In (definitely) my last blog of the year and indeed the decade, I am delighted to be able to report some more news (mainly good) to add to my review of the year published earlier in the week…

…first, some great news from Bangalore where six Himalayan Griffon vultures have been successfully released from an aviary.  The Himalayan Griffons used for this pilot release phase have been rehabilitated over the past three years and are slightly less endangered than the resident species which are the main focus of our conservation work.  The three resident species being bred at the centre are those that have crashed most dramatically due to the use of diclofenac and other drugs in domestic cattle.  Our vulture programme manager, Chris Bowden, attended the release (and took the image below) and said that “all six are marked with individually coded wing-tags for identification in the field, but most significantly, two were fitted with satellite tracking devices, so their movements and survival can be monitored over the coming months and years. This longer-term monitoring is crucial for understanding the safety of the environment, and how these vultures fare in future. The release is a pilot for future releases of the captive-bred birds at the West Bengal Vulture centre, and if all goes well, we hope to release some of the Critically Endangered species with similar transmitter devices in a year’s time.”

…second, some promising news from Scotland as First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said that licensing of driven grouse shooting could be introduced sooner than the five years recommended in the Independent Grouse Moor Review published yesterday.  We don’t think the review has gone far enough and so were heartened by Ms Sturgeon’s comments.  Driven grouse shooting needs reform either side of the border and we need rapid action to restore our uplands for wildlife and the climate.

Mark Thomas' image of a female hen harrier (rspb-images.com)

…and third, some mixed news from the Queen’s Speech which includes a large legislative programme of direct relevance to the environment.  As expected, there is a bunch of bills relating to Brexit (Withdrawal Agreement, Agriculture, Fisheries, Trade etc), but it is particularly pleasing to see the Environment Bill return.  As you can read in the very large guidance note published alongside the Speech, the stated aim is “to protect and improve the environment for future generations”.  It will “enshrine in law environmental principles and legally-binding targets, including for air quality” and “establish a new, world-leading independent regulator in statute”.  It will also help protect nature by “mandating ‘biodiversity net gain’ into the planning system, ensuring new houses aren’t built at the expense of nature and delivering thriving natural spaces for communities. We will improve protection for our natural habitats through Local Nature Recovery Strategies”.  The last time we saw the Bill, we had were pleased with its broad shape but we identified areas for improvement which were essential to ensure that it delivered its stated purpose – especially the need for a clause to maintain existing environmental standards.  This is particularly important given that the Withdrawal Agreement Bill is also silent on the matter.  If you remember, the Theresa May Withdrawal Agreement included strong measures to prevent the so-called non-regression of environmental standards.  This is absent from the Boris Johnson version with only a small reference to level-playing field provisions in the political declaration governing a future trade deal.  We have a lot of work to do to salvage this. On Agriculture, it is good to see the commitment to “a seven-year agricultural transition period in England during which Direct Payments will be phased out”, the introduction of “a new system where we pay for public goods including environmental protection, access to the countryside, and work to reduce flooding”.  This is welcome especially because the Conservative Party Manifesto has guaranteed that the current annual budget to farmers will remain in place in every year of this Parliament meaning that there should be a major increase in support for nature friendly farming.  On Fisheries, the welcome intention is “to deliver the manifesto commitment to establish legal commitments to fishing sustainably and the legal requirement for the plan to achieve maximum sustainable yield for each stock”.  There are also new bills proposed for devolution in England, national infrastructure, science and research all of which gives the impression that next year is going to be full on.

Ben Andrew's image of swifts to serve as a reminder of the wonder of migration and of the fact that summer is not that far away (rspb-images.com)

2020 has been labelled a super year because of the global agreements we need to strike on climate, nature and sustainable development.  It is now clear that it will also be a massive year at home as the environmental legal and governance framework for nature conservation and land/sea use needs to be recreated post Brexit. 

As we enter the new decade, the RSPB is determined to play our part to influence the action nature needs at home and internationally.

For now though, I wish you joy and peace over the festive season. 

Here's to saving more nature in 2020.

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