If you'd like a look at RSPB events coming up over the next six months in the south have a look at our newly published Wildlife Guide - link here:
And remember, you can also find out about our regional events via our events web pages here
A couple of weeks ago the RSPB launched its new campaign. Called “Stepping up for Nature” it’s premise is simple. Targets to halt biodiversity decline by 2010 were not met, but we will learn from this make sure we halt losses by 2020. To do this we need to focus our efforts globally on tropical rainforest loss, and nationally on the marine environment and planning system. We also want to make sure we have a countryside rich in wildlife; in other words the RSPB needs to continue to work with the farmers to do the best for our birds, butterflies, and bees.
Sadly, amongst agricultural commentators there are those who appear to be blighted by the descent of a “red mist” when they read the acronym “RSPB” in alongside the word “farmer”. With little further investigation they reach for the typewriter and thump out essays dripping with indignation that the RSPB is once again attacking farmers and laying at their doors all the ills of the world.
With wearying predictability our talk of the countryside in our campaign launch elicited just such a reaction. “Shameful” and “in defiance of logic as well as the evidence, the RSPB blames intensive farming” were two responses.
Perhaps there is another RSPB that shamefully sneaks around taking every opportunity to make snide remarks about farmers – because I certainly do not recognise this from the RSPB I work for in the West Country. How would it serve the interests of wildlife to publically alienate the very community that hold the key to increasing biodiversity in our countryside?
Out of interest I looked back over recent regional pronouncements on farming to see if I’d forgotten any shameful, logic defying statements on the industry.
My search revealed that we’d certainly had a lot to say about farmers. Last year, in our efforts to ensure they continued to receive support through agri-environment schemes I wrote
“People value the rich and diverse wildlife and landscapes of the south west. These are managed and maintained largely by the hard working farming community, a community that takes much pride not only in producing the food we all enjoy, but also in trying to make sure that their land is rich in wildlife.”
Alongside this there’s a number of hugely supportive statements on the Nature of Farming Award and Volunteer & Farmer Alliance (the project where we provide free bird surveys for famers).
Despite what some commentators would have you believe; the RSPB are both supportive of a working countryside and delighted that so many famers in turn are supportive of wildlife. Consequently I am optimistic that over the next ten years we can move from strength to strength. Why do I think this? Simply because I have seen what’s possible when conservationists and farmers work together.
Last year Wessex stone curlews had their best season in decades, with 136 pairs raising 97 youngsters. Down in Devon our 2009 cirl bunting survey revealed 800+ pairs, way up on the 1989 low point of just 118 pairs. This is all down to the hard work of farmers, in partnership with conservationists and with supporting agri-environment schemes.
Partnership is also bearing fruit elsewhere. The South West Farmland Bird Initiative brings us together with NE, FWAG and various AONBs to support farmers over a huge swathe of the south west. Early results show the scheme bearing fruit for six key farmland birds, including corn bunting, grey partridge and lapwing. The NFU and CLA are members of this partnership and we in turn are a full partner with them in the Campaign for the Farmed Environment – a project that seeks a voluntary approach to recreating the environmental benefits of set-aside.
Naturally there are problems. There is widespread concern about the loss of iconic species such as cuckoo – although for migratory species the solutions may be out of our hands. And everyone needs to work together on ways of supporting birds such as skylark in the wider countryside. We need to look again at ways in which we could make schemes such as Entry Level Stewardship work over a much wider area.
These are huge challenges. But underpinning all of this it is vital that we continue to make the point collectively that farmers must be properly rewarded for producing quality food and quality space for nature on their farms. And this may require some hard bargaining over the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy. But we know from the past decade’s experience that profitable farm enterprises can produce food and wildlife.
Despite the challenges though, I really do think that in the West Country we are building our new campaign on strong foundations.
If you’d like to find out more about the RSPB’s new campaign visit http://www.rspb.org.uk/stepup2020