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.
Nearly a decade ago, the RSPB coined a phrase to sum up our conservation challenge. We wanted to stop the rot, protect the best and restore the rest.
At times it still feels like our work is cut out trying to stop the rot. Our desire to sustain economic growth does place huge pressures on our finite natural resources. But, we have made great strides in managing and protecting our finest wildlife sites. I am not complacent, but I think that the best places (certainly on land - alas we still have work to do to get marine protected areas established) are safer now than they were twenty years ago.
And now, at last, it seems like there is acceptance that we can and should restore lost biodiversity. Yesterday, Defra announced the winners of its Nature Improvement Areas competition.
I gatecrashed a launch at one of the successful locations on the Thames. Farming Minister, Jim Paice MP, visited RSPB Rainham to meet some of the partners of the Thames Nature Improvement Area.
Thames Estuary Partnership led the bid and worked with the RSPB and local authority partners to develop an exciting project to create and enhance grazing marsh, salt marsh and mudflat habitats in the Greater Thames. In fact each of the NIAs are dependent on partnerships from across the NGO, local government and landowner sectors. Communities coming together to do more for people and wildlife at a landscape scale.
Professor John Lawton, in his 2011 report, Making Space for Nature, made the case that we needed to expand our horizons to look at the needs of nature across whole landscapes. The challenge posed by climate change means that we need bigger, buffered protected areas that are better connected. While this is something many conservationists have been saying for a long time, it is fantastic that the Government has shown its commitment to that approach by investing £7.5 million in these 12 pilots.
We would love the pot to have been bigger, but, in these cash-strapped times it is reassuring that ministers want to invest in nature. Nature will pay them back!
As partners in nine of the projects announced today - from the Dark Peak to Morecambe Bay and from the South Downs to the Humberhead Levels - we shall be working to improve the wildlife in a range of iconic landscapes.
I am glad that Ministers have invested money and political capital in bringing these projects to life. We need these 12 NIAs to be successful, learn from our experience and then apply the approach to other landscapes across England. And, maybe just maybe, there is something here for the devolved administrations to learn from Westminster.
What do you think of the Nature Improvement Areas announcement? Which landscapes would you like to restored?
It would be great to hear your views.
Excellent opportunites. My local one is Marlborough Downs and I am not sure how involved the RSPB are on that one. If you are then I look forward to expanding stone curlew and grassland populations.