October, 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
  • My badger nightmares

    I have real worries about the badger cull.  I’m not pretending that my anxiety can be as great as those farmers who are suffering when they lose their cattle to bovine TB, but I fear that the cull could make things worse.  See previous comments here, here and here. We have made detailed considered responses to the Government on this issue over a number of years.

    The situation is volatile with rumours that the cull might be postponed or the pilot culls might start very soon. If they do go ahead, I am concerned at the risk of trouble. Let me be very clear about this.  The RSPB is opposed to the cull but we do not support the intimidation of farmers who are carrying out a cull under licence.  It is difficult to see how you can have a safe protest in a situation where firearms are being used, especially at night, so whilst we appreciate anyone’s right to legally and peacefully protest we urge people to consider their safety, and the safety of others, and not interfere with culling operations.

    There are other ways you can show your opposition to the culls.  The first of these is through the Government e petition, anyone opposed to the cull should sign this petition, if they have not done so already.  Already over 150,000 people have signed and many have been asking what else can they do.  The petition should result in a debate in the House of Commons, which could happen as early as 25 October.

    We hope that this is an informed and searching debate.  There are still many questions about the effectiveness, practicality and impact on the badger population of the pilot culls and the projected programme of control in the future.  Here are three key questions that we think MPs should be asking:

    1. How will Natural England ensure that culling does not result in local badger extinctions?  We know that badgers are very difficult to survey accurately, the cull aims to kill 70% of the population within the cull zone but there is significant variation in local populations which could result in anything from 51-100% of badgers being killed.
    2. What assessment will the Government make of the health of the remaining badger population after the pilots culls?  Owen Paterson has said the Government wants ‘healthy wildlife living alongside healthy cattle’, we strongly agree with that but the science behind culling shows that it will increase the prevalence of bovineTB in the remaining badger population. Culling badgers does not improve their health but vaccination will.
    3. How many badgers could be vaccinated with the £2 million that will be needed to police the pilot culls?   Badger vaccination is possible now, it may not be the cheapest option but opting for a contentious cull that risks making bovine TB worse may be a false economy.

    It will also be important for government to ensure that concerns over biosecurity are addressed and that the red tape that is currently preventing cattle vaccination from being used in the UK is removed as swiftly as possible.

    If you want to get in touch with your MP about the debate you can find out who they are and how to contact them here.

    What are the key questions you think MPs should be asking about the badger cull?

    It would be great to hear your views.

  • Green is working

    Earlier today an RSPB delegation led by my boss, Mike Clarke, joined other NGOs and green businesses in a show of support for the green economy in front of Treasury and handing in a letter to 10 Downing Street outlining the case for action (see image below).

    This event supports a campaign that we launched this week with Stop Climate Chaos to call on the UK Government to support the green economy. Our message is that the green economy is working – 1 million green jobs already, and last year the green economy was responsible for 1/3rd of all growth – but the UK Government needs to do more to keep on building it.  The stats can be found in a report here.

    The challenge is clear: we need to cut our carbon emissions to save nature. If we fail, scientists warn that up to a third of all land based species could be committed to extinction by the middle of this century.

    We’re asking Government to make a long-term commitment to appropriately located renewable energy and energy efficiency in the Energy Bill this Autumn, and calling for international aviation emissions to be included in our national carbon accounts and targets.

    You can play your part by joining our campaign here.

    In a separate development we have (with Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and WWF-UK) written to the Chancellor George Osborne following reports that he views climate change campaigners as the ‘environmental Taliban’.

    The letter says ...

    Dear Chancellor

    We are writing in response to the report in today's Independent newspaper that you have referred to parliamentary climate campaigners as the "environmental Taliban".

    We would be most grateful if you could confirm or deny the story, as it appeared in the newspaper.

    If the story is accurate, please could you be specific about which individuals, MPs, Ministers or organisations you are likening to the Taliban.

    Yours etc.

    I look forward to his reply.



