March, 2018

Our work

Our work
You might be surprised to read that our work is far broader than nature reserves and Big Garden Birdwatch. Read more about what else we do.

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
  • Working together across the UK for nature’s recovery

    A year from today, the UK will cease to be a member of the EU.

    We’re facing a potential ‘cliff edge’ in terms of environmental governance – the means by which we ensure our environmental legislation is properly enforced – and the clock is ticking. This is why, with our partners in Greener UK, we are today launching a call to arms to governments across the UK.

    Under the legislation and governance arrangements offered by the European Union, we have managed to protect sites and restore some threatened species, but action has been insufficient to stem the losses.  For the UK Government to realise its ambition of restoring nature in a generation, before exiting the European Union, it must take action maintain and bolster existing levels of environmental protection and governance. That is why, with our partners in Greener UK, we're calling on the Westminster Government, in particular, to commit to a Environment Act. This would enshrine in law ambitious and measurable goals for nature’s recovery, strong principles and the ‘world-leading environmental watchdog’ promised by Michael Gove back in January.

    We’ll come back to each of these asks in future blogs. For now, I’d like to introduce our England Director, Chris Corrigan, on the crucial issue of four country cooperation for nature’s recovery.

    Gannet by Danny Green (

    “As regular readers of Martin’s blog will know all too well, nature knows no borders. Our membership of the EU has held all four countries of the UK to the same environmental laws and governance, so close cooperation and common standards have been hard-wired. When we leave the EU for the sake of nature that knows no borders, we will need to establish new processes to ensure this close collaboration continues.

    That’s why we have been working with colleagues across the four countries of the UK to better understand how our nations might collaborate to tackle the governance gap for nature in 2019. This text below signed by RSPB directors for the four countries of the UK explains our thinking so far, and calls upon the governments in the UK countries to move forward together.”  Chris Corrigan, England Director, RSPB

    The four nations of the UK are home to a diverse and special set of species and habitats. Each country has its own iconic landscapes and seascapes to celebrate and protect, from mountains, woods and moors to sea cliffs, sea caves and reefs. However, nature does not recognise political boundaries. Rivers, mountains and seas naturally cross borders and many of our most threatened species regularly move between the four nations and beyond. Likewise, actions in any one country can have far-reaching impacts on nature elsewhere. We all have a responsibility to protect and restore our shared natural heritage for current and future generations to enjoy. And we can only achieve this by working together.

    Powers to manage our natural environment (including our agriculture and fisheries) are largely devolved to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. However, environmental legislation across all four nations is currently guided by common EU frameworks such as the overarching environmental standards that the UK as a whole is bound by as an EU Member State. For very good reason the EU has promoted cooperation and collaboration on transboundary environmental issues that affect us all – including for the protection of our wildlife.

    There are many reasons why this cooperation and collaboration must continue. Our natural environment faces huge challenges – including pollution of our rivers, air and seas, the alarming decline of some of our most important and iconic species and the growing impacts of climate change. These challenges will not be easily overcome, but we stand a far better chance if we work together across the UK and beyond, ensuring that standards remain high, that species and habitats are effectively protected as they move between countries, and that our laws are effectively enforced.

    A healthy future for our natural world requires robust, independent and well-resourced institutions to hold all our governments and public bodies to account. Currently, EU institutions play a vital role in upholding environmental standards across the four nations. For example, they allow individuals and NGOs to raise concerns about how our environmental legislation is being implemented and enforced – providing the environment with a voice on the ground. Without a suitable set of replacement institutions, our exit from the EU will create a serious ‘governance gap’ across the four nations.

    Thankfully, the importance of filling this governance gap has now been recognised to a greater or lesser extent by all four nations. For example, the governments in Cardiff Bay, Holyrood, and Westminster have all committed to bringing forward proposals to fill this gap in their respective jurisdictions. It remains to be seen how these proposals will achieve the collaboration and coordination necessary to ensure effective enforcement of our environmental legislation across the UK as a whole.

    We are calling on the governments of our four nations to work together for nature’s recovery. We need them to rapidly agree a process for co-designing new shared frameworks and robust and coordinated environmental governance mechanisms. This will ensure that all of us can work effectively for the benefit of nature, no matter where in the UK we are.

