May, 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
  • Why the state of nature matters

    Today is a big day.

    For the first time, all the UK wildlife organisations have joined forces to compile a health check of nature in the UK and its overseas territories. This evening Sir David Attenborough will help us launch a new State of Nature report. We expect it will serve as a wake-up call to all of us to do more to help us live in harmony with nature.

     The report comes in my favourite month of May. A time to reflect on the wonder of those birds that have migrated from Africa to breed here– species such as swift and swallows – a time to take pleasure in seeing our woodlands carpeted with bluebells and to enjoy seeing butterflies again after the long, dark days of winter. But there are real fears that the things we take for granted may not be part of our children's lives when they grow up. 

    In my lifetime, once common species like the turtle dove has declined by more than 90%. Cuckoos down by 73% and nightingales down by nearly 50%.  And my former employers,Plantlife, has shown that we are losing, on average, one plant every year from counties in England.

    In preparing State of Nature, we have used new and innovative analyses include trend assessments for over 3000 species, and red-list assessments of over 6000 species; mostly derived from data collected by the UK's army of dedicated and skilled volunteer naturalists. Our analyses conclude that 60% of the species for which data are available have declined over recent decades; 31% strongly so. Nature is in flux. Over one in ten of the species assessed are threatened with extinction in the UK.

     Understanding the state of the natural world is the foundation for nature conservation. We need to know what's in trouble and what progress we have made. This report reinforces the conclusions reached in 2010: that nature is continuing to decline, the pressures on the natural world are growing, and our response to the biodiversity crisis is slowing.

    We know that we all need to do more to inspire moral, political and practical support for nature conservation.

    And this is why, following the publication of the report we shall challenge all sectors of society to do more for nature.

    • Politicians that have repeatedly committed to recovering threatened wildlife populations need to think about the natural world when they make big decisions about where to cut and where to invest.
    • Developers need to respect and protect the special places that people love.
    • Landowners should manage their land with wildlife in mind.
    • Businesses must find ways to make a profit without trashing the environment.
    • And all of us can do our bit by taking action for wildlife in our gardens and in our communities.

    We are not claiming to have all the answers but we're determined to do much more.  We hope that the report, produced in this time of austerity, stimulates a public debate about what else we need to do to live in harmony with nature.

    If you have thoughts on this or any aspect of the report, I'd be delighted to hear from you. 

  • One Big Thing for Nature: guest blog post by Andy Spencer

    Following the launch of the State of Nature report, I am keen to stimulate a debate about what else we need to do to live in harmony with nature. Over the next few weeks, people from differing perspectives will propose their One Big Thing for Nature. Today, I am delighted to welcome Andy Spencer, Sustainability Director for the UK Operations of Cemex.

    I was disappointed to hear recently that a health check of nature undertaken by many UK Wildlife organisations is showing limited success, a general continuing decline in biodiversity, and increasing threats to many endangered species.

    Andy Spencer, Sustainability Director for the UK Operations of CemexIt struck me that the time has come for all nature conservation organisations to rethink aspects of their strategies to accomplish their desired goals of increasing biodiversity and nature conservation. But what  new strategies might they adopt?

    One area of huge opportunity is working with business. Historically this concept of working together would have been quickly dismissed. More recently, there has been some success; but there is huge, untapped potential. Most large businesses now run Sustainability and CSR programmes and have a genuine desire to make a positive impact – partnering can deliver much needed resources to nature conservation organisations to enable businesses to increase conservation and positive impact - a ‘win win’ situation for both parties.

    My 18 year career in the minerals sector has seen such a shift take place over time from hostility on occasions to great partnership approaches - with fantastic benefits for all concerned. As CEMEX we have a long term memorandum of understanding with the RSPB with the aim of delivering net positive biodiversity and the creation of 1000 hectares of priority habitat by 2020. Working together has engaged employees, increased awareness, driven innovation and new ideas and redrawn the concept of how we view many aspects of the Natural Environment. Whether it is changing a restoration plan to deliver wide expanses of heathland, creating sand martin habitats in 60 working quarries, installing bee hives at operational sites or creating wild insect havens in small readymix plants on industrial estates, the effect has been highly positive and there’s plenty more to come!

    This partnership model could be extended to sectors with high impact potential such as house building, construction, water, energy, waste, farming, estates and land managers. Even if a small proportion were engaged the positive impacts would be huge – why can’t we build biodiversity into flood defences, waste infrastructure, water treatment facilities, housing developments, new hospitals and schools, or even new railways? Not only is it good for nature but it is good for people too – leaving a legacy for future generations to learn from and enjoy.

    It is not easy to break tradition and historical relationship barriers. In addition many nature conservation organisations may be reluctant to be seen to engage with business. But times have to move on - we have an urgent task ahead of us and the opportunities have to be seized. This is not green wash, it’s a genuine green push!

    One thing I have learnt in recent times is that good biodiversity management is rarely expensive and the tangible benefits are becoming clearer as the true value of ecosystems services to the economy is emerging. Conservation is an opportunity, not a threat. The long term price for not taking action will be severe – so let’s start breaking down barriers, engaging, trusting, sharing and innovating – and in doing so inspire others and create an epidemic of activity to enhance nature!

