Lead nature agency publishes beaver licensing statistics and sparks an outcry

Captive European beaver from Highland Wildlife Park. © SNH/Lorne Gill

SNH has caused an outcry on social media after sending out the following press release. The timing of the press release couldn’t have been worse coming, as it did, the day after many UK naturalists and wildlife lovers will have seen the BBC’s Springwatch program featuring the Cornish Beaver project.

As you will see from the full text of the press release SNH 87 beavers were shot under licence, but these are in addition to those that are allegedly shot illegally. Graphic images posted on social media show dead beavers, some times pregnant females, allegedly killed, it is assumed, to stop them from causing further ‘damage’ to the areas they live in.

It does beg the question, why not move them? The UK is increasingly hit by flooding, sometimes with catestrophic consequences. Why can’t the beavers become part of the solution by helping to provide natural flood defences?

In SNH’s defence, they have stated that they are “exploring viable alternatives to lethal control” so for the sake of the beavers let’s hope they don’t take to long “exploring” and that as a result, they implement a more enlightened approach to controlling numbers and impacts.

The press release can be seen below.

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) today published a report on the challenging balance to be made between protecting beavers in Scotland and helping to prevent serious damage to some farmers’ land.
Beavers are ecosystem engineers. They provide huge benefits to people and nature, improving water quality and flow, and creating new habitats that foster many other species. However, their actions can sometimes cause serious impacts for land managers such as flooding of fields and crops. In some circumstance, it may be necessary to manage beavers and their dams under special licences issued by SNH.

Beavers became a European Protected Species on 1 May 2019. SNH reports that between 1st May and 31st December 2019, it issued 45 species licences which permitted either lethal control or dam removal. These were granted when there was no other effective solution to prevent serious agricultural damage. Five of the licences permitted dam removal or manipulation only. All licences were issued for the purpose of preventing serious damage to agriculture and all but one of these (97.5%) were issued on land classified by Scottish Government as Prime Agricultural Land. Evidence of serious damage included waterlogged fields and crops, as well as erosion on riverbanks and embankments.

One additional licence was granted to allow an experienced ecologist to live-trap beavers from sites where lethal control may otherwise have been employed. SNH also refused 33% of licence requests.

Under these licences, 15 beavers were trapped and moved to either Knapdale or a trial reintroduction project and fenced sites in England, 83 beaver dams were removed, and 87 beavers were shot by trained and accredited controllers. All lethal control licence holders were contacted about the possibility of trapping on their land, but live-trapping is not always possible on every site for a number of reasons, including the topography and general nature of the site and how beavers use it;  and the behaviour of individual animals. Based on survey information, lethal control and trapping has taken place within around 13% of territories. The proportion of the overall range of beavers in Tayside covered by licences is likely less than 10%, with control being carried out on around 5%.

The report recommends continued work with licence-holders exploring viable alternatives to lethal control, improving understanding of the impact of control measures on the Tayside population through survey and population modelling, and supporting work that better recognises the benefits of beavers for nature.

Robbie Kernahan, SNH Director of Sustainable Growth said:

“It’s always been clear to both us and our partners that lethal control of beavers will sometimes be necessary under licence as a last resort when other mitigation is unlikely to be effective. Some of the well documented and most serious issues have occurred on the most productive areas of agricultural land in Scotland. Due to their generally being well-drained, low-lying and flat, these areas are often vulnerable to beaver burrowing and dam building.

“As we work with farmers to trial new and innovative measures for reducing the impacts of beavers on this type of ground, we hope to see less need for control measures in the coming years. We also expect to see the beaver population expanding away from high conflict areas and into  suitable habitat where beavers can thrive and bring the positive benefits we want to see.”

The beavers in Tayside and surrounding areas are the result of unauthorised releases or escapes, with many animals settling on Prime Agricultural Land where they have had serious impacts. Classified Prime Agricultural Land makes up around 13% of Scotland’s land cover and, as the most productive and important farmland, it is of national importance.

SNH trapped and re-located 15 beavers in 2019, helping projects throughout the UK from Knapdale to Northumbria and Dorset. SNH will consider opportunities for conservation translocations of beavers from high to low conflict areas within existing catchments to improve resilience of existing populations. With Scottish Government we also will consider other alternative measures as part of a wider beaver mitigation strategy.

