Wednesday, 20 September 2017


SOME 20,000 seabirds, including  an estimated 160 rare roseate terns, should be safer from disturbance following this month’s designation of a 12-mile stretch of the Northumberland coast as a Marine Special Protection Area.

Covering  an area equivalent to  more than 120,000 football pitches, this part of the North the most important site in the UK for Arctic, common and roseate terns, the second most important site for sandwich tern and the third most important site for Atlantic puffin.

According to Natural England, this designation “will help ensure any disturbance to the birds’ essential open water feeding areas is minimised, so the birds have a safe space to feed in”

It builds on the protection already afforded to important breeding sites via the network of SPAs at Coquet Island, Farne Islands and Lindisfarne 

Environment Minister Thérèse Coffey enthused: “We already have one of the strongest track records in the world when it comes to looking after our precious marine environment, and this decision will strengthen our bluebelt of protected areas while helping seabirds across the country thrive."

Agreed Natural England’s chairman, Andrew Sells: “This is a momentous day for a huge number of our most charismatic seabirds, many of which have suffered population declines over recent decades.

Meanwhile, Chris Corrigan, of the  RSPB, commented: “This is fantastic, and we hope to see more designations in the very near future.

“As the UK moves closer to leaving the EU, we urge the Government to continue to recognise the significance of protecting such sites.”

The move was opposed by port user groups who are now seeking clarification on how, if at all, their activities might be affected. Wind farm operator EDF has also sounded a note of caution.

Natural England has also announced extensions to Hamford Water SPA in Essex and Morecambe Bay and Duddon Estuary SPA in Cumbria.

The Northumberland Marine SPA ranks:
  • Top for Arctic tern (9,564 individuals), common tern (2,572) and roseate tern (160)
  • Second  for Sandwich tern (4,324 individuals)
  • Third  for Atlantic puffin (108,484 individuals)
  • Fourth for common guillemot (65,751 individuals)
  • Eleventh  for little tern (90 individuals)
* Photo of roseate terns by Alcides Morales via Wikipedia

Tuesday, 12 September 2017


Retailing at £9, this inflatable  flamingo novelty pool has been a big hit  during summer with shoppers at branches of the Primark chain. Perhaps the RSPB and  wildlife trusts should consider stocking it in the shops at their visitor centres.



There has been an uplift in the value of the RSPB’s nature reserves. 

At the last count, there were 214 sites - UK-wide - in the charity's portfolio.

Many of the charity’s land assets have appreciated in worth since they were bought
(in some cases many years ago).

Following a professional revaluation exercise, the total nature reserve value now shown in the balance sheet is £194-million compared with £139-million previously.

* Pictured: RSPB's flagship reserve at Minsmere in Suffolk (Photo: Bogbumper via Wikipedia).

Monday, 11 September 2017


Golden eagle with prey (photo: Chuck Abbe via Wikipedia)

IS Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn a secret birdwatcher?

During his late summer tour of
Scotland, he interrupted his schedule to spend a whole day in the Cairngorms in a quest to glimpse a golden eagle.

”It's a beautiful bird, but unfortunately, I didn't see one,” he 
  he told an audience of supporters at a private event where he was quizzed by, co-founder of eco-campaigning cosmetics company, Lush UK, Mark Constantine.

The Labour leader also spoke of his admiration for other raptor species, such as hen harrier and peregrine, and of his distaste for wildlife crime which he fears will increase as a result of cutbacks on finance for the police.

He recalled that his first ever political speech as a teenager at his schools debating society was in opposition to fox hunting.

A vegetarian of longstanding, the Labour leader, who grew up in a semi-rural community, said he had never eaten pheasant.

At his allotment in north
London, he has long grown his own vegetables, combining all that digging, raking and hoeing with watching out for robins, wrens and finches which are all occasional visitors to his plot.

Note: During the conversation, Mr Corbyn made no reference to his opponent within the parliamentary Labour Party, Angela Eagle.



Storm petrels (Richard Crossley via Wikipedia)

THE countdown has begun to this year’s annual meeting of the RSPB which is due to be held at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in Westminster on October 7. Among the features will be a presentation on how much income the society (which has 1.19-million members) has received over the past 12 months and ways in which some of it has been spent. In his address to last year’s meeting, the honorary treasurer of the RSPB Council, Graeme Wallace, shone a light on the charity and its financial activities. Its total income was just over £137.4-million. Below are highlights from his wide-ranging speech.

Good morning everybody. It may not be a first, but it is unusual for the Treasurer to deliver the financial report with a musical introduction.

There is a good reason for that which I’ll come back to in a moment.

