October, 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
  • In search of happiness

    A colleague told me on Friday that he was off to Bhutan for a holiday.  As he is a Manchester United fan, I thought that he was simply escaping the ridicule of City fans, but of course he was in search of wonderful wildlife.  Whenever I think of Bhutan I think of snow leopards - a species which I searched for in vain for many months in the 1990s in Mongolia, a near neighbour.  But I also think of their famous National Happiness Index. 

    This was first proposed in 1972 by Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the country's former King.   King Wangchuk said that instead of relying on Gross Domestic Product as the best indicator of Bhutan's progress, it should instead consider its "Gross National Happiness."   That was to be measured by its peoples' sense of being well-governed, their relationship with the environment, satisfaction with the pace of economic development, a sense of cultural and national belonging.

    I know it has its critics, but it has always made sense to me. 

    Talk of Bhutan made me wonder how the Office of National Statistics was getting on with its own attempt at developing a national well being index.  You may recall that David Cameron first spoke about this in opposition saying that "It's time we admitted that there's more to life than money, and it's time we focused not just on GDP, but on GWB - general well-being".  Then, last year, he asked the National Statistician, Jill Matheson, to develop a national measure of well-being and progress.  Following a five month consultation, a progress report was published in the summer.  Those who replied to consultation felt that health, friends and family, job satisfaction/economic security matter most but also the present and future conditions of the environment. 

    As a hypochondriac, who loves his job and likes nothing better than going in search of beautiful places with my family, I think that I probably agree with the findings.  I'd probably add that I was also pretty happy that Chelsea let in five goals this weekend.  However, years of experience has taught me that, in sport, happiness can be fleeting. 

    We can expect the first assessment next spring, just before the Rio+ 20 Summit in Brazil - twenty years on from the seminal Earth Summit.  If ever there was a meeting which was focused on enhancing our well-being, this has to be it.  And so it is sad that Mr Cameron, once such an advocate of sustainable development and well-being, has reportedly decided not to attend due to a clash with the Queen's Jubliee.   I hope that he reads Charles Clover's open letter in yesterday's Sunday Times which urges him to rethink his decision and attend.

    What makes you happy? Do you think we should have a national index of well-being? And do you think that the Prime Minister should attend the Rio+20 Summit next year?

    It would be great to hear your views.

  • Deer! Oh dear.

    A headline in the Daily Mail grabbed my attention yesterday -  "Why Bambi's on a collision course: Two-foot muntjac deer cause 42,000 crashes every year".  

    It was not just that more evidence had emerged about the costs of non-native invasive species, but also because I have recent personal experience to draw upon. 

    On my way home on Monday I suffered my own collision with a poor unsuspecting muntjac.  The car is not in a great state, but the muntjac came off a lot worse.

    Apparently, this is the peak period for car accidents caused by deer and muntjac is just one of the species posing problems - shorter days results in more cars being on the roads at dawn and dusk, when deer activity is at its peak. 

    Those species that rut - roe, red, fallow and sika - pose particular problems.  Peter Watson, director of the Deer Initiative, was quoted as saying "You basically have deer rushing around with sex on their minds and not thinking about much else.  In wooded areas in particular there may be very little warning before one or several deer will bolt across a road. They could be males fighting over a female. A red deer can weigh upwards of 200lbs (90kg), which can do a lot of damage."

    Part of me is sad that the pace of our life is interfering with one of nature's great moments - the rutting season for our native roe and red deer.  Part of me is grumpy that our obsession with introducing exotics continues to pose havoc for wildlide and humans alike.  And part of me is just relieved that the species that I bumped into was a muntjac.  I think that I and my car would be in a much worse state if I had collided with a red deer.

    And finally, thanks so much to my colleague that sent me this consoling text after my incident: oh deer, doen't worry about it, hope you managed to stag-ger home.  Herd they were about. PS Hope you don't get stuck in a rut.

    Very thoughtful.


  • Is the Government listening?

    In the past couple of days we have had two clear signs that the Government is willing to listen to public concerns over planning.

    First we heard the news we had been waiting for for a long time that the Secretary of State was backing a decision to block a housing estate at South Ascot, close to the Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area, home to nightjars, Dartford warblers and woodlarks.

    Then the icing on the cake came from Oliver Letwin at a fringe meeting of the Tory party conference yesterday. When challenged by one of our lobbyists that the draft National Planning Policy Framework would weaken protection for Sites of Special Scientific Interest, he vowed: “It was no part of our intention to do that and we will make the appropriate changes if we need to.”

    Read the full story here

    So thanks Eric and Oliver, it’s great to know you’re listening. Now do you think you could have a word with your friend at number 11, Downing Street? He doesn’t seem to be quite up to speed.