It has been quite a year.

The UK vote to leave the European Union has dominated the political agenda and continues to pose both jeopardy and opportunity for environmental protection.  And while the excitement/turmoil will continue in 2019, some important markers were set in 2018 in terms of…

…renewed ambition to restore nature in a generation as laid out in the 25 Year Environment Plan launched by the Prime Minister in January

…clear statement in the draft Withdrawal Agreement about non-regression of environmental protection including banking existing laws, environmental principles and replacing the enforcement powers of the European institutions

…commitments in England and Wales at least for future agriculture support to be guided by the principle that public money should be used for public goods (i.e. those things you cannot buy at the till such as an attractive countryside rich in wildlife).

By this time next year, we need these commitments to have been translated into new laws, new institutions and new funding across the UK to drive nature’s recovery.  And, we need the Prime Minister to have committed to investing UK diplomatic effort to secure for an ambitious global deal for nature in 2020.

The state of nature (both globally and nationally) demands this response and the public appetite for action is growing, as demonstrated by Chris Packham’s brilliant Walk for Wildlife and the disruptive arrival of Extinction Rebellion.

Next year, the RSPB will go through the gears and do more to encourage our supporters to use their voices for nature as we develop our Let Nature Sing campaign

For now, though, and in the spirit of Earth Optimism, here are some highlights from the RSPB year that once again show that we can (thanks to our brilliant staff, volunteers, supporters and partners) make things better for wildlife.

Capercaillie should benefit from the Endangered Landscapes Programme (Dave Braddock)

We continue to contribute to our ambition for 20% of land and 10% of our seas to be well managed for nature by 2025. 

This year we…

…assumed responsibility for two new reserves: a) Sherwood Forest which is an iconic site supporting hundreds of ancient trees including the 1,140 year old Major Oak, a rich variety of rare invertebrates, and is in the top 10 sites in the UK for species associated with decaying wood and b) Franchise’s Lodge which is 386 hectares in the New Forest National Park providing us an opportunity of protecting existing broadleaf woodland, enhancing areas of wood pasture and recreating open heath.  Both sites are really important important for woodland birds such as wood warblers, lesser spotted woodpeckers, hawfinches, tree pipits and spotted flycatchers. The fabulous RSPB nature reserve network now helps protect over 16,000 species on 219 reserves covering c.159,000 hectares across the UK.

…entered a new partnership with Snowdonia National Park Authority (SNPA), Dwr Cymru and the Woodland Trust on a 7-year EU LIFE project.  The Celtic Rainforest LIFE Project will improve the conservation status of the ‘temperate rainforests of Europe, by managing woodland habitats to control invasive, non-native species, introduce grazing and identify sources of atmospheric nitrogen pollution. The project is expected to benefit our priority Lobarion lichen communities on Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and RSPB reserves. 

Atlantic Oak woodland (Colin Wilkinson)

…joined forces with Scottish Natural Heritage, Wildland Ltd, and Forest Enterprise Scotland to secure new funds for Cairngorm Connect, the biggest habitat restoration project in the UK. Funds from the Endangered Landscapes Programme will help us meet our bold and ambitious 200-year vision to enhance habitats (such as Caledonian pinewood), 5,000 species (including capercaillie and 11 raptor species) and ecological processes across 600 square kilometres, within the Cairngorms National Park.

…restored Blue Circle Island in Larne Lough RSPB reserve in partnership with BirdWatch Ireland and the North Wales Wildlife Trust, under the roseate tern EU LIFE recovery project. Blue Circle and Swan islands are home to at least one pair of roseate terns, one of the largest sandwich tern colonies in the UK, and host common terns as well as Mediterranean and black-headed gulls. This c0.6 ha of artificial island is expected to become a key colony for the roseate terns. On top of that, Coquet island roseate terns bred in the highest numbers (118 pairs) for nearly fifty years, and a pair bred on the Skerries (Anglesey) for the first time in 12 years! 

…saw some fabulous results from our long-running project to restore 670 ha of coastal wetlands in Essex, creating the Wallasea Island nature reserve, Europe’s largest coastal wetland restoration project. The saline lagoons are now home to 88 pairs of avocets and 46 pairs of Mediterranean gulls, and in time are expected to host other species that historically bred in the UK, such as spoonbills and Kentish plovers 

…celebrated, with our BirdLife Partner, the Society for National Conservation of Liberia (who the RSPB has supported for many years), the launch of the Gola Forest National Park in Liberia.  This provides momentum for protecting up to 500,000 hectares of the Upper Guinea Forest through the Greater Gola Landscape and create a transboundary park (with Sierra Leone) that will set an example to the rest of the world.

