July, 2012

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.

Natures Home magazine uncovered

Behind the scenes at the RSPB magazine and much much more...
  • What changes have you seen in the UK's wildlife?

    Hopefully, the ’60 years of change’ feature by Stephen Moss on page 40 of Birds Autumn 2012 got you thinking about the changes you’ve seen in your lifetime. What do you see more? What do you see less? What do you miss? What is your most welcome ‘new’ bird, insect or animal?

    To start the ball rolling, I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve noticed in the form of my ‘top 10’ for the profit and loss accounts. Some good; some bad; some are simply scary.

    I grew up in the Cambridgeshire Fens and while walking across the fields, the soothing song of the turtle dove was a frequent companion from hedgerows. Last year, I saw one; this year I have seen five. The turtle dove has really hit hard with me and I’m so pleased that RSPB Scientists are studying the birds to try and make sure we don’t lose them as a breeding bird. I’ve been talking with our scientists and we’ll be bringing you a feature next year based on what they have found out through radio tracking these delightful little doves.

    Little egrets, on the other hand, are now a common sight at most of the wetlands I visit in Southern Britain

    Changes I’ve noticed in the 33 years of my lifetime


    1)    Little egrets

    2)    Bitterns on the up – there were eight males left when I saw my first in the early 1990s - now there are more than one hundred

    3)    Red kites, peregrines and buzzards now a regular sight near me

    4)    Long-tailed tits, great spotted woodpeckers and bullfinches on garden birdfeeders

    5)    More people interested in wildlife – great news!

    6)    Otters coming back

    7)    Small red-eyed damselflies now everywhere - none near me 10 years ago

    8)    Wildlife and conservation in the press more often – great news!

    9)    Tree bumblebees – now in a nestbox in my garden – a species that only arrived a few years ago

    10)  More wetlands being created as part of conservation on a landscape scale


    1)    Meadows full of butterflies

    2)    Turtle doves

    3)    Long, hot summers!

    4)    Headlights covered in insects after a journey

    5)    Hedgehogs – I hardly see them at all now

    6)    Places where you can get away from traffic noise

    7)    Kids playing in the countryside

    8)    Places you can walk where grasshoppers jump up at every step

    9)    Fields full of wildflowers, such as poppies

    10)  Spotted flycatchers

    Tell us what you miss - or welcome

    What do you miss, or have seen move in during your lifetime? Please let us know by posting a comment below.

  • What’s your favourite urban bird?

    The last time we asked you to post comments on our blog after reading David Lindo’s feature in Birds magazine, you blew us away with your response to our request to tell us about your bullfinches.

    I asked David to take a look into the often hidden life of the black redstart in Birds Autumn 2012 – a bird that lives its life in the breeding season high above our towns and cities eking out an existence among the noise and concrete. You can't mistake it because of its red tail that it quivers up and down.

    In the magazine, David draws up his shortlist for the most urban birds and nominates the black redstart as his favourite. As a Londoner, this is a bird that is close to his heart as the Capital holds a large percentage of the UK’s breeding black redstarts.

    I live in a rural area and my village is set in the beautiful countryside of the Ouse Valley in Cambridgeshire, so David is definitely better qualified than me to talk about our town and city birds! With that in mind, I'm probably not qualified to join the debate, but I do enjoy the sight of starlings squabbling in city streets, grappling with chips that have been dropped!

    Tell us about your favourite urban bird

    If you could nominate a bird that epitomises city living, what would it be? Which is the bird that you see in your garden or on your feeders most regularly? Maybe it’s on your commute to work that the 'townies' catch your eye, or at your workplace? Who gets the prize for the best adaptations to living alongside man?

    House sparrow? Starling? Feral pigeon – or what about the peregrine, now back as a breeding bird on many of our cathedrals and tower blocks? Maybe it's something else that you see doing  a great job of living in our towns and cities, such as mallards nesting in balcony hanging baskets (yes, it does happen!)?

    Or if you agree with the man himself, please let us know. We'd love to hear your thoughts, so please post a comment below.

  • The emperor strikes bag

    With sunny days as rare as hen’s teeth this summer, I reacted to the weather forecast for a hot Sunday with sunshine with, “Right, I’ll be out all day – I’ll be back at dinner time”.

    It was worth risking the wrath of my girlfriend Laura because mid July means a chance to see one of the UK’s most spectacular, and elusive insects: the purple emperor butterfly. It inhabits ancient woodlands in southern Britain with a mix of mature oaks and sallows where the females lay their eggs.

    I always try to get over to Fermyn Woods in Northamptonshire during the emperor’s flight time and despite the lack of many species of butterfly this year and the abysmal weather, the lure of even a chance to see one of these purple glossed giant butterflies was enough. I awoke excitedly, drew back the curtains waiting for that blast of sunshine to find....grey clouds and a wind that looked suspiciously like a ‘north-wester’ – meaning only one thing...cold. So back to bed it was until a ray of sunlight hit the wall facing the bed an hour later – blue skies and sunshine. Panic mode saw me ready to go in 10 minutes (and yes, that did include time for a shower).

    People come from all over the country to try and catch a glimpse of purple emperors and it was good to see two groups of kids and a wide variety of people our for a walk armed with cameras. Unfortunately, the cloud built and I reckoned on having around a dozen five minute sunny spells during my five hours walking the woods where conditions were suitable for butterfly watching. Being in the right place in a huge series of woods during one of those spells required an awful lot of luck - fortunately I had it.

    I sniffed out a likely looking spot with a beautiful avenue of ancient oaks and sallows on the other side of the ride just as the sun came out. Emperors are incredibly elusive, spending most of their time in the tops of trees sipping honeydew. They do come down to woodland tracks to take up minerals from the ground and it is on such occasions that I’ve had my best views – and got photographs.

    In the bag

    I wasn’t prepared for what happened this time though. As the sun beams hit a big oak on the corner, a huge butterfly glided through its branches to settle in the top of a sallow. A slight change of position, binoculars up and there it was in full glory – a male purple emperor. I was well pleased. Then it took flight and flew – towards me. It kept flying – towards me. I actually had to duck as it brushed my ear with its wings. It was trying to land on my bright red rucksack! And so I was in a frustrating position of having one of the most sought-after creatures in the UK giving unbelievable views, but not being able to get a really good look because the rucksack was on my back! It eventually decided to try its luck with another source of minerals and flew up the track.

    With a dozen white admirals, purple and white-letter hairstreaks completing the quarter of scarce woodland butterflies, red kites and a hobby thrown in, as well as some great woodland flowers, that lack of sunshine wasn’t so bad after all.

    What's all the fuss about?

     No photos this time to share with you, but in case you’re wondering what all the fuss is about, take a look at the emperor here