In his report, Making Space for Nature, John Lawton clearly set out what wildlife needed: conservation action at a landscape scale.

This week I have been lucky enough to partially escape the planning reform furore and visit two RSPB projects which are restoring habitats at a vast scale. In hurricane winds (I exagerate a little), I saw the extent of the habitat restoration that we had been carrying out at our Dove Stone reserve in the Dark Peak. We manage this 3,000ha site for United Utilities as part of our Sustainable Catchment Management Programme (SCAMP). Five years ago the moors were in a terribly degraded state – large areas of exposed peat and little available habitat for moorland wildlife. Thanks to an investment programme by UU and an army of volunteers, we are now restoring large areas of heather and blanket bog. This is good news for wildlife, for UU’s business (by saving money on cleaning water supplies) and for locking up the carbon stored in these upland bogs. Add this to our Eastern Moors project (which we are running in partnership with the National Trust) on the doorstep of Sheffield and it is clear that we are making a big difference to upland ecosystems in the Peak District.

Later in the week, I had my first visit to RSPB’s Abernethy 13,713ha reserve. Famous for its capercaillie and ospreys, what really grabbed my attention was the massive Caledonian pinewood restoration programme which we are carrying out. With a gentle nudge from us, we are encouraging natural regeneration of pine, birch, willow and rowan to recreate a landscape that was lost hundreds of years ago. This should be good news for Caledonian pine specialists such as capercaillie.  Abernethy holds 10-12% of the UK population of capercaillie and it is a species that needs a lot of help - particularly to cope with the changing climate. I spent a day walking across the reserve (under blue skies) with the knowledgeable and passionate site management team.  My horizons were filled with land that was being managed with wildlife in mind. I love the fact that we are bold enough to set 200 year visions and then methodologically set about getting on with the job of turning that vision a reality.

This is the RSPB at its best – practicing what it preaches about landscape-scale conservation.

I think John Lawton would approve.

  • I think it could be made easier, but we have a  number of examples where farmers are working together across a large area to put in place measures that will benefit wildlife. I think that a shared vision, well designed schemes with payment rates set at the right level and a little dose of leadership can encourage action.  The current competition for Nature Improvement Areas is seeing new partnerships being forged with many different landowners and I hope that many farmers will want to participated.

  • Thinking big is an important part of Lawton and the White Paper on the Environment: but this cannot be done by rsbp alone.  There are clear suggestions that collaboration between farmers will be incorporated into the heart of a reformed environmental stewardship scheme.  But what are farmer's views of this? How easy is it for farmers to collaboration with neighbours to improve, conserve and protect the enviroment? Any comments ...