Good news for a Friday: top ten highlights from RSPB’s nature reserves in 2017

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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

Good news for a Friday: top ten highlights from RSPB’s nature reserves in 2017

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It’s the RSPB’s AGM tomorrow: the moment to celebrate what our charity has achieved over the past year, reflect on the challenges we face and also for members to ask us anything they like.

In the days running up to the AGM, I try to think of the possible questions that might come my way from cats to plastics, from fracking to windfarms.  Most years, someone manages to spring a surprise and ask something that none of us expected.  But that’s the prerogative of our members and it certainly keeps us all on our toes.

But I never complain about the time I spend preparing for the event.  It’s an opportunity to remind myself what we have achieved and the incredible impact that we have as a charity. 

This is particularly true in terms of the work we do on our nature reserves.

I had the pleasure this week of reading the early results from this year’s breeding season.  While I can’t yet disclose all the figures as these are still being double-checked, I can give you a flavour of what happened across our 210 nature reserves covering more than 150,000 hectares across the UK. So here are ten highlights from this year’s breeding season.

  1. We now have over 16,000 species present on our nature reserves, and only a relatively small proportion (less than 3%) of these species are birds.  This is remarkable for two reasons: that we have recorded and have responsibility for so many species.
  2. A total of 93% of UK land mammal species have been recorded on our reserves including dormouse which was recorded for the first time this year at our Exminster Marshes reserve.
  3. Swallowtail butterfly numbers have bounced back at our fenland reserves after the past two disappointing years.  Sutton Fen remains one of the most important sites in the UK for this fabulous insect.
  4. Numbers of bitterns on RSPB reserves reached a new high, and nested again at both Otmoor and  Cors Ddyga this year, following their first breeding at both sites in 2016.  

    Avocets at Exminster Marshes (Andy Hay,

  5. Lapwings had another good year with total numbers up again on our lowland wet grassland reserves.  
  6. It has been a mixed year for seabirds.  Kittiwakes, Arctic terns, Arctic skuas and shags have had a bad year and the substantial decline in the size of the puffin colony at Sumburgh Head is particularly concerning.  But some species have done well: there were more guillemots and razorbills at Ailsa Craig, fulmars on Ramsey Island and higher numbers of several species at Bempton Cliffs and Coquet Island.
  7. At Coquet Island, Roseate terns returned to their equal highest level (111 pairs) and fledged an amazing 161 young.
  8. At Lower Lough Erne Islands, sandwich terns increased to their highest levels since records began in 1969, these birds nesting on an area of gravel provided for them last year.
  9. 2017 was an amazing year for several wetland bird species which are trying to colonise, or re-colonise the UK.  Successful breeders this year include black-winged stilts at Cliffe Pools and Ouse Washes, spoonbills at Fairburn Ings and great white egrets and cattle egrets at Ham Wall (together with summering, and probably nesting, little bitterns).
  10. Numbers of breeding red-necked phalaropes remained very high for a third year running, following the spectacular increase in 2015. RSPB reserves support the vast majority of breeding red-necked phalaropes in the UK.

Our team of staff and volunteers working across our reserve network deserve huge credit for the work they do for wildlife.  Even where breeding success has been disappointing (sometimes for reasons outside of our control), I know that we are doing everything we can to try to understand the problems and get the right management in place.

I hope to see you and answer any question you may have at our AGM tomorrow in London.  If you cannot make it, then I trust you have a good excuse and are out and about watching wildlife at one our incredible nature reserves.

  • Great "stuff" RSPB, thanks for all your very hard work over the year.