January, 2012

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
  • Still guilty

    Seven months ago, I blogged here that a Derbyshire gamekeeper, Glenn Brown, had been found guilty of attempting to illegally trap and kill birds of prey.  

    What I failed to report was that the gamekeeper later appealed this decision.  However, yesterday, we heard that he lost his appeal and the Judge upheld his sentence of 100 hours community service while increasing his costs from £10,000 to £17,000.

    I am delighted by this news.  There is no place for illegal killing of birds of prey in 21st century Britain.

    I am also delighted for all those involved in bringing this case to court including RSPB investigation staff who had to put up with sustained attacks on their integrity from the defence lawyers in both trials.

    I am proud that RSPB has such dedicated and professional investigation staff.  They work tirelessly with the police to bring these criminals to justice and this verdict sends a signal that those who illegally kill birds of prey will be caught and will be punished. 

    Crimes such as these illustrate links between driven-grouse shooting and the illegal killing of birds of prey. This is why industry leaders and employers need to do more to stamp out these crimes.  It is an inconvient truth that since 1990 there have been over 100 gamekeepers convicted of crimes relating to the despicable persecution of birds of prey.

    More needs to be done.

    We believe that land managers and owners should be held legally accountable for any wildlife crimes that are committed by their staff, as is the case in Scotland.  If you agree, please sign this petition calling for introduction of an offence for vicarious liability for raptor persecution. We shall be encouraging the Law Commission to give this serious consideration as part of its review of wildlife management legislation in England and Wales.

    Finally, if you have not done so already, do read more about the investigation here

  • Balancing agricultural production with conservation - continuing the debate (part 4)

    And now here is my final guest blog of the week from JohannTasker, chief reporter for Farmers Weekly magazine.  He follows contributions from Matthew Naylor, Allan Buckwell and Caroline Drummond.  They have all offered their thoughts on how to balance production with conservation in response to a presentation that I gave to the Oxford Farming Conference this week.   You can read a copy of my paper here.

    Johann's headline is "Farmers an all too easy target".

    "It’s all too easy to blame farmers when food leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. And the same is true when it comes to the countryside – or at least the state of the rural environment and the wildlife it supports.

    After all, agriculture is our most visible rural industry. The number of farmers may be declining but agriculture remains the UK's biggest land user, with crops and livestock dominating most of the country’s surface area.

    Yet the average consumer has little idea of what happens on the average farm. The closest most people get to seeing food produced these days is on TV or through the car or train window as they hurtle from one town to the next.

    It’s hardly surprising. We’re a post-industrial urban-based society. So while an army of celebrity chefs feeds our seemingly insatiable appetite for TV shows about food, few of us actually get our hands dirty producing it.

    Despite the resurgent popularity of programmes like BBC Countryfile. our understanding as a nation of the complexities facing farmers striving to make a living from the land remains limited.

    Many of the major factors influencing agricultural productivity and profitability are out of farmers’ hands. The most obvious is the weather. But food producers are also at the mercy of political and economic forces they can do little about.

    Farmers have done a great job over the past 70 years responding to politicians’ demands for cheap, plentiful food. So successfully, in fact, we now spend under 15% of our income on food – less than half the proportion 50 years ago.

    Having succeeded on this score, now farmers are being asked to produce food more sustainably. But for this is to work more widely, consumers must keep their side of the bargain too – valuing food more highly and wasting less of it.

    That’s because the marketplace doesn’t reward farmers for looking after the countryside. Which explains the growing shift in farm subsidies away from food production and towards environmental measures.

    A new generation of farmers is signing up to environment schemes like never before. And their initially skeptical fathers, reared on a diet of post-war subsidies to boost production at seemingly any cost, are gradually being won over.

    If anyone is moving too slowly when it comes to rebalancing food production and conservation, it is the policy-makers not the food producers.

    In the 20 years I’ve been involved in agriculture, I’ve seen a step change in the way land is managed. Farmers are more than willing to embrace their environmental responsibilities – and more will do so, with wider support."

    Do you agree with Johann?

    It would be great to hear your views.


  • If only I had watched the telly on Sunday night...

    ...I would have seen the Prime Minister interviewed by John Craven on Countryfile.  It is worth a watch.  I am not for a moment suggesting that it is a substitute for what I called for in yesterday's blog - a key note speech setting out Mr Cameron's vision for the environment - but it is still pleasing to hear support for the environment from the top of the Government.

    As context for the interview, John uses footage of Mr Cameron's 14 May 2010 speech to staff at the Department of Energy and Climate Change where he uttered those immortal words "I want this to be the greenest government ever".  He then asks whether, following the Chancellor's autumn economic statement, the intent remains.

    Mr Cameron said that he does not see a distinction between environmental protection and economic growth, he suggested that he would no more put the countryside at risk than his own family and that he remains supportive of renewable energy.   It is a refreshing to hear him speak publicly of the agenda which figured so prominently when he was Leader of the Opposition.

    Of course, I disagreed with his analysis about the planning proposals and think that he is wrong when he suggests that protection afforded to SSSIs is not threatened by the reform (read my blog entry here).  But I hope that when he engages in the detail of the policy debate he will be supportive of changes proposed by the RSPB, the National Trust and others.

    The second part of the interview will be shown next week and a preview suggests that he will outline his support for reform of the CAP so that more farmers are rewarded for protecting the environment.  If Mr Cameron begins to find his environmental voice and fights for policies to match his rhetoric, then 2012 may just be a good year for wildlife.

    I must remember to tune in next week.

    Did you see Mr Cameron's interview? What did you think?

    It would be great to hear your views.