SNH also operates the Beaver Mitigation Scheme and in the first year, provided advice and support for over 40 cases and entered into 10 management agreements to implement mitigation. This work included installing flow devices, tree protection work, exclusion fencing and bank protection to protect agricultural land, infrastructure and property.

SNH has begun trialling water-gates this year, which aim to exclude beavers from areas of land where conflicts are arising or likely, as well as trialling other techniques, such as automated early-warning systems to alert people to beaver impacts, allowing rapid intervention before problems occur. Although water gates are only likely to be successful in certain situations, a number of potential water gate sites have been identified which, if successful, have the potential to fully resolve problems on 12 current licences where lethal control is permitted and partially resolve issues on a further 6 licences.

For the full statistics on 2019 mitigation, see https://bit.ly/2zzjVSh.

Call for nature lockdown stories on Biodiversity Day

Roe deer have been more visible © Catriona Reid/SNH

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) is calling on people to share their memorable stories and images of nature during lockdown.

In these unprecedented and difficult times, many people have reported finding solace in the natural world and being more interested in, and appreciative of, nature as our lives have slowed down with less travelling and more people walking and cycling daily.

In our quieter cities, towns and countryside there have been reports of unusual wildlife sightings – from a fox exploring Waverley station in Edinburgh to a deer perusing the shops in Glasgow’s Buchanan Street.

To celebrate the International Day for Biological Diversity (May 22), SNH wants to hear people’s personal experiences of nature in lockdown, whether that is spotting something new you’ve never noticed before, unusual wildlife, changes to nature locally or finding a deeper connection with the natural world.

Gathering a people’s record of nature during lockdown will complement longer-term scientific research into our growing understanding of the state of nature and the forces influencing it. 

The nature agency is also keen to encourage and support people to develop their interest, learn more and get involved in citizen science.

Staff have produced an online guide to the many nature surveys and activities that people can get involved in from their home, garden or out on a local walk.

Especially now when much professional field work is restricted, citizen science is key in helping to expand our scientific knowledge.

Professor Des Thompson, SNH’s Principal Adviser on Science and Biodiversity, said: “The true impact of Coronavirus restrictions on nature will of course take some time to establish, and there are likely to be both positive and negative impacts.

“The overwhelming positive is that so many people seem to be noticing and connecting much more with nature, and we’d love to hear any unusual or interesting nature moments that the public have experienced during the lockdown.

“Over the past few weeks we have certainly been seeing animals which are sensitive to disturbance returning to areas they formerly occupied, as well as being more active in the daytime.

“We’ve heard stories of coastal waders benefiting from quieter beaches, roe deer moving closer to populated areas, mammals such as pine martens and badgers becoming more active during daytime and foxes and other urban wildlife moving about more in cities.

 “We urge everyone who can to take the next step and get involved in recording and monitoring nature. Citizen science is not only an enjoyable way to make space for nature in your day, but is also crucial to help us understand and improve the state of Scotland’s nature for the future.”

People can submit their stories and images to BIODIVERSITY@nature.scot. Please include a full name and location.

A full list of citizen science activities that can be enjoyed during lockdown can be found here: https://www.nature.scot/scotlands-biodiversity/biodiversity-what-can-you-do/citizen-science-biodiversity

Discover a world of wildlife in your garden

At this time of year, our gardens and ponds are full of life such as wasps and tadpoles.

Natural Resource Wales is calling on people of all ages across Wales to step outside to explore the abundance of natural life to be found in their gardens as the world joins together to mark International Day for Biological Diversity (Friday, May 22).

As part of the annual celebrations, the United Nations has called on the global community to reinvigorate its relationship with nature and the many environmental benefits it delivers, including clean air and water, sustainable food supplies, and recovery and resilience to natural disasters.

The natural world is under threat here in Wales and NRW has a key role in tackling this emergency by protecting species and habitats and the sustainable management of our natural resources.

Graham Rutt, Ecological Data Specialist for NRW, explained:

“The UN International Day for Biological Diversity celebrates the wonderful diversity of nature and wildlife around our planet.

“The impact of Coronavirus has seen far more people inspired to explore nature in their communities and gardens getting to know the rich diversity of animals, insects and plants which share our homes.

“You don’t have to live in the countryside to enjoy nature – it’s all around you, even if you live in a town or city. Any green space will be home to a surprising number of species and you’ll be amazed at what you can find within walking distance of your home.”

So, what can you expect to find in your garden?

