Conservation: 2013 in review

It has been a year with many ups and downs for wildlife, but one where I think we’ve seen that a growing awareness that the disconnection from nature among adults and children is bad news for wildlife in the long term, and that a largely Conservative Government is capable of doing some things right but has largely let the natural environment slip from the agenda and is more willing to favour business interests and large landowners than it is our native species.

We’ve also seen the crystallising of some exciting debates in conservation, including those around rewilding, ecosystem services and biodiversity offsetting.

Most importantly, for me (because of personal connections), we’ve seen a vibrant youth conservation movement in the UK begin to take shape, largely through the hard work of Lucy McRobert and A Focus on Nature.

I’d like to say thanks as well to everyone who has supported me and read this blog in 2013. And to some individuals who have been a particular influence in my conservation life over the past 12 months, particularly Harry Huyton, Tom Mason, Mark Harrison, David Lindo, Oliver Tickell, David Tipling, Mark Avery, Lucy McRobert, Pete Cooper, Stephen Moss and many others.

In 2014 I plan to make this blog even more regular, to continue to focus on the themes of nature, youth, climate change, social change and photography, and to start introducing some guest posts from friends in the conservation sector.

Happy New Year everyone!

Now, here are some highlights from the last 12 months.

January: A long-awaited report revealed some good news for the future of England’s forests.

February: Hundreds of seabirds were killed by a mysterious substance that was assumed to have been discharged by ships at sea. Later in the year the International Maritime Organization worked quickly to ban the substance.

March: Natural England decided to protect a nationally important population of the emblematic nightingale that was threatened by proposed housing development, by enlarging a protected area.

April: Myself and a friend wrote a letter to the Sunday Times about the Government’s plans to remove teaching about the environment from the national curriculum. We gathered nearly 100 signatories including Sir David Attenborough.

The EU imposed a temporary ban on neonicotinoids, the pesticides used widely in agriculture that are thought to be one of the key factors causing the catastrophic declines of species such as bees.

A coalition of business and environmental NGOs wrote to Government asking them to limit the felling and burning of trees for electricity production, which can be worse for the climate than coal and devastating for wildlife.

May: Probably the biggest month of the year for conservation. The State of Nature report was launched. This landmark collaboration between the UK’s conservation NGOs shows that 60% of wildlife studied across the UK has declined in the past 50 years.

It became clear that this was going to be the first year in decades when no hen harriers bred in England, highlighting more than ever the ongoing issue of illegal persecution of birds of prey across the UK.

Also the month when George Monbiot’s Feral  was published, sparking a debate about the scale of ambition of the UK conservation movement.

I finished my role as a Climate Change Policy Officer at the RSPB. I had spent one year learning a huge amount about how to understand and write about policy detail, and how to undertake lobbying and build coalitions for this effect.

June: The RSPB launched its campaign, rebrand and TV advert based on the theme of Nature’s Home. See my thoughts on this here.

July: On a personal note, I moved to Indonesian Borneo and began work for the Orangutan Tropical Peatland Project, working to protect the Sabangau rainforest and its incredible range of wildlife. Blogs and photos about my year here are available on this site.

August: The Common Cause for Nature report was published (disclaimer: I was a researcher for the report) examining campaigning and communications in the conservation sector. It showed that conservation NGOs could do more at promoting the values of caring for the environment and love for nature, and instead too often try to leverage dominant values of status, wealth and consumption.

The culling of badgers began in two pilot areas.

A tide of protesters fought back the bulldozers hoping to begin fracking for dirty shale gas in Balcombe. This was a crucial blow to a technology which would extend our dependence on fossil fuels.

September: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published its long-awaited fifth assessment report, showing more compellingly than ever before the need for citizens to work together with each other, governments and business to tackle climate change.

October: The RSPB launched a report on childhood connection to nature, showing that only one in five children benefit from the kind of connection they need to help them be mentally and physically healthy. This month also saw the launch of the Project Wild Thing film, on how to reconnect children with nature.

November: The badger cull proved to be a resounding failure at achieving its targets for numbers of animals culled. I’m not really clear yet on whether this is good news and means no more culls will occur or whether it means more aggressive, less humane tactics might be considered for conducting this fool’s errand that science shows will have little impact on bovine TB.

The Nature Check report revealed that Government is doing ok in some areas and terribly in others (designating marine protected areas, for example) for protecting wildlife.

December: The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs settled on a deal which was pleasing but far from perfect on how to spend European Union money given to farmers. Given how much of our countryside is farmed, and the current declines of farmland wildlife, this was a key decision about how to spend millions of pounds. Instead of the maximum 15% going towards helping wildlife on farmland, only 12% in England will go to this (with 9% in Scotland and 15% in Wales). This figure followed a massive campaign by NGOs and progressive farmers.

The highest storm surge since 1953 battered the UK’s coasts, and nature reserves took a beating but in doing so soaked up some of the impact.

The Airports Commission published its interim report on runways and airports for the UK. leaving aside the climate side of this debate, it retained in its shortlist one option for an airport in the Thames Estuary, which would be devastating to an area teeming with wildlife squeezed in an already industrially-busy part of south-east England.

The sun sets on 2013, an exciting year in conservation.

The sun sets on 2013, an exciting year in conservation.

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