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.
Earlier this week, our tropical forest team invited colleagues to do a blind chocolate tasting session including samples made from cocoa grown by Sierra Leone farmers in Gola Forest.
I was in London that day but pulled rank and asked for some samples to be set aside so I could take part in the tasting later in the week.
I am glad that I did. Because having assessed each of the four milk and dark chocolate samples, I rated the Gola products the best.
Clearly, my palate is able to distinguish between chocolate that supports rainforest conservation rather than one that doesn’t!
The good news is that others will soon be able to taste Gola chocolate for themselves as we intend to sell bars through our reserves and catalogue early next year.
And behind the chocolate bar lies an important message: what you consume can help or hinder efforts to save the planet.
From research that WWF and the RSPB did published earlier this year, we know that UK consumption of commodities such as cocoa, palm oil and coffee can, unless well-managed, lead to further tropical deforestation.
We want to show that there is a different way.
Earlier in the year, I saw first-hand the work we were doing with farmer cooperatives in Gola. By creating a sustainable supply chain of cocoa, we are helping to provide alternative livelihoods for the people that live in and around the forest. This takes pressure off the forest and engenders more support for the Gola Forest National Park.
We plan to tell that story to our supporters and I hope that many people buy the bars. The more demand we create for Gola-friendly chocolate, the better it is for the Gola farmers and ultimately for the forest itself.
And that really would be good news.
As a chocoholic I am so looking forward to buying ONLY Gola friendly chocolate. Great efforts by the RSPB and WWF and the local people.It just shows what can be done. With methane now starting to.bubble up from the decomposition of peat in arctic pools it is more important than ever that we conserve our tropical forests for absorbing CO2 and protecting the wildlife in them.