It was so refreshing to hear late on Monday that we had agreed a joint vision for the future of Somerset Levels and Moors (see here). Those with long memories might have thought it impossible for farmers and the nature conservation community to agree anything in that part of the world.  But a joint vision for 2030 has been agreed, through a process kicked off by former Biodiversity Minister, Richard Benyon MP.  I now hope that the action plan to be developed over the coming weeks helps to realise that shared ambition.  We'll continue to work to try to make that happen.


The RSPB's HQ hosted the ritualistic handover of a cheque to Birdlife International yesterday.  A staggering £270,000 had been raised from Birdfair 2013 - the 25th anniversary of this great event promoted by the RSPB and the Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust (see here).  The money will, as ever, support an international project of conservation importance and on this occasion it will go towards conservation efforts on the Americas flyway.  To mark the occasion, a lovely collection of artwork and conservation stories was produced.  This documents how over £3.5 million has been raised for species conservation over 25 years and how the event has grown in stature since its founders, Tim Appleton and Martin Davies, came up with the idea in 1989.  It has been a heroic conservation effort and if you can, I strongly recommend you get hold of a copy (see here) of 'The Art of Conservation' not least for a reminder of the fabulous artwork that Robert Gilmore has contributed over the years.  Oh and book your tickets for Birdfair 2014 (15-17 August). 


Two excellent senior civil servants held a leaving event which I popped along to at Defra.  Despite Ministers, the Environment Agency and many civil servants working round the clock to deal with the floods, it was great that so many were able to turn up and celebrate the contributions that Martin Nesbit and Robin Mortimer had made over 45 years of collective public service.  It showed how much warmth and respect people have for them.  Civil servants often get bad press, but in my experience the majority are smart, diligent and creative in solving big problems that come into their intray.  They have to deal with people with very different views and try to find a way forward - our job is try to keep them on the right path even when other pressures come down on them.  They are also, if the occasion calls for it, remarkably adept at defending the indefensible when, heaven forbid, their political leaders of the day make decisions which seem well... bonkers.  On the outside it may seem a thankless task, but these people put in the hard graft and they deserve our respect.  Martin and Robin are moving on, and I wish them all the best for the future.

So three good things have happened over the past 24 hours.   

But, there is, of course, one big bad thing and that is the short/medium term weather forecast.  We now have a real taste of what the predicted milder, warmer, stormier winters look like... 

  • I hear that the PM has just confirmed that £100m extra will be found to help deal with flooding.  Not sure where the money will come from and hope, as you imply, it is put to most appropriate use.

  • What fantastic news about the Levels agreement - not least that it was chaired by Anthony Gibson, probably one of the most respected figures in south west agriculture. I hope it gets very widespread coverage to combat the noisy just dredge lobby which captures simplistic media coverage (it is notable reading accounts of Prince Charles' visit that the actual message from at least some of the lobbyists is far more nuanced and sensible: 'we need some dredging alongside a range of other measures' than media reports suggest. This is an important precedent not just for the Levels. What would be fantastic would be if EA and the Government could agree that some of the money that would otherwise have gone on heavy engineering should go to farmers volunteering to hold water on their land, to offset losses to production caused by the standing water - and also to more farmers to maintain high water levels in summer. This again would send a powerful message about new ways of managing the landscape to increase resilience to extremes of weather. The viability of farm businesses is vital to the success of the plan as, equally, is the principle of rewarding land managers for providing vital environmental services to the urban majority.  

  • Niece to have some good news for a change. This agreement on the future Somerset Levels is so important, the Levels being one of the UK's premier wetlands.

    Great news also on the amount raised from the Bird Fair for the Americas Flyway. (A minute amount of the £270,000 was my entrance fee !!!) I wondered in this case how much conservation organisations in affluent countries such as the USA and Canada are also contributing to this very important project in their "backyard", as flyways in most parts of the world are generally under great threat and need much protection.

    Well done to the Civil Servants. My father was a senior civil servant so I know the situations in which they have to work.

    I gather our turbulent weather is due to continuing large contrasts in temperature across the USA with very cold Arctic air meeting warm air from the Gulf. This generates a very strong jet stream which in turn creates these deep depressions that come across the Atlantic towards the UK.