Wednesday, 28 October 2009

The Big Picture

The tenth 'The State of the UK's Birds' has been published today, read the full report and an accurate summary of it without any ghastly headlines here. It is the big picture when it comes to our birdlife and draws from many of the other surveys and work completed on the UK's birds annually and is published by the RSPB for a coalition of conservation organisations, including the RSPB, the British Trust for Ornithology, The Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, The Countryside Council for Wales, Natural England, the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, Scottish Natural Heritage and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee. Fairly authoritative and comprehensive then.
It contains a fair amount of good news, particularly regarding some of our rarer species such as Bittern, Osprey, Corncrake & Stone Curlew where there has been significant targeted intervention by conservation organisations over the last decade. Those involved will no doubt be happy that their efforts are delivering tangible results and rightly so.
Sadly the bigger picture continues to be a different story, farmland bird populations have reached an all time low, many woodland species continue to decline and some serious declines in certain seabird species are reported.
Take a step back and I believe what it highlights is that as a nation we are not doing enough, government and the interests of big business (wealth creation for the few) continue to ride roughshod over environmental concerns. Our conservation organisations are working with too few resources across too many areas.
The story on Farmland birds is all too familiar, despite agri-environment schemes our farmland birds continue to decline. Whilst the individual reasons for each species decline are complex and I don't profess to any sort of detailed understanding, what does appear to lie at the root of much of it is profit. The desire to make more money, greater efficiency whether that be in getting the maximum yield out of the land through better harvesting, invert eradication, planting times that suit yield rather than wildlife etc dominate. Its hard to blame individual farmers, they are trying to make a living, faced with feeding their kids and paying the bills most of us would want to maximise our returns too. I have little sympathy for the big farm businesses however whose motive is to deliver greater dividends and 'value' to shareholders and city investors. How often have the farming related media called for 'farmers to be trusted to do the right thing?' They won't because the desire for short term profit will always take precedence, driven by the accountants and city gurus.
It's hard to see in such a media dominated society, when a couple of teenagers winning a TV phone vote can be considered a 'crisis' yet the plight of our birds will not even make the lunchtime news bulletins on TV how it can change.
It would appear from this report that the recognition that for many of our migratory birds the pressures they face in less affluent parts of the world can be even greater, whether this is the large scale trapping of birds for food that is now happening due to climate induced drought or massive land reclamation projects removing wintering habitat.
A number of the changes are perhaps understandable and 'readjustments', species such as Tree Pipit benefiting from post war large scale foresty planting that created massive areas of temporarily suitable habitat or Herring Gull populations enlarged by abundant food supply via our Mclandfill destinations for them.
So where do we go from here? We need to keep trying to drive the message home to government via effective campaigns and political lobbying, targeted, specific cross organisational campaigns utilising modern technology such as email can play a part in sending strong messages to key decision makers. Participation in the volunteer programmes such as WeBS and BTO Atlas work underpin the production of reports like this. Building on media interest created by one off events such as the ECW can also play a part. Ten years from now it would be great to see Grey Partridge, Corn Bunting and House Sparrow all well into recovery, one thing is for sure, it's up to us.


Stewart said...

We're doomed Alan. There is one overriding factor affecting all environmental issues. Human population is increasing at a rate that is unsustainable. Imagine a 3 ft fish tank with a few goldfish in. Add a new fish every week for a year and see how they get on for the following 12 months afterwards.

There is simply no room for wildlife. End of.

Alan Tilmouth said...

I read a newspaper column just today suggesting that voluntary euthanasia would be followed by a compulsory death age at some point in order to resolve the population issue. You realise of course we'll all be locked up in the Metrocentre for hundreds of years like that till eventually one of us will escape into this post apocalyptic world, would make a good film.;)

Mark Newsome said...

Depressing times indeed... You always get the impression that it's too late for so many species, but when you see conservation success stories (eg Red Kites, Corn Crakes), you realise it's never too late. There always needs to be effort put into saving habitats/species and organisations/individuals need to continue to hassle the government. Long term, we are doomed, no doubt about it, but I really hope that my generation does all it can to delay it.

Stewart said...

Mark, just delay it long enough for me!