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.
If you tuned into Simon Mayo's radio 2 drivetime show yesterday afternoon, you may have heard a little homage to the short-haired bumblebee reintroduction (partnership) project which was launched yesterday.
Every day Simon (I have been listening to him for so long, I feel like I know him personally) asks for requests related to a particular theme. Yesterday, in honour of the bumblebee reintroduction, he was asking for requests for songs with a bee theme. This included the "Buzz buzz-a-diddle-it" by Matchbox. I think it is time to listen again to hear the other selections.
Reintroductions are always a last resort - the last tool conservationists pull out of their toolbox. But when they work, as I am sure this one will, they give great hope to those who believe we can restore lost biodiversity to our landscapes. Ambition to say that we can, and great expertise to show that it's possible.
As the Biodiversity Minister, Richard Benyon MP, said, "bringing back this species of bumblebee after it's been absent from the UK for 12 years is wonderful news. I hope it will thrive and in time, spread to new areas."
Much to my disappointment, I was unable to attend yesterday's launch, but I do plan to visit Dungeness soon to get an update on progress.
We need a lot more of these initiatives to meet the 2020 Biodiversity target. And we also need to avert extinction where we can by investing in costed comprehensive species recovery plans (eg for hen harriers) before it's too late. The last thing we want is to be distracted by wrong-headed research projects designed to prevent protected native species eating non-native species (eg buzzards on pheasants).
For the latest on buzzards, do read a guest blog here from Robin Prytherch who has been studying this species for over 30 years or read this rather plain-speaking leading article here from the Independent published today.
Here's hoping the u-turn on the pasty tax and caravan tax is swiftly followed by the scrapping of the buzzard research project.
Which song would you choose to celebrate the return of the short-haired bumblebee? Which species would you most like to see return to our countryside? And have you written to your MP yet about the buzzard research?
It would be great to hear your views.
Here are two bits of unfinished business, but first some closure...
I have to admit to a schoolboy error. Take the first 5k carefully and then push on if you have any energy left. And, if it is hot, make sure you conserve even more energy. Well it was hot and I was wearing shorts, so I was bound to get a little overexcited and pay the penalty.
And that's exactly what happened yesterday when I ran the London Bupa 10K..
22.30 for the first 5k (and on track for my 45 minute target time) and 24.34 for the second 5k. The result: 47.04 and a ten pound penalty for me to pay the RSPB. But the rather lovely news is that my Godson Eli (who predicted 47.02) wins the prize! And I've raised a bit of cash for our work in the Eastern region. So I am happy with that result. Many thanks to all of you that sponsored me. I promise not to do it again.
If you get a moment, do take a look at two pieces in yesterday's Observer:
1. How EU farming policies lead to a collapse in Europe's bird population: New research from by the Pan-European Common Bird Monitoring Scheme shows that the chances of encountering any one of the 36 species of farmland birds in Europe – species that include the lapwing, the skylark and the meadow pipit – are now stunningly low. Devastating declines in their numbers have seen overall populations drop from 600 million to 300 million between 1980 and 2009, the study has discovered. This dramatic decline represents a 50% reduction and is blamed on major changes in farming policies enforced by the EU over the last 30 years. The survey, carried out , also found that Britain has been one of the nations worst affected by losses to its farmland bird populations. The RSPB's Head of Monitoring, Richard Gregory (who chairs the Scheme and is an occasional guest blogger on this site), described the results as shocking "We had got used to noting a loss of a few per cent in numbers of various species over one or two years. It was only when we added up numbers of all the different farmland bird species for each year since 1980, when we started keeping records, that we found their overall population has dropped from 600 million to 300 million, which is a calamitous loss. We have been sleepwalking into a disaster."
But note my other colleague, Jenna Hegarty's comment, "The decline of farmland birds across Europe has been one of our greatest wildlife tragedies but it is important to remember they have been driven by farming policy rather than farmers themselves. We work with thousands of farmers across the UK who are striving to put wildlife back on the land, but farmers cannot do this without significantly increased funding for more environmentally friendly measures."
2. Silent Spring 50th anniversary: to coincide with the publication of Conor Jamieson's new book, Silent Spring Revisited, the Observer includes a little retrospective about Rachel Carson and asks Conor, Jonathan Porrit and me for our take on the implications of Rachel Carson's seminal work. Arguably, Silent Spring was the catalyst for the modern environment movement. But despite greater awareness, greater political profile, we have yet to find a way to decouple economic growth from environmental harm.
I continue to receive supporting emails from those that remain outraged by Defra's decision to spend close to £400,000 of taxpayers’ money on a trial in England to reduce buzzard predation of pheasant poults by, amongst other things, shooting out buzzard nests and permanently imprisoning adults. And there was also more media comment from Simon Barnes in the Sunday Times and from Stuart Winter in the Sunday Express.
I look forward to whatever this week may bring.
1. Springwatch starts on Monday! For a taster, take a look at this trailer here.
2. The RSPB Make Your Nature Count survey starts next weekend. To find out everything you need to prepare, take a look here.
3. While you are sitting in your garden with a cold drink on Saturday morning, think of me sweating my way through the Bupa 10K run.
Have a lovely weekend.