    A letter from you could encourage your Ministers to collaborate with their counterparts in the other nations. Please follow these links to find out more and how to contact your relevant Ministers:


    Northern Ireland



    Chris Corrigan, RSPB England Director; Anne McCall, RSPB Scotland Director; Joanne Sherwood, RSPB Northern Ireland Director; Katie-Jo Luxton, RSPB Cymru Director. 

  • The Fisheries White Paper – carp(e) diem!

    Last week’s fishery drama, with its angry fishermen and jettisoning of haddock in the Thames, was widely reported by the media and a gift for the headline writers.  But there was little sign of push back on the bigger questions.  What is the sea for, and who does (or should) it, serve and benefit?  What is the most rational way to manage and share a marine environment which, while harbouring a much more granular mix of habitats than at first sight, is in another sense seamless? Fish don’t have passports!  These serious questions need to be asked if we are to raise the tenor of the debate and inform the direction of the UK’s emerging new fisheries policy.  So I have asked our fisheries expert, Dr Euan Dunn to outline our expectations for the forthcoming Fisheries White Paper.    

    In the run-up to the June referendum in 2016, the pro-leave Fisheries Minister George Eustice looked forward to the UK having “a more assertive role in promoting sustainable fisheries on the world stage” (  We greatly welcome the aspiration to demonstrate global leadership on this front, but with the consultation on the UK Government’s fisheries White Paper expected imminently, as a scene-setter for the Fisheries Bill to follow, it’s time to assess how it should match the minister’s high water mark of ambition. 

    As a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to secure sustainable fisheries in our waters for the long term, the stakes could not be higher for the White Paper.  The UK should not be shy in admitting that it championed the most recent reform of the Common Fisheries Policy which was a real step change in driving the green shoots of fish stock recovery we are now witnessing.  The White Paper should capture the best of that but also build in innovative and robust, fresh thinking on how best to recover depleted stocks, fish them sustainably, and – unpopular as it is in parts of the industry – keep the hammer down on the grossly wasteful discarding of fish.  The right balance of such measures will deliver the prosperous future for fishing communities we all want to see.

    We can expect that the White Paper’s priority will be to presage not just the slim Fisheries Bill that enables fishing to be operational on Day 1 after the Brexit transitional period (in terms of fish quota arrangements, access to our waters, and necessary controls) but also to frame the expansive secondary legislation needed to flesh out the bold new world of UK fisheries policy.  Underpinning this new framework we want to see explicit recognition that fishing opportunities are a public good for the benefit of all and managed with the transparency and accountability that this entails. 

    However, that our waters are not the ringed assets of the fishing industry speaks to a wider challenge for the White Paper.  It is now widely accepted that the sea is not just a factory floor for the fishing industry, rather fish stocks – as a vital part of the food web – cannot be divorced from considering the marine ecosystem at large.  This might seem obvious but it is a measure of the extent to which this spurious separation was made by decades of mismanagement that led to gross over-fishing, an issue only now being remedied.  Fishing has also inflicted gross collateral damage on other elements of the ecosystem, but we now know much more about how to tackle such excesses.  The recently published Defra 25 Year Environment Plan recognises this challenge and sets out the ambition to create a world-class fisheries management system that helps to restore and protect the marine ecosystem. It just takes political will to implement this vision. 

    And here’s where the White Paper can make real cut-through.  What we need is not a fisheries manifesto with environmental add-ons but a truly integrated policy in which the environmental dimension is joined at the hip.  In fisheries-speak this means that at the heart of the White Paper must be a topline objective to implement – just as the CFP already commits to – an ‘ecosystem approach’ to fisheries management and spell out the essentials of delivering that.  Nothing less will match up to the UK vision for the marine environment of ’clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse oceans and seas’ (   

    The RSPB seeks a White Paper that will pave the way to delivering on two ambitious challenges of an ecosystem approach.  Firstly, a comprehensive strategy to eliminate the incidental snaring and drowning of seabirds, marine mammals, sharks and turtles in fishing gear.  The UK has been in the vanguard of highlighting bycatch issues in Europe and now it has the chance to put in place its own world-leading, cross-taxa strategy, and to ramp up the monitoring needed to inform and enforce it.  Secondly, the North Sea sandeel fishery, in which the UK has no commercial interest, continues to be managed in such a way that there is insufficient ‘set-aside’ of sandeels as prey for declining seabird populations.  We see redressing this deficit as an acid test of ecologically sustainable fisheries and the White Paper is the window of opportunity for enabling it.  

