Seabirds South West is a snapshot of work in the south west region to help seabirds in 2017.
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A guest blog from RSPB South West Regional Director, Nick Bruce-White, who takes a moment to look back at and celebrate the achievements we have all made for the South West's nature in 2017. And he's even more hopeful for 2018...
Barely a day goes by when I don’t think to myself, “I really do have the best job in the world!”. Leading an inspirational and dedicated team across South West England, home to such diverse and beautiful landscapes, is truly an honor. Despite the short days and gloomy weather, I am perhaps most fired-up at this time of year: as I reflect on achievements of the previous year and thoughts turn to all the possibilities and hopefulness that a new year brings.
Photo 1: Nick Bruce-White, RSPB South West Regional Director
Like many things in life, one can look at the state of our natural environment and quickly sink into a pit of despair. Yes, our environment, and the nature which depends upon it, has suffered cruelly over recent decades. However, what matters are the decisions and actions we take now and in this regard, two things give me great hope. Firstly, the millions of people who take action for nature through their support of organisations like the RSPB; and secondly, the difference that these organisations are able to make with this support.
Here in the South West, 2017 really was a year when we can say: “we made a difference!”
The year got off to an auspicious start where, following two years of campaigning with the Dorset Wildlife Trust and others, permission was granted to develop a solar power plant away from Rampisham Down in West Dorset. Previous proposals would have damaged this rare grassland Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) – but a great outcome was achieved through conservationists, developers and planning authorities working together.
Photo 2: Rampisham Down by Tony Bates
Rampisham Down is one of many areas safeguarded by law, the most important of which are protected by the EU Nature Directives – laws that we are working hard to ensure are transferred to UK legislation following Brexit. So we were delighted that, amidst the furor surrounding Brexit, new or extended protected areas were announced last year for Poole Harbour, the Mid-Cornwall Moors and Falmouth Bay to St Austell Bay. The latter coming after decades of campaigning to protect over 150,000 seabirds, including overwintering divers and grebes. Be under no illusion: it was the combined voice of millions of nature-lovers (supporters like you!) that catalysed these sensible political decisions.
Photo 3: Great crested grebe by Nick Stacey
The UK’s seabird populations are of global significance and as a maritime region, the South West has a strong role to play. In Dorset, the little tern colony, which nests on famous Chesil Beach, had its most productive year on record, with over 70 young fledged, thanks to a dedicated protection team working around the clock.
Photo 4: Little Terns by Angela Thomas
On the Isles of Scilly, we celebrated the end of a ground-breaking project to remove rats from the islands of St Agnes & Gugh. With this non-native predation pressure removed, Manx shearwaters and storm petrels are now breeding productively for the first time in living memory. As the largest community-based predator-removal project in the world, we hope the success on these two islands will inspire further restoration across the archipelago for the benefit of seabirds.
Photo 5: Manx shearwater chick on the Isles of Scillys by Jaclyn Pearson
Our nature reserves are the jewels in the RSPB crown and 2017 presented so many examples of the critical role our reserves play, in rescuing species from the brink of extinction, or as homes for new species moving north with climate change. Whether it be the nearly 50 booming bitterns and myriad other colonising egret species across the Avalon Marshes in Somerset; or the nightingales at RSPB Highnam Woods in Gloucestershire, whose singing males now number into the double figures; or RSPB Winterbourne Downs in Wiltshire, supporting stone curlews, marsh fritillaries and a growing population of small-blue butterflies just ten years after chalk grassland was restored; or the vibrant heaths of RSPB Arne in Dorset, where a record 46 nightjar were recorded, in addition to two new colonies of rare ladybird spider.
Photo 6: RSPB Site Manager, Patrick Cashman, sows wild flower seeds on Winterbourne Downs butterfly bank
RSPB Arne was very much in the spotlight last year, having played host to BBC’s Autumnwatch and Winterwatch. More latterly, we have been in the process of acquiring land at Arne which – thanks to generous external funding and an appeal to our supporters – will complete the final piece of the jigsaw on this nature-rich peninsular. Last year we also extended the reedbed at RSPB Ham Wall (with land that is now home to many of those aforementioned great-white egrets!); and in collaboration with Teignbridge District Council, as part of a strategic approach to mitigating risks to cirl buntings from built developments, we purchased a farm on the Teign Estuary in Devon. Like our nearby reserve at RSPB Labrador Bay, Ashill will provide a haven for this rare bird, currently restricted to Devon & Cornwall, but bouncing back to over 1,000 pairs after 25 years of focused conservation effort with farmers.
Photo 7: Michaela Strachan at RSPB Arne for Autumnwatch by Terry Bagley
The list goes on, but what I hope these few anecdotes will provide is a sense of achievability – a confidence that with energy, tenacity and the will of our supporters (and politicians), we can create a South West richer in nature together. Challenges and deep uncertainties lie ahead, but events of the last year lead me to believe that 2018 might just be the year that we not only win a few battles for our natural environment, but start winning the war.
RSPB's Roberta reveals how robins became synonymous with UK Christmases and that they may not be as cute as they first appear!
Illustrations of robins can be found on Christmas cards, wrapping paper, Christmas tree ornaments and cake decorations. This tradition was invented by the Victorians. When the first postal service was established in the 1840s, postmen wore a red uniform. They were servants of the Crown, whose national colour was red and they soon became known as 'Robin Redbreasts'. There were postal deliveries on Christmas Day well into this century – and so the 'Robin' (the postman bringing gifts) became associated with Christmas. A robin first appeared on a Christmas card in the 1860s, with the bird shown carrying an envelope. This trend caught on and was soon reflected in a range of products. Unfortunately, as Victorian tastes grew more extravagant, the robin's association with Christmas also held dangers for it – they were killed to provide real feathers for card decorations.
The distinctive plump red breast of robins makes them instantly recognisable and they are particularly conspicuous in winter, fluffing out their feathers to keep warm. Both sexes have the red breast and both flaunt it – to act as a warning or used to attract a mate. They are one of the few birds to sing throughout winter, even on the coldest of days, guarding or laying claim to their territory (the area where they search for food and raise their young). In spring the male guards his territory just like any other bird. However in autumn and winter both males and females have their own separate feeding territories which they defend against rivals – even chasing off large birds from a winter territory.
These birds may look cute, but they are fiercely territorial and even ‘murder’ other robins foolish enough to trespass. Robins normally hop along the ground but stand very upright, bobbing their head and flicking their wings and tails when excited.
They feed mainly on insects and the gardeners amongst us helpfully disturb worms for them. We also supplement their diet by putting out mealworms, something robins are particularly fond of. These small birds will also eat seeds and berries and are widespread across the British Isles, in woods, hedgerows, parks and gardens. In winter Britain’s resident birds are joined by shyer, paler northern European migrants.
Robins pair up from late December to early March and often nest in unusual places such as plant pots, vehicles and watering cans. Juvenile birds have the trademark robin shape and size, but for their first season they have a speckled brown breast. In the 1960s, in a vote publicised by The Times newspaper, the robin was adopted as the unofficial national bird of the UK.