In Autumn last year, we brought you a fantastic spread in Nature's Home magazine called 'People Power'. We want to revisit this again and bring it to our online audience to shine a light on the value individual actions can have when it comes to improving the fortunes of nature. We hear from six amazing members who prove beyond doubt the difference just one person can make - imagine what we could all achieve if we put our minds to it? Vanessa Amaral-Rogers tells us more...
With newspapers shouting out headlines of climate crisis, insect loss and habitat destruction, sometimes wanting to change things for the better can feel a little daunting. Where do you start? Can one person make a difference? The world is full of people doing amazing things, and all it takes is one little step in the right direction. Little steps turn into big actions; actions turn into movements. This year the RSPB celebrates its 130th year, after being brought into existence by a group of tenacious women looking to change a law. The very heart of the RSPB has always been about people, and what we can do together to tackle the big issues. Now, 130 years on, we celebrate some of our members and supporters who are still doing their bit to change the world. Meet six inspiring examples…
BEATING BYCATCH Rex Harrison, Yorkshire. Rex is a salmon and trout inshore fisherman based in Filey. Ten years ago the fishery, near RSPB Bempton Cliffs seabird colony, had a problem with the number of guillemots and razorbills accidentally caught and drowned in their nets. It happened every year, but Rex recalls that summer was particularly bad. This prompted a meeting between fishermen and RSPB staff member Rory Crawford. Rex says: “It was hard to admit it was a man-made problem but once we did, nobody felt threatened any more. From then on, we had a great friendship, everyone working together. We’d have regular meetings and think of solutions.” Some of these ideas were simple but worked brilliantly; reducing the number of ghost nets and changing the colour of corks so not to attract the birds. The fishermen now also use mobile phones to communicate with each other and stay with the nets all the time that they’re out. With over half a million birds at Bempton, bird deaths have dropped by 98% thanks to the work of Rex and the other fishermen. Rex wants people to come and see the work that they’re doing. “We’re trying to make our trout fishing in Filey Bay the best in the world. It’s hard work, but you have to be willing to get together and talk.” His father, also a fisherman, imparted words of wisdom to Rex: “If you don’t work with nature, it’ll come back and bite you in the tail.”
PROTECTING HABITATS David Saunders, Kent. David Saunders is no stranger to creating change in the community. As a retired police officer, he spent years working for his. David was always fascinated by wildlife and after hanging up his uniform, he joined his local RSPB group. Thirteen years on, he’s gone from defender of the people to protecting nature, getting involved in everything from organising clear-ups along the Tames tidelines to rescuing and rehabilitating hedgehogs. He’s also been a key voice in the RSPB’s Save Lodge Hill campaign. In 2014, the former British Army Camp was given protection as a Site of Special Scientific Interest thanks to its ancient woodland and breeding nightingales. However, Medway Council were eyeing it up for a housing development, which would completely destroy the birds’ home – one of their last refuges in the region. “I’ve known Lodge Hill for many years, I did police diver training there with the army” David says. “So I went along to the original Medway Council Planning Committee meeting in 2014, when council members were sold on the idea [of development].” Determined that this wasn’t a viable option, David has been talking to people about why Lodge Hill is so important. He runs spring walks at nearby RSPB reserves so that the public can hear nightingales (usually for the first time), and blogs regularly about the campaign. “What I do is immensely satisfying,” he says. “It keeps a retired person active, and a brain that’s had 50 years of use is still earning a living.”
CONFRONTING THE NETS Maggie Wilcox, Norfolk. Earlier this year, many of us saw the media coverage of sand martins returning to their nesting-holes on the Norfolk coast, only to find their access blocked by netting. Local resident Maggie Wilcox saw the early tweets about the council covering a large area of Bacton Cliffs in netting, to stop the sand martins from nesting. Distressingly, the birds had flown 5,000 miles from Africa and could be seen desperately trying to get through the nets. Maggie wanted to do something. “When I saw the photo of the netting I was overwhelmed with thoughts of what impact this could have on our local wildlife, and in particular the sand martins that had nested on Bacton Cliffs for decades. I’m a supporter of Wild Touch, our local wildlife rescue near Bacton. I know first-hand the devastating impact netting has on birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians throughout the UK.” Social media has become one of the most essential tools for campaigning around such issues. It unites people in a shared goal and connects them with organisations and decision-makers. Maggie drove this campaign and brought the issue to the world’s attention, using social media to highlight the problem to others. From going to the site at weekends to take photographs to consistently posting about the issue, she’s been instrumental in getting social media support, and there’s no doubt the nets wouldn’t have been taken down without her.
