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A roadmap for wildlife

Tom Feilden | 10:36 UK time, Wednesday, 9 March 2011

The RSPB's Andre Farrah standing beside the Holme Fen post at Holme Fen National Nature Reserve

Standing beside the Holme Fen post on the edge of what was once the largest lowland lake in England, Whittlesey Mere just south of Peterborough, you get some idea of the formidable task at hand.

The post, originally a cast iron strut from the Crystal Palace at the Great Exhibition, was driven into the peat flush with the ground in 1852. But as the fenland habitat has been drained to make way for intensive agriculture the peat has shrunk, exposing more and more of the post which now towers overhead.

It's a tangible reminder, according to the RSPB's Andre Farrar, of the staggering power of the incremental changes man has wrought on natural habitats and the ecosystems they sustain.

"It illustrates just how much we've lost over the last 150 years. As the peat dries out it oxidises and erodes. It simply blows away. And while this little patch is still a great haven for wildlife, it's nothing compared to the 1000 square miles of wetland habitat that used to be the fens".

A further demonstration of that power came last year (the International Year of Biodiversity), when the UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon was forced to admit that efforts to halt the remorseless decline of plant and animal species worldwide had failed.

The 2010 deadline was originally set - amid much fanfare and back slapping - at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, and world leaders met in Nagoya, Japan last November to pick over the ashes of that failure and to agree a new deal. That they did, promising to halt the loss of global biodiversity by 2020.

Both the EU and the British Government have signed up to the new target, but what are the chances that this time it will be met?

The RSPB isn't waiting to find out. The charity is launching what it claims is the most ambitious campaign of its 122 year history. Stepping Up for Nature sets out a roadmap to reach the 2020 target, incorporating a series of interim targets and objectives to keep the government on track.

Phase one of the plan focuses on reforming European farming policy, the creation of marine protected areas, halting the loss of tropical rainforests, and amending planning legislation in the UK to take more account of the environmental impact of development.

"When we missed the 2010 biodiversity target we failed nature," says the RSPB's chief executive Mike Clarke. "We can't let that happen again. We have a choice here, and if we make the right choice we can create a space for nature, ensure vital habitats are not lost, and bring back those species on the brink."

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One of the key speakers at the launch will be Environment secretary Caroline Spelman. Commenting on the programme this morning she stressed the Government's commitment to the environment and to establishing a green infrastructure, joining up the network of wildlife sites across the country.

Interestingly the Government seems to have identified conservation as an area where the Big Society is already flourishing. Caroline Spelman wants to tap into the expertise - and the vast army of potential volunteers the RSPB's million members represent - to monitor the impact of environmental stewardship schemes.

"We give money to farmers to attract birds to come and nest, but who checks the outcome? Did the skylarks come, did they successfully nest? That's where these partnerships with the RSPB and with farmers come in. Is the money we're devoting to these schemes really producing the outcomes we want to achieve?"

Whether the RSPB, or its members, will be as keen to take on the role of environmental policeman remains to be seen.


  • Comment number 1.

    I'm an RSPB member and would be willing to help but would there be training?

  • Comment number 2.

    Who will decide that the RSPB are fit to be an enviromental policeman?
    They seem far more interested in increasing their membership than protecting nature. They seem incapable of making a real stand against raptor persecution and the recently proposed corvid cull for instance, preferring not to upset the hunting and shooting fraternity. They have failed abjectly to speak out against the SNH and its attempts to trap the Eurasian Beavers that were formerly extinct but are now thriving on the Tay in Scotland. Thousands of pounds spent on protecting Cirl Buntings, a bird on the edge of its range in the UK and not in anyway in danger in Europe. Even more spent on the common Crane reintroduction project. Hasn't anyone told them they have found their own way back to breed in the UK?
    Its founders must be turning in their graves. Like most conservation groups in this country they spend far too much money trying to manage(or should I say garden?) land and to preserve land that has been altered by agriculture,for example their obsession with chopping down trees to recreate heathland and the preservation of the deserts that are our sheep ravaged uplands. The truth is they just dont trust Mother Nature to find her own way.


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