Conservation Manager, Stuart Benn, is back with a new blog about the State of Nature.
25 not out
Last week, Alastair Cook scored his 25th Test century for England, I completed 25 years of working for the RSPB and the State of Nature report was launched by 25 conservation organisations – and there’s no doubt which was the greater landmark. Health checks have been produced before on birds, butterflies, mammals and the like but this is the first time that it has all been brought together in one document. Now we can all see how nature as a whole is faring right now in the UK.
Those 25 years have been good to me and I keep well but the report tells us that the same can’t be said for UK’s nature. Sure, some animals are in rude good health, but so many more are ailing or on life support and there’s plenty that are just plain dead before their time. Lots of reasons but, put simply, they don’t have anywhere to live.
Peppered moth by Tom Marshall (rspb-images.com)
The statistics are shocking. Moths down by 28%, once common butterflies decreasing by a similar figure, 44 million fewer breeding birds now than there were 40 years ago. The trouble is, though, that I find it very hard to visualise what those figures actually mean. We relate much more easily to bite-sized chunks than the big picture. So, I think of those losses as the little damp bits of fields where redshanks used to nest and curlews bubbled, that untended corner where I could always rely on seeing a small tortoiseshell. And I miss them.
OK – so ‘State of Nature’ gives us the diagnosis but if that’s all it did, it would be a pretty unremittingly dispiriting read. But, it goes beyond that and shows us the cure too – some of the species thriving now were basket cases not so very long ago but we found out what the problems were and turned them around. So, I can think of bitterns and large blues, those meadows full of cuckoo flowers and orange-tips that were once lifeless fields, other places where I and eagles were unwelcome just a few years back but where they now nest and I’m always assured of a friendly chat. It can be done.
And that really is the message in ‘State of Nature’ – things aren’t good and, of course, there are problems but we all have the ability to turn it around in the gardens, parks, green spaces, bits of the countryside that we can influence. And that’s how all those millions of flowers, birds, butterflies and bugs will be put back – one bit at a time.
RSPB Scotland Trainee Ecologist, David Freeman, has been out surveying moss on our Loch Leven nature reserve...
Up the Hill Backwards
One of the first tasks I have undertaken as a Trainee Ecologist was to look at some of the more common bryophytes growing in the birch woods at RSPB Loch Leven. The woods themselves are situated on the slope of Vane Hill. They start on the edge of the Loch, spreading up the hill eventually giving way to heather dominated moorland at the top. A diverse range of mosses grows within the woodland. The majority of the day involved me scrambling up the hill sideways or backwards looking through the undergrowth for specimens. I’m glad to say I was rewarded with some fantastic finds.
Thuidium tamariscinum via biopix.com
After spending a few hours at the reserve I was able to document some of the more widespread mosses present. Epiphytes (something that grows on a tree but is not parasitic) were a common sight. The older more established trees were carpeted in Hypnum cupressiforme around the base, while Orthotrichum affine and Dicranoweisia cirrata pepper the higher and larger branches. These plants combine to create the familiar green layer over bark that people associate with a well developed natural woodland.
Beside the path that winds through the woodland patches of spiky Dicranum majus, Dicranum scoparium and Polytrichum commune help to create a range of diverse textures. Near the steep gurgling waterfalls and streams in the east, Thuidium tamariscinum occurs in distinct patches. It’s triple splitting branches forming a intricate and dizzying pattern. At the top of the hill, where the woodland meets the moorland, the ground layer underneath the heather quickly becomes dominated by Hypnum jutlandicum, Hylocomium splendens and Pleurozium schreberi to the exclusion of everything else. This creates a fascinating carpet of lime greens and sickly yellows.
View from the top.
The reserve in general seems to be a fantastic place for nature of all kinds and I’m looking forward to going back. Time was of course limited and in terms of recording the moss flora of Loch Leven I only really scratched the surface, but considering the absence of any records for bryophytes for this part of the reserve some progress is better than none!
Catch up with David's previous blogs:
A Career in a new town
In search of golden bog moss
A trip to the far north
Vicki Swales, Head of Land Use Policy, on High Nature Value farming and the wildlife that depends on it.
Let's support farmers who do more for nature
Machair by Chris Gomersall (rspb-images.com).
You’re walking in the countryside, across farmland. Your senses are under attack. Under your feet a thick carpet of grasses and flowers, the perfume of which fills your nostrils with the smell of summer. Your eyes are dazzled by the brilliant colours – pinks, yellow, orange – and around you a cacophony of sound as insects buzz and lapwings call the alarm at your approach. You must be dreaming, right? Or you’ve entered a time-warp and returned to the 1950s? Neither. You’re in 2013 and walking across the machair land of the Outer Hebrides.
In places like this, traditional farming and crofting create a landscape of stunning natural diversity. It’s a way of life – and a way to make a livelihood - for many people across the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. It’s High Nature Value (HNV) farming.
Building arable stacks on Outer Hebrides to benefit species like corn bunting by Jamie Boyle (rspb-images.com).
But it’s a way of life under threat and many people, and the wildlife that depends on them, are living on the edge. Farming in these places is tough. Harsh weather, poor soils, distance from markets and low prices for the food produced conspire to make this a hard way to earn a living. And whilst farmers and crofters can at least sell the cattle and sheep they produce, there is no way to earn a reward from the wildlife and other environmental benefits produced as a result. The odds are stacked up against HNV farming.
We could, of course, consign this way of life, and the benefits it brings, to the dustbin. View it as antiquated and out-of-step in a world of technology and progress and pursue ‘bigger, better, best’.
Or we could view it through a different lens; a very modern example of how to manage our limited land and natural resources sustainably, producing food, livelihoods and a range of benefits for nature.
In a world of different economics, HNV farmers and crofters would earn the true value of all that they produce whilst environmentally damaging farming systems would pay the true cost. But we haven’t made that paradigm shift yet and so HNV farming and crofting needs our help if we believe it ought to survive.
Great-yellow bumble bee by Mike Edwards (rspb-images.com).
That’s why RSPB Scotland, along with other organisations including the Scottish Crofting Federation, is calling on Government to take steps to support HNV farming. The tools to do this lie within the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), a reform of which is currently being negotiated. Reform can’t come a moment too soon to a policy which hands out the greatest levels of taxpayer money to farming in the most productive and least disadvantaged parts of Scotland. Meanwhile, the farmers and crofters who depend on public support the most, receive the least.
Corn bunting by Andy Hay (rspb-images.com).
Over the coming months, the Scottish Government will be taking some important decisions about how to spend an annual farming budget of in the region of £650 million. That’s around £129 each year for every Scottish citizen. A lot of money that, spent wisely, can ensure a better future for all of Scotland’s HNV farmers and crofters and can encourage a greener approach to farming more widely.
If you think these decisions matter, please respond to the consultation. Details are available here: http://www.rspb.org.uk/community/getinvolved/naturesheroes/b/weblog/archive/2013/05/29/help-ensure-that-wildlife-friendly-farming-in-scotland-secures-the-maximum-funding-possible.aspx
Let’s give HNV farmers the support they deserve.