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.
Yesterday, the BTO, JNCC and RSPB published the latest Breeding Bird Survey results. This updates trends in the UK's widespread breeding birds up to 2010. At a time when we are being encouraged to think differently about how people can help the State deliver public services, it is worth remembering that the BBS would not happen without volunteers. Last year, 2,519 volunteers helped to collect the data to inform the report. They would each have invested about six hours of fieldwork. They will have made two early-morning visits to their randomly selected 1-km square during the April-June survey period and will have recorded all birds encountered while walking two 1-km transects across their square. Together, these volunteers managed to record data from 3,239 1-km squares. A fantastic achievement.
Our view is that this form of monitoring is essential to identify current conservation problems, allowing us to decide among competing priorities for deployment of limited resources. By providing information on the trends of individual species biodiversity monitoring tells us which species we need to worry about. It also provides information to help us assess whether we are living sustainably by keeping an eye on how the other species on which we share this planet are faring.
And the BBS is one of the most powerful surveys we have. By using birds as an indicator of wider biodiversity, it provides a snapshot of the health of the natural environment. And, because this is the sixteenth year that the BBS has been running, the survey is able to detect trends in populations to help assess effectiveness of conservation policy and practice.
Here are the headlines from this year's results:
It's too easy to take this information for granted. But just imagine if we didn't have this system. We would have no meaningful way to understand the health of the natural world and no means of working out which species were in trouble to enable us to allocate finite conservation resources. So the 2,519 people who annually give up six hours of their time every spring to collect information about birds are doing us all a huge favour. They are the genuine heros that make up our big birding society.
Not sure how many people took part in the Atlas survey for the BTO but now it's all over there are potentially recruits to move to the BBS. This should provide even more data. Send them all an invitation!