…received the great news that the Ascension government is currently consulting on making the largest ocean sanctuary in the Atlantic. The tracking data analysed from 16 Gentoo penguins revealed that they are travelling 25nm from the island to feed - twice as far as the no-take zone that currently exists around the island. Hopes lie with the South Georgia government, which is considering the results of this penguin tracking data. 

Our new reserve at Franchises Lodge in the New Forest (Terry Bagley)

We continue to take action to protect and restore species.  

This year we…

…declared the seabird colony of Shiant Isles rat-free. This success was thanks to a four-year EU LIFE funded partnership project with the Nicolson family and Scottish Natural Heritage to restore the isles and secure safe nesting grounds for seabirds. As a result, in September the project team confirmed the first record in living memory of European storm petrel breeding! It is now anticipated that seabirds such as puffins, razorbills, and guillemots will see improved breeding successes and it is hoped that Manx shearwaters will follow storm petrels and begin to nest on the islands.  

…recorded the highest number of wirebirds on St Helena island reaching 627 adults from only 250 species recorded in 1999. Since 2014 when feral cat removal started, the population increased by 68%! 

… the RSPB together with Scottish Natural Heritage and Orkney Islands Council secured £6 million to remove the stoat population on the Orkney islands and offer a safe habitat to the Orkney vole, ground-nesting waders, seabirds and divers. The Orkneys are also the most northerly of the UK's great yellow bumblebee populations; at Marwick Head, 242 great yellow bumblebees were recorded on a single visit, marking 2018 as the best year for the species.  

…we worked with the Sovereign Base Area in Cyprus to tackle the problem of illegal hunting supported by campaigns led by Chris Packham and CABS. This helped to reduce illegal bird trapping by 79%, meaning 620,000 birds flew free, including species like blackcaps, robins, and red-backed shrikes. 

…celebrated the launch of a much-needed action plan to save our most rapidly declining migratory bird: the turtle dove.  The plan is supported by 50 countries and includes key actions such as developing National Conservation Strategies for turtle-doves, creating Priority Intervention Areas where breeding habitats are specifically managed for turtle-doves, and ensuring that no measures that are detrimental are financed under the new EU Common Agricultural Policy framework.  What’s more In countries where it is legal to hunt the species, the Action Plan calls for a temporary suspension of hunting, under the precautionary principal, until Adaptive Harvest Management can be put in place to ensure that the level of take is compatible with the long-term conservation of the species.

…through the SAVE partnership, we celebrated the hugely significant milestone in the ambition to recover the critically endangered white-rumped vultures.  12 birds were released into the wild in Nepal including the first eight birds which had been bred in captivity.  This follows the release last year of birds reared (but not hatched) in captivity and is another important step in establishing secure wild populations now that the veterinary use of diclofenac (used in cattle and toxic to vultures) has been stopped in Nepal.   

...the Albatross Task Force (part of the BirdLife International Marine Programme hosted by the RSPB) played a major role in regulations coming into force in Argentina in 2018 that require trawl vessels to use bird-scaring lines, a life-line to the 13,500 albatrosses that are being killed each year.

…we supported the Russian head-starting programme for spoon-billed sandpipers, which has already resulted in a 20% increase in productivity. Moreover, three birds have been fitted with satellite tags, disclosing a total of 700+ sightings in: Bangladesh, China, Japan, Myanmar, Russia, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand. Tagged birds have potentially revealed an important moulting site in North Korea. This was supported by great news from China – the host of the crucial 2020 Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity- of the and their plans to bolster coastal habitat conservation and restoration along the Yellow Sea.

Spoon-billed Sandpiper chicks (Pavel Tomkovitch)

And finally, today we report that the UK population of cranes is now at its highest level since the 1700s. This magnificent bird had a bumper breeding year with a record 54 pairs produced 25 chicks, bringing the total population to around 180 birds. This is all down to the dedication of individuals, the UK Crane Working Group and conservation organisations, plus the Great Crane Project – a partnership between the RSPB, WWT and the Pensthorpe Conservation Trust funded by Viridor Credits Environmental Company.

What a year.

Thank you for your support.

And here's to saving more nature together in 2019.

Anonymous