The size of the conservation challenge can be daunting: a growing list of species threatened with extinction, wildlife sites in trouble and the pressures on nature intensifying.
This is why I remain a fan of earth/conservation optimism to demonstrate that we have made progress to improve the natural world - inspiring confidence that we have what it takes to save nature even if it takes one species and one site at a time.
Here are two reminders of what can be achieved through dedication, creativity and persistence.
First, I enjoyed my best wildlife moment of the year watching white-tailed eagles fishing off the west coast of Mull this week (thanks to Mull Charters shown in the photo bottom left). It was my first ever visit to the island which has developed a justified reputation as one of the UK’s premier wildlife tourism destinations. Over 100 years ago, this majestic bird was driven to extinction but thanks to a successful reintroduction programme which started in the mid 1970s, Mull today supports 22 pairs of white-tailed eagles, there are 130 pairs across Scotland with plans for a reintroduction on the Isle of Wight. This is great news for the eagles but also for local communities as we know the draw of the species for example bringing thousands of money-spending tourists to the island contributing jobs and millions of pounds to the Mull economy.
One of the innovations that has reinforced the value of white-tailed eagles to the local community has been the award-winning Mull Eagle Watch (in action in the photo top right). This partnership project with a range of organisations including the Mull & Iona Community Trust helps to protect the birds, engage visitors with the profit supporting local community projects.
But never take this for granted – predators have an uneasy relationship with many and we have more to do to ensure harmonious coexistence.
My second example of conservation optimism is a different success – the culmination of a very long and hard won campaign. Natural England declared a new National Nature Reserve at Bolton Fell Moss in Cumbria on Tuesday. This is an astonishing turn-around for a peat bog that was rapaciously exploited for commercial peat extraction. Back in the 1990s, when sites were being put forward for recognition by the European Habitats Directive, we and others felt that this site should become a Special Area of Conservation because of the rarity of this particular peatland habitat and its potential for restoration. So, Bolton Fell Moss was included in a list of additional sites the NGOs put forward to the European Commission. As the heady days of action again peat extraction culminated in the success of ending extraction on the vast expanses of Thorne Moors, Hatfield Moors and Wedholme Flow in 2004, NGO interest in this issue fell away.
Tony Juniper (Chair of NE) at the centre of the Bolton Fell Moss team delighted at the NNR designation
Yet one remaining candidate European site niggled the RSPB as job not quite done: Bolton Fell Moss. Tucked away in a quiet corner near Carlisle, few knew about this site and unlike at Thorne and Hatfield, there was no local community up in arms about what was going on there. A lone voice, the RSPB chipped away to gain proper recognition for the site, addressing ongoing objections to conservation from the agencies and quietly persuading the European Commission that Bolton Fell Moss really did warrant protection and the cost of revoking the peat extraction licences that pre-dated the original SSSI notification of the site. Finally, peat extraction ended in 2013 and Natural England took over the restoration of the site. Six years later, helped by EU LIFE funding, the long term path of restoration has reached the milestone of achieving National Nature Reserve status, marked by NE’s Chair Tony Juniper opening a boardwalk from which to view the wetland, built where once a small gauge railway took peat away from the drained bog. That’s real progress: nature returning and the valuable 400 hectare peatland carbon store safeguarded.
So don’t feel daunted, be inspired by conservation success and optimistic that we can turn things around.
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