I've just been looking at the 2008 figures for lapwing, snipe and redshank numbers on lowland wet grassland RSPB nature reserves. That's reserves like the Ouse Washes, West Sedgemoor, Otmoor and Ynys Hir. Overall numbers increased from those of 2007 and were also higher than in 2005 - when our current nature reserve strategy began. This is good news but you can never take anything for granted with these birds - they face so many complex threats - and I wouldn't guarantee that this year will see further rises. I'll let you know when I can.
But it reminded me that last year the Countryside Alliance mounted a campaign called Save the Waders which asked people to sign up to a Downing Street petition to call for more wader-friendly policies and to recognise the role of predator control in saving waders. This was a thinly disguised campaign against various predators - foxes, badgers, buzzards to name but three - and a bit of a campaign against the RSPB too.
The campaign seemed to have sunk without trace but, remembering the ability of the Countryside Alliance to fill the streets of London with angry people, I thought I ought to check what was happening. The Downing Street website shows that only 247 people signed the petition before it closed this year on April Fools' Day.
Well, I say 247 signed up to it but that actually includes a few names that are clearly fictitious (Hooray Henry Chinless-Twit), and some that are actually against the petition. Some of the apparent signatories are interesting: a few grouse moor owners, the current chair of the Moorland Association, the former and current Chief Executives of the Scottish Countryside Alliance and a couple of trustees of Songbird Survival. Call me cynical but these are the people who always seem to me to be rather more anti-raptor than they are pro-wader.
You can also read the 10 Downing Street response to those 247 people - and the response seems to me to be eminently reasonable and encouragingly well-informed.
Breeding waders are in trouble in the UK - particularly in the south of England and Wales. Their numbers have been hit by land drainage, flooding, the switch from spring to autumn cereal sowing, silage cutting, maybe climate change and in some places probably by increases in numbers of generalist predators such as crows and foxes (particularly foxes, I think). Much of our work is spent working with land-owners and trying to influence government policy so that the right habitat is in place for these birds - and we do have some successes. And we recognise that, in some cases, control (that often, but not always, means killing) of predators such as foxes can help wader populations recover. However, the generalised swipes at almost any predator contained in the Save the Waders campaign were clearly not well thought through and I guess that's why it was so unsuccessful.
In contrast, at the Game Fair over the weekend 600 people signed up to our bird of prey pledge which aims to show politicians that people want legal protection of birds of prey to remain. That pledge now has well over 140,000 signatories. This certainly doesn't mean that more people like birds of prey than like waders - but it does seem to show that people are keen to add their voices to help sort out real issues and they see illegal killing of birds of prey as a real issue.
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