The RSPB's Mark Robins considers the challenges and opportunities for nature conservation in South Devon as the governement talks about moving power away from Whitehall and putting it into the hands of people and communities
I am looking forward to an intriguing ‘summit’ meeting this coming Monday 28th February 2011, at The Riviera Centre, in Torquay. This is an early stage in a new collaborative project and the day will help steer the direction and work in its first year.
For what its worth I am chairing this event, so hold some responsibility for what I hope will be a successful day. The new project takes the zone from the Tamar to the Exe in South Devon and says ‘how can we do more for nature here?’. As one of a set across England of curiously named ‘Integrated Biodiversity Delivery Areas’ (I promise not to mention the IBDA acronym again!) we are at a very interesting moment for action for nature – self critically acknowledging the limits of previous approaches and searching for better ways of doing things.
Why this ‘SUMMIT’ - why a crisis? How are we doing at a global level on this extraordinary, beautiful, diverse living planet?? WWFs ‘Living Planet index’– a FTSE 100 - measuring declines and increases across thousands of species on land, in rivers and at sea (8,000 populations of more than 2,500 different species of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, birds and fish) – has declined by 30% overall, and by a massive 60% in the tropics. (since 1970’s). In the parlance of today - "a bonfire of biodiversity".
That’s a crisis!! You will have heard all this before but lets just remember.... healthy ecosystems form the basis of all we have - lose them and we destroy our life support systems (the stuff we smilingly teach our young children). And there’s a fag paper between healthy wildlife, biodiversity and healthy ecosystems.
Again in a contemporary parlance - "we're squandering the natural capital we have on this planet". Alongside the fiscal deficit we have a massive ecological deficit.
This all says that if we care about this place, this point on the globe, carrying on, carrying on, is not good enough. South Devon has a real role to play – can we lead the recovery of biodiversity in this diverse part of England?
Second thought - let's notice that the new Government is making radical commitments to transform the public sector. Most obvious is deficit reduction, but alongside this lies a radical "theology" that promotes a shift from ‘bureaucratic accountability:’ everything measured or judged against a set of targets and performance indicators, monitored and inspected - to a new system of ‘democratic accountability’: taking power away from Whitehall and putting it into the hands of people and communities through increased transparency, local democratic control, competition and choice.
Some will rejoice, others will wonder where this ‘creative destruction’ of a status quo is taking us? I just want to ask you to note that each approach has its limits, but that just now there is some opportunity here for people, communities and places to do more for nature as power is shifted downwards and outwards.
Final thought for the moment- if it’s become a fair cliché characterising the environmental movement – as one that trades on nightmares. Are we in the wrong space?
So this is why this summit is being held – the need to do things differently, to meet new challenges, to find out how to do MORE for nature.
We need to do some CRITICAL THINKING on this – a summit gathering to tap wealth of ideas and willingness.
In due course the IBDA (OK I failed to not mention again) steering group will report back on what we learnt and how we intend to respond. Not sure yet where that report will be made but probably at the Biodiversity South West website
The environment once again figured prominently in the news last week. The government halted its consultation on proposals to sell off our public forest estate. While welcoming this common sense decision we do hope that it will now lead to a rounder discussion that considers carefully the future of our forests, and here in the south west, the future of many existing and potential heathlands that lie within public forest boundaries.
But one move forward was countered with one potential move back with the publication of the EFRA select committee report on uplands. Our regional policy officer Mark Robins described it as lacking ambition and not really moving the debate forward. It also raised the spectre of headage payments. If re-introduced, as is being advised, we worry that, even with safeguards, paying farmers based on the number of animals they have may lead to overgrazing on our precious south west moors.
Don’t get us wrong, these places need cattle, and one of the biggest threats they face is farmers vacating the land. But equally, too much grazing is a bad thing, destroying the delicate balance of upland vegetation on which so many other creatures rely. We want to see farmers properly recognised and rewarded for managing the right grazing schemes that provide both high quality food and wildlife. Let’s hope the government heeds the advice of conservationists when it responds to the report in the next few weeks.
Meet Philodromus margaritatus. This hairy eight-legged chappy doesn’t appear to have a consistent English name, its either a running crab spider, or a lichen crab spider, or perhaps even a running lichen crab spider. But we like him/her, not least for that simulacrum of a face on its abdomen.
The photo was sent by Mark Singleton over at our Arne reserve, the little beasty having been found in one of the electric boxes linked to our web cam. At first I wanted to imagine it had grown huge on pure energy derived from the power lines. But quickly moved on because a) that only happens in 1950’s B movies and b) I was assuming a large photo meant a large creature in reality while conveniently forgetting the words “macro” and “lens”.
Anyways, I wouldn’t be bothering you with this if there wasn’t a reason, other than a slightly child like urge to show people scary spiders. I share it because this spider is something of a rarity. Its not been recorded in Dorset since the 1970s apparently. If this were a bird, rather like the recent oriental turtle dove, the queues would be stretching round the car park. But it’s not, it’s a spider with a slightly amusing abdomen.
Nevertheless, its a timely reminder that our reserves are about so much more than our feathered friends. Why timely? Simply because in a couple of months time, to celebrate the diversity of life at Arne, the team their are organising a “big wild stocktake” – our version of a BioBlitz. Its a lovely idea. Over a weekend they are going to invite the public to work alongside experts to identify as many species as possible on the site. And that’s going to be quite a few, as I reckon that Arne is our most bio-diverse nature reserve ( * hear’s distant sounds of protest from Minsmere *).
The weekend will be on 23 and 24 April, so if you are in the area, pop in and say hello.