Regarding the financial performance of the RSPB in 2015-16, overall I am pleased to report that whilst we increased expenditure on vital work, we also ended the year with a headline surplus of £3.4 million.

We put this surplus, along with some of our financial reserves, to good use both acquiring new nature reserves and adding facilities to enhance our visitor experience.

Our financial reserves remain in reasonable shape to help us deal with whatever lies ahead.

This has been made possible thanks to the continuing trust and support of you, the members, to our dedicated and professional team of staff and volunteers, and to prudent financial management.

It is this that has allowed us to increase expenditure on conservation, while at the
same time charting a course for continued membership growth.

Before moving to the detail of the Treasurer’s report, I should like to reflect for just a moment on one example of what that increased conservation spend means for some of our key species.

Earlier this year, I was very fortunate to visit Shetland. This extraordinary place is probably the last bastion of breeding waders in the kind of numbers that I can remember from my youth: dunlin, curlew, redshank, lapwing, and snipe drumming overhead.

At dusk, the storm petrels return to their roost in the Moussa Broch, and churr happily to each other.

That sound is really something wonderful!

And it isn’t like this by chance.

The RSPB has been working hard to give nature a home here for years -
a project requiring scientific rigour and the building of trust with local landowners and crofters.

Needless to say, this doesn’t happen overnight.

While on the islands, I was lucky enough to see one of the flagship waders of Scotland: red-necked phalarope which breed in small numbers on the watery mires of Shetland. 

Red-necked phalarope (Andreas Trepte,, via Wikipedia.
 We have been working on this species for quite a while, resulting in a fantastic growth in population.

Malcie Smith, the local warden, explained to me the extraordinary phalarope-tracking project they have undertaken.

The data showed, for the first time ever, that instead of flying to the Arabian Sea to overwinter, these tiny birds in fact flew all the way to the Pacific Ocean just off the coast of Peru.

This epic return journey of 16,000 miles had never before been recorded for a European breeding bird . . . which brings me to the music.

This is part of a song cycle commissioned by the Head of Music at Haringey Music Service, following a cultural exchange between young musicians in the UK and Peru to explore connections between the two countries.

It is called One Small Bird: Ballad of the Red-necked Phalarope, and it was performed by more than 2,000 children at the Royal Albert Hall in London this year.

Trust, groundbreaking science, wonderful birds, and inspiring children about nature - this story seems to capture it all.

Turning now to the accounts, our net income (that is the money available for charitable purposes) was just over £100 million last year.

This was due largely to the continued generosity of our members and other supporters, including individuals and corporate bodies.

This level of income enabled us to increase our charitable expenditure again this year.

Our expenditure on charitable objects in the year reached £104.2-million.

This included £6.9-million on acquiring land and investing in visitor facilities which allowed us to expand several of our nature reserves, including Hesketh Out Marsh in Lancashire, where, instead of featureless fields, we will have a thriving tidal wetland full of wildlife.

We also made significant investment in the infrastructure on our reserves, including new facilities at Forsinard, and the visitor centres at Arne and Sandwell Valley.

The money we invest in our nature reserves covers a wide range of activities, from restoring and managing wildlife habitats to improving our visitor experience.

And in Nottinghamshire, we have a great new opportunity to engage with a huge number of visitors.

While we work hard to make sure our nature reserves are in ideal condition for wildlife, especially for our most vulnerable species, we also want to make sure our offices are in harmony with the natural environment.

And to help with this, we’ve installed a wind turbine at our HQ at the Lodge.

This turbine produces the energy equivalent of two thirds of the RSPB’s electricity needs - that’s the whole of the RSPB, including all of its reserves and regional offices.

This single turbine is making a big impact on our carbon footprint, as are the solar panels we’ve installed at seven of our reserves.

Managing our own nature reserves is a vitally important part of achieving our conservation objectives, but equally important is influencing the way that conservation takes place off our reserves.

We cannot, of course,  do all this alone; so working with partners and other like-minded organisations is crucial.

 During the year, we made £6.1 million available in grants to other organisations to support our conservation work, both in the UK and overseas.

This includes £1.4 million awarded to our BirdLife Partners throughout the world for projects such as our work to save rainforests in Sumatra and Gola in Sierra Leone.

Just like our partnership work in Shetland, rainforest conservation requires working closely with the local people and developing trust.

After years of being on the ground in Gola enduring a bloody civil war, then the ebola crisis, working with the local tribal communities we have reached agreement with them on how the forest might be managed sustainably.

This all needs financing, however, and following a technically challenging audit of the forest, it has been awarded the highest carbon credit rating.

