When humans and wildlife collide...

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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

When humans and wildlife collide...

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Am off to Bristol today to participate in a meeting of Defra's Biodivesity Programme Board. This is the group that has the responsibility for ensuring targets in England's Biodversity Strategy are on track.

These targets (for species, habitats, sites and ecosystems) are a translation of global commitments which the UK Government signed up to at the Convention on Biological Diversity meeting in Nagoya, Japan in 2010. Report on progress comes through a publication of indicators later in the year.

These indicators provide a signal as to how well we are doing to fulfil our legal and political commitments. We all play our part in trying to meet these targets - Defra, its agencies, landowners, businesses, NGOs and individuals - but ultimately, of course, the buck stops with ministers. I trust that they are keeping a close eye on the performance of this group.

As I go into this meeting, there is a lot on my mind.

This morning, for example, we'll see the publication of the Farmland Bird Index - a composite assessment of how 19 species dependent on the farmed landscape are faring. I hope for good news, but I expect the worse. This index has shown a long-term downward trend, a trend that was only halted by investment in subsidies to support wildlife friendly farming. The trend for birds is replicated in other groups for example farmland butterflies and carabid beetles. The index is published during a period when the new agri-environment scheme is being designed. While there is less money to go around, because of effective lobbying by the NFU, it is vital that the new schemes are well designed and tailored to meet the needs of threatened sites and species. This is the test of whether the schemes provide good use of tax-payers money.

Yesterday, we announced our new Hen Harrier initiative (funded through the EU's LIFE+ programme) which will help us play our part in saving this iconic species which is clinging on as a breeding species in England but is threatened - due to persecution - throughout the UK. As our project manager, Blánaid Denman, said yesterday "The cross-border project provides a huge boost to our efforts to monitor and protect hen harriers. Working together with volunteers and other organisations, we’ll have more eyes and ears on the hills than ever before, using satellite tagging, winter-roost monitoring and nest protection to deter persecution, identify the important areas for these birds and highlight where they’re most at risk.” Our intention is simple - to stamp out illegal killing.

On Tuesday, I wrote about the threats posed by diffuse pollution and water abstraction to two of our most important wildlife sites: Sutton and Catfield Fens. How we treat these sites is an indication of the seriousness we take our responsibility for protecting our finest wildlife sites.

And, we still await the decision of ministers as to whether they will grant a public inquiry regarding Medway Council's decision to grant outline planning permission for building 5,000 houses at Lodge Hill - one of our finest wildlife sites for nightingales, grassland and woodland.

These are just four conservation stories but they illustrate what happens when humans needs and wildlife needs collide: when we want to grow more food alongside wildlife, when we want to increase a shootable surplus of grouse and when we want to build homes for humans on the homes of nature.

The 'short' vision of the Convention on Biological Diversity provides, in nutshell, our challenge: to live in harmony with nature. We need this vision to be translated into the language and actions of any political party and of special interest groups for developers, farming and grouse shooting.

Get it wrong and it is not just wildlife that suffers, we all do. And that's why today and everyday, we'll be fighting to save our shared home.

  • Yes

  • I agree that much of this is avoidable. A combination of carelessness, indifference and perhaps a dose of greed.  There is another way.  See you on Saturday, Redkite?

  • Well done RSPB for standing up on the four issues that you give above and which are so important for our wildlife. What I find so frustrating on these four issues is that with good grace from the human side it can all be avoided. Taking each in turn;

    Wildlife on farms could be helped so much by other farms taking on board the examples set by RSPB Hope Farm where the wildlife is stuning and the farm productivity excellent.

    On the grouse moor/hen harrier issue, all we are asking is that grouse moor owners OBEY THE LAW as other people have to do. That the RSPB should have to go to such lenghts to try to save the hen harrier is a real disgrace as far as the grouse moor interests and the Government are concerned.

    In respect of Sutton and Catfield fens and Lodge Hill it is surely a drop in the ocean to ensure thse sites are given proper protection as far as national housing numbers and the local abstraction of water and farm pollution prevention are concerned.