Celebrating the wins in conservation

22nd March 2021

Photo credit: Jonathan Hall

2020 was meant to be a super year but ended up being traumatic for all of us. We all now know the human health and economic consequences of what happens if we fail to treat nature with respect.

Yet, even though the pandemic is the greatest disruption to global society in more than a century, this is the foretaste of what may come as a result if we fail to deal with the nature and climate emergency. That is why there is nothing more important than the need to inspire a world richer in nature – a mission which the RSPB is taking seriously.

With 2021 set to be the new super year for biodiversity, what lessons can we take forward? The past year has shown that even with adversity, we can achieve great things – and there is always a need to celebrate the wins. With that in mind, below are some of the conservation success stories from the RSPB and partners’ past year.

  • The new Marine Protection Zone around the UK overseas territory Tristan da Cunha became the largest ‘no-take zone’ in the Atlantic, and the fourth largest on the planet. The Marine Protection Zone spans almost 700,000km2, within which no fishing or other extractive activities are permitted
  • The Namibian Albatross Task Force (part of the BirdLife International Global Marine Programme) achieved a 98% reduction in seabird bycatch thanks to effective government regulation and dedicated grassroots engagement with the industry. Namibia’s hake trawl and longline fisheries were found to be among the world’s deadliest for seabirds: estimated at 30,000 birds killed each year. By working with the fishing industry on-board to demonstrate so called ‘mitigation measures’ like bird-scaring lines, around 22,000 birds will be saved each year. The hake fishery recently secured Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) sustainable seafood certification, and bird bycatch was an important consideration in the assessment.

The bird scaring lines in action behind a trawler. Photo credit: Titus Shaanika

  • Saiga Antelope have had an incredibly successful year on Altyn Dala in Kazakhstan, with one herd producing 530 calves compared to only four in 2019. Excellent news after numbers of saiga had been depleted by more than 95% and was placed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list of threatened species for being on the brink of extinction.
  • Vultures have received a boost when in October, the RSPB assisted with the landmark release of eight white-rumped vultures in northern Haryana, India. The numbers of three species of vulture had crashed by more than 97%. This was due to widespread veterinary use of anti-inflammatory drug diclofenac in cattle, which subsequently entered the vultures’ food chain. Nepal was the first country in Asia to release captive-bred birds into the wild in 2017 but the India releases are a huge step forward towards a brighter future for these species
  • A commitment was made by the Scottish Government to protect mountain hares from culling and effectively ban mass killing of the species. Alongside this, it promised to introduce licensing for driven grouse shooting after the shooting industry failed to combat the illegal persecution of birds of prey, alongside a ban on vegetation burning on peatlands.

Mountain hare are now a protected species in Scotland. Photo credit: Ben Andrew

  • Scottish Ministers also turned down the proposed golf course at Coul Links – protecting the area for wildlife such as the six-spot burnet moth, dark green fritillary, whinchat, twayblades, marsh orchids and numerous wintering and breeding birds!
  • The numbers of Roseate Terns on Coquet Island again reached the highest number since the 1970s with 130 pairs (fledging 122 chicks). Populations on all three major colonies in Ireland & the UK (Coquet, Rockabill and Lady’s Island Lake) are 30% higher than at the start of the successful LIFE project.
  • Hen Harrier: for the first time in recorded history, hen harriers have established a breeding population on the Isle of Lewis. The Hen Harrier Life Project came to an end in 2020. Since its launch in 2014, the project has achieved; monitoring and protection of over 100 nests and 150 roost sites, engagement through talks and events with over 13,000 people, frequent press releases and blogs, and crucial population monitoring – for example the satellite tagging of 117 Hen Harriers.
  • Following years of effort to encourage them, spoonbills have fledged four chicks at Havergate – the first in Suffolk for 300 years. The RSPB has been working over the last 15 years to encourage spoonbills to breed on the island. More than 30 spoonbills visited the island this year and delighted the RSPB team when four chicks were successfully raised by two nests.

2021 will this time, we hope, be a super year.  We will challenge world leaders to deliver ambitious global deals of nature and the climate, challenge politicians across the UK to match the global ambition in domestic law, policy and funding and play our part in delivering some major conservation projects.  If we are successful, then we can provide more stories of hope over the coming years.


The Tristan da Cunha Marine Protected Zone was created thanks to the leadership of the Tristan da Cunha Government. The RSPB led work on the ground with the local community, partnering with the UK government Blue Belt Programme, National Geographic Pristine Seas and the Great British Oceans coalition. The Blue Nature Alliance, the Wyss Foundation, Kaltroco, the Don Quixote II Foundation, and the Becht Family Charitable Trust together with the Blue Marine Foundation, were also instrumental.

The Albatross Task Force was established by the RSPB and BirdLife International, with the first team set up in 2006 in South Africa, and continuing to operate there, as well as Namibia, Argentina, Brazil and Chile. The Namibian team is part of local NGO the Namibia Nature Foundation.

We are supporting the Altyn Dala Conservation Initiative for Saiga antelope with the Frankfurt Zoological Society and our local partner, the Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity of Kazakhstan (ACBK).

Saving Asia’s Vultures From Extinction (SAVE) is a consortium of 24 partners working together together.

Photo credit for the thumbnail image is Guy Shorrock

Martin Harper

Martin Harper is the Global Conservation Director of the RSPB. He leads the charity’s strategy for evidence, practical conservation and influence (in the UK, the 14 UK Overseas Territories and, working with the BirdLife International partnership, across the Africa-European flyway and globally where we can make a difference). He is a member of BirdLife International’s Global Council as well as a member of its European and Central Asia Committee.