We are now in a position to sell these credits to other organisations and individuals which, hopefully, will allow the development to pay for itself.

Let me turn now to Education and Communication. Saving nature means encouraging everyone to support nature conservation in whatever way they can whether that’s through individuals volunteering their time or giving a donation, or a politician making a decision that benefits nature, or a business working to reduce its carbon footprint.

We work hard at this because nature needs millions of people to make millions of decisions that favour it, long into the future.

It is especially important that we reach children, because, if the next generation does not feel connected with nature, it  will have no reason to save it

With all these things in mind, we increased our spending on Education and inspiring support by £1.9 million to £21.5 million.

Part of this was to continue improving our website and communications capabilities, which enable us to engage more effectively with people.

Another part of this spend was for the continuation of our Giving Nature a Home television advertising campaign.

This has been a very successful way for us to build a broader awareness of theRSPB, to reach new audiences and  further to increase the number of people supporting us.

The more people who rally alongside us to save nature, the more we are able to do.

This campaign has played an important role in increasing our membership over the last two years.

Before I move on to the RSPB’s income, I just wanted to say something about trust.

Public trust in charities was the subject of much media scrutiny during the year, and some fundraising practices received negative press coverage.

 The  RSPB organises its fundraising activities to the highest possible standards.

Our charity is built upon its reputation and relies upon the continuing support and trust of our members. We strive to go above and beyond the legalminimum requirements, and our fundraising team is committed to continuing to operate in this manner.

We are grateful to each and every one of you who have renewed your membership. The number of members who stay with us, year after year, is I think a good indicator of the trust you have in us.

And this year, our membership numbers reached an all-time high. Over the year, we recruited 100,000 new members, taking our total to 1.19-million.

The increase in members, along with support from other individuals and corporations, has helped increase our income for 2015/16 to reach just over £137.4- million.

This is before deducting the cost of generating funds, which includes the cost of goods for sale in our shops and membership recruitment costs.

Membership subscriptions and donations are our biggest income sources and the foundation of all we do, this year raising £47.7-million.

The  £20.8-million grant income stream appears, on the surface, to be a little disappointing compared with  last year. But many of our grant-funded projects span several years, and the year in which the income is recorded may cause fluctuations in the sum reported in the annual accounts.

With its £1.3-million upgrade, the superb new visitor centre at Bempton Cliffs forms a gateway and observation point for visitors to experience the UK’s largest seabird colony.

These cliffs are home to puffins, guillemots, razorbills and gannets, and with this new centre, you can fully appreciate the frenetic activity and the riotous sounds of the place.

Looking forward, we are of course concerned about the potential consequences of Brexit  on future grant prospects, and you can be sure that we will be doing all we can to protect them.

In the medium term we can draw some comfort from the fact that post-Brexit the Treasury has confirmed they will honour existing grant commitments.

Gifts of every size left in people’s wills are vital to the ongoing success of the RSPB, with legacies making up around 30 per cent of our net income. Legacy income for 2015-16 was £34-million - an increase of almost £3.5 million on the previous year.

This type of support is crucial to our success. It is financially important of course, but it also demonstrates people’s commitment to securing nature for future generations, and the faith that people have in the RSPB’s ability to achieve this on theirbehalf.

The bulk of our commercial trading income comes from our mail order catalogue, retail shops and cafes. Overall, trading income at £22.5m was up 3.3 per cent a pleasing result considering slower sales of bird food during the mild winter.

Pulling these income and expenditure threads together, you will appreciate that we are quite pleased to have been able to achieve much in spite of difficult prevailing conditions.

 Included in the expenditure are significant increases in investment in today’s conservation needs and in building support for the future.

And as we cast a wary eye to the immediate future, you will appreciate why we are thankful to have been able to maintain a reasonable level of financial reserves.

As at 31 March 2016, our free financial reserves stood at £12.5-million. This represents eight weeks’ worth of prospective annual expenditure, and is intended to allow us to plan our work programmes with confidence.

One of the questions that Council consider in their planning is how much should be spent on conservation work now and how much should be invested to ensure that current and future generations are knowledgeable about, and committed to, conservation.

 As mentioned earlier, we believe it is vital to invest in our children to increase their awareness of nature, the issues that it faces, and what can be done about it.

Today, less than 10per cent of children play regularly in natural places. We want to bring young people closer to wildlife, and so we are delighted that the supermarket Aldi has pledged to give the RSPB £2-million over three years to help increase children’s connections with nature.

The money has been raised via sales of carrier bags in England, Scotland and Wales.

