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.
Northumberland didn't disappoint. It rarely does. The rain stayed away and although the wind was strong, the skies were big. The seabirds were, as ever, spectacular - none more so than the gannets. Although the boats stayed in the harbour, I spent two delightful evenings watching the gannets do what they do best - go fishing. But it is more than fishing - it is aerial harpooning.
Staying at the hut meant that I missed my very brief cameo performance on Countryfile (it's about 20 minutes in) talking about farmland wildlife. While some continue to want to investigate the impacts of predation, the RSPB is convinced that the fortunes of farmland birds could be turned around by making environmental stewardship more effective. And this is why we are delighted that Defra has been looking into this very issue. They have even given the project its own acronym - MESME. I know, it is a little odd.
But advice will soon be given to ministers and we await their verdict with interest. In its coalition agreement, the UK Government stated that it was committed to "restoring biodiversity". They don't have much money at the moment, so they need to make sure existing subsidies work much harder for wildlife.
In one of his final blog entries, my predecessor laid down this gauntlet to Defra ministers:
"We need government to make it easier for farmers to do the very best things and more difficult to do things that don't add up to much wildlife benefit. That is a Big Government job - it's 'Big Money' and it ought to provide 'Bigger Wildlife Outputs'. And so, what Defra needs to do is to adjust the details of the Entry Level Scheme so that it is just a little bit more testing for farmers (not very much at all - we aren't talking thumbscrews here) and a lot more productive for wildlife. Simple ask - if the Defra Ministers are reading this blog (and I'm sure that they will have this pointed out to them) - that's what I'd like as a leaving present please. But it's not for me - it's for wildlife, it's for good value from public spending and it's not against farmers. "
Even if ministers weren't mesmerised by Mark's blog, I do hope that they are convinced of the logic of tweaking the scheme so that wildlife benefits.
You are of course right, Sooty. However, not everything is currently in play. Environmental Stewardship is up for review now however and we think it is right to try and make this scheme work much harder. We also eagerly await new proposals for the Common Agriculture Policy to emerge from Brussels. Unfortunately we have low expectations of fundamental reform. That won't stop us lobbying though - both here and with our BirdLife partners in Brussels - for policies that support farmers for looking after the environment and prevent practices that damage it.
Sorry Martin farmland birds need much more help than tweaking enviromental stewardship scheme.It needs radical overhaul plus lots of things the general public polute made much better,always comes back to just the farmer responsible,utter rubbish everyone causes the problem but RSPB seem frightened to push things that may mean less subs and legacy's in wills.By the time you all wake up it will be like the passenger pigeon.
Think on farms the field margins can be sprayed with roundup and if correct then that is worse than sowing upto the boundary with no margin.
Everything needs a radical looking at.