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When I look back over the past year, I’m immensely proud of what we’ve achieved in that time.

A record-breaking year in Wales

I’m proud to say that it’s been a record-breaking year in Wales. We have more members here than ever before, raised our highest community fundraising total, engaged more children with nature, employed satellite tagging technology for the first time on two species and some of our birds have hit new highs on our reserves. Read on!

News from species in Wales

As of 2017, the largest breeding colony of lapwings in Wales can now be found at RSPB Cors Ddyga on Anglesey. From a handful of pairs when we bought the land, there are now 76 pairs of lapwings on the reserve, up from 42 in 2016. This accounts for 15% of the Welsh breeding population.

Following years of conservation work, a pair of bitterns and a pair of marsh harriers both bred on our reserves in Anglesey in 2016, following their decades-long absence as breeding birds in Wales. In 2017, both species returned to breed again with the great news that there were two confirmed pairs of bittern last year and four "booming" males in the spring of 2018. This means we can confirm that bitterns are now officially a regular breeder in Wales.

Satellite tagging reveals secrets

We are always keen to find out more about our most threatened species, and thanks to funding from Natural Resources Wales we worked with a number of partners to satellite tag two Greenland white-fronted geese. Back in the 1990s, over 150 of these beautiful birds used to winter on the Dyfi in mid-Wales.

Now only 20 or so birds return every year. This technology enabled us to gain a better understanding of these birds’ migratory journeys and their use of the various areas around the Dyfi. To our surprise, one of the tagged birds flew over to join a population of the geese in Ireland, suggesting that the wintering population of these birds in the UK is more mobile and dynamic than we originally thought.

Supporting threatened landscape

What lies ahead for the Gwent Levels?

Despite its own legislation to enforce sustainable development in Wales, the Welsh Government persists in its drive to create an M4 relief road around Newport which will destroy four Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs). We strongly object to this proposal, which will destroy this rich habitat for a number of precious species such as shrill carder bees and cranes.

A very long public inquiry into this new road ended on 28 March 2018. The RSPB submitted detailed evidence to the inquiry. We also worked closely with local campaign group CALM, the Future Generations Commissioner, Sophie Howe, and other allies such as Gwent Wildlife Trust and Friends of the Earth. We will continue to campaign to save the Gwent Levels and for a more sustainable solution to local traffic issues in 2018.

Swansea Bay under threat

The debate around whether the UK Government should give the go-ahead for the creation of the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon continued throughout the year. We contributed to that debate by looking at the potential environmental impact not only of this lagoon, but the proposal that it should be the first of a number of lagoons in the Severn Estuary and elsewhere in the UK.

Our evidence shows that we can meet our energy and carbon targets with less risk to wildlife and nature than tidal lagoons. This is an untested technology, so it makes sense to take a cautious approach. We saw a case for Swansea Bay lagoon as a test site to learn more about the environmental impacts of this untried technology, but only if it was well-researched and met environmental standards. We were not satisfied on either of these points. Much more thinking and research now needs to go into understanding whether tidal energy could be developed in harmony with nature.

Speaking up for Cardigan Bay

In 2017, the Welsh Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs approved two extensions to existing Special Protection Areas (SPAs): these were for terns around Anglesey and foraging seabirds in the Pembrokeshire seas. They also approved one new SPA, in North Cardigan Bay, and three Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) for harbour porpoises.

So far, additional management measures have not been put in place for these sites, but according to Natural Resources Wales (NRW) the future management of all new SPAs in Wales is on a risk-based approach only. We consider the new Cardigan Bay SPA to be the highest priority as it does not have an original set of conservation objectives and we are putting pressure on NRW to ensure it puts in management measures as soon as possible.

What happens to Wales’ hen harriers?

For the first time in Wales, thanks to EU LIFE- funding, we were also able to place satellite tags on a number of juvenile hen harriers to gain a better understanding of where they winter and breed, and of their mortality rates. We learnt that, following fledging, their movements vary considerably, with some remaining in Wales whilst one young male travelled all the way to France. Sadly, one of these birds’ tags stopped working suddenly in north-east Wales, raising suspicions that it may have been a victim of persecution.

After two years in the development phase, we received the fantastic news that the Heritage Lottery Fund had awarded a delivery grant of £2.5 million to the Living Levels Landscape Programme. This partnership will enable us to celebrate and promote the heritage and nature of the Gwent Levels with projects to restore the wetland features, and create new orchards and habitat for shrill carder bees, one of the UK’s rarest bees.

Working with you

Engaging the public

One of the biggest thrills I get is working alongside the public and community groups who share our passion for wildlife, and supporting them to deliver fantastic things for nature. We joined forces with the Glamorgan Bird Club to help them secure a £50,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to erect a swift tower on the Cardiff Bay Barrage, which will provide a safe place for around 90 pairs of swifts to nest.

We’re also involved in a large amount of locally-based habitat creation work for bees and other pollinators in Cardiff. We’re working with ten sites, all managed by local communities, and will help to create a further 20 sites by 2022. The sites include allotments, social housing developments, a homeless hostel and a community centre transferred from local authority to community ownership.

Our role is to facilitate and support the communities connected to these sites, and the results so far have been great. The communities have reported increased levels of community cohesion, an improved local environment, and that they have learned new skills, developed an increased sense of empowerment and enjoyment and have spent more time outdoors.

40,000 children closer to nature in 2017

Our engagement work with children grew enormously this year. Thanks to events on our reserves and outreach and community work with our Giving Nature a Home projects in Cardiff and Swansea, we delivered nature connection activities to over 40,000 children in Wales – our highest figure ever.

We were delighted to be selected, along with Buglife Cymru, as the Lord Mayor of Cardiff’s Charity of the Year. This is the first time a Cardiff mayor has chosen a conservation charity for the focus of their fundraising, and the impact has been enormous – as of May 2018, the amount raised was more than £38,000.

A positive effect on the planet

If you’re due to visit one of our reserve cafés in Wales, you’ll be in for a delight. They have all been given Soil Association Food for Life awards, with the café at Newport Wetlands being presented with a gold award. The Food for Life certification is an independent award scheme from the Soil Association, and shows that our cafés sell local, fresh food, from sustainable and ethical sources.

From Wales, to the world. With an increase in public concern over plastic pollution, our Pembrokeshire island wardens were seen by millions of people worldwide rescuing gannet chicks entangled in plastic on Grassholm Island. They featured in hourly reports on Sky News and later on YouTube as part of the Sky Ocean Rescue campaign.

As ever, we couldn't do any of this wonderful work without our supporters and partners. The good news for nature is that that support is growing. As of April 2018, we have 60,335 members in Wales, the largest number we’ve ever had here, and we broke the £100,000 community fundraising barrier for the first time – £80,700 of which was raised through the incredible dedication of our pin badge volunteers. A huge thank you to all of you. Here’s to another year of working for wildlife in Wales.