This past week has been intense and deeply unsettling. It is now clear that our lives will be massively disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.
Like everyone else, we have been doing contingency planning designed to keep the RSPB's work going, adhering to government advice and of course playing our part in keeping our people safe.
While none of us know how this will unfold, I am determined to carry on sharing information about our work and highlight the urgency for action to tackle the climate and ecological emergency, keep common species common and prevent threatened species from becoming extinct.
Today, I want to put a focus on our nature reserves because I heard a new and incredibly impressive stat this week.
We now believe that our network of 220 nature reserves covering c160,000 hectares provides home for a staggering 18,458 species. The last time I checked we were at about 16,000. The increase is largely due to improvements in data coming in from external sources but also a result of some of our ecologists going the extra mile in identifying some of the more obscure species.
Of these records more than 3,500 species are of conservation concern (Near Threatened or worse, Nationally Rare or Nationally Scarce). These include fen orchid (my image shown below) which is found on our own Sutton Fen and Butterfly Conservation's Catfield Fen which we manage on their behalf. These two sites alone are home to something like 5,000 fen orchids, more than 90% of the UK population.
What’s more, although RSPB reserves only cover c0.6% of the UK’s land surface, they support more than 10% of the UK’s breeding population of 31 bird species and almost the entire UK breeding population of species like red-necked phalarope and roseate tern (shown below courtesy of Tim Melling, rspb-images.com).
But our nature reserves are not just fantastic places for wildlife, many also provide vital services for people. For example, we shared a video this week this week of St Aidan’s which once again did its job in storing an enormous amount of water during this year’s floods.
For those of you that don’t know, St Aidan’s is in the Lower Aire Valley in Yorkshire. The RSPB worked with Leeds City Council, UK Coal, and the Environment Agency to create a 400 hectare wetland nature park underpinned by its own Act of Parliament. It stores 7.5 million m3 of flood water and has (in both 2015 and 2020 floods) reduced the downstream flood peak by 400mm protecting homes in Allerton Bywater, Castleford and surrounding villages. It is also great for wildlife with 3 booming bitterns, 11 pairs of black-necked grebes all recorded with spoonbills nesting up the road at Fairburn Ings.
So, pending any travel restrictions or site closures that may be introduced as a result of coronavirus, I would encourage you to visit your local RSPB nature reserve and find refuge and inspiration. It will lift your spirits and you will be reminded that nature is amazing.
St Aidans is a superb example of how we should be using the landscape to protect against flooding. To most people, most of the time it's a wonderful wildlife reserve - it's only when the water rises it's other purpose becomes clear - and I'm sure many of the poor people who've been flooded would agree that 400mm may not sound a lot - but it's enough to make all the difference. the evidence for landscape flood protection is overhwhleming - almost as overwhelming as the resiatcne from traditional hard defence advocates who have held back progress for at least 20 years. Now, Sir James Bevan CEO of the Environment Agency has at least recognised the need for landscape scale action, but in a speech that made it quite clear most resource would go to hard defences. Conservation should be upping the pressure, first because we know how to use the landscape, second because with post-Brexit freedom from CAP the Government can strike deals with land managers that don't just protect homes but could save iconic birds like Curlew at the same time.
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