Earlier this week, I joined colleagues from across the RSPB Eastern England region for our annual regional gathering. This is a chance to share ideas and celebrate successes, both formally and informally.

We heard from RSPB Old Hall Marshes in Essex, where they are introducing new water management regimes to improve habitat for breeding waders.

We went back to our childhood making leaf and stick creatures as part of an exercise about improving our family events. My group made a red-eyed leaf-pig, which foraged through the leaf litter using its fantastic sense of smell and long nose to forage on earthworms, beetles and other soil invertebrates.

Buglife CEO, Matt Shardlow highlighted the importance of insects and other bugs in an excellent talk about some of the partnership work the RSPB and Buglife are doing in Essex, especially at Canvey Wick.

Bee-wolf by Steve Everett - one of the amazing bugs found at Minsmere

We also listened to an excellent presentation from Professor Jules Pretty of the University of Essex about health and wellbeing. Jules highlighted the many benefits of spending time in green spaces, emphasising how important our nature reserves, parks and gardens are to improving our physical and mental health.

We also enjoyed a great talk from our Regional Director, Dr James Robinson, which set the scene on exactly why we do what we do and looked ahead at plans for 2017 and beyond.

James started by setting world events into context: votes in the UK and USA that will change the political and economic landscapes and have a profound effect on nature; Leicester City’s Premiership title and Honey G’s X Factor performances that showed how much our lives are influenced by popular culture; and, of course, the loss of icons such as David Bowie and Prince.

Among the context setting, it was perhaps the reference to some recent reports on wildlife population declines that hit home the most:

  • A Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) report that we have half as much wildlife globally as there was in 1973;
  • A Birdlife International report that we have lost 420 million birds from the EU alone within the last 30 years;
  • The State of Nature Report which showed that 56% of all species studied were declining (this includes plants, insects, mammals, fish, birds and more), with 15% either already extinct in the UK or on the verge of becoming so.

For me, these figures are particularly alarming as I have just finished two books that go into some detail about how we have had such a negative impact on our planet’s wildlife for even longer than the period covered by these reports. Rachel Carson’s classic, hard-hitting book Silent Spring first brought the impacts of pesticides to the fore in the early 1960s, so even by 1970 our bird (and other wildlife) populations were severely reduced. My colleague, Conor Mark Jameson’s, Silent Spring Revisited looks at the many impacts, both good and bad in the years since Rachel Carson’s book and concludes with discussion on how today’s children will work from a much  lower benchmark than we did, never mind our parents’ generation.

Back to Dr Robinson’s presentation though. After setting the scene with some of the bad news, he cheered us all up by celebrating some of the RSPB’s recent successes, especially in Eastern England:

Little tern by Chris Gomersall (rspb-images.com)

  • 168 pairs of little terns fledged more than 300 chicks at Eccles in Norfolk this summer, thanks to round the clock wardening by the RSPB as part of an EU-funded species recovery programme;
  • Bitterns are no longer red-listed, having recovered from just 11 booming males in 1997 to more than 160 nationally in 2016. Work here at Minsmere has been instrumental in this recovery;
  • A £1 million purchase has allowed us to expand our reserve at Berney Marshes, Norfolk;
  • We’ve added 23 hectares to RSPB Ouse Fen in Cambridgeshire, which is set to become the UK’s biggest reedbed following restoration from gravel extraction, and already attracts ten booming male bitterns;
  • Our partnership with Buglife and The Land Trust has allowed us to increase Canvey Wick nature reserve in South Essex by fivefold;
  • The enormous habitat creation project at Wallasea Island, Essex, in partnership with Cross Rail and others, is already producing results, with 101 pairs of avocets present this year;
  • Partnership work close to RSPB Ouse Washes, in Cambridgeshire will create important new habitat for breeding lapwings and black-tailed godwits;
  • We successfully halted water abstraction that was threatening Catfield Fen and our internationally important RSPB Sutton Fen nature reserve in the Norfolk Broads;
  • The Active in Nature Project in the Broads has brought many more people into contact with nature through sport and physical exercise – there’s still time to join in with their Winter Robin Fun Run on Sunday 4 December;
  • A partnership with Aldi is helping to connect half a million school children with nature;
  • BBC Springwatch, here at Minsmere, brought wildlife into people’s houses;
  • Our wonderful communications and membership recruitment teams help to bring wildlife stories alive to inspire you to support us further.

Finally, James looked ahead to 2017, teasing us with news that black-tailed godwits are set to benefit further from EU-funded habitat restoration work at March Farmers, near our Nene Washes nature reserve in Cambridgeshire, and hinting at plans for new and enlarged nature reserves in the region.

Black-tailed godwit by Jon Evans

Coming full circle, James urged us to ensure that we continue to make the case for nature better, helping to influence both individual supporters and decision makers during these uncertain times.

So, will you help us by spreading the word?

Nature is amazing. Together, we can help nature.