Guest blog by Pip Goodwin, RSPB Parlimentary Officer...

Three South West MP species champions, Kerry McCarthy, Derek Thomas and Peter Heaton-Jones, were presented with prizes by Mike Dilger, the wildlife reporter from The One Show, at the annual awards reception on Monday.

Photo 1: (left-right) Derek Thomas, Kerry McCarthy and Peter Heaton-Jones. By Jon Perry

The Awards reception is a chance to thank the Westminster politicians involved in the species champions project and give prizes to the most dedicated MPs.

The initiative partners Members of Parliament with a group of nature conservation organisations[1] to bring political support to the protection and promotion of threatened wildlife. Each MP becomes a ‘Species Champion’, adopting their own species and as of 2018 more than 50 MPs have agreed to speak up for nature. This is a critical time for species – the latest State of Nature report showed that 56% of UK species were in decline and 15% of species are extinct or threatened with extinction.

Kerry McCarthy, the Labour MP for Bristol East, won the Best Parliamentary Champion award for her efforts to raise the profile of swifts. Kerry is one of the longest serving MP species champions and has been an active advocate for swifts from the start, helping in 2015 to launch the ‘Bristol Swift Project’, a collaboration of interested partners working to make Bristol a swift-friendly city.

Photo 2: Kerry McCarthy being presented her award by Mike Dilger. By Jon Perry

In Parliament, Kerry has spoken up for swifts, including in a debate on global biodiversity, and asking Parliamentary Questions about planning policy for swifts and on the use of swift bricks in buildings. She champions the plight of her species on social media, and encouraging the public to log sightings of swifts in the RSPB’s Swift Survey. Kerry is a fantastic advocate for nature and has inspired the next generation by hosting the Phoenix Forum, the RSPB’s youth council, on a trip to Parliament.

Photo 3: Swifts by Ben Andrew

Derek Thomas, Conservative MP for the St Ives and the Scilly Isles, was presented with the Species Award in recognition of the Manx shearwater’s impressive recovery following the eradication of rats on two of the islands. The breeding population of Manx shearwaters increased from 22 pairs in 2013, before rat eradication, to 59 pairs in 2017. For the first time in living memory, forty-three ‘star-gazing’ chicks were recorded in 2017 and the project is recognised as a world leader in community led island restorations.

Photo 4: Derek Thomas being presented his award by Mike Dilger. By Jon Perry

Photo 5: Manx shearwater by Ed Marshall

And finally, there is a Muddy Welly award for the MP who is most enthusiastic out in the field. This went to North Devon Conservative MP Peter Heaton-Jones, who works with the Bat Conservation Trust to champion the greater horseshoe bat. Peter earned this award for his night time visit to a farmyard with the Devon Bat Project to monitor bats at the only known maternity roost in North Devon of his species.


Photo 6: Peter Heaton-Jones being presented his award by Mike Dilger. By Jon Perry

As well as receiving awards, MPs heard about the threats to wildlife across the UK and the importance of action by government to set targets for nature’s recovery and to create a robust and independent environmental watchdog.

[1] The project is run by the Rethink Nature partnership, a group of seven wildlife organisations working together to make a difference to species conservation. They are: Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, Bat Conservation Trust, Buglife, Bumblebee Conservation Trust, Butterfly Conservation, Plantlife and the RSPB. Additional support is provided by the Angling Trust, the People’s Trust for Endangered Species, the British Hedgehog Preservation Society and Somerset Wildlife Trust.