• Whatever makes you happy, I won't stand in the way

    One of my favourite Bob Dylan tracks, 'If you see her, say hello' , from perhaps my favourite Bob Dylan album, 'Blood on the tracks', contains the line 'Whatever makes her happy, I won't stand in her way' .  But what does make her happy?

    That's what the Westminster Government says it wants to know from you all.

    It takes very little time to fill in the online questionnaire (I've done it…

    • 8 Mar 2011
  • Looking back and looking forward

    In life, nature conservation or even politics it is sometimes sensible to look back and learn from the past before focussing on the future. 

    Twenty one wildlife charities in Wildlife and Countryside Link (including RSPB) have just published a joint assessment of the Government’s progress on the 2010 biodiversity target.  Guess what?   We didn’t halt biodiversity loss by the end of 2010!

    This was always going…

    • 7 Mar 2011
  • Eastern delight

    The oriental turtle dove that turned up in a garden in Chipping Norton back in February is still being seen.  This is a very rare bird in the UK and February seems a pretty odd time for one to turn up.

    But hundreds of twitchers have paid £5 to get the chance to see the bird and got a thrill out of it.  The home owners, the Akers family, have been brilliantly tolerant and welcoming to all those birders who have queued…

    • 6 Mar 2011
  • Spring

    My walk at Stanwick Lakes today tells me that it's early spring.  And of course there was a spring in my step as I looked up the Nene Valley to Nene Park, scene of the mighty Rushden's 5-1 victory over Bath City on Tuesday and, no doubt, another massive victory over Hayes and Yeading this afternoon.  Where is Hayes, or Yeading, anyway?  I guess they had to look Rushden up on a map to be fair.

    But back to the birds…

    • 5 Mar 2011
  • Having a PEA

    Last Wednesday evening I attended the first ever People and Environment Achievement awards.  The winners were an amazing bunch of people.

    I met some existing friends and had some interesting conversations with new acquaintances. 

    And I won a case of wine in the raffle - I never win raffles though.

    • 5 Mar 2011
  • Lose 7

    The infamously undemocratic nature of Schedule 7 of the Public Bodies Bill has, it seems, been recognised by the government - although maybe not in exactly those terms.

    In the Hansard text for Monday (Column 799) the Government announced that Schedule 7 will be dumped.  Hooray! 

    Previously referred to here as the 'Pending Tray', Schedule 7 included a large number of Public Bodies whose fate could have been decided by…

    • 4 Mar 2011
  • Throwing it all away

    Commissioner Maria Damanaki has put the catfish amongst the pigeons by suggesting a potential future ban on discarding fish from catches in a reformed Common Fisheries Policy.  It's good to start thinking about these things and we welcome the initiative of Commissioner Damanaki.  Catching fish that you then throw back into the sea dead is wasteful and immoral.  That's the problem - but it isn't clear what is the solution…

    • 3 Mar 2011
  • Killing things

    I know that the posting of this blog, at this time in the morning - so late - will slightly irritate some readers who are early risers but I hope that you will cut me a bit of slack after last night's big win.  I refer, of course, to Rushden and Diamonds's 5-1 victory over Bath City.  As you know, I'm not one to complain but... even Bath's single goal was the result of an appalling penalty decision by the referee…

    • 2 Mar 2011
  • Live for ever?

    A landowner, whom I know, tried to post the following comment on last Thursday's blog but failed.  Because he raises some interesting points I am posting his comments here and commenting on them.

    PM wrote: Mark -  It sounds as if Hope Farm is going really well.  Many congratulations. However you say that “winter counts aren’t the most important counts – the real measure of success is in breeding numbers” .…

    • 1 Mar 2011
  • 'Newspaper' misses point on CAP subsidies

    The Mail on Sunday ran a 'story' yesterday on the 'fact' that Richard Benyon, A Defra Minister, earns £2m from EU farm subsidies.  On closer reading you will find that the £2m is over a 10-year period and so averages out at £200k per annum.  

    And the Mail on Sunday states that 100,000 UK farmers share £3bn in farm subsidies which means they average out at around £30k per farm per annum…

    • 28 Feb 2011
  • Top of the pots

    The latest edition of Which? Gardening magazine has compared various brands of compost for effectiveness and value for money. Their horticultural experts planted hundreds of flowers and vegetables in 21 different brands of compost – and guess what? Peat-free came top of the pots yet again.

    New Horizon Peat Free compost wins for the second consecutive year. This goes to show that peat-free can produce the kind of…

    • 26 Feb 2011
  • Don't forget Lydd - we won't

    The public enquiry on the proposed airport at Lydd is under way.  RSPB staff will be giving evidence - probably next week.

    Last week, amid the forestry hooha, the Independent featured the issues at Lydd in a long piece by Mike McCarthy. 

