My passion for wildlife was stimulated in my teenage years, mainly thanks to my Mum (a biology teacher) who made me look at the world differently and being inspired by writers such as Paul Colinvaux. This early interest developed into biological research in my 20s, when I did practical conservation work in places such as the Comores and Mongolia.
Today, any free time I have I spend pottering around the flatlands of East Anglia or escaping to our hut on the Northumberland coast looking for wildlife and castles with my wife and children.
I studied Biological Sciences at Oxford and Conservation at UCL, and worked at Wildlife and Countryside Link before spending five years as Conservation Director at Plantlife.
I joined the RSPB as Head of Government Affairs in 2004, became Head of Sustainable Development in 2006, before becoming Conservation Director in 2011.
About ten years ago, an internal RSPB email was sent regarding the possibility of installing a wind turbine at our Headquarters at the Lodge. We had embarked on a charity-wide programme to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions (from travel and electricity) by 3% per person every year and were keen explore options to realise this ambition.
It's taken a while, but after receiving planning consent in April 2014, I am delighted to report that work to erect a 100 metre wind turbine begins tomorrow (all the cabling and electrics were put in the ground last autumn). Once it is up and running, the turbine will generate energy equivalent to more than half the electricity we use across our 127 locations across the UK.
Credit: Mark Hamblin
As regular readers of this blog will know, this project is being run in partnership with Ecotricity (for example see here).
We're doing it because, in the fight against climate change, it is the right thing to do and because we want to show that it is possible to wean ourselves off fossil fuels and deploy renewable technologies without causing needless harm to wildlife. It's part of a package of energy conservation measures and renewable projects (including solar panels on roofs, biomass generators and groundsource heat pumps) that we have adopted across the organisation.
We're not spending any money on this as the costs are covered by Ecotricity. Although we won't receive any of the direct revenue or subsidies from the turbine, we will make a saving on our current electricity costs which means that we'll have more to spend on conservation.
We've done what we can to ensure there will be no significant effects on the wildlife. Through pre-construction monitoring we've concluded that there is unlikely to be any significant impact on breeding birds in the area and the level of flight activity from sensitive species suggests collision risk will be low.
For bats, however, although the overall risk to the bat population is low, our monitoring did detect rare periods of slightly higher bat activity, so we have decided to adopt a precautionary approach. We'll turn off the wind turbine half an hour either side of sunrise and sunset when wind speeds are below 7 metres per second. Bats like noctules and pipistrelles tend to feed at these times but mainly at lower wind speeds. While this will mean that we take a little hit in terms of electricity generation potential (c5-8%), we think this is absolutely the right approach.
The Lodge, RSPB Headquarters: Jesper Mattias (rspb-images.com)
We shall obviously continue to monitor the site and report what we find. I expect that we shall learn a lot from this experience and want to inspire others to adopt a similar approach. We've always been vocal in our support for renewable energy but also about the need to deploy the technologies in locations that are sympathetic to our natural environment. Over the past five years, we've upheld objections to 49 (4.5%) of 1031 wind farm applications.
The climate change challenge demands a revolution in the way that we generate and use energy. Governments around the world accepted that challenge when they supported the Paris deal in December. We need this revolution to take place in harmony with nature which is why we shall, in the next few weeks, be launching a new report on how we can meet our climate targets with the least ecological impact (see here).
I hope that our wind turbine will inspire others to take action and join us in using renewable energy to power our country.
Well done RSPB. Fully support Nightjars comments
Good move Martin - and an impressive contribution to your emissions target. Particularly interesting to hear about the tactics to protect bats. It is a pity that onshore wind has got itself into such a mess, and that it has caused RSPB problems in explaining their position. However, having been involved in a couple of wind farm issues I'm afraid I feel strongly that the industry has only itself to blame - I was shocked to find an attitude of basically blasting proposals through planning mainly by financial muscle - hiring more consultants than the conservation sector could ever hope to do - reflected recently, in particular, in the Flow Country proposal RSPB has been opposing. I know the area well from the afforestation era of the late 1980s and for a wind farm company to put in an application where the conservation value was clearly established over 30 years ago explains rather brutally why there is such a lack of public support for what could have been a big contributor to renewable energy in the UK.