I have just returned from an excellent, if wet, weekend away in the north-west of England with our council of trustees, management board and regional staff. It was a chance to see for ourselves the work we are doing with others in some big landscapes in a fabulous part of England. It was great fun, with lots of wildlife (including otter, orchids, osprey and another 94 bird species) and lots of good conservation conversation.
We explored two of our Futurescapes: the Lake High Fells and Morecambe Bay (the latter also a Nature Improvement Area).
At Haweswater, we are working in partnership with United Utilities as part of our Sustainable Catchment Management Programme to restore water catchment habitat at a landscape scale. This should be good for biodiversity and should provide a cost effective way for UU to improve water quality for the two million people who depend on Haweswater for their drinking water. We also hope to be able to demonstrate that sheep farming in the uplands can be compatible with the wider range of public goods. You'll note that the weather failed to dampen our enthusiasm for the project.
At Bassenthwaite Lake, we have demonstrated the economic value of majestic species such as the osprey. Working with the Forestry Commission, Lake District National Park Authority and one hundred volunteers we have helped to protect ospreys, to highlight the conservation challenges in the region, to attract over one million visitors in a decade which, in turn, has generated £2 million annually to the local economy.
In the Lyth Valley floodplain, we are working with the National Trust, Cumbria Wildlife Trust the Environment Agency and many farmers to deliver major habitat recreation to help recover threatened species such as bittern, lapwings and redshank. We saw the fabulous work that Cumbria Wildlife Trust has done restoring Foulshaw Bog and debated how best to realise our shared vision for a sustainable future for farming in the Lyth valley whilst restoring floodplain meadows and reedbeds.
Finally, at one of our iconic reserves, Leighton Moss, we saw the progress that we have made to create two new satellite reedbed sites to help bittern conservation, to make the site more welcoming to the 100,000 visitors we get each year and to improve our understanding of the eel population. Our long-serving warden, David Mower, has been monitoring daily the number of elver (baby eels) entering the site for the past sixteen years. It is a remarkable endeavour and the data have underpinned the Environment Agency’s eel recovery plan in the north of England.
As ever, I came away incredibly impressed of the work our teams are doing, with many questions about how best to rise to some of the challenges we face, but equally reassured by the maturity of the many partnerships we have forged in the region. This is bound to result in better environmental outcomes. I look forward to our next Council weekend in Scotland next May...
All great "stuff" by the RSPB.
Although our uplands are often regarded as providing marvellous views etc for tourists and walkers, in fact what is being looked at, usually without realising it, is often a devastated landscape where extensives woodlands have been clear felled in the 17/18/19th centuries and subsequent over grazing by domestic animals has meant the natural flora including woodland cover cannot regenerate and significant erosion takes place. So, as I say, great work by the RSPB to try to overcome these problems.
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