I grew up in Bristol and went to Bristol Grammar School where a couple of masters (Derek Lucas and Tony Warren) were instrumental in fueling my interest in birds. I was in the Young Ornithologists' Club.
In the school holidays I practically lived at Chew Valley Lake - a bicycle and a pair of binoculars were all I needed.
My parents liked nice scenery and walks in the countryside and that gave me plenty of opportunities for birding.
I spent a few years when rare birds were very important to me but aside from the very occasional lapse they aren't any more!
I did a Ph.D. on pipistrelle bats but most of my research before joining the RSPB was on bee-eaters in the south of France (nice eh?) and great tits and marsh tits around Oxford. However, the first scientific paper I wote was about the lekking behaviour of great snipe.
I joined the RSPB staff in 1986 as a researcher, became Head of Conservation Science in 1992 and Conservation Director in 1998 - all have been great jobs!
In this week's Farmer's Weekly there is a report that a Professor Crute says that farmers must stop squabbling over whether organic farming or conventional agriculture (why do we call it conventional?) is most environmentally friendly. Professor Crute says 'The notion that this is a case of organic farming good, conventional farming bad, doesn't really get us anywhere.'.
I'm not so sure - I'd like to know the answer!
I'd totally agree that all types of farming can make further contributions to wildlife conservation, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving water quality - but if organic farming really is as good as its keenest proponents claim then shouldn't we be investing more in it? The evidence is clear that organic farming is generally (that means - on average) better for farmland birds than 'conventional' farming but is it also far kinder to the planet's climate because it produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions and stores more carbon in soils? I can imagine that it might be, but am not sure that it definitely is. Let's find out.
Yesterday evening I was a guest of the BBC at the Proms.
The first bit of music was not my cup of tea but was mercifully short. The second was a Chopin piano concerto played by Lang Lang (so good they named him twice?). One of the effects of watching music, particularly with a soloist, is that I tend to start concentrating on the player rather than the music. Lang Lang’s shiny shoes flashed in the lights, he had some distracting mannerisms but the striking thing was that his hands appeared to drift across the keyboard whilst the notes tumbled and cascaded in abundance and profusion. It was amazing to watch – rather like watching Usain Bolt apparently strolling effortlessly to a new world record. I wish there were something that difficult that I could do that well.
All very well, you may be thinking (or not!), but what does this have to do with nature? In the programme notes Lang Lang is quoted as saying that when he plays Chopin, he sees beautiful images and feels close to nature – there you go!
The last piece was Strauss’s Alpine Symphony, which describes a day’s walking in the Alps including flower-rich meadows and birdsong. This is music to bathe in – the 100+ piece orchestra sends out waves of melody. Strauss was quite clear where he stood when he talked of ‘the worship of nature, eternal and magnificent.’
Nature is inspiring - it inspires great scientists and great artists - and the rest of us too!
I've been reading a book for quite a while - some bits of it I've read about six times! Is this because the jokes are so good? or because I can't understand it? you might ask.
The answer is closer to the latter suggestion because there really aren't many jokes. But the book is an absolute model of clarity - a real tour de force. I keep re-reading bits because I am very keen to understand what it is telling me.
The book is Sustainable energy - without the hot air by David Mackay, an academic from Cambridge University. It's not about climate change, though it is very relevant, but it is about renewable energy and whether it is feasible for us to produce enough energy from a combination of wasting less energy and producing more from nuclear, wind, solar, tidal etc.
Every policy maker should read it - it should be compulsory for civil servants and ministers in the Department of Energy and Climate Change. There are many interesting messages in the book - and although there aren't many jokes it is written in a very readable way (and it is all online) - and I'm sure I'll come back to some of them over the next few weeks.
But let's just start with a graph - I like graphs. This graph shows how long a bit of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, emitted now, will stay in the atmosphere. Before you look at the graph - what's your guess for how much of a dollop of carbon dioxide will still be floating around in the atmosphere in 100 and 1000 years time? Now have a look - how close were you?
Quite a lot isn't it?
We all, I think, want to leave the world in a better state for our children and future generations. Those dollops of carbon dioxide are quite a legacy - and quite a long-lasting legacy.