Another decade may be over, but our RSPB England Communications Officer, Becca Smith, is still looking back to celebrate some of our successes over the past ten years .
While the origins of the RSPB lie in the 1880’s, our work today seems to be ever increasing, especially thanks to growing urgency and public support surrounding the world’s climate and ecological crisis. From influencing policy to saving species and managing land, there’s many a success to look back on. What better time to do so as we welcome a new decade?
Making Remarkable Recoveries Happen
Showing that nature can bounce back, our conservation work since 2010 has had inspiring results.
Seeing Manx shearwater and storm petrel flourish again on the Isles of Scilly and Lundy has been a particular success. We were delighted to secure rat-free status for both islands and then to announce the successful breeding of the first Manx shearwater chicks in living memory on the Isles of Scilly in September 2014.
On land we also celebrated the recovery of cirl buntings in England. From a population low of just over 100 pairs, through the hard work of RSPB and farmers the population topped 1000 in 2016. Our efforts were also rewarded on the Roseland Peninsula in South Cornwall, where we were able to re-establish a self-sustaining population of cirl buntings. Aiming to maintain a stable population which could then increase, the hand reared chicks were successfully released between 2006 and 2011.
Photo credit: Andy Hay
Giving a helping hand
Sometimes nature needs more than just a suitable home, and so the RSPB has been offering its ‘helping hand’ to rare species that have been especially sensitive to habitat changes and disturbances over the past decade.
Out on the Somerset Levels and Moors, we worked to reintroduce hand-reared crane chicks to the wild to establish a new population. 93 rare cranes were successfully released between 2010 and 2014 and monitored closely, with 2015 seeing an incredible 16 pairs form and hold territories, and 4 chicks fledging from their nests. Moving further afield since their original release in Somerset, some pairs have been found in South Wales, Wiltshire, Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire, a significant boost to the previously slowly growing population across the UK.
The black tailed godwit needed our assistance this decade too; we helped to bolster the breeding population found in the Ouse and Nene Washes by using artificial incubation to raise 112 chicks over 3 years. A successful scheme, ‘Project Godwit’ looks set to continue as many of the birds that were hatched in 2016 are still being sighted today.
Expanding our impact
The last decade has also seen the RSPB grow its nature reserves in England. With some openings - such as St Aidan’s in 2017 - prompting the creation of new visitor centres and nature trails, other acquisitions and subsequent work has taken place in more secluded areas. One such example, Whitton Sands, has seen habitat restoration and investigations take place away from the public, as wildlife take refuge on an island that has rarely been visited by humans in its history.
With a network of over 100 reserves across England, this past decade we’ve been expanding our impact at existing locations, such as the purchase of Crossens Marsh adjacent to our Marshside reserve. Also having acquired our first ever piece of land in the New Forest in March 2018, we are excited by the prospect that our reserves could one-day ‘link up’; providing nature bridges between significant wildlife rich areas. Franchises Lodge did just this, becoming a linkage point between two already internationally important areas: Loosehanger Copse and Langley Wood National Nature Reserve.
Elsewhere, our ground-breaking 30-year partnership project at Ouse Fen to create a new nature reserve has grown. With a further 96 hectares of land being given to us this decade, once completed the site should span 700 hectares of crucial and rare habitat available for scarce species, including eastern England's largest reedbed.
Whilst new reserves and research sites are undoubtedly exciting, we must also look back on some of our longest serving sites. 2019 marked the 50th anniversary of establishing Bempton Cliffs as both a haven reserve and a vantage point from which seabirds can be studied and safeguarded, and in the decade to come we have hopes to upgrade the reserve’s protection status.
Restoring Nature’s Home
Restoring lost habitats has also been key to several of our projects this decade. At Winterbourne Downs former arable fields are being reverted to the flower-rich grasslands that they once were, while scrub and shelterbelts are being introduced to cater for a host of birds and wildlife. South-facing chalk grassland butterfly banks have also been constructed and sown with suitable food plants with good results – attracting 34 different species by 2019.
Photo credit: Patrick Cashman
Working on such big projects can often see us needing the help of others, and our significant coastal realignment efforts during the last decade have been no exception.
Between 2011 and 2018, over 3 million tonnes of excavated material from the infrastructure project Crossrail was used to raise the level of Wallasea island and defend it from erosion. Creating an intertidal coastal marshland complete with lagoons, mudflats, creeks and grazing marsh, the project was the first of its scale for the UK and transformed 670 hectares of farmland back to the rich habitat it was some 400 years ago. Completed in 2019 with the help of Crossrail, the area is now supporting more than 5,300 water birds.
Elsewhere in England, flood protection schemes coordinated with the Environment Agency at our Medmerry and Hesketh Out Marsh reserves have proven that both people and wildlife can benefit from restoration work to coastal areas. As flood risks reduced and vital intertidal habitats were formed, avocets were first seen to be successfully breeding in 2014 at the newly completed Medmerry site for example.