  • Politicians stepping up for wildlife at home and abroad

    There are weeks when the news is full of examples of politicians failing to act, but yesterday there were two good examples of politicians stepping up for nature. 

    The first bit of good news was...

    ... the Enironmental Audit Committee report on wildlife crime.

    I recently challenged the governments of the UK to act on wildlife crime, particularly that impacting birds of prey. It is therefore pleasing to see the cross-party group of MPs saying similar things in its report on wildlife crime, which is published today.  The politicians have sent a clear message to Ministers at Defra and the Home Office: never mind the rhetoric, get stuck in and show us that government is committed to making things better.

    I applaud the forensic approach that the Committee has taken to understand how wildlife laws could be improved and better enforced.  For example, Defra has had the ability since 2006 to ban the possession of certain pesticides, favoured by wildlife  poisoners, which have no legitimate use. This offence exists in Scotland, and people have been successfully prosecuted. However, the relevant schedule is  unpopulated for England and Wales, despite our lobbying. The Biodiversity Minister, Richard Benyon, could, and should, fix this in weeks as it would have immediate benefits for birds of prey.

    The Committee also highlights the crippling short-termism that underpins Government's funding of the National Wildlife Crime Unit.  The result is that the Unit struggles to attract the best people and its Chief spends as much time with cap in hand as he does tracking down wildlife criminals. The scrutiny of committees such as this is increasingly important in holding government to account, and we expect Defra and Home Office Ministers to pay attention and respond in good time. We will be watching and expecting positive news soon.

    I am sure Mr Benyon will read the report, perhaps when he returns from Hyderabad.   He is currently in India leading the UK's negotiations about how to find the resources to help save nature globally and he made a tangible difference yesterday by providing good news of his own... 

    ...new funding for UK Overseas Territories.

    Yesterday, Mr Benyon announced the launch of a new environment and climate change fund for the UK Overseas Territories. These 14 Territories are home to remarkable species and habitats, from elephant seals and humpback whales in the South Atlantic, to the world’s largest coral atoll in the Indian Ocean. This wildlife is highly threatened but often terribly overlooked (indeed the most recent global extinction of a UK species occurred on an Overseas Territory as recently as 2004: the charming but little known St Helena Olive Tree). Coming hot on the heels of the Government’s announcement that it would develop a new action plan for its UK Overseas Territories Biodiversity Strategy, this is a positive step forwards and a good example of joined-up Government. Initially the fund will be worth only £2 million per year, which is far short of the £16m per year which an independent consultancy has estimated is required in order to address the Territories’ biodiversity priorities, but will nonetheless have a major impact given the cost-effectiveness of spending in the Territories.

    This is welcome contribution to the debate about how much money governments are prepared to invest to save life on earth.  I have received daily updates from my Birdlife International colleagues who are in Hyderabad about the live debate about the level of financial resources required to achieve the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2012-2020, as agreed in 2010 under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity.  With only a few short days left to reach an agreement, it appears that some developed world governments are still reluctant to commit to clear financing targets that are necessary to achieving the Convention’s objectives.

    Thanks to the work of the RSPB’s scientists, in collaboration with colleagues from BirdLife International and others (which you can read about here), we now know that achieving these targets is affordable, but that current spending needs to be increased substantially if we are to do so by 2020. Without a substantive agreement addressing the considerable funding shortfall that currently exists, the 2020 targets will simply not be met. Research by an international panel of experts, released on Tuesday, and jointly funded by the UK and Indian governments, adds weight to these conclusions (for details, see the article here).

    Thankfully, some positive signs are finally starting to emerge from Hyderabad, but there is still a very long way to go if these vital negotiations are to deliver what is required. The UK Government (led by Mr Benyon) can and should continue to play a central role in these negotiations. It is actions, not words, which will be crucial if we are to save nature by 2020. It makes economic and ecological sense; all that is now lacking is sufficient political will - a bit like tackling wildlife crime.

    Here's hoping for more good news today.

    If you have any good news to report, why not share it today.

    It would be great to hear from you.