Much of this blog has been about what government should or should not do. But thank heavens there are plenty of things that nature conservationists can do without bringing politicians into it at all. And perhaps top of the pile is buying and managing land.
I can remember when there used to be occasional tensions within the RSPB between those who wanted to save nature through policy change and those who wanted to do it through land management. One of my achievements, such as it is, in nearly 13 years of being the RSPB's Conservation Director is to calm down those tensions and get people behind the idea that we need both - why tie one hand behind your back when you need six hands to make much progress anyway?
Much of this blog has dealt with public policy but much of my working life has been given over to spending millions of pounds of the RSPB's money on fantastic nature reserves. The first of these that we added under my Directorship was Dingle Marshes (still a great place) and I've never looked back since.
We've been adding to our land holdings in the Flow Country - where I first worked for the RSPB in 1986, when we had no land up there at all. Our Forsinard nature reserve is the largest of all our nature reserves now - that's a lot of growth in a mere 25 years.
I like to think of our 200+ nature reserves as a rather large family of teenagers. Why is that? Because hardly any of them is fully formed and grown up. But they have lots of potential.
It is in the nature of land purchase that you rarely have the opportunity to buy all of, or just, the land that would make the perfect nature reserve at the start. There's often that important bit of land (for access, or to allow proper control of water levels, or simply the 'best' bit) that isn't included in the original deal. And it's also in the nature of things that you rarely know when the remainder will be available for purchase. So I regard many RSPB nature reserves as unfinished - wonderful as they are, they are mostly unfinished.
But don't they do a great job? Nature reserves have played a big role in the recovery of populations of marsh harrier, bearded tit, bittern, avocet (of course!), corncrakes, roseate terns and actually a whole range of other birds and, very importantly, not just for birds. And over recent years, and into the future, RSPB nature reserves will also to do a good job for lapwings, redshanks, snipe, black grouse, choughs, cranes and who knows what other bird species? 25 years ago it would have only been the more visionary who would have seen that so many birds of the wider countryside would be increasingly concentrated in nature reserves.
Check out previous blogs on our nature reserves in general (here, here ) or some in particular (Nene Washes, Saltholme, Islay, Geltsdale and Otmoor).
Which is your favourite RSPB nature reserve - and why?
Did I mention there is a book of the blog? It even has tips about how to blog so you could start yourself.
As one who spent a little time at the RSPB buying land for reserves there are a couple of things not always appreciated relating to the length the RSPB will go to and the process employed in ensuring that best value is obtained - for wildlife and members. And yes, some purchases may seem a bit odd from the outside and on the face of it, not very exciting, but these tend to be mainly to control water levels and other practical reasons as Mark outlines. Importantly a lot of land bought is let to local farmers with whom the RSPB works in close partnership to secure it's management aims and, for the farmer, income and single farm payments. Another reason why the claim that the RSPB is anti farmer is complete nonsense - it needs them (and in a lot of cases they need the RSPB!) Long may it continue.
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