One of the developments of this year’s State of Nature report was the inclusion of commentaries on the UK’s Crown Dependencies – the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. They are part of 'our' archipelago and it seemed right to profile the conservation challenges and opportunities on these islands.
So, I was delighted to visit the Isle of Man with my children for the first time this weekend to participate in a conference celebrating Manx birds. To be clear, I took part in the conference, while my children gallivanted around the island.
Although we have no formal presence on the island, the RSPB has had a longstanding involvement in conservation projects on the Isle of Man and we have about 1,300 members there. Most recently we have had a partnership with Manx BirdLife which evolved from the Manx Bird Atlas of the mid-1990s and who were the co-organisers of the conference.
Before the visit, I was able to tap into the knowledge and experience of colleagues who know the island intimately and even just about managed to get my head around how the Isle of Man might be affected by Brexit (because, although not a member of the EU, its fate is tied up with whatever future trading relationship that the UK forges with the EU). Clearly, as a recently designated UNESCO biosphere reserve, there is considerable pride in the island's natural heritage.
There are signs that nature is faring better on this island than others in our archipelago. As we wrote in the State of Nature report, "bird population trends in the Isle of Man are available between 1998 and 2014. These trends show that 17% of the 104 birds assessed – including wrens, robins, lapwings and yellowhammers – declined over this period; whereas 33% increased, including blackbirds, chaffinches, coal tits, goldfinches and willow warblers."
The importance of the island is demonstrated by a simple coincidence map of threatened bird species (see below).
Coincidence map of breeding species categorised as Endangered, Vulnerable or Near Threatened from European Red List of Birds (2015). The darker the red the more threatened species highlighting the significance of UK for threatened seabirds and the suite of species associated with our uplands. Source: BTO/SOC/Birdwatch Ireland Bird Atlas (2013) and http://www.birdlife.org/europe-and-central-asia/european-red-list-birds-0
Clearly there are differences in terms of the state of nature and the island's culture, but the principle building blocks for conservation on the island will be similar to any other territory across the archipelago and arguably around the world. The Island needs to...
...make more space for nature through delivering more, bigger, better and joined protected areas on land and at sea. The UK signature to the Convention on Biological Diversity has been extended to the Isle of Man and so the island should be looking to fully implement the Aichi targets, which among other things, obliges 17% of land and 10% of seas to be well managed for nature by 2020. With just 4.5% of land covered by Areas of Special Scientific Interest, there is a lot resting on sympathetic land management outside of protected areas.
...improve the conservation prospects of the most threatened species by diagnosing causes of decline, trailing solutions and checking to see if they work. The species that were given particular prominence at the event were curlew, chough, hen harrier and the only bird to adopt the island's name, Manx shearwater. The island has healthy populations of the first three while there is cautious optimism that a project to eradicate longtails (Manx people don't like to say R-A-T by name) on the Calf of Man will help to restore the Manx shearwater to somewhere close to their former glory (10,000 birds).
...and inspire more people to take practical and political action for nature for example by engaging the Tynwald: the oldest continuous parliamentary body in the world.
It is, of course, impossible to get little more than a fleeting impression of a place when you first visit. But the Island seems to benefit from a a strong civil society and the many nature NGOs are clearly working well together. These are important foundations, and the RSPB will continue to do what it can to support Manx BirdLife and its conservation efforts on the island. I hope to go back soon - to catch up with the great people that I met and also, next time, to see more of its wildlife.
Rob, you only have to look at the RSPB Skydancer blog to see the journeys of two Hen harriers from the Isle of Man. They may be in little danger on the Isle but could be vulnerable elsewhere.
Looks like a great model for elsewhere - assume you include landowners as part of 'civil society' all working together with NGOs. It would be fascinating to hear more about the decline in hen harriers on the Isle of Man: "The reason for this drop in numbers is more than a little hazy. Persecution of the species is increasingly well known and portrayed in the media, yet the Isle of Man hen harrier population is allegedly free of persecution. With no grouse shooting on the island, harrier-man conflict is limited: the decline must lie elsewhere." www.wildlifeextra.com/.../hen-harrier-isle-man.html
Meanwhile, look forward to the 2106 national survey results for hen harriers with perhaps a wider analysis beyond just those being persecuted www.rspb.org.uk/.../time-for-change-a-comment-on-the-parliamentary-debate-on-the-future-of-grouse-shooting.aspx.
It is good to have a reasonably hopeful report about a smallish island which seems to be less subjected to commercialism and the unsympathic and dead hand of the Westminster Government. Keep up the good work RSPB in working with them
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