Interesting to note the recent appeals from the RSPB which is aiming to raise funding to buy land adjacent to their existing reserve at Mersehead. There’s no doubt that Mersehead is a grand place, and in fact it is so near my home that I often walk the dogs there on winter evenings after work.
On the face of it, making nature reserves bigger should be a no-brainer, but I start to wonder if it really is the right path. The RSPB is already one of the biggest landowners in Scotland, and it’s hard to see what real benefit we will gain from their ownership of even more land. Sustainable, future-proof conservation will depend upon integrating wildlife into a real, living countryside with genuine financial pressures. This new appeal to raise £285,000 will simply lift the land into a bubble-wrapped world – an island of conservation bliss in an ocean of change and decline.
It is difficult to see an endgame when you set out to fix the countryside by buying it, and there is little doubt that £285,000 could be more effectively spent on rolling out conservation lessons learnt on the existing reserve to privately owned farms along the entire Solway coast. Real change and progress in conservation will come when we work out how to unlock busy farmers and commercial foresters, and buying land to squirrel away makes no progress in that direction.
Despite a massive and vastly effective PR and fund-raising machine, the RSPB frequently fails to connect with the farmers and landowners who could make a real difference – (perhaps that’s a consequence of ten years spent blaming farmers for the decline in wild birds). It may be ambitious, but if the RSPB could get under the skin of existing land-based industries rather than forever colliding with them, they might find themselves welcome to have a say in the management of the entire country.
Just a thought.