One big, birding family saving species and special places

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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

One big, birding family saving species and special places

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My first week back after an excellent holiday ended with a visit to Birdfair on Friday.  It was a great to bump in to so many friends and there was a lovely, warm atmosphere.  It felt like one, big birding family epitomised by over 20 Birdlife International Partners from five continents represented at the RSPB reception hosted by my boss, Mike Clarke.  

Earlier that day, we (and I mean 'we' given that the RSPB is the UK Partner of Birdlife) had launched a new report looking at the scale of illegal killing of wild birds across the Mediterranean.  It is staggering to think that at least 25 million birds are being poisoned, trapped or shot illegally every year.  We don't yet know the conservation implications of of this activity, but given the many other pressures on wildlife it is clear that the illegal killing will only compound existing threats such as habitat destruction and pollution.

Yet, despite the appalling figures, it was inspiring to hear from the heads of the Lebanese and Egyptian partners outlining the efforts they are making to crack down on illegal killing.   Birdlife partners across the region are working with police, government authorities and local people to end this crime.  And this is the approach we adopt in the UK and RSPB investigation staff were busy all weekend at Birdfair talking to people concerned about the ongoing illegal killing of birds of prey in this country.

So many of the problems that wildlife face are trans-national - climate change being the most obvious.  And, saving migratory species such as Turtle Dove, Cuckoo, Nightingale and Wood Warbler is only possible through collaboration across borders. This is why Birdlife is so important.  We can only save nature by acting together as was demonstrated this summer when, in just ten weeks, more than 520,000 European citizens called on the European Commission to defend the EU Nature Directives.

Returning to the office after a holiday can sometimes be challenging especially when you hear news of another Hen Harrier shot and that SSSIs are not safe from fracking (of the 27 blocks of land that will be formally offered to fracking companies for exploration, they included 53 SSSIs and three RSPB nature reserves - Dearne Valley, Fairburn Ings and Langford Lowfields, see here).    But by the end of the week, as well as being buoyed by Birdfair and Birdlife exploits, I'd heard loads of good news stories coming in from across the RSPB (Cranes breeding on the Somerset Levels for the first time in 400 years, Brown Hares recovering at Havergate and our new involvement in Sherwood Forest).  

It's wrong to stay gloomy for long.

In his very good opening speech to Birdfair, Simon Bentley (Director of Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust) quoted Simon Barnes who suggested there was a third way between pessimism and optimism where we strive to to save as many glorious species and places as possible while we still can.  

I like that sentiment - it seems to just about sum up the work of Birdlife International and the whole nature conservation family.  

And it also allows me to show a gratuitous holiday picture of Coquet Island - another glorious place full of glorious seabirds where our warden, Paul Morrison, has led our conservation efforts for a quarter of a century.  He and his team have a lot to be proud about: Coquet is now home to a record breaking 100 pairs of Roseate Terns alongside 35,000 other nesting seabirds.  Thanks to Paul,  I was able to step foot on the island after twenty years staring at it from my hut on the Northumberland coast.  It was an absolute privilege to experience first hand the cacophony and smell of the UK's Roseate stronghold.  I was also very happy to get back onto the mainland (but that's another story)

So, if you are part of this great big, birding family, my post holiday message is simple - do what you can in pursuit of Simon Barnes' third way.

  • Niece to bump into you Martin at the Bird Fair on the Friday. It seemed really busy and hopefully continued to be so on the Saturday and Sunday so raising lots of money for helping to stop the disgusting slaughter of OUR birds in the Mediterranean.

    I would like to strongly second Glossy Ibis'es comments on fracking. It is just disgraceful that some of our best wildlife sites are being put a risk by this Government for "a few pounds more".

    Excellent news that cranes nested sucessfully on the Somerset Levels. A nesting pair at Otmoor nearly made it only being predated close to hatching possibly due to marsh harriers that bred sucessfully for the first time on the Reserve.    

  • Thanks GI - link now fixed.  And I too was sorry to miss you and Mrs GI.  Hope you have had a great summer.

  • Sorry to have missed you at Birdfair, Martin. As ever an excellent event. The link to the fracking item in your comments above takes me to the Hen Harrier shooting a second time. What a terrible indictment of this government that they totally ignore the environment in favour of short-term commercialism!