• In search of happiness

    A colleague told me on Friday that he was off to Bhutan for a holiday.  As he is a Manchester United fan, I thought that he was simply escaping the ridicule of City fans, but of course he was in search of wonderful wildlife.  Whenever I think of Bhutan I think of snow leopards - a species which I searched for in vain for many months in the 1990s in Mongolia, a near neighbour.  But I also think of their famous National Happiness…

    • 31 Oct 2011
  • Let's hear it for the gulls

    If you ever take a trip through Salt Lake City, Utah, you may notice a curious monument. Prominently situated outside the Salt Lake Assembly Hall, it looks a bit like Nelson’s column. But, instead of an heroic Admiral of the Fleet, this particular monument has a pair of bronze gulls perched on its top.

    This is a commemoration of the so-called “miracle of the gulls”. Mormon folklore says that the first harvest…

    • 29 Oct 2011
  • 7 billion reasons to rethink our economy

    It is predicted that the world population will reach 7 billion on Monday.  At want time the 7 billionth human will be born and to which lucky mother, I do not know.  But it is a time to reflect on what it means for us and the other millions of species on which we share this planet.

    Population growth is a contentious, complex (and occasionally a taboo) subject given its links to reproductive health rights, migration, religious…

    • 28 Oct 2011
  • In praise of a national treasure

    I grew up watching David Attenborough.  His programmes always inspired and they fuelled my teenage desire to visit beautiful places to see fabulous wildlife.  The DVDs of his earlier series are now helping to open the eyes of my kids to the wonders of the natural world.  It was, therefore, an unexpected joy to bump into his new series, Frozen Planet, last night.

    As ever, the programme was a mix of the spectacular (icebergs…

    • 27 Oct 2011
  • Cementing our relationships

    We all like to receive the plaudits of our peers, but do Award ceremonies really matter?  In recent weeks the RSPB has been invited to a number - and it appears we are in the middle of the Awards season.  But what do they actually achieve?  Well, for two recent award ceremonies - it was great to hear about the worthy winners. The first was Chris Dowse, the Estate Manager of Sir Richard Sutton's Settled Estates in Lincolnshire…

    • 26 Oct 2011
  • Debating Europe - time to redirect political attention?

    It turns out that 111 MPs defied the party whips to vote for a referendum on our membership of the European Union.  I find it odd that so much emotional energy has been and still is invested in debating this issue.  At times I wish as much effort was invested in trying to reform existing EU policies and regulations.  As the Foreign Secretary said in yesterday's debate, this is not the time for the UK to be marginalised when…

    • 25 Oct 2011
  • Birding with the kids - a piece of cake?

    Am staying In North Kent with friends for the first bit of half-term.  With the weather at its autumnal best it seemed like a good idea to offer to take a selection of the kids (there are rather a lot of them) to Elmley Marshes.  Alas, these trips are never as straightforward as they seem.

    Leaving the little ones (5, 4 and 3) behind, I packed the big kids (11, 9 and 7) into the courtesy car (thanks to that muntjac) and…

    • 24 Oct 2011
  • A murderous million

    The million number quite often crops up in conversations at the RSPB. We’re very proud and grateful that we have over a million members, for example. It’s generally a good number – the “magic million”. Over the next few weeks I’ll be mentioning it quite often, almost always in a good way.

    But I’m going to start my million theme with a negative example – a murderous million, if you…

    • 21 Oct 2011
  • The hundred's up - it's time to take stock

    It is now nearly six months since I took on the post of Conservation Director for the RSPB.  It has been quite a ride.  Extremely enjoyable but with a few bumps along the way.

    In that time I have also written over one hundred blog entries.  Much to my surprise I have rarely been short of inspiration.  I think that's partly because the outside world has been busy: the UKNEA, NEWP, NIAs, EBS, CAP, NPPF and any other acronym…

    • 20 Oct 2011
  • Deer! Oh dear.

    A headline in the Daily Mail grabbed my attention yesterday -  "Why Bambi's on a collision course: Two-foot muntjac deer cause 42,000 crashes every year".  

    It was not just that more evidence had emerged about the costs of non-native invasive species, but also because I have recent personal experience to draw upon. 

    On my way home on Monday I suffered my own collision with a poor unsuspecting muntjac.  The…

    • 19 Oct 2011
  • Do you want to change the world?

    Lobbying has been in the news all week.

    Well guess what - we want to influence politicians as well.  And what are we selling?  A world richer in nature. 

    So if you want to change the world, love politics and have what it takes to get people working for you, then we might just have the ideal job for you. 

    This is what we need:

    We are looking for an exceptional individual to lead the development and implementation of…

    • 17 Oct 2011
  • How green is the Government? 29 critical friends have their say

    Today, 29 organisations have joined forces to provide an analysis of the UK Government’s natural environment commitments.

    We have called this report Nature Check and you can read it here.

