Blogger: John Sharpe, Conservation Manager

It’s always fascinating to go to a new area and see how it differs from home. I’m just back from a two week cycling holiday in central Germany with my family and we had a fantastic time. It was a very low carbon trip. We set off on our bikes from home with just two panniers apiece to meet our needs over the next fortnight. We took the train and ferry from Harwich (did you know you can go from any East Anglian station to any Dutch station for just £39 each way? – I’m not being paid to advertise but I think it is a brilliant deal and very green) and then another train to our starting point in Bayreuth, near the Czech border, then began our leisurely return, following the River Main cycle path to Mainz, and then onward up the Rhine to Koblenz. 500 miles in all.

In some ways the landscape wasn’t too different to Eastern England: wide river valleys and rolling hills, although there are fewer vineyards and forests in our part of the world. Much of the countryside was farmed in a way that would be familiar to anyone from Norfolk: fairly intensive but with some small areas given over to cover to wildlife, presumably a product of the same sort of payments to farmers to look after wildlife that we enjoy. The commonest wildlife we encountered were yellowhammer and tree sparrow, both getting harder to see in Eastern England. But we didn’t come across any of the other farmland birds we think of as declining: once common birds like grey partridge, lapwing, corn bunting and turtle dove. It’s sobering to realise that these species are in trouble across Europe. On the plus side, black redstart is a park and garden bird in central Germany, and we were also pleased to see several storks and both red and black kites.

What was more widespread was renewable energy generation in all its different forms, but especially wind turbines and solar farms. Love them or hate them (and I’m a fan, though like all things, in moderation) wind turbines are here to stay as we struggle to find ways of combating the carbon emissions responsible for climate change. It made me think that there is still more room to increase capacity in Eastern England. Of course that means more work for RSPB as we regularly advise on wind farm developments and have commented on some 150 schemes over the last ten years. But during that time we have had to sustain objections to less than 10 schemes which were sited too close to important areas for birds, so they don’t have to impact upon wildlife.

Coming home to the East of England really made me appreciate what we have here, that sense of place and being home. It also got me thinking about how similar to the rest of the continent we are and that we are not in it alone when we are working day to day to save the natural world.

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