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!
Agreement in Nagoya
The agreement reached in Nagoya, Japan by 193 countries on Earth is said to bring in a new era of living in harmony with nature. It includes commitments to reduce the rate of biodiversity loss, restore degraded ecosystems and link biodiversity conservation and climate change measures - particularly through saving forests.
Caroline Spelman, the Defra Secretary of State, played an important role in helping to reach agreement and pledges that the lessons and commitments reached on the other side of the world will be built into domestic action through the Natural Environment White Paper. She commented that the agreement would help to protect biodiversity, to secure our own future and to eradicate poverty.
The reasons to be cheerful are summed up clearly by The Independent but others are similarly upbeat. Compared with the climate talks in Copenhagen last December, these nature talks in Nagoya have delivered real agreements. For others' reactions see links (here, here, here, here, here, and here).
Forestry sell-off: Plans for the Forestry Commission in England were unveiled to MPs last week. As widely predicted, including in this blog, the plans include a large movement of forestry land out of government ownership to the private sector and to civil society. Somewhat reassuring is the upfront recognition in the announcement that government recognises the importance of FC land for biodiversity, access and landscape.
Quango bonfire: In order to carry out some of its plans for the Forestry Commission, but also for a host of other 'Arms Length Bodies', government has announced the legislative route for changing the structure and role of a large number of agencies. Legislation will start in the House of Lords where it is likely that the new measures will get a rough ride and careful scrutiny. Their Lord- (and Lady-) ships are likely to want to examine closely a piece of legislation that has such far-reaching impacts. The Public Bodies Bill is a classic enabling bill framed along the lines of 'We're going to change lots of things, some of which we know now, some of which we'll work out soon and some of which we can't tell you anything about because we haven't thought of them at all yet, but please give us the power to do all this' which may not go down too well in the Upper House.
What others are writing: An interesting piece by the Guardian's Juliette Jowit - only some of which will be news to readers of this blog. We will miss Juliette's insights while she is off on maternity leave (best wishes to you Juliette!)
Last week I was at King's Cross station early in the morning, as I often am, and needed a cup of coffee. I went to the Nero Express booth and was in the queue when one of the staff, a lady who actually makes the coffee, spotted me, smiled (first good point), said 'Your usual? Large Latte, no sugar?' (second good point), turned to her colleague and said 'The gentleman usually has two croissants and an apple juice' (third good point) and then said 'Nice tie!' (fourth good point).
Now the smile was nice, the remembering of the type of coffee was nice, the remembering of what else I always have (yes I am sadly predictable) was very nice and the remark about my tie was lovely.
I liked the coffee all the more for feeling that I had been treated like a person not a customer - and I was glad she liked my tie (or at least said she did). I tweeted about this on Twitter - partly to share my good feeling about that particular lady (I don't know her name) at that particular coffee outlet. If Cafe Nero want to give her a pay rise then I think she deserves it.
A farmer spotting my remark on Twitter remarked that I am obviously receptive to flattery and that farmers are too! I agree! That's why the RSPB highlights the good work of farmers right across the UK in the Nature of Farming Award - which attracts a huge number of deserving entrants. And it's why we produced a leaflet called Agri-environment heroes (catchy title eh?) and featured on our website the work of a dozen such farmers.
A letter in yesterday's Daily Telegraph stated that it was wrong to think that public spending cuts would affect the finances of charities. What an odd thing to think! At least it is from the RSPB's perspective even though most of our money comes from the generosity of individuals through membership subscriptions, donations, legacies etc.
Our reply published in the Daily Telegraph today, points out that some of our funding (and similar arguments will apply to other charities) comes from partnership working with government and its agencies. This is - we believe - the Big Society already in action. We don't get block grants for our work but we do get contracts, already, to deliver conservation projects on the ground (often gained through competitive tendering). We ('we' charities, but 'we' the RSPB too) can often deliver more wildlife on the ground, on our nature reserves, or through species recovery projects, or through giving advice to land managers, and for less money, than can government itself. And that has appeared to be what successive governments have wanted to happen, and have helped to fund. If there is less government money around, as there is, then charities are likely to be able to do less of this work.
And if the Westminster government is keen to see civil society taking over National Nature Reserves, bits of the Forestry Commission estate and playing an even larger role in delivering nature conservation on the ground then that will cost someone, somewhere some money! We are not rolling in cash right now!