On Monday I went along to the third Annual Awards reception of the MP Species Champions project in Westminster. Our Species Champions are a 59-strong group of MPs from across political parties working to support threatened species, through their roles at Parliament and in their constituencies. Their support is invaluable in our efforts to secure strong laws for nature’s recovery – essential at this time of ecological emergency.

Monday’s reception was hosted by the nine project partners (made up of the seven Rethink Nature organisations - which include the RSPB - with additional support from the People’s Trust for Endangered Species and the Angling Trust).  The event gives us a chance to thank MPs supporting vulnerable wildlife and celebrate their successes with awards. We were joined by Frank Gardner, the President of the British Trust for Ornithology and BBC Security Correspondent, who praised MPs for their efforts in helping species conservation and presented the prizes.

Image: Caroline Nokes receiving award from Frank Gardner OBE

Helen Hayes, Labour MP for Dulwich and West Norwood, who was awarded the Best Parliamentary Champion prize said that she had had no idea about the presence of bats in her constituency before becoming involved with the project and joining her constituents on bat walks. Helen works with Bat Conservation Trust and uses her social media channels to raise awareness of common pipistrelles and press for laws and policies that will help their recovery.  She hosted the “Biodiversity in Planning” exhibition in the House of Commons and tabled a series of Parliamentary Questions that challenge the government’s record on wildlife conservation.

Caroline Nokes, the Conservative MP for Romsey and Southampton North who champions the striking but rare Duke of Burgundy butterfly was presented with the Species Award in recognition of the turnaround in her species’ fortunes. Intensive conservation efforts by Butterfly Conservation and partners at a landscape-scale have helped populations of the Duke of Burgundy to stabilise over the last 10 years, in the face of a significant long-term decline. The most recent monitoring data demonstrates a 65% increase from 2017.

Angela Smith, Liberal Democrat MP for Penistone and Stocksbridge, won the Muddy Welly Award for the MP who has been out in the field to get their hands dirty helping with species conservation. In April, Angela joined the site team at RSPB Dove Stone in the Peak District to plant sphagnum mosses which help to lock up carbon in peat soils.  By helping to restore blanket bogs she is also improving part of the vital upland habitat of her championed species, the hen harrier.

The awards give a flavour of the work done with MPs by the Species Champions project partners to raise the profile of species conservation in Parliament and beyond. By taking MPs on site visits and briefing them about the issues causing their species to decline, as well as the solutions to drive their recovery, the project aims to ensure MPs are better equipped to make a positive contribution to nature conservation in Parliament.

All this should be encouraging for wildlife, but the latest scientific evidence paints a worrying picture.  As I blogged last week, the latest State of Nature report found that there has been no let-up in the net loss of nature across England. Without serious and urgent action, we risk losing iconic species from our land and seas; species such as those championed by the MPs: hedgehogs, turtle doves, swifts and sea bass.

MPs attending the event were encouraged to sign a letter to the Prime Minister calling for urgent action in response to the ecological crisis.  The letter called for

  • a trans-formative Environment Bill with legally-binding targets to secure nature’s recovery and the restoration of habitats and species;
  • a truly world-leading, independent and well-resourced watchdog that ensures environmental laws are upheld;
  • an Agriculture Bill that delivers fundamental reform of farming and food policy to drive nature’s recovery by supporting farmers to help deliver a sustainable and healthy natural world;
  • an ambitious Fisheries Bill with sustainable fisheries management at its heart; and
  • a significant uplift in funding for our natural environment including through resourcing the statutory nature conservation bodies - funding for Natural England should return to 2010 funding levels.

The hope is that the Prime Minister will take note of this letter from MP Species Champions and ensure that the environmental legislation set out in the Queen’s Speech addresses the needs of our threatened wildlife. We’ll be relying on the work of our Species Champions and their MP colleagues during the Bills’ passage through Parliament to ensure that the legislation that emerges is fit for purpose.

Also, don't forget, it's RSPB Bird Song Takeover Day tomorrow (17 Oct) - here's how you can take part https://www.rspb.org.uk/get-involved/campaigning/let-nature-sing/host-your-own-bird-song-takeover/

Images: Above Caroline Nokes receiving award from Frank Gardner OBE, below, Helen Hayes receiving award from Frank Gardner OBE

Image: Helen Hayes receiving award from Frank Gardner OBE