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.
The rationale for the RSPB's Stepping Up for Nature campaign is that we all have a part to play in meeting the target to halt biodiversity loss and begin its recovery by 2020. Governments focussing on those things that only governments can do (laws, incentives, penatlies etc), while business, civil society organisations and individuals stepping up to play their part as well. Post Rio+20, it is difficult to conclude that anything else will do.
Yesterday, two bits of news highlighted contrasting performances from two businesses.
A step forward
Three cheers for the Say No to Hunterston coalition for forcing the Peel Group to withdraw its application for a new coal-fired power station at Hunterston in Ayrshire. This is what my colleague Aedán Smith, who spearheaded the campaign for RSPB Scotland said:
“This is absolutely fantastic news. This unnecessary and hugely unpopular proposal would have completely destroyed part of a nationally important wildlife site and seriously undermined Scotland’s ambitions to be a world leader on climate change.
“Although it is disappointing that any developer would even consider such a damaging proposal, we are pleased that Peel have finally recognised the absurdity of these plans and made a sound decision that will save everybody the further time and expense of fighting them. Hopefully we can now focus on delivering the cuts in greenhouse gas emissions we urgently require instead of arguing about this outdated project.
“We would be happy to work with Peel and others to ensure that Scotland’s energy needs can be met through developing energy sustainably and in the right places, and the important wildlife of the Hunterston site can be safeguarded in future.”
A step backwards
You may have heard my colleague, Darren Moorcroft, on the Today Programme yesterday. Network Rail, which manages an estimated 20,000 miles of railway line, has come into conflict with the RSPB, local residents and even British Transport Police over the destruction of trackside vegetation which provides a home for an estimated 1.5 million birds’ nests. Although the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act protects all wild birds and their eggs and nests, Network Rail is potentially contravening the law by removing scrub and felling trees containing nests. The destruction of nests during the bird breeding season (March until August) is generally regarded as a criminal offence.
Our view is that although Network Rail has a vital role in protecting public health and safety and will doubtless have to remove trees occasionally, it also has a duty of care to local wildlife and residents. As a minimum, we expect Network Rail to comply with the law, but with such a vast estate it could do so much more. Creating wildlife habitat rather than destroying it by hiding behind health and safety would help nature to flourish and it would also go a long way towards establishing a better relationship with the estimated 20 million people who live within 500 metres of a railway line.
The common factor in both these examples is that local people have made a stand to put pressure on these businesses. People wanting more nature in their backyard. And that feels like the right ambition...
Of course I was not suggesting that railway or motorway edges be pollarded just a note that the first inclination always seems to be to "fell".
Very good post Martin; two examples of why I am a member. I am delighted re Hunterston and that RSPB is tackling Network Rail; its maddening when one sees the "scrub" being felled. Can this campaign be expanded to the verges of motorways ? there are huge corridors here although there is work that shows that densities of woodland birds are lower due to the noise (they are deafened and territories are low value I presume); essentially there are now too many brainless bozos with chain saws who also seem not to be trained in the art of "pollarding".
In France the great corridors of trees planted by Napoleon so that his troops could march in the shade ( and thus further) are under threat from the motor car driven H&S; it is all a form of "one eyed fascism"; a tyranny over nature. Is nothing sacred in this age of individualism where all want to lead and few follow in the disciplined ranks of solidarity with fellow man and an awareness of all living things?