The RSPB Centre for Conservation Science: finding solutions to 21st century conservation problems

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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

The RSPB Centre for Conservation Science: finding solutions to 21st century conservation problems

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It is a perennial frustration that many people I meet are unaware of the scale and breadth of our science programme.  It is a part of our work which rarely gets the attention that it deserves.  Which is why I am delighted that we are today launching our new RSPB Centre for Conservation Science.  We want to raise the profile of our "outstanding" science (see here) but also to announce our intent to work with others to find (and apply) solutions to 21st century conservation problems.  

We have created a new online hub (see here) and this will feature a database of more than 1,000 peer reviewed papers written by RSPB scientists. We have also published Where Science Comes to Life, a report on some of the most important work carried out by our scientists over the past decade.

From corncrakes and cirl buntings to vultures and albatrosses, we have helped (with a huge range of partners) identify conservation problems, discover the causes and identify practical solutions to help recover our most threatened wildlife.  

But, lasting conservation success only comes if we are able to persuade others (usually decision-makers, land managers  or fishermen) to adopt these solutions.  There is only so much we do on our land.

Which is why, as we look to the future, we need to consider why, when our science has helped identify solutions to big problems we have failed to get others to step up.  

We have, for example, identified how to recover skylark populations whilst farming profitably (through our work at Hope Farm, see here) but have failed (to date) to adequately influence the design and promotion of farm incentive schemes to make them sufficiently attractive for enough farmers to create the right conditions for skylarks to thrive.  

The illegal killing of birds of prey is another example where, with others, we have identified solutions (such as diversionary feeding of hen harriers to reduce their predation on red grouse - see here) but have failed to convince others to apply these practical solutions.   

And, more topically, on our nature reserves and with organisations like United Utilities, we have shown how restoring natural upland habitats may not only contribute to reducing flood risk for downstream areas, but could also help some bird species adapt to the drier summers predicted under climate change.  With our uplands in such poor condition, we desperately need more people to adopt this approach to land management in the hills (as I have previously written here).  

So, as we celebrate our past successes, we also planning for our science to evolve in the future.  Professor Sir John Lawton, chair of the independent panel that reviewed our science programme, said "the RSPB should undertake more social science...  we believe that economic analyses, conflict resolution, human behavioural studies, political science and governance are increasingly important in trying to find practical solutions to environmental problems".  

We agree.  The pressures on the natural world are growing and the causes are increasingly complex.  We want to build on our excellent track record but embrace new disciplines.  We plan to reach out to others to address the major conservation challenges (such as the ten listed below).

Do have a look at our new online hub.  And, while you are exploring, let me know if there are other conservation problems you think we should be addressing.

It would be great to hear your views.

Ten conservation challenges for the RSPB Centre for Conservation Science

1. Improving our knowledge of the status of UK and UK Overseas Territories' wildlife.

2. Understanding the causes of decline of UK's summer migrant birds.

3. Improving the status of threatened species in the UK and overseas.

4. Producing food, fibre, energy and infrastructure alongside wildlife.

5. Guiding the restoration of degraded habitats and ecosystems.

6. Understanding the impacts of, and helping wildlife adapt to, a changing climate.

7. Understanding the impacts of environmental change in the oceans.

8. Informing designation and management of protected areas on land and at sea.

9. Understanding how people benefit from, and connect to, nature.

10. Building capacity in conservation science.

Comments
  • Brilliant, absolutely right to give the superb RSPB science skills a much higher profile. This will hopefully mean that politicians and civil servants both in the UK and abroad pay much more attention to the RSPB's very sound research and its results.

    Of the 10 challenges listed above I think there should be a reference to working with and in support of, Birdlife International, probably in item 3.

    Also, as it is topical,some reference to large scale flood prevention and sea level rise through methods of coastal realignment and tree planting in the uplands to slow rain water run off. This of course is mostly the Env.Agency's concern but I think the RSPB should have its science based opinion as this is going to be an increasingly high profile issue and of course any solutions adopted will have a major impact, positive or negative on wildlife. (I see there are already current proposals being put forward, quite rightly, to plant a lot more trees on the uplands to reduce rapid water run off, to the annoyance of Mr Peter Kendall of the NFU).