  • One of the traditional signs of spring is a garden full of butterflies. In the last few weeks, several different species of butterflies laid their eggs and their caterpillars will soon be emerging.
  • The first froglets are emerging in garden ponds in warmer areas and heading for abundant vegetation and long grass to hide in.
  • The first  damsel and dragonflies can be seen as the Spring progresses
  • Wildflowers are blooming in overlooked corners of our gardens creating unexpected colour and habitat for a variety of insects.
  • Bees are vital to healthy ecosystems through their role as pollinators and the first bumblebees can be seen busily gathering nectar and pollen

Tristan Hatton-Ellis is a habitats and species specialist advisor for NRW. He said:

“Lockdown is a difficult time for many of us, but it also provides an opportunity to notice some of the small things in life.

“In your garden, or when you are taking a walk, take a closer look at the animals and plants around you and appreciate their beauty, or their weirdness – the tiny dramas unfolding around us every day.

“Unfortunately, many amazing and beautiful species just like these are at serious risk of extinction.

“Nature and green spaces are really important for our well-being, and they are also home for so much wildlife. So if you feel inspired and want to give nature a hand, there are some great online wildlife gardening resources, such as at Buglife, Butterfly Conservation, the Freshwater Habitats Trust, the RSPB and Wildlife Trusts Wales.”

Dare to be wild! New review says get long-lasting feel-good factor from 30 Days Wild

Sky 179 (c) Matthew Roberts _
Sky © Matthew Roberts

The Wildlife Trusts and University of Derby evaluate the benefits of daily nature contact with 1,000 people over five years

The feel-good factor from simple daily contact with nature can last for months, once initiated, according to a new review from The Wildlife Trusts. The review is based on surveys completed by people taking part in 30 Days Wild – the UK’s biggest nature challenge which is run by The Wildlife Trusts and inspires daily acts of nature engagement every day during June.

Building on three peer-reviewed papers, the University of Derby has evaluated survey responses from more than 1,000 people over five years and discovered the enduring effects on wellbeing from participation in 30 Days Wild – the positive effects are still felt two months after the challenge is over.

30 Days Wild participants are provided with ideas, wallcharts and activity sheets that give everyone easy ways of enjoying nature whatever their location. These ‘random acts of wildness’ range from walking barefoot on grass, to sitting beneath a tree or watching birds on a feeder.

Key findings:

30 Days Wild – a five-year review is a summary of 1,105 people’s responses. The results show that taking part in 30 Days Wild not only significantly increases people’s wellbeing and heightened sense of nature – but that these positive increases are sustained beyond the life of the challenge – for a minimum of two months after it is over. The people who benefit most are those who have a relatively weak connection with nature at the start.

  • 30 Days Wild resulted in very significant increases in nature connectedness for those who began with a weak connection to nature – their nature connectedness rose by 56%
  • 30 Days Wild boosted the health of participants by an average of 30%
  • 30 Days Wild made people, particularly those who started with a relatively weak connection to nature, significantly happier
  • 30 Days Wild inspired significant increases in pro-nature behaviour

Other important findings include:

  • People were asked to rate their health, nature connectedness, happiness and pro-nature behaviour before beginning the challenge, again at the beginning of July when the challenge had finished, and then for a third time in September, two months after the challenge had finished. All positive increases were maintained both immediately after the challenge and also two months later.
  • Overall, those participants with the lowest connection to nature before doing the 30 Days Wild challenge gained the greatest benefits by taking part in the challenge.

Professor Miles Richardson, Professor of Human Factors and Nature Connectedness at the University of Derby, says:

“This five-year evaluation of 30 Days Wild has produced remarkable results – it shows the positive power of simple engagement with nature. We were thrilled to see that the significant increases in people’s health and happiness were still felt even two months after the 30 Days Wild challenge was over.

“The Wildlife Trusts have shown the importance of doing simple things to enjoy everyday nature and that it can bring considerable benefits. What really stood out was how the people who didn’t feel a connection with nature at the outset were the ones who benefitted most from taking part in 30 Days Wild.”

Over a million people have taken part in 30 Days Wild during the last five years. Last year, 2019, was the most successful so far, attracting 400,000 participants. This June, The Wildlife Trusts believe the challenge will prove more popular than ever as the UK battles with social restrictions and people are looking for ways to keep spirits up and entertain young families. Whilst time spent outside may be limited, daily nature activities – even at home – can open a door to a world of sensory delights, from listening to birdsong or growing a pot of wildflowers on a windowsill.

