October, 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
  • How not to design a planning system: lessons from Northern Ireland (part 2 and this time there is good news)

    Remember this?

    After this week's good news (see here) about the International Maritime Organisation's decision to ban ships from discharging nasty sticky substance polyisobutylene (PIB), can you cope with more good news?

    Well, the Northern Ireland Environment Minister, Mark Durkan MLA, has just announced that the much loathed Planning Bill is effectively dead.  The original proposals would have swept away various environmental safeguards and removed the right of people to comment on contentious proposals.  As my colleague, Simon Marsh, reported yesterday, legal advice that we had and which the NI Government received confirmed that proposals would contravene the European Convention on Human Rights.   In a statement to the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Minister said... 

    I intend to continue to make prompt and sound planning decisions and through the development of a SPPS to create a Planning System that is fast, fair and fit for purpose. One that delivers for business - but not at the expense of our planet or our people. As Environment Minister I want to help create a better environment AND a stronger economy – regrettably, this Bill as it stands does neither.

    As with the ban on PIB discharge, this decision follows a rapid campaign from many NGOs (including the RSPB) and support from members of the public (this time 7,000 who supported the Amend the Bill campaign).   At no point did campaigners give up and, for the second time in a week, we have been pleasantly surprised by the result.

    I wonder what tomorrow will bring?

  • Chemical is given its own sticky ending

    Remember this?

    Well, we heard good news yesterday - the International Maritime Organisation has taken swift action to ban ships across the world from discharging all forms of high viscosity polyisobutylene (PIB) into the sea during tank cleaning operations.

    This is both surprising and fantastic news for us, the RSPCA, the Wildlife Trust, the 25,000 people who signed the 38 degree petition  and, of course, for marine wildlife that should no longer be subjected to pollution incidents like the ones experienced in the south west of England earlier this year.

    Our marine policy staff were digging in for a long hard fight to secure a ban, but the IMO has taken the right decision.  

    We now need the UK Government to be inspired by the IMO's decisiveness and do what it takes to establish an ecologically coherent network of marine protection areas as soon as possible...

  • Financing nature in an age of austerity: an opportunity (as detailed in a guest blog by Conor Jameson)

    In 2010, the RSPB produced a report outlining options for financing nature conservation without relying on the public purse.  We anticipated a significant reduction in public spending and therefore explored different approaches for addressing the funding shortage for saving nature, and meeting agreed biodiversity commitments.   The State of Nature report highlighted the inadequacy of current efforts.  So, it is essential that any opportunity for new funding is grasped with both hands.

    Here is such an opportunity.

    The Paul Hamlyn Foundation (PHF) is one of the UK’s most influential and progressive charitable trusts. True to its pioneering spirit, it has invited suggestions on what its priorities should be under its new strategy. It is even using social networks for this. In their own words they want ‘clear and direct challenges’ and ‘to be stimulated and provoked by new ideas’. In this they are to be applauded.

    We and our partners in the Saving Nature coalition would love to see the Foundation help us engage with the challenges set out in this year’s State of Nature report. We also think that the work we are doing to reconnect children with nature might also interest them, as it has the Gulbenkian Foundation and others.

    You can take part in the consultation by emailing should@phf.org.uk or tweeting to #PHFshould ... Keep it brief!

    Here, my colleague (and author of the excellent book Silent Spring Revisited) Conor Jameson explains why he thinks foundations like Paul Hamlyn have a bigger role to play in the environment movement as a whole.


    I was delighted when the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, now under the leadership of Martin Brookes, formerly of New Philanthropy Capital, invited views on where its priorities should lie. I’ve always had a soft spot for Paul Hamlyn, since his/its guidebooks first guided the young me in my early appreciation of nature. I had a few of the All-Colour Paperbacks series, most notably the one illustrated here. In more recent years I’ve collected the entire series, well over 100 of them, from charity shops.

    Paul Hamlyn has a proud natural history legacy, and that’s good enough for me as a pretext for encouraging it now to turn its sights on Saving Nature.

    At species level, the UK is failing to reach its targets to conserve its own biodiversity – wild plants and animals - under the terms agreed at successive Earth Summits. Our State of Nature report this year presented an audit of where we are at. The United Nations has warned of the worst mass extinctions for 65 million years. Prominent scientists and politicians have called climate change the greatest threat facing the world. Governments are failing to meet their targets for tackling it.

    Given this backdrop, I often wonder why the environment isn’t higher up the third sector funding agenda. It doesn’t seem to figure when the voluntary sector talks about progressive philanthropy. Entire studies have been done with barely a mention of the environment, and no obvious representative of the environment among those consulted.

    Of the total funds distributed by charitable trusts in the UK, 3% goes to the environment. Repeated Environmental Funders Network (EFN) reports Where the Green Grants Went, have demonstrated the valiant efforts of some trusts to help tackle environmental problems. One report showed the top 35 trusts that will consider grants to environmental charities giving a total of £20 million. To put this figure in context, to achieve biodiversity targets requires the fat end of £300 million per year on top of current spend.

    Perhaps this is one area where a few more trusts and foundations can now step up to the plinth. Clearly, the vast bulk of the £275 million needed for biodiversity needs to come from beyond the trusts sector. But can trusts help more on the environmental advocacy side, for example? Traditionally, trusts have tended to see the benefits of such work as not sufficiently tangible. But now more than ever we need to think long-term and strategically if we are to meet the environmental challenges facing us.

    As Jon Cracknell of the EFN has put it: “The scale of the lifestyle changes that we all need to undertake in order to get to grips with challenges like climate change require a process of political re-orientation that is quite a different challenge from the day-to-day management of nature reserves, or hands-on conservation work. The latter is vital, but clearly not enough on its own.”

    Of course, as an environmental campaigner and fundraiser I am bound to argue all of this. And in doing so I don’t wish in any way to play down the importance of those causes more traditionally thought of as ‘philanthropic’: health and social welfare. In the end, the environment foregrounds and embraces these causes. Now, more than ever, the sector needs to understand and appreciate this: the environment is not something separate from or additional to human well-being. The health benefits of green space and human connection to wild nature are demonstrable. A healthy, diverse environment is vital to our emotional and physical well-being. It underpins health and deprivation issues. Sustainable development, or the lack of it, lies at the root of political conflict.

    The definition of philanthropy, provided by the Free Online Dictionary, is the ‘Love of humankind in general’. Perhaps in the past some environmentalists have allowed their dismay with humanity’s treatment of the planet to suggest that they were out of love with their own species. But times have moved on. Conservationists no longer see wild nature as something that must be protected from people, but as something that can and must be integrated with our lives.

    Philanthropy is also defined as the ‘effort or inclination to increase the well-being of humankind, as by charitable aid or donation’. What could be more inclined to increase the well-being of humankind than a secure environmental future?

    It is increasingly urgent that a broader view is taken of what philanthropy means and what the ‘environment’ means to us all, and our philanthropic causes. Securing it will require more resource, more vision and more expansive thinking than is currently the case, and longer timescales than governments have traditionally worked to. If donors are genuinely looking to make a lasting legacy, and charities are sincere about providing it, we should accept that nothing, in the end, is more lasting than the planet it lasts on.