August, 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
  • Big Wild "Sleep" Out

    This weekend, we're encouraging people to get out their tents and sleep in their garden, wild place or even RSPB nature reserve.  We're calling this our Big Wild Sleepout.  

    I am heading off with the family by train to the Pyrenees this weekend for a couple of weeks so won't be around.   But I didn't want to miss the fun, so, last weekend, up at our hut on the Northumberland Coast I thought that our tent deserved an outing.  My much loved two-man tent is probably 40 years old, was handed on to me by my Dad and in my twenties the tent and I spent many happy trips together, from camping inside of the crater of the extant Karthala volcano of Grande Comore to accompanying me on my coast to coast walk from St Bees Head to Robin Hood's Bay.

    To be honest, I've not had much use for the tent in recent years.  It gets put up in the garden every now and then and the boy did have his camping debut a couple of years ago in Wiltshire, but that's about it.  So, I was pleased to have a chance to pitch it on the eroding cliff outside our hut.  

    We're very lucky to have this hut - my father-in-law has been going on holiday there every year since he was a boy.  It's opposite Coquet Island and this weekend, the seabirds were in splendid form - gannets, gulls and terns were all very active, while young families of eider ducks bobbed up and down close to the shore.  Our preferred spot for playing cricket - rabbit hollow - was carpeted in self-heal and eyebright and provided a nice distraction as the boy behaved like a Kevin Pieterson wannabe, swatting me away to leg into the bracken.

    So after a great day in the sunshine and a bracing walk in the wind to Alnmouth and back, we settled down for our Big Wild Sleep Out.  The original plan was for the boy and the girl to share the tent and I would (rather boldly) bivouac.  My wife was content to sleep inside.  But Plan A rapidly turned into Plan B as the girl decided that she preferred to sleep in her bed indoors.  Understandable, but that now meant that I was inside the tent.  This was fine, except that I hadn't paid as much attention to the quality of the ground we were sleeping on.  By the time I had slipped inside the girl's sleeping bag, the boy was asleep and I was left with the sounds of nature and the bumps underneath.  I did briefly enjoy listening the plaintive call of the odd curlew and the raucous calling of oystercatchers, but it was not long before the noise of the wind took over and my attention focused on whatever was poking me in my back.  

    To cut a long story short, after a couple of hours of tossing and turning I gave up and went looking for my own bed.  I stumbled in, woke up my wife, explained that I was coming to bed.  She said, probably correctly, that I couldn't leave the boy outside on his own.  I was not listening, and so she went out to sleep with the boy instead.

    In the morning, I woke up, went looking for the family and was pleased to see the tent still up and a wife ready to mock my inability to last the night.  She correctly pointed out that someone that worked for an organisation that was promoting the joys of camping and communing with nature ought to be able at least to make it to midnight.  I countered by saying that I was delighted that all the family was able to share the experience of camping together.

    So, however you manage it this weekend, I strongly recommend you take part in Big Wild Sleep Out.  It'll be great - I promise.  And remember, if you are within walking distance of your bed, there is always Plan C.

    In the image below, you can spot a slightly tired wife, a girl pretending to have slept outside all night, my Dad's great tent, and if you look closely to the left of the picture on the horizon, Coquet Island.

  • A good way to spend 13 minutes of your life

    Many of you may have been following the Radio 4 Shared Planet series.  If you are still looking for answers, here is Hans Rosling providing the clearest explanation (and the most creative presentation) I have seen about what is happening to the world's population.  If anything, it reinforces my view that consumption is the issue to focus on - as I outlined in my previous blog here

    So get a cup of tea/coffee, put your feet up and watch this...

  • Operation Turtle Dove

    From Chaucer and Shakespeare to folklore and the Bible the turtle dove is a symbol of love. But reports from recorders suggest that it may soon be the symbol of lost love.


    Its plight was highlighted in the State of Nature report launched by Sir David Attenborough in May. A campaign involving farmers and conservationists, Operation Turtle Dove, has been launched. Food producers like Allinsons bread and Jordan’s Cereals have jumped on board to help.


    But the news last week (see the Telegraph article here) shows that their downward spiral is continuing and this summer is likely to be the worst ever for numbers of adults recorded. Just two per cent of volunteer wildlife recorders added them to their lists.


    We don’t know the full picture but we are pretty sure the biggest causes of decline here are a lack of seed availability in the countryside, hunting on their Mediterranean migration route and changes to landscapes in their African wintering grounds.


    This (like curlew and hen harrier) is a species in dire need of urgent action. We are racing against time now to save this bird from disappearing from our shores – and if that happens then should hang our heads in shame.  This is taking place on our watch and it we lose it, then it would mean that Defra will have failed in its ambition to prevent extinctions from human activity.


    The good news is that there is hope and there is a lot of inspiring work happening. Breeding success looks much better this year than last year’s washout season. Our scientists are right now following birds across the countryside gathering as much information on their lifecycle and habits as possible. Calls to the Operation Turtle Dove hotline are increasing as farmers get on board to help and people become more aware of their plight.


    So for the rest of this week the people doing this work will be sharing their stories. Please follow this on the Saving Species blog as scientists, farm advisors and others bring us up to speed on the fight to save the turtle dove.


    I can’t promise any poetry, but can offer some hope that their gentle purr will remain a part of our summers for years to come.