September, 2011

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.

Martin Harper's blog

I’ve been the RSPB’s Conservation Director since May 2011. As I settle into the job, I’ll be blogging on all the big conservation topics and providing an inside view of our conservation projects. I hope you enjoy reading it and feel inspired to join in t
  • These boots were made for wanging...

    I don't get to wear my wellies as much as I'd like, but when I do, you'll be pleased to know that I've not opted for polka dots or stripes. Instead, my trusty green, comfortable pair come with me when I get out and about to the RSPB's nature reserves, and they are as stylish as needs be!

    Wellington boots used to last a lifetime. But thanks to the likes of Kate Moss and her festival pals wearing them as their fashion item of choice, it's out with the old and in with the new much more frequently nowadays.

    But instead of simply throwing them away, festival-goers, gardeners and fashionistas are being urged to put their worn-out wellies to good use by donating them to an RSPB nature reserve.

    Saltholme, the RSPB's wildlife reserve and discovery park near Middlesbrough, is appealing for old wellies to use for autumn and early winter activities.

    Donated wellies will  be turned into mini gardens, used to guide visitors around the wildlife reserve, and a host of other ingenious uses.

    Visitors to the site will be able to test their arm in the welly-wanging arena (now that's a phrase that you need to type with care), post a wildlife wish on the Welly Wish Tree and check on the waterproof qualities of their wellies by stomping through the specially-constructed welly-splash.

    So anyone who can bear to part with their wellies in the knowledge that they'll be going to a good home, can take them along or post them to the wildlife reserve and discovery park.

    I can just picture my size elevens transformed now; some nice primroses, a bit of heather, and maybe even a trail of ivy coming out of the hole in the toe...

  • A musing on the nature of opposition

    I remember a meeting in early 1997 when Michael Meacher (the then shadow Environment Secretary) summed up the trials of opposition. He said, “For eighteen years, I have woken up and thought what am I going to say today. I look forward to waking up and thinking what am I going to do today.”

    This week, in Liverpool, the Labour party will be doing a lot of talking. Talking about what they would do if they were in power now and talking about how they can develop a policy agenda which will help them return to government.

    And that must be right. The first job of opposition is – to oppose. Any government needs a strong opposition to keep it on track.

    NGOs have some things in common with opposition parties. We cannot decide new policies and laws but we can tell governments what we think they should do with their time in power. Alas, it is up to governments whether they decide to listen or not.

    But unlike opposition parties, we can make the world a better place through managing our nature reserves, working with landmanagers and fishermen and by providing more people to have contact with nature.

    This is not meant to be a eulogy in favour of the charity sector.

    We can have sympathy and some empathy for parties when they lose power. So, we will continue to work with the Labour party as it searches for its way back to government.

    I hope that the party remembers the many good things that it achieved while in government – new laws to tackle climate change and to improve the protection of our finest wildlife sites on land and at sea; more money for farmers who manage their land for wildlife and a definition of sustainable development that established the idea of living within environmental limits through a sustainable economy.

    The sustainable development strategy of 2005 (topical again in the context of the current debate about the future of land use planning) was radical, but unfortunately never really respected. Too often, economic ambitions resulted in policies (such as the proposed new runway at Heathrow) which were inconsistent with environmental objectives.

    One thing is certain - we will, as we do with any political party, share our best ideas for the future.  We want parties to find a new policy agenda that helps create an economy that furthers rather than degrades the natural environment. 

  • It's not so grim up north.

    Whether it’s varieties of ale, dialect, football chants, scenery or soap opera, there have always been many differences separating southern and northern England.

    Now it seems there is another: birds.

    The RSPB, in conjunction with the BTO, has revealed a startling fact: bird populations in the south of England are faring less well than they are in the north. 

    Take the linnet, for example, why should the numbers of this colourful finch have almost halved in parts of southern England, while they have only dipped slightly in the north. Similarly, goldfinch numbers have increased everywhere, but much more so in the north.

    This is intriguing and it’s a fact that we can’t fully explain (yet), but there are some theories which could explain the differences. There are variations in land use across the length of England and other factors like water scarcity and climate change could also be having an effect.

    As our Nature of Farming Awards demonstrated, many farmers and landowners are already doing the right thing for wildlife. We also know from our own work at the RSPB’s Hope Farm, near Cambridge, that populations of birds can be recovered. It is a highly successful arable farm and we are producing a good crop of birds. In ten years we have tripled the number of farmland birds. By contrast, the numbers of other farmland birds in East Anglia has fallen.

    The RSPB is developing solutions to help farmers and other land managers restore birdsong to the countryside, but as I have blogged previously, existing schemes need to be made to work harder for wildlife.  And, we need to boost the amount of money available to support famers that want to step up for wildlife.

    In the launch of the Natural Environment White Paper, the UK Government showed an encouraging commitment to protect biodiversity. However, without providing funding for those farmers who want to put wildlife back on the land and without guarantees that  planning reforms won’t damage hotspots for nature, the situation for birds and other wildlife could get worse.

    In short, we need more support for people and policies that benefit wildlife.