People of all ages can sign-up and download fun ideas, wallcharts, activity sheets and inspiration for going wild in nature during June.  This year the campaign is 100% digital and everyone can download materials for FREE.

Dom Higgins, head of health and education at The Wildlife Trusts, says:

“Every June, The Wildlife Trusts get very excited to see people becoming closer to nature in their daily lives. With 30 Days Wild there’s so much fun, enchantment and inspiration to be had. Connecting with nature every day, in an easy way, is a must have for our own wellbeing. That’s why The Wildlife Trusts are campaigning for better, wilder places near to where we all live and work so that everyone, everywhere, can enjoy nature on the doorstep.

“Dare to be wild this June! We want to encourage people who are least likely to spend time in nature in their daily lives to take part in the 30 Days Wild challenge and give it a go – those people who do not feel much of a connection to nature – because we know that they’re the ones who will benefit most from doing it.

“Our lives have been changed by coronavirus and this is giving people a reason to reflect on our relationship with nature, the way we live our lives and how we spend our free time.  Precious moments outside on a daily walk help us to relax and feel happier. Even watching wildlife from a window, or on a webcam, connects us to that sense of being a part of nature, not apart from it.”

30 Days Wild has attracted well-known supporters: TV presenters Ellie Harrison, Monty Don and Dr Amir Khan, The Vamps’ James McVey, fitness blogger Zanna van Dijk, and Birdgirl – Mya-Rose Craig, have lent their support to The Wildlife Trusts’ 30 Days Wild challenge.

The 2020 challenge has brand new downloads to enjoy, including:

  • Wildlife gardening tips from Monty Don
  • Beginner’s guide to wildlife photography from award-winning George Stoyle
  • Wild fitness ideas from Zanna Van Dijk

Our Big Wild Weekend events will focus on nature at home – on Saturday 20th June everyone’s invited to camp in their back garden or create a wild and beautiful nature den indoors!

30 Days Wild – a five-year review can be downloaded here.

Sign-up, download the inspiration and get ready to share your daily #30DaysWild now! www.wildlifetrusts.org/30DaysWild

Actor Martin Shaw teams up with ornithologists to support well-being and mental health; encouraging us to “stop and watch”

Robin by Gray Images

Actor Martin Shaw,  known for his roles in The Professionals, Judge John Deed and Inspector George Gently, has teamed up with the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) to promote the value of connecting with nature through mindful birdwatching, as part of Mental Health Awareness Week.

The well-being benefits of connecting with nature are now better recognised than ever before, with a growing body of scientific evidence demonstrating the positive effects on health and well-being that come from interacting with the natural world. Some GPs now prescribe birdwatching and other outdoor activities to help treat stress and other conditions.

Mindfulness has similarly been proved to support our mental well-being… so what if we combine the benefits of nature and birdwatching with mindfulness?

Actor Martin Shaw, working with the BTO, has done just that and produced a downloadable podcast, Stop to Watch – A time to be with nature. The podcast guides listeners through a mindfulness approach that can be used to let the stresses of the day melt away while you focus on birds.

Deb Lee of the BTO said, “We should not underestimate the healing power of taking time out to be with nature, particularly during these very strange and stressful times. Spending time with nature doesn’t have to take you to a nature reserve; it can be experienced from home – listening to the sounds, feeling the wind, or the sun. It is about focussing on what is around us and experiencing the wonder of it.”

The podcast is being launched as part of Mental Health Awareness Week 2020, which runs from 18–24th May.

The Stop to Watch podcast is free and can be downloaded from www.bto.org/podcast

Alien Detectives wanted!

Conon River project
Removing Himalayan balsam ©SISI project

People are being urged to get involved in a new lockdown assault on invasive non-native species from the comfort of their own homes.

The Scottish Invasive Species Initiative (SISI) has today launched Alien Detectives – a fun and educational online resource to help the young, and not so young, learn more about alien – or non-native – invasive species.

Originally designed as a school education pack, the huge array of activities now includes a wide range of fun games and activities that anyone can enjoy at home, in the garden or on local walks during lockdown.

Alien Detectives includes crafts, quizzes, worksheets, presentations and puzzles all themed around invasive species and the river environment. Although primarily aimed at young people, anyone with an interest in the environment or invasive species can enjoy them too.

