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Recession Road: Fairburn Ings

Phil Coomes | 17:35 UK time, Tuesday, 15 September 2009

This post is from our Recession Road series, part of our special report on the global downturn.

RSPB reserve, Fairburn Ings

Talk about green shoots of recovery. Seeking some tranquillity away from the A1, we've come to Fairburn Ings, a 7,413-acre RSPB reserve which is a regenerated coal mining area near Castleford, in the Aire Valley.

Maybe it's a sign of how seriously people take the environment and nature these days that plans for an open-cast mine nearby were recently defeated by local campaigners, despite the promise of more than 40 jobs.

RatNo time for proper bird-watching for us (enjoy the picture of the cuddly rat though...), but we did have a chat with an enthusiast and newly-recruited volunteer at the reserve.

He didn't want to divulge his name, but as a new retiree he said he was worried about how the recession would affect his pension. And the students he had been teaching until this summer were struggling to get jobs, as was his own daughter, he said.

Another volunteer had started at Fairburn Ings recently - despite knowing nothing about birds - because he was "going mad" with boredom at home, having been made redundant from his job, he told us.

As for the RSPB, how does a large charity like this survive a recession?

A spokesman at the head office - on the A1 in Bedfordshire - explained that the charity had maintained its one million-plus membership levels pretty well through the recession.

And visitor numbers to their reserves were up 20% in the first quarter of this year - something they are putting down partly to the so-called "staycation" phenomenon.

But other factors were putting holes in the charity's budget, he said. The RSPB gets about 27% of its income from legacies, but towards the end of last year the worth of those dipped as property and shares lost value.

They have been saving some money by not filling vacant posts, and by putting some longer term aspirations on hold - such as plans to digitise all their film footage.

But recently they detected a "welcome rise" again in their legacy income. "We are taking that as a sign of optimism and no more," he said.

Meanwhile, with one in eight bird species facing extinction in the world, the continual job of setting their priorities goes on.

"You could argue we are always in recession because the amount of work we aspire to do can never be fully funded."

You can read an explanation of our Recession Road series here. Words: Paula Dear; Images: Phil Coomes.

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