In Mike's view...
14 January 2014
If you're an RSPB member, I hope you've enjoyed reading the second edition of our new-look magazine, Nature's Home. This is the place where I can update you on some of the issues I raised in my column in the magazine - it's inevitable that events move one after the deadlines for the magazine have passed.
Big Garden Birdwatch
This year marks the 125th anniversary of the RSPB. Throughout that time, a hallmark of our approach has been to connect the public to our causes and call on them for support. We are always finding new ways of engaging people - from charity Christmas cards and the National Schools Bird and Tree Competition to Big Garden Birdwatch, and our new TV ads and magazine.
Big Garden Birdwatch, now in its 36th year, takes place at a time when we could all do with a boost - the birds that visit my garden are a real tonic in the depths of winter. For one hour, I join hundreds of thousands of people across the UK in sharing what I see - small actions that, together, make a big difference to our understanding of garden bird trends (see p50).
Update: You can now register for Big Garden Birdwatch - what will you see on the big day?
Giving Nature a Home and Nature's Home magazine
I hope you have seen our Giving Nature a Home TV ad. Impressive viewing figures suggest more than eight out of 10 adults saw it several times over the summer and again in October. Viewing figures are one thing, but we're interested in the difference it's making and the signs are positive with the number of new nature lovers we're attracting and how they're re-evaluating what they think about the RSPB and our work.
Another record has been set by the first issue of Nature's Home, which prompted a huge response. Thank you to everyone who sent positive comments or constructive criticism about the new look.
Since our foundation, we have never been afraid of change or to tackle the big issues facing birds and nature. Battling the cruel and unsustainable Victorian trade in feathers was a formidable undertaking in 1889. And this year we must face equally challenges.
Common Agricultural Policy
Governments in all parts of the UK have the chance to recover ground lost by the failure of the European Union to reform the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP). The CAP has been bad news, not just for UK wildlife, but for nature across Europe - and there is abundant evidence to highlight the losses it has caused.
What's needed is investment in the nature that brings the British countryside to life. The RSPB is campaigning to ensure that more funds and support are made available to progressive farmers, who are working hard to give nature a home.
Our science, combined with the efforts of farmers and crofters, has reversed the fortunes of cirl buntings in south-west England, stone-curlews in the Brecks and on Salisbury Plain, and corncrakes in the Western Isles, proving that, with the right funding and partnerships, farmland birds can recover.
Update: The results are now in across the UK for the amounts of money that will be available to support farmers directly to help nature on their farms. This is money that is directed to farming in any case, but at a country level up to 15 per cent can be switched to ensure that it is targeted to specific projects (in our view the best value for money for taxpayers).
In Wales, the full 15 per cent was chosen, in England 12 per cent, Scotland 9.5 per cent and in Northern Ireland a deeply worrying 0 per cent!
In England, for example, this still represents crucial funding for farmers to support wildlife on their farms (some £3.1 bn) but does mean that there will be less money for new schemes between now and 2020. For further analysis, here's our Conservation Director, Martin Harper, writing about the outcome of this crucial negotiations. We are deeply grateful to the tens of thousands of people who supported the campaign to get the best outcome for farmers and the wildlife that depends on them.
European laws protecting wildlife
Unlike the CAP, European environmental legislation is a proven and progressive means of protecting nature. We're proud of our campaign to turn the European Birds Directive into UK law, in the shape of the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act. Since then, wildlife and its habitats have had a fighting chance.
In England, there is now an opportunity to develop more effective legislation through the Law Commission (see p35), and we will campaign to strengthen Nature Directives in Europe as they come under attack. A recent review of the Habitats Regulations concluded that they are effective at preventing damage to nature in the UK and across Europe, while enabling economic recovery.
Scientific evidence is central to understanding the threat that man-made climate change poses to our planet. In 2013 it came under intense scrutiny with the publication of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. We are now even more certain that carbon emissions are driving our climate, and oceans, towards a chaotic future that threatens us all.
In a few weeks, a second IPCC report will clarify the predicted impacts of our changing climate. As numbers of mountain-nesting dotterels tumble (see p32), is the natural world signalling the reality of climate change?
Our conservation science
Today, nature faces some of the greatest challenges in our history, including global warming and habitat destruction. From giving nature a home in our gardens to protecting our shared home - this planet - the role of objective evidence in the RSPB's work grows ever stronger.
We will soon be launching the RSPB's Centre for Conservation Science, which will develop our academic work - the foundation of our approach to nature conservation since the 1960s. The application of science to the plight of red kites and bitterns was fundamental in reversing their fortunes - I'm proud of our scientists and their contribution to conservation. They give me hope that we can make a positive difference to our most threatened species.
Mike Clarke, chief executive of the RSPB