I usually spend summer half term at my wife’s family hut on the Northumberland coast.  This year was meant to be different because I was due to be in Norway with the Cairngorms Connect team – to be inspired by landscapes which are analogous to the vision we have for the Highlands.  Instead, of course, I spent a week at home.  To expand my home range, I fixed my bike and explored the Cambridgeshire countryside heading out to Wicken Fen, Fen Drayton, Fowlmere and Magog Down.  It helped to clear my head and get away from the increasingly depressing news. 

The hedgerows were alive with the songs of warblers and buntings, buzzards and red kites flew lazily in the blue sky, cuckoos and even turtle doves joined skylarks to provide the soundtrack to trips.  I was so relaxed by the rhythm of riding that I didn’t berate myself (or anyone else) for not checking the RSPB website when I arrived at Fowlmere to find that it remained closed because of Covid-19. 

Ben Andrew's wonderful image of a cuckoo (rspb-images.com)

The only time I turned on my computer was to join a BirdLife International zoom meeting to allow partners to share their experiences from the pandemic.  In many ways, the Covid crisis has brought the partnership together because we have all been affected.  Everyone is working from home, nearly all practical conservation has ceased, most partners have suffered financial losses.  But, we have helped the public connect to nature to help lift their spirits, we have highlighted the message that converting and degrading ecosystems increases the risk of emergence of zoonotic diseases such as Covid-19 and we have backed the new campaign to extend the UN Declaration of Human Rights to include a right to a healthy environment.

Sadly, there are worrying similarities to the way that nature is being negatively affected around the world during lockdown.  As we reported a couple of weeks ago (and was covered by both Channel 4 news and Countryfile this weekend), the RSPB has received a surge in reports of birds of prey being illegally killed since lockdown began with the majority of incidents on or close to sporting estates managed for game bird shooting.  Yet there are many reports of wildlife being targeted during lockdown for example a rise in poaching in Africa and BirdLife Malta reported “the worst spring hunting season ever” during which not only were a record number of protected birds witnessed being shot down, but also thousands of protected and vulnerable Turtle-doves were shot. 

Elsewhere we are hearing of weakening of environmental protections in countries like Greece and Slovenia which will make it easier for inappropriate development to proceed in some of Europe’s most important wildlife sites.  Of course, protected areas remain vulnerable at home and last week we concluded that, based on evidence submitted by EDF, “Sizewell C cannot be built without detrimentally impacting internationally and nationally important landscapes, habitats and species of the Suffolk coast, at RSPB Minsmere nature reserve, Sizewell Belts SSSI and beyond”.  

This is why the priority for BirdLife partners will be to make the case for a genuinely green economic recovery to help countries emerge from the Covid-19 crisis.  A fortnight ago, we joined forces with sixty other NGOs and businesses to urge the UK Prime Minister to come up with the right long term response to the crisis and last week we made similar representations to the First Ministers in Wales and Northern Ireland.  This is a fertile area of debate and it was pleasing to see the interim report of the Environmental Justice Commission (which we have supported) outline the key areas where they think progress can be made – and how people must be put at the heart of our plans to tackle the climate and ecological emergency.  New Zealand seem to have reached that conclusion already having announced $1.1billion to create 11,000 new jobs to help restore the environment.

While politicians must continue to do everything they can to reduce the impact of the pandemic on our health, they also need cool heads to come up with the right long term economic response.  They must avoid pursuing environmentally destructive, short-term growth through badly sited and poorly designed infrastructure projects and instead, use this moment to drive a recovery that works for people and our shared nature.  This is the message BirdLife International partners (including the UK partner, the RSPB) will take to governments around the world with the support of our ten million members.