This afternoon, I took part in an informal Defra-led Earth Day event to showcase some of the work that was being done to improve the natural environment.  I joined colleagues from Cefas, from UNEP-WCMC and the World Economic Forum.  It was a good thing to have done and, with the Biden administration’s Climate Summit in full swing, added to the spirit of Earth Optimism.

I figured that most people would be aware of the RSPB’s work within the UK: where we have 224 nature reserves, working in 37 landscapes, recovering threatened species such as red kite or bittern, running citizen science projects such as BGBW or even our campaigning work always, of course, constructively encouraging Defra and others to do more.

But I thought they may be less aware of the work we do with BirdLife International partners around the world.  So I’d provide a flavour of how we are trying to restore the Earth away from mainland UK where we focus on the 14 UK Overseas Territories, the European-African flyway ie where our shared nature goes, and globally where critically endangered species or sites are at risk and we feel like we can make a material difference. 

I profiled two of our projects – both of which have attracted UK Government support - and used them to explore what needs to be in place to inspire more projects like these around the world. 

Regular readers of this blog will know all about these projects but, because it’s Earth Day, here is a reminder of what we are doing on Gough and in Gola.

After five years of planning, we are entering a crucial phase in the £9m Gough Island Restoration Programme to eradicate the introduced non-native mice that have been predating the native bird populations pushing species such as the Tristan albatross to the brink of extinction.  The project involves dropping poisoned bait over the 100 square mile of the island using helicopters so that all the mice on the island die. And I mean all the mice because 100% of the mice need to be killed for us to be successful. The challenge is to do this on a very rugged island, five days sailing from Cape Town, in a time of Covid, in winter when the weather is incredibly changeable without inadvertently affecting the populations of other key species.  The good news is that thanks to the huge support from all partners (including the UK Government and Minister Lord Gardiner’s personal enthusiasm) we have done everything we can to maximise the chances of success and the operation is going ahead this year.  Half of the team are on island now with the remainder arriving at the end of May.  All the preparation has been done and all our best wishes are now with the team as they embark on the baiting phase of the programme.  You can keep up to date with the programme here.

My second example was Gola Rainforest in West Africa where we are trying to show that eating chocolate can help save a rainforest. For over 30 years, the RSPB has been working in Liberia and Sierra Leone with the two governments, country BirdLife partners and the local communities to protect and restore half a million hectares of the Gola Rainforest.  This is one of the largest remnants of the Upper Guinean forests – know as one of the top 35 biodiversity hotspots in the world.  It’s home to some really important species such as the pigmy hippo, Western chimpanzee, Gola malimbe and the white-necked picarthartes.  The RSPB has stuck at it and continued to work with partners despite the disruption of civil wars, Ebola and now Covid.   It is great that large parts of the forest are now designated as national park or community forests, the Sierra Leone part is has attracted major sales of carbon credits as part of the REDD+ project and that the lives and livelihoods of local people have been supported for example by establishing a supply of forest-friendly cocoa which is now being marketed as Gola chocolate through RSPB nature reserves.  The UK links to West Africa are not solely due to the fact that the UK is the fourth largest consumer of chocolate but through tracking work, we have shown that some of our declining migratory birds such as wood warblers will overwinter on the edge of Gola forest.  Again, this has attracted support from the UK Government either directly through the Darwin programme or indirectly via the EU (when the UK was a Member State).

These are just two of the major projects that we run with partners (especially BirdLife International) around the world and I think it is worth exploring why they are successful and what it would take to scale up these interventions.   In addition to the conditions for success or optimism that I mentioned on Monday, these projects have something to say about the importance of having the right ambition; the right partnership; the right funding model; the right relationship with the local community; the right interventions to reduce pressures and the preparedness to stick at it for a very long time.

It was a pleasure to profile these projects and I hope that there is more good news to report about these projects at next year’s Earth Day.