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.
My love of nature is personal - a bit like a religious belief. Walking through woods, as I did this weekend, seeing the snowdrops and aconites while listening to birds sing makes me feel good. Simple as that.
To others, the value may simply be monetary.
Either way, nature has real value.
Take white-tailed eagles - I think they are amazing, the sight of one is a highlight which lives long in the memory. I saw my first a long way away in northern Mongolia where I was doing survey work in my 20s. It was perching on a dead tree next to Lake Hovsgol waiting and watching. And then it took off, its barn-door wings filling the sky as it started hunting.
The Scottish white-tailed eagles are worth around £5,000,000 per year to the local economy not least because they attract the attention of people like me who want to see them . However, all too often in the past, such birds have attracted the attention of those who prize their eggs as trophies - and the rarer the bird the greater the prize in their eyes.
Fortunately, egg collecting is not as prevalent as in the past. But there does remain a small and determined number of people willing to risk the conservation status of some of our most precious birds for their own gain. It is said that it only takes a small number of committed people to change the world. Unfortunately a small number of fanatics can also cause real harm to wildlife. Their actions mean we often invest our members money in protecting our rarest breeding birds with 24-hour nest watches, and have an Investigations team which help the police and Crown Prosecution Service bring these criminals to justice.
And over the years we have had a number of successes.Last week, in a court case against Matthew Gonshaw, described as the most prolific egg collector in the country, the result was slightly different. Not because it wasn't successful - it was. Different because we were able to assist in achieving the first ever Anti-Social Behaviour Order (ASBO) to protect nature. In the UK, an ASBO may be issued in response to "conduct which caused or was likely to cause harm, harassment, alarm or distress, to one or more persons not of the same household as him or herself and where an ASBO is seen as necessary to protect relevant persons from further anti-social acts by the Defendant".
With many people's help (thank you all !), the court agreed that Gonshaw's activities not only risked the conservation status of species such as avocet, peregrine and osprey, but also met the ASBO benchmark. As a result, he has a number of conditions he must comply with, not least being banned from Scotland during the breeding season for the next 10 years, possessing equipment used for egg collecting and banning him from RSPB and Wildlife Trust land. If he contravenes these, he can expect up to 5 years in jail and up to £20,000 fine. The court's decision means that our wildlife - including white-tailed eagles - is that little bit safer. But as with all the wildlife crimes the RSPB investigates, I wish it wasn't necessary. None of us take pleasure in having to catch criminals. But whilst it is happening, I am pleased we have our own band of committed people who can change the world of nature for the better - by stopping those who wish to harm it.Having seen the first 'nature protecting' ASBO issued, who do you think should get the second?
It would be great to hear your views.
My job throws up some surprises.
I began yesterday with a shopping trip to Tesco, in a store that had been temporarily transformed into a rainforest walkway (that’s me with the basket next to Tesco’s Ruth Giradet). Fears that we might get lost in the makeshift jungle soon disappeared, when we bumped into Amazon-conquering explorer, Ed Stafford (who is, it must be said, in slightly better shape than me). And the day ended with a serious debate about how business, government and NGOs need do more together to save rainforests.
You know what it's like. I'd only popped into the store to buy some bananas, when I found myself transported into a tropical forest. For those of a similar vintage to myself, it was like being in an episode of Mr Benn.
The Together for Trees partnership is now officially launched.
Ed is fronting a competition that will offer one Tesco shopper the chance to visit one of the projects as a designated ‘rainforest reporter’. If, like Ed, you fancy spending time in a rainforest, you can find out how to enter the competition here.
Having bought my bananas, I went along to Church House in Westminster to hear my boss, Mike Clarke, formally launch the initiative alongside Richard Brasher, CEO of Tesco, and Environment Secretary, Caroline Spelman.
The event was chaired by former Friends of the Earth Director, Tony Juniper. Tony has dedicated his a career to saving nature and tackling climate change. He started by stressing the importance of NGOs, governments and big businesses working together to find new ways of tackling old environmental crises.