It is an ambitious programme that will reach primary schools in 15 cities across the UK and family groups in public parks as well as four of our nature reserves where there will be a series of free nature sessions for schools.

Through our work with Aldi and beyond, we’re aiming for two million connections with nature over five years.

 So far the response has been terrific. Since rolling the scheme out in June 2015, we have given around 50,000 children an experience with nature through our work with Aldi alone.

With projects like this, we are helping make sure that future generations will value nature.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017


Nightingales at Lodge Hill would be lost for ever if the site were to be
developed. Photo: Andy Hay - RSPB Images

 CONTROVERSIAL plans  to build a new "community" at  Britain's top site for nightingales have been scuppered - at least for the time being.

Through its Homes and Communities Agency, the Government wants to sell off former Ministry of Defence land at Lodge Hill in Kent to make way for 5,000 homes and other infrastructure.

But it has had to put off the proposal following fierce opposition by opponents backed by the Kent Wildlife Trust and the RSPB.

Some 12,000 people wrote letters of objection  or signed a petition.

The decision has been welcomed by campaign manager Adrian Thomas who said: "The  Government agency has done the right thing - for now - and we thank them for that."

The chief executive of Kent Wildlife Trust, John Bennett, and the RSPB have also welcomed the reprieve, but the hold-up has enraged the leader of Medway Council, Cllr Alan Jarrett, who said the project would have created homes and employment.

"The people of Medway have been let down," he maintained.

However,  the long-term future of the Lodge Hill nightingales - one per cent of the British population - remains far from secure.

Although the land is  SSSI-registered, it is possible that, backed by Medway Council,  the HCA will come up with an alternative scheme.

If planning permission for development could be obtained, Lodge Hill could be sold to a housebuilder, generating a huge windfall for Government coffers.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017



PORT giants ABP have tightened their ownership grip on an area of waterfront land on the boundary of Cleethorpes and Grimsby.

Fencing has been made secure to bar access  to the New Clee Sidings  - a site long popular with  birdwatchers because its attracts uncommon migrants including shrikes, chats and various warblers.

A red-backed shrike similar to this bird spent a view days in September 2015 on the site (Photo: Pierre Dalous via Wikimedia Commons)
 The actions follow a two-day planning inquiry last November at Grimsby Town Hall where ABP successfully contested any initiative that might  have authorised as a public right of way  the long-established but unofficial footpath that runs through the site.                                              

The company's barrister, Andrew Fraser-Urquhart QC, successfully argued that any right-of-way legislation was nullified by Section 57 of the British Transport Commission Act which rules that such rights do not apply on dock or harbour land.

In his opening statement, he said: "ABP is the successor body to the British Transport Commission.

"In 1949, the port land was in active use as premises within the Port of Grimsby as railway sidings from where coal was brought to the quayside for loading into ships.

"The site has remained as operational port land ever since and remains so today.

"It is of no consequence that the land is currently vacant. Areas of land which are not in full-scale use and have no development upon them constitute operational land."

The inquiry was conducted on behalf of the planning Inspectorate by Martin Elliott who also carried out two site visits.

Finding in favour of ABP, against the claims of nearby residents, dog- walkers and birdwatchers, he ruled: "In 1949, New Clee Sidings were clearly an integral part of the dock in that the site  provided essential facilities for the operation of the port.  

Bluethroat - a scarce migrant that has occasionally occurred in the scrubland. This is the bird that spent several weeks at the Willow Tree Fen nature reserve, near Spalding, earlier thi year.
"Although the sidings fell out of use by the late 1960s, the land has been used for operational activities associated with the port.

"Whilst parts of the land do not now appear to be actively used by ABP, the site is essential for future development needs of the port and is used for a variety of purposes, albeit, in my view, fairly low-key  and remains part of the dock and harbour premises.

"As submitted by ABP, Section 57 of the 1949 act makes it  clear that rights cannot be
acquired over any property now or hereafter forming any dock or harbour premises of the Commission. 

"ABP is the successor body to the British Transport Commission. 

"The protection of the port against the creation of a public right of way continues from the passing of the Act and cannot be lost.

"The 1949 Act does not require that the land is operational - only that the land forms a dock or harbour premises of the Commission.

"The land forms part of the docks and harbour premises, and section 57 provides a statutory bar to the dedication of public rights by user. 

"The way is therefore not of a character that use could give rise to dedication at common law."

* On the plus side, reduced disturbance by the public, including dog-walkers,  has made the site more amenable to birds, including wintering parties of snow buntings which can sometimes be viewed through the palisade fencing. Certain rarities, such as shrikes,  may also remain visible, albeit from afar.