(Author: MartinHarper; Photo: Andy Hay; 3 Mar 2017)
I have been wearing a stone-curlew pin badge on my lapel this week to mark the recovery of this fabulous species.
Stone-curlews were once widespread in England and numbered two thousand pairs in the 1930s. However, numbers declined dramatically over the next 50 years when changes in land use resulted in catastrophic habitat loss. By 1991, only 168 pairs remained
Yet, this is a story with a happy ending. Through 30 years of hard graft, the RSPB and Natural England have forged a powerful partnership with landowners, farmers and volunteers in Wessex and the Brecks to help bring the population to its current 400 pairs. Not only has the stone-curlew been downgraded from a species of Red Conservation Concern to Amber, but through a five year EU Life funded project we now think the stone-curlew population is large enough to support itself, given enough safe nesting habitat.
On Tuesday we held a conference to mark this achievement and, as part of the day, we heard about other species recovery successes from across Europe (such as the Azores bullfinch) and elsewhere in the UK (such as the cirl bunting). It was quite a day. I joined the afternoon and evening session having spent the morning being updated on our work to protect 350,000 hectares of Gola rainforest on the border between Sierra Leone and Liberia and even sniffed the first chocolate made by cocoa farmers on land between the forested areas. We want to support cocoa farming that is good for wildlife, prevents pressure on the rainforest and also creates sustainable livelihoods for the people living around the forest. Our ambition, of course, is to be able one day to say to our members “eat this chocolate and help save Gola rainforest”.
Reflecting on the day, I was struck by the similarities of the various conservation successes which had been showcased. The ingredients of success in each of these conservation projects were common: more, bigger, connected protected areas with sustainable land use in intervening areas, coupled with targeted action and funding for threatened species, supported by committed partners from national/local government, business and local people. And, of course, all these projects all contribute to the global plan for halting the loss of biodiversity expressed through the Convention on Biological Diversity Aichi targets – targets 11 (for well managed land and sea) and 12 (for recovering threatened species).
Putting a spotlight on success is important as it reminds us that, as well as documenting declines, we can improve the natural environment. Our collective experience gives hope and confidence that together we can make the world a better place for people and wildlife. What we need now is for decision-makers to stick to their ambitions to restore wildlife in a generation and come up with plans which build on the success of these projects, with resources commensurate to the scale of the challenge.
And, given the uncertainties around Brexit (especially about future status of internationally important protected areas and future funding for nature friendly farming), we within civil society must continue to make the case for action. This is why we are delighted to have 41 MPs, 83 MSPs, 25 AMs (in Wales) and even 4 MEPs who are Species Champions and who are prepared to use their political voices for the protection and recovery of threatened wildlife. Together, we can turn things around.