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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.
Here is a guest blog from Richard Benyon, Minister for Natural Environment and Fisheries, all about the new Nature Improvement Areas, announced by Defra on Monday:
"The RSPB has played an invaluable role in helping us deliver our vision for Nature Improvement Areas. The RSPB, along with the Wildlife Trusts, have helped lead the way in taking forward landscape-scale projects that enhance our habitats and species but also, vitally, reconnect people with the natural world.
The RSPB’s Futurescapes programme, which has been working across the UK, has seen you work closely with landowners to creates space for nature. These areas, up and down the country, are helping make the places that provide public goods and services more wildlife friendly.
The benefits are clear. Not only will we end up with large, joined-up high quality conservation areas but we will also see cleaner water in our rivers and wetlands, and more sustainable, low-carbon communities that enhance the rural economy. And as if that wasn’t enough, they will also help the natural environment and local communities adapt to climate change.
I believe that these NIAs will not only restore species and create new habitats but will also provide local employment opportunities and enable the promotion of locally grown food. I hope the 12 NIAs will be trail-blazers and that the success of the Partnerships will encourage the development of others around the country.
The RSPB has played a key role in developing these partnerships, which involve – among others - a range of NGOs and Civil Society organisations, landowners, local authorities, businesses, National Parks and universities.
I am delighted to announce that the RSPB will be leading both the Dark Peak NIA Partnership in the Peak District National Park, which will secure the enhancement of 5,800 hectares of blanket bog on five peatland plateaus and the restoration of upland heathland on 2,700 hectares in 12 areas. It will also lead to the creation of 210 hectares of native woodland, improved public access and the restoration of traditional hay meadows.
The RSPB will also be leading on the Dearne Valley Green Heart NIA and playing a significant role in the Greater Thames Marshes Partnership, which falls within one of your key Futurescape project areas. And you will also be playing key roles in five other NIA Partnerships – the Humberhead Levels, Meres and Mosses of the Marches, Nene Valley, South Downs and Wild Purbeck.
These partnerships will see the restoration of ponds and wetland areas, the creation of new woodlands, the reduction of diffuse pollution from agriculture in rivers and the enhancement of grazing marsh, saltmarsh and mudflat habitats. They will also boost our farmland bird populations.
I am delighted that the RSPB has warmly welcomed the NIAs and I have been deeply impressed with the partnership work and sheer enthusiasm that the competition has generated. Today marks a new and exciting opportunity to enhance and restore our habitats and species and I look forward to visiting as many NIAs in the next 12 months as I can.
I hope that the learning from these 12 NIAs will encourage many more NIAs to be set up across the country fulfilling our NEWP ambition to see NIAs wherever the benefits or the opportunities are greatest, driven by the knowledge and expertise of local people.
Please be assured that this is far from the total of our ambitions. Our Natural Environment White Paper and the England Biodiversity Strategy show many other ways we in Government will work with others to reverse the decline in the quality of our natural environment."
What do you think of the Minister's comments?
I am sure that he would love to hear your views.
Thanks for all your comments. I am sure that the Minister will take the time to read the messages. If not, I'll pass them on when I see next see him...
Dear Richard Benyon,what I would like you to do is for you to get this Government to get the same vicarious liability law as Scotland has,why should I have to go to Scotland to see Hen Harrier,if that law was in England so would Hen Harriers and maybe even other rare birds.
It shows up what a backward country England is compared to Scotland and besides being embarrassing it is a disgrace.Surely someone in the Government can do something about something that needs doing and relatively simple.
Mr Benyon, It is difficult to argue with what you have said here. It is of course easier to argue with what you haven't said.
The RSPB, along with other organisations, is concerned over the lack of the protection of breeding opportunity for hen harriers in England and the lack of imminent action over Marine Areas. These concerns are also held by many members of your countrywide constituency. As Minister for both the Natural Environment and Fisheries it would as pleasing to hear about action in those areas as it is to hear about the action in NIAs.
It's great to hear about these new initiatives, and to witness Mr Benyon's enthusiasm for enhancing habitats and species. I look forward to this enthusiasm being applied to bringing forward the long awaited Marine Conservation Zones very soon and to ensuring that current protections for special places are not swept away by some of his colleagues who seem to suggest that they are an unaffordable "luxury".
Thank you Martin for this opportunity...
We too warmly welcome the DEFRA Nature Improvement Area announcements yesterday. As Richard Benyon says " The benefits are clear. Not only will we end up with large, joined-up high quality conservation areas but we will also see cleaner water in our rivers and wetlands, and more sustainable, low-carbon communities that enhance the rural economy. And as if that wasn’t enough, they will also help the natural environment and local communities adapt to climate change."
You can imagine how especially pleased we are that the Greater Thames Marshes, part of RSPB's Thames Estuary Futurescape project area, is one of the 12 selected NIA's. With the threat of a Thames estuary airport never far away this sends the clearest message to developers and others that the Thames estuary and Greater Thames Marshes are of global importance and that they must be protected and enhanced.
We look forward to the future and continue with our work alongside RSPB and others to protect, enhance and celebrate our natural heritage here in the North Kent
We met Richard briefly at the Thames Estuary Partnership Forum in London last autumn and it would be our pleasure to welcome him when he visits the Greater Thames Marshes NIA.
Gill Moore, Joan Darwell and George Crozer
Friends of the North Kent Marshes
Conservation and Communities United
No Estuary Airport