    Our starting point is that we want this and every government that follows to aspire to be and then be the greenest ever.  Each government should want, as this one has said it does, to pass on the environment in a better state…

    • 14 Oct 2011
  • Does the CAP fit?

    In short, the answer is no.

    We are, as expected, disappointed with the new draft Common Agriculture Policy regulations.  We still need to get to grips with all of the detail, but the proposals are consistent with earlier statements and recent rumours.  This means there is likely to be a reduced pot of funds to support wildlife-friendly farming - down about 7%.  The summary here provides a good overview of the proposals…

    • 13 Oct 2011
  • Oil's well that ends (the North Uist) well

    Well, the third red bus came along as predicted, and this one is running on oil.

    The Independent has seen internal Government documents that show that BP is willing to risk the world’s biggest pollution disaster – double the size of the Gulf of Mexico spill - if Energy Secretary Chris Huhne grants a licence to drill its ‘North Uist’ exploratory well in wildlife-rich waters off the Shetland Islands.…

    • 12 Oct 2011
  • A red bus day for the environment?

    When I lived in London, I remember waiting in the rain for the number 37 bus to appear to take me home to Sydenham Hill (a lovely place - we lived in a flat on the doorstep of the largest remnant of the Great North Wood).  I can testify that red buses do indeed come in threes.  You just have to be patient.  Very, very patient.

    Today is nearly the environmental equivalent of a red bus day.  We have two significant discussions…

    • 12 Oct 2011
  • Who cares about nature?

    I mused last week about whether the public appetite for nature conservation had suffered during the economic crisis.  So, it was wonderfully reassuring to hear at the weekend that Defra had received 76 applications for funding of landscape scale conservation initiatives - so-called Nature Improvement Areas .  The applicants are all vying for the £7.5 million that Defra made available to support twelve projects.  The funds…

    • 11 Oct 2011
  • It's a big week - are you paying attention?

    It’s a big week for agriculture – and wildlife – as the European Commission readies itself to unveil its proposals for a reformed Common Agricultural Policy.  Whether you are a farmer, an environmentalist, a Defra minister or even if you are a turtle dove - you probably should be paying attention.

    Ask most people about the CAP and they will tell you dramatic stories about butter mountains and wine lakes…

    • 10 Oct 2011
  • What keeps you awake at night?

    For some it is a crying baby and for others it is the fate of their football team.  But what if you were the Biodiversity Minister - what might make you restless?

    Richard Benyon always gives me the impression that he has everything under control and nothing can phase him.  But, I wonder if even he might be losing a little sleep over a commitment that was made in the England Biodiversity Strategy which was published in August…

    • 7 Oct 2011
  • Leadership on the environment?

    It was quite a speech.  Quite a long speech in fact - fifty minutes in length.  You can read it in full on the Telegraph website (my new favourite newspaper for its campaigning stance on planning reform).   And out of the 6,106 words that the Prime Minister spoke, how many did he dedicate to the environment?  Erm, I am not sure.  It was not a lot.  This is what I found:

    "This is the new economy we’re building: leading in advanced…

    • 6 Oct 2011
  • Is the Government listening?

    In the past couple of days we have had two clear signs that the Government is willing to listen to public concerns over planning.

    First we heard the news we had been waiting for for a long time that the Secretary of State was backing a decision to block a housing estate at South Ascot, close to the Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area, home to nightjars, Dartford warblers and woodlarks.

    Then the icing on the…

    • 5 Oct 2011
  • Let's hear what you have to say, Prime Minister

    At about 2.30pm today, the Prime Minister will address the Conservative party conference. 

    This marks the end to the conference season (no doubt to the relief of many, including the RSPB's hardworking but knackered parliamentary team who have been on the road for three weeks).

    But it is also a moment for the Prime Minister to reflect on his government’s performance and renew his commitment to his own personal mission…

    • 5 Oct 2011
  • Going green or turning grey?

    On Sunday afternoon, the Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman said that “going green was not just a moral imperative, it was an economic imperative.” 

    Quite right!

    And this chimes with the National Ecosystems Assessment which concluded that if we ignore the environment we risk damaging the long term health of our economy.

    And it is also consistent with findings in the latest RSPB report Natural Foundations…

    • 4 Oct 2011
  • How to debate the future of Europe

    There are two ways to debate the role of the EU. 

    First, you can ask whether the UK should be in or out. This was front page news for the Sunday Times and the Observer yesterday and no doubt will be a topic that draws in the crowds at Conservative Party conference this week in Manchester. 

    But there is another debate – one about how the EU should operate and, for example, spend one trillion euros of European taxpayers…

    • 3 Oct 2011
  • It's a waste

    The RSPB does many things, but we don’t do work much on waste.

    Yet, this week we’ve two rather eye catching initiatives. The first is yesterday’s announcement by the Coalition Government that they’ve found £250 million to encourage local authorities to return to weekly household bin collections. 

    Well done Mister Pickles for finding the money – I wish I had that stashed behind my sofa.…

    • 1 Oct 2011