Richard confirmed the Tesco commitment to the environment by saying:
“I know it’s fashionable to be cynical about the motives and actions of business. And I would not seek to defend many of the events of the past few years. But if we give up on the power of business to make a difference we lose a huge lever for change. My business, Tesco, has set a target to be a zero-carbon business by 2050... and since 2007, we have cut emissions from our existing (UK) stores distribution centres by 28%. Our new stores built since 2007 are on average emitting 31% less CO2 than a new store in 2006. We have built zero-carbon stores in the UK and elsewhere – to show it can be done.”
He went on to say:
“So let’s not give up on business. Because businesses like ours haven’t given up on climate change and sustainability. We have global as well as domestic ambitions. For example, through the international Consumer Goods Forum we want to help end deforestation by 2020. And we want to reduce emissions from our own supply chains by 30% by 2020.”
The Secretary of State, taking a short break from formal business in the House of Commons, emphasised the importance of all national governments recommitting to tackling deforestation at the forthcoming Rio +20 Summit. While she acknowledged that it is, "not easy for environment ministers anywhere at the moment”, she said that Tesco action on carbon was an example of how to smash the myth that economic recovery is incompatible with environmental goals.
I'm not kidding myself. I know how tough it will be for Tesco, or any major retailer, to create completely sustainable supply chains. I also know that not all finance ministers share the vision of their environmental counterparts for green growth. But I was genuinely heartened to hear the shared commitment of everyone present to cracking a global challenge. This is the only way we can realise a future where rainforests are still standing, still teeming with wildlife and still providing livelihoods for the millions of people that depend on them.
Do you fancy spending some time with Ed being a rainforest reporter?
It would be be great to hear your views.
Today we launch our Together for Trees partnership with Tesco – a partnership that will provide much needed support for our rainforest programme. Our programme now covers 240,000 hectares in seven countries - an area greater than the size of the Lake District - where we are working with our Birdlife International partners to save forests and their threatened wildlife.
This is a departure for the RSPB, but a very exciting one. We need to explore new and unconventional ways to find solutions to society’s major environmental challenges and this includes ending the destruction of the world's rainforests. That's why I'm excited - it's only when companies as big as Tesco decide to step up and reduce their own footprint on the planet that we can have genuine cause for hope.
Tesco has not only agreed to support our rainforest programme, they have also committed to working with us on improving the sustainable sourcing of both tropical and domestic commodities.
Working with governments alone will be insufficient to save global problems such as saving forests. Big companies like supermarkets can have a massive influence on the planet through their supply chains. This is why we are delighted that Tesco wants us to help:
- review their forest footprint as part of the Forest Footprint Disclosure Project, point out any areas for improvement and help them prepare for next year’s process;- meet their commitments on zero net deforestation by 2020 and develop action plans for sustainably sourced commodities like palm oil, soy, beef and paper- demonstrate how their supply chains impact on nature by mapping them against Important Bird Areas and other areas of conservation concern- with advice and recommendations on sourcing cocoa, coffee and biofuels.
We will also be working with the Tesco Sustainable Dairy Group to help develop nature friendly farming. And, as we develop our working relationship, we'll be getting a better understanding of the contribution that suppliers are already making towards the environment through their actions and operations.
Rainforests are incredible places. They are home to 74% of the world’s threatened bird species and their ongoing destruction accounts for 15% of annual global greenhouse gas emissions.
I was lucky enough to spend some time in my twenties surveying butterflies in the Comores. The noise, humidity and visual splendour of these places will stay with me forever. But my experience also taught me how vulnerable these places are to human activities. It is shocking that 6 million hectares are still being lost every year. That means that an area the size of a football pitch disappears every four seconds.
I have no idea if I will ever return to a rainforest but I do feel that we have a moral obligation to protect them. It's reassuring when big companies like Tesco feel the same way too.
What do you think about our partnership with Tesco? How important do you think it is for the RSPB to work with business to tackle society's major environmental challenges?