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Don’t let Nature suffer for our inaction on climate change

PUBLISHED: 11:53 06 December 2017

Climate change: The RSPB has recorded its impact on bird species.

Climate change: The RSPB has recorded its impact on bird species.

PA Archive/PA Photos

James Robinson, RSPB Regional Director of the East of England, considers the overarching message from the latest State of the UK’s Birds report.

Yesterday, the 2017 State of the UK’s Birds report was published. A report that has provided an annual overview of the status of bird populations in the UK and our Overseas Territories since 1999. It provides a one-stop shop for annual, on-going and one-off bird survey results; data gathered by a partnership of government bodies and charities and collected by many thousands of volunteers, who give their time for free.

Waiting for it to land on my desk, pre-empting some expected and unexpected headlines – good news and bad news, overcome obstacles and continued challenges - curiosity led me to question how much progress have we made?

Rewinding 17 years, and dusting off my filed copy of the 2000 report, it was striking how many of the headlines that marked a new millennium still resonate. Bitterns, stone-curlews, illegal raptor persecution, declines in widespread farmland birds, changes in populations of migratory waterbirds and climate change dominated.

Now with the 2017 report splayed out in front of me for comparison, it is easy to see that while some messages have changed, species and themes remain. Not all of the 2000 headlines mirror those of 2017, but each of them gets a mention in the report itself.

Bitterns and stone-curlews continue to make a comeback due to determined conservation action while raptor persecution endures despite public outrage. Specialist farmland birds continue to decline except where targeted schemes have been taken up by farmers and those migratory waterbirds that come here to spend the winter or re-fuel for journeys elsewhere experience mixed fortunes.

The most significant change, however, comes in the form of climate change impacts. Back in 2000, the report stated: “Climate is known to have a considerable impact upon both breeding and wintering birds, and climate change will pose a very significant challenge to the conservation of species and their habitats.”

This we still know to be true, but now, after collecting 17 years’ worth of data, the effects of climate change on different species are the headlines. We are beginning to see which birds are adapting and thriving, and which are suffering and declining.

We anticipated these changes. The predictions are captured in writing, nearly two decades ago. Despite the knowing, the science, the good-meaning, very little has been done to halt these potentially catastrophic changes. As a society, we have not been acting, we have just been reporting.

The want, the will, and the need to change are all there. It is the strong decision-making, leadership, cooperation and coordination which needs to step up. However, we must not lose hope. There is still time to turn around the fortunes of our beloved birds, mammals, insects and plants that are tainted by the future of climate change.

Clearer direction and decisions need to come from government, but equally, we must make individual waves. Our consumption in all its different forms has an impact. The energy you use to supply your house, the purchases you make in the supermarket, and the transport you take there and back.

Luckily with a new year, comes a new you. Let’s make 2018 the year that we all start to take climate change seriously.

James Robinson is RSPB Regional Director of the East of England

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