I want to end the week with some good news: for mountain hares, for farm standards, for waterbirds and for albatrosses.

First, it was fantastic to hear that after more than 10 years of advocacy, this week we finally secured protection for mountain hares in Scotland from large scale grouse moor culls following a vote in the Scottish Parliament (relating to an amendment the Animal Welfare Bill).  This news was incredibly welcome because research from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology and the RSPB in 2018 revealed that mountain hare numbers on moorlands in the eastern Highlands have declined to less than one per cent of their initial levels.  Action was needed and I am delighted to say that Scottish Parliament has acted.  Many congratulations to all those MSPs and NGOs (including my colleagues from RSPB Scotland) who worked tirelessly to secure the change.  I hope that this is the first of many steps that the Scottish Government takes in response to the Werritty Review to reform management of grouse moors.  And, I hope that the Westminster Government is inspired to act to reform grouse moor management in England.

Ben Andrew's image of a mountain hare sticking out its tongue (rspb-images.com)

Second, congratulations are also due to the NFU for reaching a million signatures for their petition to maintain environmental standards for farming through future trade deals.  We have supported this campaign and have been working through Greener UK to change the Westminster Agriculture Bill that is currently being debated in the House of Lords.  We need legal assurances that farmers in the UK are not undercut by imported food produced to lower environmental, animal welfare and food safety standards.  As our briefing in says “the Conservative manifesto promised that the Government would not compromise on the UK’s high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards in trade negotiations, and ministers have since repeated these assurances.  However, there has been no detail on how this commitment will be upheld in practice.  It is clear from the negotiating mandates of both the US and EU that they both seek to harmonise environmental, animal welfare and food standards with the UK.  In the case of the US, and some other non-EU countries with which the UK is seeking trade agreements, harmonization of standards would result in a lowering of standards.”  I hope that the UK Government listens to the million voices.  We need commitment to high standards in law with an amendment to require imports of agri-food products into the UK market to have been produced to equivalent environmental, food safety and animal welfare standards as those in the UK.

Third, the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds marked its twenty-fifth anniversary this week.  A subsidiary of the UN Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species, it “brings together countries and the wider international conservation community in an effort to establish coordinated conservation and management of migratory waterbirds throughout their entire migratory range”.  It brings together groups from a range of perspectives from hunting to conservation as well as different geographies from Africa, Europe and parts of Asia.  As a result, it has helped to drive action for a range of threatened species including black-tailed godwit, northern bald ibis and sociable lapwing.  It feels like one of the treaties where you get out what you put in and the RSPB is happy to continue to make the investment of effort, because it makes a tangible contribution to saving our shared nature.

And finally, today is World Albatross Day, a chance both to celebrate the majestic wonder of this group of seabirds while also marking the incredible impact of the Albatross Task Force which is led by the RSPB and BirdLife International.  To my mind, this remains the most successful trans-continental conservation programme in the world working to end the incidental capture of seabirds in fisheries (bycatch), which  continues to drive population declines all around the world.  It’s been running for 15 years and our dedicated team of seabird bycatch experts have achieved amazing results.  By working both on board vessels, showing fishing crews simple ways to stop killing seabirds, and with government to implement regulations, we’ve demonstrated that things can drastically change for the better.  South Africa has been a shining example of how this is can work, with an astounding 99% reduction in albatross deaths since our team started there in 2006.  Nonetheless, 15 of 22 albatross species today remain critically threatened.  So, we have a lot more to do.  There have been great talks from a range of experts all week and at midday today there is a live Q&A with them.  Do join if you can!

Atlantic yellow-nosed albatross (rspb-images.com)