125 years and counting

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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

125 years and counting

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For many (but alas not me), today will be the last working day of the year, so it feels appropriate to offer a mini review.

2014 has marked the RSPB's 125th anniversary.  We have not made much of a fanfare about this - we've kept the bunting in the cupboard.  Yet, anniversaries do make you reflect and it is good for the soul to be reminded of what the RSPB has achieved in its history.   Our past successes give us confidence that we can rise to face the 21st century challenges facing nature.

Back in the mid nineteenth century, there were just 50 breeding pairs of great crested grebe in Britain.  This was one of the species which had been heavily persecuted for their feathers for use in hats and also by the clothing industry as 'grebe fur'.  The use of feathers in the hat trade motivated the early RSPB supporters to take to the streets (see below).  Following a long campaign by the fore-fathers and mothers of the RSPB, this type of exploitation was banned.  And today, there are about 12,000 breeding pairs of great crested grebe in the UK. 

Last year's State of Nature report (here) demonstrated that many more species are in serious trouble today - one in ten at risk of extinction.  So, last week we (and furry friends like Bob) took to the streets again as part of our Rally for Nature.  It was a great day which showed solidarity amongst the nature conservation community and gave people an opportunity to use their voices for nature.   Despite the challenges facing nature and the low political profile of environmental issues, the mood was positive because we felt that together we could achieve great things.  This felt a fitting finale to 2014 - a tough year but one still packed with successes achieved by our staff, volunteers and the many partners we work with.

Rally for Nature.

And I do want to dwell briefly on some of the successes we have had in a year which started with debates about floods and dredging (see here) and ended with climate change talks in Lima, Peru (see here).  At the RSPB we judge ourselves by the impact we are having on nature and specifically species.  As a colleague once put it more colourfully ‘how many bums are we putting on nests?’  As I reported on Monday, it has been a record year for bittern (see here), and the list of other species that are doing better because of our work (with partners) is impressively long – you can feast your eyes here

Lapwings have had a really successful year on several RSPB reserves (see here).

And here are some other highlights.

More land managed for nature...

...for example, on a warm September evening I joined Steve Backshall (hot foot from rehearsing Strictly Come Dancing), our friends and colleagues from Buglife and an enthusiastic audience to launch Canvey Wick – proving that for bugs and insects the only way is Essex!  Our joint Buglife and RSPB reserve is uniquely rich in the variety of invertebrates that now have a safe home (see here).  The RSPB now owns or manages over 150,000 hectares of land across 210 nature reserves.

More support...

...and thinking of Giving Nature a Home – we now have more members than at any time in our history indicating that our investment is our award winning advertising is starting to pay dividends.  

..our Conference for Nature built on the success of the earlier State of Nature conference and was once again graced by the presence of Sir David Attenborough.  It was an opportunity to bring together politicians and business leaders to encourage them to do more for nature.  The day illuminated by some though provoking presentations none more so than this contribution here from Mike Barry, Director of Sustainable Business at Marks & Spencer.

More great science...

...for example, a joint study between University of Exeter, the RSPB and the Pan-European Common Bird Monitoring Scheme (PECBMS) revealed a decrease of 421 million individual birds over 30 years across Europe.  This should serve as a massive wake up call to the challenges faced by birds at a continental scale.

...we continue to demonstrate that is possible to farm profitably while recovering farmland wildlife (see here).  


More battles won...

...for example, the rejection of the Thames Estuary as a potential location for a new airport brought a loud, raucous cheer – this mad idea has been the subject of serial rejections for decades our campaigning alongside local people in North Kent was founded on sound arguments and persistence (see here).  Unfortunately, many of other sites remain under threat from development and staff across the organisation have probably engaged in over 750 cases this year.

...news of resolutions at the Convention on Migratory Species in Quito to phase out toxic lead from ammunition and the vulture-killing drug diclofenac from veterinary use were huge achievements brought about by long years of advocacy involving RSPB, BirdLife International and WWT.

...and finally, our dedicated team of investigators continue to work tirelessly with the police to catch those intent on persecuting our magnificent birds of prey.  This is why we welcomed recent news of a gamekeeper being convicted of illegally killing a goshawk (see our statement and the video of the offence here). We will do whatever it takes to end wildlife crime and to allow these birds to fly free from harm.

The challenges facing nature are huge but the RSPB will not be daunted.  We've been fighting for nature for 125 yeas and we are going to carry on doing whatever nature needs. 

Of course, we can only continue to achieve great things with the loyal support of our members.  So at the end of our 125th year, I want to say a big thanks to all of you wherever you may be!

  • John, it's a date!

  • And lets also about rspb bempton cliffs all new place been build a lot more room also the gannets are doing well so come and see us all

  • A shocking omission!  Here's to the next 50 years at Leighton Moss!

  • Don't forget the 2014 highlight for Lancashire birdwatchers!   Our beloved 'local patch' RSPB Leighton Moss celebrated its 50th anniversary!   Long may it continue to bring us all so much pleasure!

  • Good additions - inevitably, it can only be a sample of the stories from the year, but it has felt like we have made good progress this year.  And many thanks to you, redkite for your loyal support!  

  • When one sits down and really considers what the RSPB has achieved in this 125th year and just recently, it is really inspiring. Besides all you list above,Martin, there are the achievements over seas such as the return to nesting of the Ascension Island Frigate Bird and all the other work being done in the Overseas Territories and elsewhere such as the advice and help in Kazachstan for the rare sociable lapwing and all the plants and animals that inhabit the steppe there.(As I have said before, the RSPB's skills are too great just to have them limited to this country.)

    Looking forward to 2015, I don't think it will just be the political parties that will be campaigning. There are so many threats to nature as illustrated in the Rally for Nature just a week or so ago and these are, of course, just the home based threats to say nothing of those overseas including those in Malta and Cyprus.

    It is pleasing the "Votes for Bob" from politicians are now up to 80. That is a respectable number and let,s hope for a lot more by early next year.

    Hearty congratulations are due to all the RSPB staff, members and supporters for being part of what is a formidable organisation for nature..