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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


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It had all been going so well.

We'd been to ballet, kicked a ball around and dropped into the Cambridge Botanic Garden to play hide and seek.

A good day and, with my wife working, I felt I had executed my parental responsibilities well.

And, as promised we took turns to do the RSPB's new survey to assess how connected we are to nature.

But then I slipped up.  I made the rather obvious mistake in suggesting to the girl that we were going to see if she turned into a butterfly.  I think I may have mismanaged her expectations.  The girl and I did the survey (the boy isolated in a separate room) and sailed through the first few questions...

Humans are part of the natural world?

"Definitely me", says the girl, "we live in the world."

People cannot live without animals and plants?

"Definitely me", says the girl, "we need to eat plants and vegetables."

And then it happened...

Picking up trash on the ground can help the environment?

In her defence, the girl is 5.  And we have had one or two issues with litter and so, with a smile, a giggle and good old fashion honesty, she said "Doesn't sound like me".

And so on completion of the survey, the verdict was that she was, well, not quite a butterfly, but more of an indistinguishable creature emerging from a chrysalis.  I explained that this was indeed a butterfly but wasn't quite ready to fly.  How exciting!  No, not exciting. 

"I WANT TO BE A BUTTERFLY!" shouted the girl.  And the girl, I'll admit, can shout.

Well, we all want to be a butterfly and, of course, the boy turned into a butterfly.

My response? I did what every good father would do.  We did the survey again, paused at the tricky question, adjusted the answer and 'hey presto', the girl did turn into a beautiful butterfly.

So you see, we can be whatever we want to be.

What about you?  Are you stuck as a caterpillar or have you turned into a beautiful butterfly? 

If you haven't a clue what I am talking about, it is time to you took part in the survey.  Click here to find out more.

  • Peregrine is a butterfly.  Now there's a story!

  • I'm a butterfly! What a good way to use the survey as an educational tool too. I'm sure the girl will think about litter very seriously now. And if she doesn't there's always the reminder that to be a butterfly you need to pick up litter! Lovely

  • How connected is the Bristol Mayoral election to nature ? Well the Green Capital team are saying that there is an emerging consensus in the City that "lagoons and a small barrage" is the way forward not the Hain Barrage. The green debate is on 24th and online via Bristol FoE; it is notable that as with "The Forests Sell Off" the nature trusts are behind public opinion stating only vaguely that a tidal solution is the solution. I hope that RSPB et al will now engage as to defining a clear alternative to the Hain barrage maximising electricity output while minimising impact to eco-systems.

    Could this even be a stepping stone to a national 20 year plan for the development of the tidal resource funded by UK pension funds? With 500 staff the RSPB is brilliant at agriculture/ straight nature conservation policy but in my view should seriously consider how it deploys its impact elsewhere.

    I recognise that in the 80's FoE/RSPB et al were the vanguard of opinion; this may no longer always be the case.