    The UK is still playing catch-up with best practice in commercial fisheries elsewhere in the world, which requires that fishing adapts to nature, not the other way round.  The White Paper must seize the chance to embrace that mantra.

  • Good news for a Friday: new RSPB nature reserve in the New Forest

    In late 2010, the UK Government published the Sir John Lawton review of wildlife sites in England: Making Space for Nature.  The headline conclusion was that wildlife needed more, bigger, better and connected protected areas.  The RSPB has been determined to play our part in contributing to this vision through our advocacy, advice to landowners but also practical conservation work. 

    We were delighted that this vision was adopted first in the 2011 Natural Environment White Paper (which spawned Nature Improvement Areas) but also reaffirmed in the recent 25 Year Environment Plan which goes further and calls for the establishment of a nature recovery network.  We are determined to contribute to this vision by working with partners to transform landscapes including through the management of our own nature reserve network.  That's why we have stuck to an ambitious target to double our landholding from 2006 levels so that we protect and manage 260,000 hectares by 2030.  

    We already give over 16,000 species of birds, mammals, insects and plants a home on 214 reserves, covering an area roughly the size of Greater London.  But, today, I’m delighted to announce that after four and half years working with our friends in the New Forest National Park Authority, the RSPB has taken ownership of a brand new nature reserve in the north of the New Forest National Park.  Below, my colleague, Tony Whitehead (Communications Manager for the RSPB in the South West ) introduces the newest addition to our fabulous nature reserve network.

    Franchises Lodge, near Nomansland in Wiltshire, is a 386 hectare (almost 1,000 acre) woodland of deciduous and conifer trees that has largely been inaccessible to the public for many years. This inaccessibility has led my south west colleagues to describe it as a “secret forest”.

    What we do know about it, is that is home to a wide range of birds, invertebrates and plant life. Already we are looking at a really good population of woodland birds, including specialists such as wood warbler, redstart and hawfinch. It also appears to have a healthy population of firecrest.  And of course, it’s not just about the birds, it also has a potentially nationally important flora and a wide range of invertebrates. And rare mammals such as Barbastelle bat.

    Over half the site (213 hectares / 526 acres) was given to the RSPB by the previous owners as a gift to the nation in lieu of tax, as part of a settlement with HMRC. Land can be “given to the nation” in in this way then passed to trusted organisations for upkeep, much in the same way as treasured works of art can be given to the nation. But this is only where the land is “of outstanding scenic, scientific or historic value” and the recipient is a trusted organisation, in this case one with an international reputation for excellence in land management. This is a ground breaking deal for the RSPB setting a great precedent for future acquisitions. In financial terms this gift is the largest donation by a living person in the RSPB’s history.

    At the request of the family, the gifted land will be referred to as the Moffatt Reserve.

    The remaining part (173 hectares / 428 acres) was bought through a generous legacy to the RSPB, and support from the New Forest National Park Authority and the Friends of the New Forest.

    In our 25-year vision for the site we will be focussing on maintaining the existing broadleaf woodland, enhancing areas of wood pasture and recreating open heath. We are very keen to make sure that the reserve compliments the existing wider cultural landscape of the New Forest. A crucial part of achieving this will be to re-introduce extensive grazing and we will be working closely in partnership with the commoning community, particularly to get the right sort of animals to graze the site.

    Crucially, it also provides a unique opportunity to create a nature rich bridge between two already nationally important areas (Langley Wood NNR to the North and the New Forest SPA to the South) embodying the principles of 21st Century landscape conservation: “bigger, better, more joined up”.

    Naturally we want people to enjoy the site, but we have to understand much more about its nature and ecology and consider the views of local communities before making any decisions about wider access (beyond the existing rights of way).  The existing Byway Open to All Traffic will remain open but in the early days we are not encouraging visitors due to the simple lack of facilities, including car parking space.

    However, we always aspire to give people the opportunity to enjoy our reserves and when taking on land to create exemplary and inspiring visitor experiences. Any major changes would be determined through consultation with the community and we’ll need to go through the normal planning processes. Watch this space!