April, 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
  • Winds of change?

    The debate about windfarms is heating up again.   Earlier this year, 100 Tory MPs wrote to David Cameron calling for a cut in subsidies to onshore wind farms and last week Donald Trump appeared in front a Scottish Parliamentary Committee complaining that wind farms (not golf courses on SSSIs) will destroy Scotland.

    LIke the rain, this is a public policy debate that will just not go away.

    I remember soon after my arrival at the RSPB in 2004 that two representatives of the renewable industry were (jokingly?) overheard issuing death threats to my predecessor given his and the RSPB's views about windfarms.  We had the temerity to oppose windfarms which would cause damage to wildlife.

    Three years ago, we received a similar backlash when we published a report which outlined ways in which the planning system could evolve to enable more wind farms to be built in ways that did not harm to wildlife.

    In the intervening years, many colleagues have been caught in the cross-fire attacked by those who want us to oppose developments which pose no problems to wildlife and those who do not want us to oppose developments that do.

    This can be wearing, but I rarely hear a complaint from staff working tirelessly on the frontline (often in the communities) of these developments.  And here's a little secret - we have lost members from both sides of the argument.

    But, despite this pain, we will continue to do what we think is right both to protect wildlife and to tackle climate change.

    Our policy is clear. 

    We think that climate change is the greatest threat to wildlife and that unless we take action to cut greenhouse gas emissions quickly, a third of land-based species will be committed to extinction. 

    We have supported successive governments' targets to reduce these emissions in line with the science.  We have argued that this demands a revolution in the way that we use and generate energy.  This means a massive reduction in the amout of energy we use and a significant increase in the amount of renewable energy. 

    But we want this energy revolution to take place in harmony with the nature environment which means that we want to ensure renewable developments do not cause needless harm to wildlife.

    This policy has guided our input to debates about bioenergy, barrages and of course windfarms and is informed by the emerging science about the impacts of renewable energy on wildlife.  This includes research published recently which showed that moorland breeding waders are displaced by wind farm construction and that the real threat for some species is not from the turning blades of the turbine itself, but from the construction work which happens before they are even switched on.   The study did not focus on birds of prey or migrating swans and geese, where collision with turbine blades is more often a damaging impact of wind farm development.

    The policy has also guided our commitment to reduce our own carbon footprint.  We have, for nearly a decade, sought to reduce our emissions from business travel and from our estate.  I am proud at what we have achieved and am delighted to have been able to announce ten days ago our intention to build a wind turbine at our Headquarters

    We’ve always supported taking power from the wind, waves, the tides, the ground, and anything else that can justifiably be labelled as a renewable energy source that doesn’t damage the environment. 

    But we know there are some proposals out there – like the Lewis windfarm or the 2008 proposal for a barrage from Cardiff to Weston across the river Severn – that don’t meet sensible environmental standards. Based on the available science, we believe they'd harm the environment and are not essential in the fight against climate change - there are more environmentally benign solutions. And for this reason, we’ll continue to oppose them robustly, and other developments like them. 

    The statistics tell a story - from 2006-2010, we commented on 1288 wind farm applications and upheld objections to about 55 (4.3%).

    If any renewable energy proposal threatens sensitive wildlife through its operation or construction, we’ll oppose it. But if it won’t have an adverse impact on the wildlife around it then – just as we always have – we won’t stand in its way. Indeed we should be encouraging it to go ahead. 

    Why? Because we can't afford to. I don’t mean financially – although opposing stupid windfarms proposed for inappropriate locations can be very expensive and time-consuming – but because the planet cannot afford to.

    For the foreseeable future, we need wind energy to combat climate change. If we are going to wean our planet off fossil-fuel based energy production before we reach the point when climate change can’t be stopped, we need dramatic action. We need to find a constructive way through the obstacles that are currently preventing this. If we don’t act now, we’re effectively condemning thousands of species of animals and plants to extinction. And threatening the lives of millions of people.

    We’re passionate about the natural world around us. If something threatens that environment, whether it’s climate change or an inappropriately sited windfarm application, we’re duty bound to challenge it.  

    I recognise the emotion tied up with wind turbines - some love them, some hate them.  And this fuels propoganda on both sides.  I argue that the climate crisis demands a serious debate based on evidence and not rhetoric or half-truths. 

    We will contiune to do what we can to make sure that we get the wind energy we need, in the right places, and in time to tackle the climate crisis. We will continue to work with the Government, planners, developers and other NGOs, to secure this outcome, and the future of the wildlife on our planet.

    What's your view of wind farms? Love them? Hate them? Love them in the right place?

    It would be great to hear your views.

  • It rained and it rained and it rained and then...

    ...three house martins flew past my upstairs window.  Am going outside...

  • Mr Cameron's words

    In the end Mr Cameron spoke for seven minutes yesterday about renewable energy and the green economy.

    You can read (and watch) his speech here.

    What did I think?

    The first thing to say was that it was pleasing to hear Mr Cameron state the importance of action today to help protect the planet for future generations.  Inter-generational equity is at the heart of the sustainable development mission. 

    Yet, if you read/watch it, I am sure that you will agree that it was a missed opportunity to outline what needs to be done to tackle climate change and the importance of greenhouse gas emissions being reduced in line with the science. 

    Nearly 15,000 supporters from the RSPB and other organisations such as 38 degrees had urged the Prime Minister to call on the EU to reduce emissions by 30% from 1990 levels by 2020.  This action from developed nations is necessary to keep concentration of atmospheric greenhouse gases at safe levels to prevent global temperature rises of more than 2 degrees Centrigrade abover pre-industrial levels.

    However, the Prime Minister did recommit to a renewable energy revolution and argued that the UK was open for business for those wishing to invest in clean technologies.  He showcased some of the developments, including progress on offshore wind, for which the UK should be proud.  I will return to offshore wind soon as there are some major challenges, particularly relating to understanding and managing impacts on wildlife, which have yet to be resolved.

    As yet, however, the energy package does not add up to a coherent response to the climate change challenge.  As with the Chancellor's budget, there is laudable ambition for renewables but this appears to be out of kilter with tax-breaks for high risk deep sea oil drilling and support for other forms of dirty energy.

    A partial statement about our energy ambition will not realistically earn the Government the 'greenest ever' tag.

    What we need is a comprehensive and coherent approach which is honest about the scale of the climate change challenge and clear about the Government's response plan.  It is the role of a Prime Minister to lay this out in full.   I look forward to hearing a speech on this subject soon.

    What did you think of Mr Cameron's speech?

    It would be great to hear your views.