ESG is a way to help birds and the natural world

The British Trust for Ornithology’s chief executive Juliet Vickery outlines how corporate improvements in Environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) practices can help protect the natural world.

ESG is a way to help birds and the natural world

Did you know that Turtle Doves have declined by 96% in the UK since 1994 or that 50% fewer Swifts return to our shores to breed than they did just 25 years ago? While climate change and biodiversity are hot topics for discussion, the UK’s wild birds have been signaling the detrimental impact of human activity for decades.

As chief executive of the British Trust for Ornithology, I am confronted daily with startling evidence of declines in bird populations. We recently calculated that more than 73 million breeding birds have disappeared from our skies since 1970. I know this because of the extraordinary 90-year partnership between volunteer observers and professional staff that lies at the heart of our organisation. BTO’s main expertise is large-scale biodiversity monitoring, specialising particularly in birds. We have gathered some of the biggest and longest data sets about bird populations anywhere in the world. We have developed gold-standard approaches to biological survey design, volunteer management and data analysis and are regularly contracted by UK Government, commercial organisations and other NGOs to conduct biodiversity monitoring and research.

Our datasets do so much more than just track population declines. They are the bedrock of effective conservation, the North Star guiding our navigation towards recovering bird populations and the natural world on which they, and we, depend. For example, we have been carrying out monitoring and research on UK’s farmland birds on behalf of the Government for many years and our work has played a key role in the development of Agri-environment schemes. Our challenge is to ensure that our surveys and monitoring schemes sit on a secure financial footing for the long-term so we can unleash so much more of the potential that is currently locked away in the data.

As a follower of edie, I’m sure you will be aware of the growth of ESG as a positive approach for companies to show their commitment to being part of the solution rather than being at risk of being perceived as the problem. But increasingly ESG reporting frameworks are including the requirement to report on biodiversity impacts; the Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulations, the emerging EU Green Taxonomy and of course the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures has specific metrics on species population size and species extinction risk.

So evidencing that commitment will be key; in my role I speak to many scientists, environmentalists, journalists and celebrities and the term “greenwashing” is commonly used to signal their frustrations that ESG is more talk than action, but it doesn’t have to be this way. If the thought of a silent dawn chorus or the loss of iconic birds like the Puffin from our shores concerns you (and these risks are real) then you can play your part by supporting our work.

BTO enables and empowers the general public to play their part in protecting UK wildlife, wherever and whoever they are. Take, for example, our programme for monitoring breeding birds. This involves skilled volunteers recording detailed information about birds, mammals and habitat almost 4,000 locations across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. This scheme provides extremely high-quality information about our birds at a critical time in their lifecycles. So important is this information that it is an official Government statistic that has been used as one of the indicators of the quality of life in the UK.

Across the length and breadth of the country our volunteers contribute over 2 million hours to BTO work each year. Whether recording birds in gardens or on mountains, in our countryside or our cliff tops, the data they provide truly underpins UK conservation. The information they gather highlights species and sites in most need of help, provides early warning of new threats such as emerging diseases and helps us evaluate the success of conservation action on land and at sea.

Like the Canary in the coal mine, birds are important indicators of the state of wider nature, so the value of our data increases because we know that if we get things right for birds, we will get it right for so much more. We know that our work provides huge benefits for people too. Volunteers who contribute to our work feel more connected with the wildlife and nature on their doorstep. We know from our volunteers, just how valuable this is in terms of health and wellbeing. For example, one told us “I struggle with multiple mental and physical health issues and the sense of structure and being expected to take a few minutes out of every day to simply focus on the birds is very valuable to me”. And, from an eighty-year-old “Being a member of BTO has enabled me to continue my birdwatching and given me a sense of purpose in my daily activities and maintains my connection with nature”.

BTO has charted change in birds throughout the UK for 90 years. In doing so it has provided trusted science to help drive conservation and engaged generations of people with nature.  Our work to help tackle the biodiversity and climate crises and secure the future for birds and nature is captured in a two-minute video here.

Our values, of being evidence-led and collaborative, means our science is universally trusted and respected, while our values of being inclusive and empowering, seek to foster a sense of belonging for everyone in the natural world and the work we do. Do you and your organisation share these values? Does your organisation have a negative impact on species or have the opportunity to have a positive, restorative one? Could your employee volunteering programme support our vital monitoring and research, helping you to have a better understanding of your impacts and provide value to the development and wellbeing of your staff?

If you want to show your audiences that you are committed to being part of the solution then why not consider supporting BTO as a corporate member. Alternatively, get in touch with BTO’s engagement team if you think our organisations share both the values and strategy needed to reverse the devastating impact we humans are having on the UK’s wild birds and the people who live alongside them.

Professor Juliet Vickery, CEO British Trust for Ornithology

Andy Brown Group Chief Sustainability Officer, Anglian Water Services

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