Callum Sinclair, SISI Project Manager, said: “Our project team has been busy while home working during the lockdown to produce these fantastic resources. We hope that becoming ‘Alien Detectives’ will bring many hours of enjoyment to individuals and families during lockdown, especially at a time when most young people are not in a regular school environment and might be looking for a new challenge or activities to continue their learning.

“‘Invasive non-native species might be a new topic to many but it is a really important one – invasive species can have a major impact on our environment and native wildlife and are responsible for significant biodiversity loss in Scotland and across the world. We hope these resources will help raise awareness of the impacts of invasive species and inspire more young people to learn something about them.

“No prior knowledge is needed and there’s lots to learn and have fun with so become an Alien Detective and help us tackle invasive species today!”

Vicky Hilton, SISI Volunteer and Communication Officer, added: “To help structured learning the resource pack is laid out across themes including discovering what aliens are, how they got here, what makes them successful, how we can prevent them taking over and how to find and capture them.

“Each theme has several activities and in addition, there is a whole section devoted to fun crafts, puzzles and games – from invasive species battleships, top trumps and making an exploding seed pod to crosswords, pictograms and word searches. There is also a certificate for those who have earned the sought-after status of ‘Alien Detective’.”

All of the ‘Alien Detectives’ resources can be found at www.invasivespecies.scot/alien-detectives

The Scottish Invasive Species Initiative works with communities and volunteers to remove and control invasive non-native plant species and American mink from the countryside. The project also delivers a range of educational and awareness raising activities which includes working in schools and with community groups.

To find out more about the Scottish Invasive Species Initiative, including volunteering with the project, visit www.invasivespecies.scot , follow on social media or contact the team on sisi@nature.scot

Beavers Build Back Better – but their future is not secure

Devon Wildlife Trust Beaver female with kits (C) Michael Symes
Devon Wildlife Trust Beaver female with kits © Michael Symes

The Wildlife Trusts have pioneered the reintroduction of beavers to Britain ever since Kent Wildlife Trust released these industrious creatures into a fenced area of fenland in 2001. Then followed the Scottish Beaver Trial, which saw the first ever reintroduction of a native extinct mammal to the British Isles since they were hunted to extinction over 400 years ago. Later, in 2015, the River Otter Beaver Trial, based in East Devon and led by Devon Wildlife Trust, enabled beavers to roam wild again in England.

Beavers are back, but their future is not secure.  The Wildlife Trusts are calling for a Beaver Strategy for England which would provide a roadmap for a future where:

  • There are more beavers in many more catchments
  • Beaver populations are healthy and thriving
  • Management frameworks are agreed which provide support for farmers, landowners and river users
  • Beaver impacts and their population health are scientifically monitored

The Wildlife Trusts and our partners believe that beavers should be an integral part of a green recovery. The impressive and ever-growing body of independent scientific evidence reveals the vast array of benefits that beavers can bring to society by working with nature. These include:

  • Improved water quality: Beaver dams slow and filter water, causing sediment and nutrients to be deposited in ponds. This improves the quality of water flowing from sites where beavers are present.
  • Land holds more water: The dams, ponds and channels created by beavers increase capacity of land to store water and produce a more consistent outflow below their dams. This can result in less water being released during heavy rainfall (reducing flooding downstream) and more water availability during times of drought.
  • Carbon is captured: Beaver wetlands capture carbon, locked up in dams, and boggy vegetation and wet woodlands which are restored.
  • More wildlife: Beavers create diverse wetland habitats that can provide a home for a wide range of wildlife, especially aquatic invertebrates which act as a food source for other species.
  • People engaged with wildlife: People are fascinated by beavers. The presence of beavers in an area provides an opportunity for people to engage with wildlife, as well as creating a market for nature tourism.

Beavers create thriving ecosystems helping us to put nature firmly back on the road to recovery.  And they do all this for free.

By working alongside farmers, landowners, river users and local communities we have learnt that management is essential if we are to maximise the benefits that beavers provide.  We now have a range of carefully honed techniques which can help us do this, which help avoid or minimise any localised negative impacts which might occur. We have gained widespread support for our recommended approaches in Scotland and Devon.

We are also calling on government to provide farmers and landowners with financial support to make space for water and beavers on their land. This will reward those who give up some of their land to benefit communities downstream, which will benefit from lower flood or drought risk and higher water quality.

