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!
Friends of the Earth's Executive Director Andy Atkins said earlier this evening that an area three times the size of Wales of rainforest is destroyed each year.
I said that an area of one and a half acres of rainforest is destroyed every second.
Are we talking the same language?
One and a half acres per second is 1.5 x 60 x 60 x 24 x 365 = 47, 304, 000 acres each year.
The area of Wales is 20, 780 square kilometres = 2, 078, 000ha each year = 5, 134, 849 acres per year
So, three Wales are 15, 404, 549 acres each year.
So we aren't talking the same language! My figure (which might well be wrong!) is three times higher than Andy's (which might well be wrong too!).
Neither of us has actually measured the amount of rainforest disappearing. It's always wise to take people's statistics with a pinch of salt - but it's also well worth noticing that if either of us is even vaguely right then there is an awful lot of rainforest destruction going on! On that we agree!
And if anyone would kindly check my maths then I'd be happy to correct any mistakes! And if anyone has the 'real' figure for the rate of rainforest destruction then please let me know - I bet there are an awful lot of different estimates out there!
Another evening, another fringe event - and another opportunity to share a platform with Secretary of State, Hilary Benn.
This evening's event was organised by Friends of the Earth and was about deforestation and agriculture.
My speech was along these lines:
Two hundred years ago about 14% of the Earth was covered with rainforest, now this fantastic habitat only covers c6% - we have wrought huge and dramatic changes on the face of the Earth. That loss of rainforest continues at a rate of about one and a half acres each second and is the main source of c20% of global greenhouse gas emissions. But also the source of an estimated 50, 000 species extinctions each year. That is an astounding figure.
Imagine now, that you are in charge of the management of the world - you are in charge. I think you'd want to stop the destruction of rainforest because of the greenhouse gas emissions that affect the global climate, because of the erosion of soils that results, because of the increased flood risk that follows, because of the loss of water quality that accompanies forest loss and because you wouldn't want to lose all those species.
And you would be right! But it isn't that simple because the decision to stop rainforest destruction will be the subject of negotiation by scores of governments in Copenhagen this December. That's a very difficult forum for making sensible decisions and so we must wish Hilary Benn, Ed Miliband and Gordon Brown the best of luck in trying to reach a meaningful deal.
We've heard from other speakers that global agriculture is probably responsible for about 25% of global greenhouse gas emissions. And we need to make 80% reductions, globally, to put our emissions on a sustainable basis. 80% - that's an awful lot. And clearly it means that agricultural emissions must be cut too. And yet we may have 50% more people on the planet in four or five decades time so that if we continue with business as usual then those emissions will rise.
We surely need a low-carbon agriculture - globally and in the UK. So am I going to tell you what that agriculture will look like? I'm afraid not - because I don't know. Am I going to make the cheap point that the Secretary of State should know? No, I am not because I don't think anyone does know - yet. But we need to know.
Will a low-carbon agriculture be GM agriculture? It might be, but I have yet to see practical proposals for GM crops that will stack up as wildlife-friendly and sustainable crops. They may be out there, I hope they are, but let's see them please.
Will a low-carbon agriculture be organic agriculture? It might be, and in many ways I hope it will be as organic agriculture has real benefits for wildlife in the UK, but I can't be sure.
Perhaps what we need, is to concentrate on resource-efficient agriculture - an agriculture that uses fewer of the world's resources, produces lots of safe food but results in fewer harmful pollutants. That is clearly a big ask - but one to which we ought to put the best brains and scientists to deliver part of the solution to feeding the world in ways that do not destroy it and can be maintained indefinitely. But that new low-carbon agriculture cannot be business as usual.
I started the day in Brighton, headed up to London for an RSPB Council meeting and then back down to Brighton for a fringe meeting jointly organised by SERA and the RSPB.
Also speaking were Hilary Benn (the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs - that's one SoS!), Frances O'Grady (Deputy General Secretary of the TUC), Ed Miliband (Secretary of State for Energy, and Climate Change - that's the second SoS!) and me!
This is the gist of what I said:
A year ago I sat next to Ed Miliband at a SERA fringe in Manchester and felt I got his attention from the moment I mentioned the fact that the RSPB has 1,057,000 members - we now have 1,060,000!
Many of those members will have approved of Hilary Benn's conference speech yesterday where he talked with conviction and enthusiasm about natural beauty - the importance of the natural world in our lives.
And the RSPB welcomes Hilary's announcement that he is setting up a review of the adequacy of the ecological network that exists for wildlife. The RSPB would like to play a full part in helping that review reach its conclusions as both a conservation practitioner and an organisation that has helped to shape current thinking on this subject.
At heart, many of the problems we face are environmental problems - and they are connected.
Take UK food security - this is the legitimate, domestic manifestation of the global food crisis. You can look at it as a problem caused by too high a human population but it is essentially a problem of how we harvest and harness environmental productivity sustainability.
Similarly, UK energy security is the legitimate, domestic manfestation of the global problem of climate change - how we produce our energy has implications on the whole planet - an environmental issue.
And our work to preserve more of the UK'sdomestic wildlife has to be seen as a contribution to reducing the magnitude of the Earth's sixth extinction crisis.
So what we do at home has, inevitably, consequences on these global issues.
But also these issues are all interlinked domestically and globally. How we feed the world has implications for biodiversity and greenhouse gases - more rainforest destruction to grow crops will affect greenhouse gas levels and the rate at which species go extinct.
Obviously we need to take account of the environmental consequences of all our actions. We need to find ways to feed the world and fuel the world without wrecking the world.
I won't attempt to summarise the other speakers' wise words but the
evening was a good-natured one with the two SoSs pleading for access to
the RSPB's large membership through our magazine! You RSPB voters out
there - the politicians want to woo you! Make sure, whoever gets your
vote, that they will do a good job for the environment and that they
understand the environmental consequences of all their policies.
Sounds like a Letter to the Future moment!