    Do you agree with Andy Spencer?  And what would be your One Big Thing for Nature? 

    It would be great to hear your views.

  • From state to pressure on... buzzards

    I enjoyed the launch of our joint State of Nature report yesterday.  My day started on the BBC Breakfast sofa alongside a common toad ably handled by Jim Foster (from Amphibian and Reptile Conservation).  It ended with an excellent event at the Natural History Museum at which Sir David Attenborough gave the keynote address.  It was an important moment to highlight the crisis facing our wildlife.

    And with nature in crisis, unfortunately today I have to report some bad news regarding one of the species that has been bucking that trend and doing well – the buzzard.

    Last Thursday, I became aware that Natural England has issued the first ever licence for the destruction of a buzzard nest at the request of a pheasant shooting estate, allowing up to four nests and their contents to be destroyed between 23 April and 8 May this year.  We found out through a request under the Environmental Information Regulations – the Environmental equivalent of a Freedom of Information (FOI) request - about whether any licences to destroy or remove buzzards or their nests had been issued. Since then we’ve been trying to piece the story together and I’m afraid it doesn’t make for pretty reading.  

    Buzzard populations are recovering from historical declines caused by decades of persecution .  Some in the shooting community claim that buzzards are to blame for reduced number of pheasants available to be shot.  Yet evidence shows that raptors only play a minor role in pheasant losses (1-2% in most cases), that there are other non-lethal ways to reduce conflict between buzzards and pheasants and that overall predation pressure is unlikely to decrease if buzzards were removed. We therefore believe that lethal control of buzzards and destruction of their nests is unjustified, ineffective and unacceptable.

    Following a public outcry last year, supported by 13 organisations and thousands of individuals, Defra abandoned its £375,000 research proposal which would have involved the nest destruction of buzzards.  In response, Biodiversity Minister, Richard Benyon, had committed to finding a collaborative way forward, saying “I will collaborate with all the organisations that have an interest in this issue and will bring forward new proposals”.  We had been participating in discussions about future research options while continuing to urge Defra to make it clear that it is inappropriate to issue licenses for the killing of a native bird of prey to protect a shootable surplus of a non-native gamebird.

    Most of us celebrate the fact that buzzards are now regularly seen soaring in our skies.  They are a conservation success story but we cannot take their return for granted.  From the information we have received, many questions remain about the process and the evidence upon which decisions were made.  We will be seeking further information and considering our options.

    Our FOI [EIR] request also revealed that licences for the control of buzzards at a free range poultry farm have been issued. These licences would have allowed the birds to be killed, although subsequently they have been taken into captivity.

    We do not believe that this is an appropriate way to address the public’s concerns and available information suggests that non-lethal alternatives had not been properly explored.

    In short, I think that it is wrong for Natural England to issue buzzard control licences to protect commercial interests.  It is wrong that there has been no public scrutiny of these decisions and it is wrong that we only heard of these decisions after the nests may have been destroyed.

    And that's why I'm angered by what has happened..

    In the interests of transparency, I’ve attached to this blog all the files we received from our FOI [EIR] request exactly as we received them. Feel free to have a look through all of them, formal Opinion relating to licence A (see below) would be a good place to start. You’ll note that quite a bit of detail has been redacted, in contrast, in Scotland the Scottish Information Commissioner has concluded that assessment of licences related to seal killing should be discussed in the public domain. Clearly that is not the case here!

    What do you think?

    From the information in the attachments, should these licences have been granted?

    Is it ever right to kill a protected bird of prey (or destroy its nests) to protect a shootable surplus of a non-native gamebird?

    Is it in the public interest to take these kind of decision in the open, rather than behind closed doors?

    What kind of precedent does this set for how we deal with other protected species?


    Licence A:
    5684.Licence A - diary figures_RD.pdf
    8105.Licence A - RE_ Applications for Raptor Licences_RD.pdf
    6428.Licence A - RE_ CONFIDENTIAL Buzzard Case WLM2013 0569-0581_RD.pdf
    2728.Licence A - WLM 2013 0569-0581 report final version_RD..pdf
    5852.Licence A - WLM 2013 0571-77 cover letter - 20130423_RD.pdf
    8267.Licence A - WLM 2013 0571 licence 20130423_RD.pdf
    8306.Licence A - WLM 2013 0577 licence 20130423_RD.pdf
    2275.Licence A - WLM 2013_0569-0581_Advice 20130422_RD.pdf
    0042.Licence A - XXXXX Appliction XXXXXXXXX_RD.pdf
    5187.Licence A - XXXXX Appliction XXXXXX.pdf
    0285.Licence A - XXXXX Appliction XXXXXX_.pdf
    2476.Licence A - XXXXXX Letter_RD.pdf

    Licence B:
    1033.Licence B - wlm-111801 Buzzard-XXXXXX assessmentver 6a 02_10_12_RD.pdf
    2043.Licence B - wlm 11 1801 Buzzard licence (trap) ver 13Mar signed_RD.pdf
    7673.Licence B - wlm 11 1801 Buzzard licence (trap) ver 26Mar signed_RD.pdf
    0841.Licence B - wlm 111801 Applic form_RD.pdf