Craig Bennett, CEO of The Wildlife Trusts, says:

“Beavers are proving just what a valuable force they can be in helping to solve the nature and climate crises. Their extraordinary ability to naturalise landscapes, improving them for other wildlife, enhancing water quality and controlling water flow makes them a vital component of a modern approach to land management.  People love beavers and their presence has really boosted tourism in the places where they’ve been reintroduced.

“Now it is time to look forward and set out an ambitious vision for the return of these animals.  But this must be done properly and thoughtfully, with the right support systems in place.   That’s why it is so important that the government publishes its beaver strategy soon.”

Harry Barton, CEO of Devon Wildlife Trust, says:

“This is an incredibly exciting time for re-establishing beavers and bringing them back where they belong.  The work we’ve done on the river Otter over the past five years, with a team of international experts led by the University of Exeter, shows just how many benefits these fascinating animals can bring, and how we can manage any problems that might arise.   It’s now time to seize the moment and take this exciting work forward so that beavers can deliver their many benefits on a larger scale.  We look forward to a swift and positive response from the government.”

Professor Richard Brazier, University of Exeter, chair of the Science and Evidence Forum that published the River Otter Beaver Trial Report, says:

“Our detailed research programmes have concluded that the positive impacts of beavers outweighed the negatives. A summary of the quantifiable cost and benefits of beaver reintroduction in the River Otter in Devon demonstrates that the ecosystem services and social benefits accrued are greater than the financial costs incurred.”

The Wildlife Trusts are gathering public support for an England beaver strategy – play your part here: wtru.st/act-for-beavers

Over 7,000 people sign up for garden citizen science survey during lockdown

House Sparrow by Edmund Fellowes/BTO

Gardens cover more land than nature reserves in the UK, yet their importance for our wildlife is under recorded – is that about to change?

While our movements have been restricted, many of us have spent more time watching and enjoying our garden wildlife. Since the beginning of April, over 7,000 people have taken the opportunity to engage with the UK’s most robust garden wildlife survey, joining 11,000 existing members and turning their observations into scientific data, by joining Garden BirdWatch (GBW), a long-term garden wildlife survey run by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO).

Garden BirdWatch records help scientists at the BTO understand how garden birds and wildlife are changing over time. Thanks to the sightings of thousands of Garden BirdWatch volunteers we understand more about how wildlife uses the food, shelter and other resources in our gardens, and the threats they face, such as disease. Most importantly, the more we know about how birds and animals use our gardens, the more we can improve our cities, towns, villages and individual gardens for wildlife.

Garden BirdWatch membership was made free in April (it normally costs £17), in an attempt to help people find an enjoyable purpose in their garden birdwatching during this period of uncertainty. The free membership offer will continue while the current movement restrictions remain in place, each free membership lasting for a year.

Kate Risely, GBW Organiser at the BTO said, “Many more people are turning to their gardens for interest and to watch wildlife, and we are delighted that so many want to contribute their sightings to our research. Garden BirdWatch has been running for 25 years, making the survey older than some of our younger volunteers. We hope some of the people who have joined this year will still be participating many years in the future!”

Make your garden wildlife observations count by joining BTO Garden BirdWatch free at www.bto.org/gbw

MPs must seize huge opportunity for green recovery this week

The Wildlife Trusts quite understandably want the UK government to put nature at the forefront of The Agriculture Bill. But with minds focused on Covid-19 and Brexit, you have to wonder if the will is there, in parliament, to seize this opportunity.

Wetland area on the edge of a field of sheep with hills in the background.
© Phil Pickin

The Agriculture Bill returns to parliament on Wednesday 13th May – this will be the last opportunity for MPs to amend the bill, which could kick-start a green recovery by enabling nature to be restored after decades of loss, before it passes to the House of Lords.

The Bill will become the first piece of legislation to be voted on by the House of Commons’ new virtual voting procedures – an apt piece of legislation since lockdown conditions have triggered a surge of interest in people seeking solace in nature.

A large part of our nature is dependent on the way that we manage the 70% of land which is farmed. We live in one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world and The Wildlife Trusts believe that the focus of the Agriculture Bill must be to reward farmers for public goods – in other words, to switch from the old system of paying farmers for owning land to a reformed system of paying them for their role in fighting the climate and nature crises and delivering benefits to society for which the market cannot pay.

