January, 2013

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
  • GUEST BLOG BY TONY JUNIPER: What has nature ever done for us?

    I am delighted to host a guest blog from Tony Juniper.   Tony is a former Chief Executive of Friends of the Earth, writer and top campaigner.  He has won more battles than he has lost and has always been an inspiration (and fun) to work alongside.  Today, Tony profiles his new book.


    One of the gravest misconceptions of modern times is the still widely held view that efforts to nurture nature can be a drag on economic development. Nothing could be further from the truth.

    From nutrient recycling in soils to the protection of coasts by wetlands and from carbon capture and storage in forests to the pollination of crop plants by insects, nature is has massive economic value. Without it there is no development, no economy and no prospect to meet long-term poverty reduction goals. The truth is that the economy is a wholly-owned subsidiary of ecology, not the other way around.

    In my new book called "What has nature ever done for us?" I tell the stories of how natural systems sustain our welfare. Some of the things I discovered left me stunned. A case in point concerns the economic value of India’s vultures – or more accurately their former value.

    Across the subcontinent during the 1990s, India’s three vulture species suffered a catastrophic decline. It was caused by an anti-inflammatory drug used to treat farm animals. Residues in the bodies of dead cattle and buffalo proved toxic to such birds and their numbers plummeted from about 40 million to a few tens of thousands.

    Each year the vultures were eating about 12 million tonnes of rotting flesh. With the vultures’ gone this became food for wild dogs. Their population rocketed and more dog bites and human rabies infections followed. This in turn led to an estimated 50,000 or so more deaths than would otherwise have been the case. The cost of this and other consequences on India’s economy was (over a decade or so) put at an eye-watering US$34 billion.

    Taken together, the loss of natural services is believed to be costing the global economy more than 6 trillion dollars per year, or equivalent to around 11 per cent of world GDP. By contrast, the estimated cost of meeting global targets to avert the impending mass extinction of species is put at about US$76 billion, or about 0.12 per cent of annual GDP.

    There are many initiatives underway that set out to restore services once provided by nature. For example, efforts to reverse the decline in vulture populations are being co-ordinated by a consortium of national conservation organisations and multi-national vulture experts, including the RSPB. This initiative, Saving Asia's Vultures from Extinction (SAVE), was launched in 2011 to help coordinate research, advocacy and implementation of the actions needed to prevent these birds from disappearing forever.

    This and a whole lot of other work is not only about conservation for its own sake, but also about the practical benefits we all derive from what nature provides. The sooner political and business leaders realize that it makes economic sense to nurture nature the more likely it will be that goals to improve human wellbeing can be met.

    What has nature ever done for us? is by Tony Juniper and published by Profile Books.



    An SOS - Save Our Species project, implemented by the RSPB, will establish and support four Vulture Safe Zones in India. These will be large areas of 100km radius where diclofenac use will be reduced through local advocacy, awareness raising and the promotion of alternative drugs that are safe for vultures. This builds on a body of foundation work for which the Darwin Initiative has provided key support.


  • Ding! Ding! Round 2 of the EU Budget talks: time to send a message to the Prime Minister

    On 7 February, round two of the EU Budget negotiations begins. For those of you that have not been following this saga, 27 Heads of State need to agree how to spend about a trillion Euros over the 2014-2020. Their meeting next week is the latest attempt to thrash out a deal. The last time they met, the bits of the Budget that offer the best value for taxpayers money and supported the environment, seemed to be most at risk of being traded away. 

    Our major concern remains the fate of funding which supports wildlife-friendly farming (the so-called Pillar II of the Common Agriculture Policy). This provides a lifeline for species such as turtle dove and cirl bunting as well as supporting farmers to deliver environmental public goods which the market doesn’t reward.

    We've produced this short video to explain the significance of the Budget:

    We hope that it inspires people to contact the Prime Minister and give him a clear message to agree a Budget that works for wildlife.

  • The future of forestry in England: the verdict

    It has been a nervous wait for the nation, but the news is in. Government confirms a more secure future for public forests. You can read my boss, Mike Clarke's reaction here.

    It feels to me as though the Bishop of Liverpool lobbed the ball up (with the Independent Panel's report) and the Secretary of State has smashed it into the back of the net (with today's response).  A political crisis in 2010-11 has turned into a government success in 2013 where most people seem to be happy.

    This is an important day for forests, for nature and for all the members of public that stood up to be counted. It is great to see the Public Forest Estate will be managed by a new public body, with greater flexibility to secure all the things we value about them.  Of course this is not just about the 18% in public ownership and the response goes on to outline how we are going to increase the same public value everywhere else too.

    There is lots of detail for us to interpret and amongst the positive words there are a number of questions about the “how” and “where” this will be delivered.  We will be feeding back our thoughts over the coming months on how Government can turn these words into reality.

    Now I am not about to raise my assistant referee's flag and say the Government's goal was offside, but after my first read of the full response, I do have some further thoughts:

    -       I hope the Government’s emphasis on generating more money on the public forest estate is not at the expense of providing more conservation and recreation benefits.

    -       I'm pleased to see explicit links suggested between the Natural Capital Committee and funding agreement for the Public Forest Estate. Knowing the huge public value for money the estate can provide, this can only be a sensible step. 

    -       The process for creating a new public body for the public forest estate needs momentum and commitment now, so it does not sit on the shelf for a future government to deliver.

    -       The response places a huge amount of responsibility for nature and people at the door of a rejuvenated forest industry sector. If we get this right, the improvements in woodland condition brought about by sustainable woodland management could help halt and reverse wildlife declines. If we get this wrong then the already spiralling declines in wildlife of woods and forests will only become greater. This feels like one of the biggest challenges in taking this forward.  Biomass is perhaps the best example of this.  Sustainable supply of wood fuel can help deliver much needed renewable energy whilst getting more of our woodlands into better management.  This, in turn, will help the one in six woodland flowers currently threatened with extinction, half of the woodland butterflies which have declined since the 1990s and the dramatic decline in woodland birds (such as nightingale, wood warbler and willow tit).

    -       Key to success will be to keep the forestry debate and public passion for forests fuelled, as this still has a long way to go. Let's strike while the iron is hot, and continue to build progress and links with all those who have a stake in forests, woods and trees.  I am not necessarily calling for a Big Woodland Birdwatch (but that would be fun wouldn't it?) but I am saying let's do more to get people out seeing bluebells and getting up early to hear a fabulous woodland dawn chorus this spring.

    One last point, the future of Governments forestry functions has now been formally linked to Defra's review of the future of Natural England and Environment Agency. This has to be right.  People will contest the relative merits of the Forest and Wildlife Service versus a stand alone body advising woodland managers, but it is right to have this debate now.  I'll say more on this next week. 

    For now, I'd love to hear your views.

    And I promise that this is the last football analogy of the year.

    RSPB HQ, the Lodge at sunrise by Stuart Geeves (rspb-images.com)