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.
It was a real pleasure to walk in to our Land Use Planning team's office yesterday to see obvious joy and satisfaction at a job well done. The more they looked at the detail, the more they recognised the contribution that their own advocacy had made. We shall be publishing more of our analysis tomorrow. It is perhaps one of the most pleasing things for an advocate to see their own text in a published government document. This is often hidden, hard graft that rarely hits the headlines, but it is something for which we can be proud.
And, here's a mini toast to Greg Clark, the Planning Minister, referred by an unnamed Conservative MP (in the Times by Alice Thompson yesterday) as the "Clarke Kent of politics" for his looks and for his ability to have achieved the impossible for satisfying all sides in resolving the planning dispute.
It's been quite a hectic fortnight, so it is not surprising that a few things went by without reference in this blog.
Here are a few bits and bobs that some of you may have missed:
1. Wildlife friendly farmers descend on Brussels
Colleagues travelled with a trusted band of wildlife friendly farmers to meet their MEPs so they could champion the role of the CAP in rewarding farmers to protect and improve the natural environment. Our common agenda was to secure more support from agri-environment schemes but also through much needed but currently absent support for High Nature Value farming systems. As you can see from the blog post here, each of the farmers was impressive and we hope that by enabling them to tell their story about how funding for the environment is not just great for wildlife but for farmers and wider society too, we have made some positive steps towards convincing the European Parliament that this funding should be increased (and at the very least, not subjected to further cuts).
2. Welsh government shelves plans for a badger cull
Last week, the Welsh Government announced that the Welsh badger cull was being scrapped and replaced with a vaccination programme. This was announced by John Griffiths, the Wales Environment Minister, after consideration of a review of the science that he instigated last summer. He deserves credit for sticking with the science and finding the money for vaccination. The review has yet to be published but I imagine it will have highlighted the risk that culling could have made the TB situation worse by stirring up the badger population, whereas badger vaccination does not bring such a risk. I know that the proposed cull had divided the community in Pembrokeshire and I hope that everyone can now get behind badger vaccination and help bring TB down in this area. I am sure that in the long term this will be a win for farmers and a win for badgers too.
3. Elgin gas leak
Days after the Chancellor announced the go-ahead for a deep-sea oil well off Shetland, there has been a gas leak off the Elgin platform. You can read more about our reaction here. My colleagues in Scotland have said, "The situation on the Elgin platform poses a significant potential risk to the environment, particularly if there was to be a considerable leak of oil, either directly or as a result of a further problem (such as an explosion – this is suggested as a possibility by the RMT spokesperson). This area of the north sea is known to be used by large populations of auks at this time of year, including puffins, razorbills and guillemots. Reports of a sheen being seen on the surface of the water have now been confirmed and are a particular cause for concern. It needs to be established, as a matter of urgency, exactly what is causing that sheen. We await further news on this as we understand that a spotter plane has been sent out to examine the site further. We will be monitoring events closely."
As ever, it would be great to hear you views any of these issues.
Really good news on the first two items but do hope that the vaccine is effective as it was said they needed 10 years to produce a effective one.Unfortunately if we want oil and associated products their are always going to be these accidental leaks etc and something we have to accept.
Well done to the RSPB on all fronts.
The oil sheen on the sea from the gas leak is likely to be what is called "gas condensate" which are very light oils usually associate with raw gas from gas wells. They are the condensables from the gas and technically may include such substances as pentanes and hexanes and variants of these. They should after a time evaporate from the sea surface if not replenished by the leak, but because they are oil based they will pose a significant risk to sea birds, though not as bad as a "heavier" oil would be.