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.
I found some this week. This may have had something to do with the evening I spent sampling whiskies at our Scottish Staff Conference. The evening was hosted by our partners, Famous Grouse. In 2008 they launched a new blend called Black Grouse. And since then, sales have helped generate about £300,000 for black grouse conservation on RSPB reserves in Scotland (Corrimony and Inversnaid), Northern England (Geltsdale) and in Wales (Vyrnwy). This is species that it is in desperate trouble. The population is down to 5,000 lekking (displaying) males – a fifth of the number in the 1970s.We need more of these partnerships. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the scale of the challenge facing our environment is too big for any one organisation. So we have to work smarter with others. And, now it appears that our nation’s happiness will be back under the microscope of the UK Government and Office of National Statistics (ONS). Further to an earlier blog, the next stage of the ONS consultation on the “National Wellbeing Measure” has been launched. The public consultation for this process is open to all and running until the 23rd January 2012. It’s a relatively quick online questionnaire, so please take some time to have a read and add your thoughts.The good news is that the ONS has acknowledged the impact that nature has on our happiness. ‘The Natural Environment’ forms one of the 10 sections of the overall measure, in amongst other issues such as ‘Health’, ‘Relationships’, and ‘Personal Finances’. For many of us, this is motherhood and apple pie. We need nature to keep us functioning. I’d go further – my own physical and mental well being is dependent on contact with nature. Just ask my wife.We are quite keen to keep this process alive. The prize is great – a measure of progress that is more than just about material wealth.How does nature improve your quality of life? How do you think this can be measured? How should the government advertise, promote and use the National Wellbeing Measure? The ONS and I would be glad to receive your comments.
Today sees the publication of The state of the UK’s birds 2011. As ever, this aims to serve as a one-stop shop for the latest news on our bird populations.
This year’s report has a particular focus on our waterbirds and the sites they use, noting that this year is the 40th anniversary of the Ramsar convention. Amongst the highlights, we report on:
• The return and spread of the crane as a breeding bird in the UK• The fortunes of our rarer breeding waterbirds, most of which are thriving• Mixed fortunes for our breeding seabirds, with some – Arctic skua, herring gull and kittiwake amongst them – declining sharply• How in recent years many of our wintering waterbirds have begun to show population declines following decades of recovery or increase. For many, a shift in range in response to climate change is the most likely cause, but for others there may be genuine population-level declines• How the removal of rats from Henderson Island in the South Pacific, one of the UK’s Overseas Territories, is great news for that island’s breeding seabirds. Of course, the report remains a one-stop shop for all the latest results from bird monitoring in the UK
• Both farmland and woodland indicators fell to their lowest ever levels in the UK, driven by further declines in habitat specialists such as turtle doves, grey partridges and corn buntings (farmland) and willow tits, lesser spotted woodpeckers and lesser redpolls (woodland)• We give an update on the status of birds on the UK's Biodiversity Action Plan priority species list• New surveys of hen harriers and capercaillie reveal national populations have declined recently• After a mammoth effort by more than 16,000 observers, fieldwork for the Bird Atlas 2007-11 is complete and the results are awaited eagerly.
Do have a good read and let me have any comments/questions/answers...
I felt good about yesterday’s launch of BirdLife International’s new report on renewable energy: our partnership offering solutions to decision-makers across Europe to help them ensure the much needed energy revolution takes place in harmony with nature. For me, this is part of what good leadership is all about – offering a picture of what success looks like and coming up with practical solutions to today’s challenges. It was well received by European Commission staff responsible for mapping out the future of a low Carbon Europe.Even though the challenge of deployment of renewable energy at the scale required to meet EU targets is considerable, there does not need to be conflict with wildlife objectives.At our launch, it was reassuring to hear colleagues from both the European Wind Energy Association and European Renewable Energy Council agree with our conclusions. Industry has a leadership role to play as well – encouraging best practice as well as not ducking the environmental impacts that some technologies pose. It is in no-one’s interests to stick their heads in the sand over the consequences of bad renewables. Liquid biofuels continue to pose considerable problems and today we have joined forces with Greenpeace, Woodland Trust and Friends of the Earth to highlight the environmental risks of a dash for imported biomass.In this new report we identify ways in which the UK could enhance its own production of bioenergy sustainably and avoid the need for imports. This would deliver both jobs and growth in sectors such as waste management, agriculture and forest management.We have produced this report now as the Government faces a stark choice about where our renewable energy subsidies go. Do we invest them in burning wood from imported from forests across the globe, or do we direct them towards creating a sustainable, UK based bioenergy industry?We think the answer is clear and our report sets out the reasons why. In the UK there are already 31 operating biomass power stations with around 40 more in various stages of development – they will require millions of tonnes of wood and will be heavily dependent on overseas imports.
I hope that readers of both renewable reports sit up and take notice.