    • 25 Feb 2011
  • Hope Farm - winter birds on the up

    Unlike almost any other farm in the country we count wintering birds systematically at Hope Farm - it's not surprising really is it? 

    This means that we can, and do, produce a winter bird index (months of December, January and February) each year to compare the wintering bird population of Hope Farm now with that when we took over the management of the farm over a decade ago.  There is no national annual survey of…

    • 24 Feb 2011
  • Bogs and logs

    I don't always agree with Charles Clover but he is always worth reading.  Last weekend he was arguing that there is a lot of unfinished business with forestry - a line not that dissimilar from our own in the RSPB.  And although Charles's article in the Sunday Times is pretty robustly written our view is simply that this is an opportunity for further improvement in how our forests and other land are managed by the…

    • 23 Feb 2011
  • Let sleeping bogs lie

    There is four times as much carbon stored in our peat bogs as in our woodlands.  And yet the save our bogs campaign has hardly got off the ground - or should that be into it?

    In fact, 60% of the peat we use is imported from Ireland so we are now trashing somebody else's bogs.  But the carbon released from oxidised peat affects us all and every other living thing on Earth. We should let sleeping bogs lie rather than…

    • 22 Feb 2011
  • Three reserves

    I've been lucky enough to visit three RSPB nature reserves over the last few days.

    On Friday it was work, visiting Frampton Marsh with a VIP visitor.  Brrrr - it was cold, but the volunteers at the small visitor centre gave as a warm welcome as did a variety of raptors - there were hen harrier, marsh harrier, sparrowhawk and merlin seen in the first few minutes of our visit.  But no rough-legged buzzard - another example…

    • 21 Feb 2011
  • Could you do this?

    The RSPB has a vacancy for the Director of Conservation - it's a great job!

    • 20 Feb 2011
  • Spring is in the air?

    The other day, as I crossed the lake in St James's Park I stopped and rested my hands on the handrail of the bridge and it felt very cold - cold enough for me to put my hands back in my jacket pockets.  But in the water below me was a black-headed gull with an almost completely black head.  It seemed far ahead of all the other bhgs on the water or flying around.  It must think spring is closer than its mates do, or than…

    • 19 Feb 2011
  • Sharing with colleagues

    Defra civil servants will be working hard on the Natural Environment White Paper.  It may be around now that they are circulating drafts to colleagues in other government Departments to get their ideas and hopefully enthusiastic endorsement.  There are several other departments whose enthusiastic endorsement and collaboration would be good to have; the Treasury, Communities and Local Government, Health, Energy and Climate…

    • 18 Feb 2011
  • It's official

    This is Caroline Spelman's statement on the future of forestry in England:

    “I would first like to say that I take full responsibility for the situation that brings me before the House today.

    “Let me make it clear that we have always placed the highest priority on preserving access and protecting our forests. But the forestry clauses in the Public Bodies Bill, published well before we launched the consultation…

    • 17 Feb 2011
  • All change on forests - or no change on forests?

    How dramatic!  The Prime Minister kills off his own policy in a brutal and public manner (BBC, Guardian, Independent). 

    The RSPB is quoted as follows in the Independent: "If the Government abandons the policy, that is fine by us. This whole debate has shown the public care about forests and how we are going to have better ones in the future.".

    The consultation on the future of forests will be scrapped (does…

    • 17 Feb 2011
  • Forests again

    It's not quite clear what the Prime Minister thinks about selling off forests.  That's understandable - it's difficult to make a U-turn on a Big Society flagship issue. 

    It would be a pity though if the role of the State in forestry weren't looked at a bit more closely.  And the consultation period should allow that to happen.

    How about starting by looking at the inheritance tax treatment of forestry,…

    • 17 Feb 2011
  • F and F - forests and farming.

    Early yesterday morning I was on Farming Today talking about the RSPB's lack of ambition to take over the New Forest and our idea for a Forest and Wildlife Service.  There's an interesting piece on barn owls first but I appear just over 3 minutes into the programme.  You might notice that I stressed that we would be quite happy with the status quo but that if the Government is going to flog off some forests then…

    • 16 Feb 2011
  • Forests of course, but mostly a look back at set-aside

    I was interested to see the FT Westminster blog pick up on the fact that we aren't pushing ourselves forward to run the New Forest. 

    And I've done a radio interview with Farming Today (BBC R4) and a TV interview with the Politics Show (BBC1 - Sunday) on the same subject.  Everybody is talking forests at the moment.

    So let's talk about something else.  I was interested to see the Agriculture and Forestry (ooops…

    • 15 Feb 2011
  • A Forest and Wildlife Service - let's have one please.

    The Government may have bought itself some time whilst the consultation on the future of our forests runs its course.  I bet they are tempted to jack it all in and say that they’ll keep everything the same just to get out of the position that they are in.  And if they do, then that’s fine by us. 

    Except surely we should use the consultation to think deeply about the future role of the state in forestry as a…

    • 14 Feb 2011