Photo credit: Ben Andrew
Making space for new species
New breeding birds have caused excitement amongst everyone here during the past decade.
In Somerset, Ham Wall became home to a remarkable range of breeding herons throughout the 2010s, including great white egrets, cattle egrets and the secretive little bittern. Further north at Burton Mere Wetlands, our fifth largest site in the country, cattle and great white egrets arrived alongside 3 other species of heron.
While we take great enjoyment in welcoming new species to our reserves and helping to protect those that may be endangered, it cannot be ignored that these birds haven’t just been visiting England because our reserves allow them to. As average temperatures rise due to climate change, birds’ migratory patterns and chosen locations have been changing too.
Defending special places
In light of this climate and ecological emergency, at the RSPB we look to secure our natural environment for future generations of both wildlife and people to enjoy and we often use our voice to ensure that nature is properly considered, protected and managed in new projects.
In 2011, the RSPB began lobbying against a housing development which was immediately adjacent to Talbot Heath in Dorset - a designated Ramsar Site and a Special Protection Area for its bird populations. Following the RSPB’s efforts amongst others to raise concern, the proposal was debated at public inquiry and subsequently refused by the Secretary of State in February 2012 - a win for nature.
We launched our ‘Love Minsmere’ campaign in 2019: a response to EDF’s proposals to build a new twin nuclear reactor, Sizewell C, next to our flagship nature reserve, RSPB Minsmere. These plans would bring the Sizewell Estate right up to the border of this nature haven, posing possible detrimental impacts on internationally and nationally important landscapes, habitats and species of Minsmere and the Suffolk coast. We asked people to write to EDF and tell them why they Love Minsmere. Over 20,000 people responded calling on EDF to protect the reserve and its wildlife! Later in the year we called on their support again, asking people to attend the Love Minsmere Festival and show their passion for the site in person; forming a human outline of a love heart to send a visual message to EDF that Sizewell is not the right place for a new nuclear power station. Celebrities, Chris Packham, Bill Turnbull and Diana Quick have also backed the campaign. While our work to protect Minsmere is set to continue into the new decade, we believe that this show of support from fellow nature lovers has given us a louder voice in the fight to give nature a home.
Photo credit: David Tipling
Connecting People with Nature
Over the past 10 years, nationwide campaigns have helped drive our work forward, involving more people in our endeavours for saving nature. Anyone can become involved, and this decade we have proved that with the help of numerous campaigns across the country.
Launched in October 2018, Let Nature Sing raised awareness of the loss of nature and reached a marvellous audience in time for the last international dawn chorus day of the decade. In May 2019, our pure bird song track was downloaded by more than 23,000 people and reached number 18 in the UK’s music charts; the movement for the preservation of nature, our green spaces, and the climate was growing. Later spreading into public spaces as part of our birdsong takeover, we have hopes to make even more noise in the years to come.
Our young people are increasingly making their voices heard too, and since 2015 we have invited 500,000 children to spend time with nature thanks to our partnership with ALDI. The 4 year project promoted the positive impact nature has on children’s learning, physical health & emotional wellbeing - demonstrating why nature is worth fighting for.
The RSPB also brought nature into the homes of millions of people as we hosted the BBC’s Spring, Autumn and Winterwatches from our Arne, Leighton Moss, Minsmere and Bempton nature reserves. This coverage was testament to the hard work that goes into maintaining and improving our sites, with fantastic new facilities enhancing our visitors’ experience over the past 10 years. New shops and cafes at Sherwood Forest, Bempton Cliffs and Arne, as well as new viewing spaces have really made a difference. Over at Sandwell Valley in the West Midlands, we have seen improvements rise from the ashes too, as our new visitor centre opened in 2015 after having been burnt down at the beginning of the decade.
In short, it’s the people behind the RSPB that make and shape us. Without our supporters, our voice would be nowhere near as loud, and our actions nowhere near as impactful.
While it was 2019 that celebrated the 50th anniversary year of local groups, we are inspired daily by examples of voluntary efforts across the RSPB which have undoubtedly helped to make our work a success. Our organisation is one rooted to people – not just our near 10,000 volunteers in England, but our members, supporters and visitors too.
Without these people and their contributions to giving nature a home, nature would be in a far worse place than it is. In a year where it feels as if the clock is well and truly ticking, 2020 is kicking off the decade with a sense of urgency.
And, whilst we have been heartened by the number of passionate supporters fighting on the front line to save our planet, there is still more to do. We don’t underestimate the challenges. This decade’s State of Nature Reports clearly signalled that, despite efforts, nature is still in trouble. If though, amongst all the climate and ecological concerns, you feel lost, we hope that our work can show a small light at the end of the tunnel and encourage you to get involved, however that may be.
We spend 90% of net income on conservation, public education and advocacy
The RSPB is a member of BirdLife International. Find out more about the partnership
© The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is a registered charity: England and Wales no. 207076, Scotland no. SC037654