still do. Hope Farm is not a nature reserve, its location is not publicised, but it does have several footpaths running across it which are used by local people.
Yes, not much to ask for. Let's hope it happens.
As for Land Agents, they are like any other group of people: some are lovely, some (a very small minority in my experience) you just want to throttle. I know because I used to be one.
Mally - you are a bit too quick to dismiss what I recognise as some sensible chaps - the Songbird Survival folk!
Didn't the Otterburn Project state for example:-
Breeding pairs with/out predator control
51% - predator control
13% - no predator control
75% - 18%
56% - 18%
Only a fool would call the SS folk - 'half-wits'
I mean to say - I'm just a countryman - but I can read!
What do you think Mark?
Trimbush - try google, it's a wonderful tool to obtain publicly available information.
....... Came there answer NONE (so far)
And tp parrot-phrase redkite - "Come on RSPB you can do it and sooner rather than later!"
A 'bang' or a 'whimper'?
The big change should be remove land agents from getting involved. The reason most things don't work in agriculture!
100% support for your leaving request to amend the Entry Level Scheme, Mark. Come on DEFRA you can do it and sooner rather than later!
Mark – perhaps you can please answer the following question. I genuinely do not know the answers
• Can anyone who is not a member of the RSPB go on to RSPB reserves – including Hope Farm?
• Does the ‘Right to Roam’ allow public access to all RSPB reserves / land – inc. Hope Farm?
• How much is the Nation (via Lottery / Grants / DEFRA schemes, etc) contributing to the RSPB’s funding? - We know of the recent £317,000 (over 4 years?) for the Hen Harrier project – but what’s the total over say the next 4 years?
I have enjoyed reading your blog over the last couple of years, and I wish you all the very best for the future. Well done for doing such an excellent job, in what I know must have been difficult circumstances on occassions.
Also thank you very much for not mentioning the increase of raptors and that hare brained bunch of half wits called Songbird Survival in your last missive on the decline of farmland birds.
All the best
Again Mark - well said. And thank you.