Craig Bennett, CEO of The Wildlife Trusts says:

“We know that coronavirus has made people value nature more than ever; polls also suggest people have been worried about access to food. You can’t have food security without nature being in good shape – you can’t grow food without pollinators or healthy soils. It’s vital that we recognise the important role farmers could play in nature and our climate’s recovery – this Bill could mark a watershed, a shift towards a green renaissance which would be good for the economy too. MPs must not be swayed by the ‘return to business as usual’ lobby.

“We shouldn’t be using taxpayers’ money to subsidise what the market can pay for, and we certainly shouldn’t be using it to subsidise farming practices that damage the environment.  We should only be using taxpayers money to reward farmers for creating public goods such as restoring hedgerows and wildflower meadows, for creating wetlands that filter agri-chemicals and protect rivers and our drinking water from pollution, and for protecting soils so they can capture carbon, sustain future harvests and not be washed into rivers.”

The Wildlife Trusts are part of Greener UK – a coalition of 13 major green charities – that are calling for the Agriculture Bill to:

• Ensure that farmers in the UK are not undercut by imported food produced to lower standards

• Require a long-term funding framework to be set at a scale required to help tackle the climate and environment emergency

• Ensure a suitable regulatory baseline of environmental standards is in place as we leave the EU

92% of the public want farming to focus on tackling the climate and nature crises [1]. Research shows that £3billion minimum is need for nature-friendly farming [2]. The UK currently spends around £3.2 billion a year on both farm income support and environmental payments under the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). A report published by the National Trust, RSPB and The Wildlife Trusts last autumn provided justification for re-investing the current annual UK CAP budget to help farmers and land managers to restore nature and tackle climate change on their land.

Stay alert for nature – helping wildlife out of the lockdown

Lapwing nest - credit Andrew Gouldstone
Lapwing nest – © Andrew Gouldstone

Millions of people have found solace in nature during the six weeks since the lockdown started. Now nature needs our help and space if it is to thrive as we head outdoors. The RSPB calls for people to stay alert for wildlife.

For most UK species, breeding season is now in full swing and wildlife is at its most vulnerable point of the year. Our countryside birds, mammals and reptiles will normally avoid busier areas of human activity to ensure their nests and young are safe from accidental harm, steering clear of popular beaches, busy footpaths or dog walking hot spots.

The RSPB’s Director of England, Emma Marsh said “This year, nature hasn’t needed to adapt to human behaviour, as we stayed home, and some of our wildlife has reclaimed the places we’ve temporarily given up. As we head back out, we need to be alert and avoid disturbing nature as it gets on with producing the next generation.”

Being alert is particularly important for threatened species such as little terns and ringed plover which nest on beaches and could abandon nests or chicks if we don’t stay alert at the seaside.

Following five simple steps could make all the difference in helping our wildlife as we ease out of lockdown and get back into the countryside.

  1. Stay Alert – any habitat can be a home for wildlife and many of our most vulnerable species are very good at hiding themselves in plain sight. Beaches are home to threatened ground-nesting birds like little terns and ringed plover, while seals have been choosing to rest at popular spots during the lockdown. Even the grass verges next to paths could be hiding skylark or meadow pipit chicks!
  2. Stick to paths and bridleways – the simplest way to give nature space is to keep to the spaces we usually use most, so please do stay on the amazing network of public footpaths and bridleways across England.
  3. Keep dogs on leads in the open countryside – They might be man’s best friend but for vulnerable chicks, a dog bounding through a nest can pose a real threat. Keeping your dog on a lead in the open countryside will help protect both wildlife and livestock. Heathlands are home to ground-nesting rare nightjar and woodlark, which can be easily disturbed by dogs off leads.
  4. Back away if you disturb a breeding species. Short, sharp alarm calls, birds with full beaks or coming unusually near to you usually mean you are too close to young, which can often be very well hidden even if they are almost underfoot! If you see any of this behaviour, you should back up the way you came to avoid any risk of disturbing or injuring young, being careful to watch where you tread.
  5. Report bad behaviour – If you notice anything suspicious going on in your local countryside, such as evidence of wildlife crime, fly-tipping or uncontrolled fires, then please do report this to your local wildlife crime officer using the police 101 number.

Nature is still in crisis with more than 40 million birds having vanished from UK skies in just 50 years, 56% of species in the UK are in decline, and one in ten of our wildlife are critically endangered. The RSPB is looking carefully at how and when we can start to re-open our network of nature reserves safely for both people and wildlife.

For now, our reserves remain closed, until they are ready to welcome back visitors.  Please visit www.rspb.org.uk for the latest information on the reserves nearest you