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.
Some things are easier said than done.
I was struck by Ed Miliband's new soundbite "something for something". The idea that if you are given something then you should be expected to offer something in return. We've had our own soundbite which has informed our approach to many policy debates: public money for public goods. This is central to our arguments for reform of the Common Agriculture Policy. It explains why we are so keen for an increase in CAP payments to farmers which reward them for delivering an attractive countryside rich in wildlife - goods and services from which the public will benefit.
But, CAP reform is caught up in a wider debate about the future of the European Budget. I have blogged on this before and will do so again as this is the subject of a fringe at which I shall be speaking in Manchester this weekend (yes, the Conservative Party conference is just round the corner).
The European Budget needs to be agreed by the end of 2013. That seems like a long way off. Surely, we can expect agreement quicker than that? Alas, as we know too well, European negotiations are challenging. More than that - at times they feel like a social experiment. Let's take 27 different countries, each with their own culture, priorities and history and let's come up with a deal which we can all live on the subject of money during the worst economic crisis since, well since the last one. You begin to see why it might be touch and go to secure a deal within the next 27 months.
What's my point?
The twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss are caused by humans. And, it is only humans that can get us out of this mess. Influencing change in policy, legislation, attitudes and behaviour is at the heart of the environment movement's agenda. So we need to be smarter about the way we work with other members of our own species.
This week, two brilliant RSPB colleauges are setting off to the Panama climate change negotiations. This will be the last set of negotiations before the Ministerial conference in Durban in December when 192 countries will be trying to hammer out a global deal on climate change. While the economic crisis has distracted attention from the dangers of climate change, globally humans are emittting more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than ever before. We are on course for a global increase of four degrees or perhaps even more by 2070. If we reach this the future looks bleak for us and for wildlife – achieving a global climate deal has never been more important.
And that means convincing politicians around the world to do things which may go against their short term interests but are in the long term interest of the planet.
So, if you have ever emerged from a meeting a little battered, bruised and possibly even grumpy with colleagues, spare a thought for those that are trying to agree the EU Budget or those that need to hammer out a climate change deal which satisfies 192 countries. And then think about what it takes to influence those talks.
According to Aristotle, the means of persuasion can be found in pathos, logos and ethos: passion, logic and empathy. This makes sense to me. And we shall need this is spades if we are to learn to live with each other in harmony with nature.
In the excitement of the planning reform debate I forgot to profile a significant new report on the UK Govenment's climate change commitments - Climate Check. This is one half of our assessment of whether the government is living up to the Prime Minister's ambition, stated on 14 May 2010, to be the "greenest government ever". The second assessment - Nature Check - will be published shortly.
Climate Check was launched a couple of weeks ago. But, as it is the topic of fringe meetings at each of the party conferences, I feel justified in talking about it now.
The report was published by think tank Green Alliance in conjunction with WWF, Christian Aid, Greenpeace and RSPB. It is the product of five months’ research and extensive discussions with over 40 officials and ministers across Whitehall. It assessed the progress that the UK Government has made against the climate change commitments that it has made.
The conclusion was that the government has made either moderate or no progress on 22 of its 29 low-carbon commitments. The study suggested there are low levels of support for the government’s low carbon agenda in the Treasury and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and concluded that major opportunities to generate green jobs and increase investor confidence in the low carbon sector are being missed.
The 48-page report examined progress across 11 departments and concludes:
As well as assessing the government’s low-carbon record so far, Climate Check identifies three big opportunities which would help the government fulfil its stated goal to ‘decarbonise the economy and support the creation of new green jobs and technologies’.
These involve increasing cross-government accountability for the transition towards a low-carbon economy and boosting the Prime Minister’s engagement on both the international and domestic agendas.
Commenting at the time, Mike Clarke, the RSPB's Chief Executive said:
“There is a common thread running between the Government’s underwhelming performance on climate change, and its current, flawed approach to planning reform. We are seeing a clear conflict at the heart of the Coalition between green growth and economic growth at any cost.”
In short, the verdict is - could do a lot better.
And on nature? Well, you'll have to wait a few more days...
If you spend time thinking about family, you unleash a Pandora’s box of emotions: blood is thicker than water, sibling rivalry, remember to celebrate the success of others, don’t live your life through your children - nurture them and let them go etc.
The RSPB is part of a wider family – it’s called the Birdlife International partnership. At a RSPB Council meeting yesterday, BirdLife’s Chief Executive, Marco Lambertini, gave a powerful and inspirational overview of the work of our family.
This is a large family - made up of 10 million voices in 120 countries. It is a family that spends a lot of money - $502 million annually on nature conservation. But it is a family on a mission – to prevent the extinction of species. The mission is challenging – one in eight of all bird species are currently categorised as ‘threatened’.
But, this is a family that knows what it needs to do. It has identified 11,000 sites (called Important Bird Areas) in 218 countries which need protecting.
We, the RSPB, are just one member of that family, but we have our own part to play: to help save nature in our own (UK) back yard and support other members of our family to achieve our goals. That’s why we actively support a large number of partners in countries from India to Indonesia and Sierra Leone to the Seychelles.
When the family has a problem, we close ranks and try to help out. That is what it means to be part of a family. We help each other out when we need it and together we are stronger.
I just must remember to tell the kids that the next time they are squabbling over a board game...