START AT HOME Mark Crisp, Kent. For anyone feeling despondent about the world, 24-year-old Mark Crisp has this advice: “As more issues have arisen – be it plastic, emissions, deforestation, coral bleaching – more solutions have also surfaced; things we can all do.” Mark’s crunch-point came after a country walk with his brother proved bereft of wildlife. “Years earlier that route would have turned up a variety of birds,” he says. Realising things needed to change, he has made simple lifestyle changes to reduce his impact on nature. Starting with his garden, he built a pond and sowed a mini-wildflower meadow to benefit wildlife. He switched his internet search engine to Ecosia, which uses its income from advertising to plant trees around the world. His grocery habits also changed. He buys organic produce where he can and has cut back on meat, dairy and single-use plastics, instead tracking down products that are sustainably produced. “Easy swaps included basics such as bamboo toothbrushes, wax cloth instead of clingwrap, and shampoo cubes instead of bottles.” Mark leads by example, but thinks we need to talk to each other. “Be vocal, be positive and show people that it can be done. We can all do this, but we’ll only get there if we work together and make changes."
BITTEN BY THE BUG Aaron Bhambra, Birmingham. Aaron Bhambra didn’t encounter much wildlife as a child. He grew up in urban Birmingham and his parents, raised in India and Africa, had little connection to nature. They wanted him to get a job that would pay well and set him up for the future, but Aaron had different ideas. “Having stumbled across an education internship with the RSPB in Sandwell Valley in 2016,” he tells us, “I applied and made my first-ever visit to a nature reserve for the interview. I was lucky enough to get the role, and my life changed quite dramatically; I was thrown into a world of incredible complexity and diversity.” Aaron began taking groups of primary school students around a nature reserve, introducing them to species that he was also encountering for the first time. He had never seen a newt or toad and had no idea that there were so many fascinating creatures around, but what really enthralled him was the staggering variety of insects and how little we knew of their lives. One of the benefits of volunteering is that it can open up new career options. This was certainly the case for Aaron. Within a year of completing his internship, he was investigating wild bees for his master’s thesis, and is now working as a researcher monitoring and surveying bee and wasp populations to check the health of declining insects, and trialling the most effective nesting structures to help them.
STARTING YOUNG Isobel Bartram, West Bromwich. Running the front desk at a nature reserve can be hard work, sorting the till and welcoming all the visitors. Everything has to run smoothly, but 12-year-old Isobel knows how to keep on top of it. She’s been volunteering at RSPB Sandwell Valley for over a year now and splits her time between manning the welcome desk and helping families with guided pond dipping. “I’ve always been interested in wildlife,” she says. “I was inspired one day when I listened to a talk about pollution on UK beaches. I wanted to tell other people so that I could help make a difference to the environment and nature. I thought I’d start at my school, and spread the message about the very current issue of plastic pollution.” Her teachers agreed to her request and Isobel went on to give talks to her year form group, then assembly and then to her elders in year 11. Many young people would be daunted by giving so many presentations to so many people, but Isobel understands how important these messages are. “I wanted to give these talks to show people that the convenience of their everyday lives has an impact, a cost. I wanted to get the message out to more young people that all our actions have consequences and that we need to make the right choices to fix the bad ones.”
6 EASY WAYS TO HELP NATURE
All our members are already heroes for nature, but here are a few more easy ideas to try:
THANK YOU FOR SAVING NATURE
We’d like to thank all our members and volunteers for helping wildlife – not only by supporting the RSPB’s work but by your everyday actions. We’d love to hear about what you’re doing in your area to save nature. Tell us more by popping a comment in the box below, or email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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