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 RSPB has had a long and at times fraught relationship with farming. It’s not surprising considering the loss of 300 million birds from Europe’s farmed landscape in the past 50 years.
But after more than decade running our own commercial farm in Cambridgeshire, we have a much greater understanding of the pressures that farmers face and we also have direct experience of what it takes to recover farmland wildlife.
On Friday, I was delighted to be able to show our farm to the Chair of Natural England, Poul Christensen. The Farm’s Manager, Ian Dillon, explained how we have managed to triple the numbers of farmland birds, increase wheat yields and maintain a healthy profit.
Poul Christensen and myself at the RSPB's commercial farm in Cambridgeshire
We are learning what many farmers up and down the country are doing – farming with wildlife in mind.
And now voting is now underway in the RSPB Telegraph Nature of Farming Award, our annual competition to celebrate wildlife-friendly farmers, run in conjunction with Plantlife and Butterfly Conservation.
The next twelve months are also a key for reform of the Common Agriculture Policy. 22,000 people took the trouble to vote last year and we want more people to take part this year. It is vital that we demonstrate the support for farmers like our four finalists. Decision-makers across Europe need to know how strongly people feel and we will continue to press them to ensure the CAP rewards wildlife-friendly farming.
Every vote is a vote of confidence for those that hold the future of our countryside in their hands.
You can show your support for wildlife-friendly farmers by voting here today.
And once you have voted, why not encourage your friends to vote too. One of them may even win a luxury break for two sharing a suite at Ragdale Hall Health Hydro and Thermal Spa in Leicestershire, worth over £500. The prize includes breakfast, lunch and dinner on one day, plus full use of the facilities and free 50-minute massage or facial per person.
I know that my wife will be voting and so should you.
Don’t be distracted by the Olympics, get your vote in early, and certainly before the closing date on 5 September.
Hi Martin,it is so important that these farmers are recognised and others encouraged as we know birds in general are declining and the ones that farmers can help are declining as the birds cannot adapt as quickly as farming as changed.
Although something like 75% of farms are in agri schemes if by encouragement and being positive rather than criticising them we could get the other 25% on board and get the schemes tweaked a bit there is a really good chance of getting better results.
Acknowledging these top wildlife farmers must encourage others.
Well done RSPB for all the expert advice to help these and other farmers which all wildlife lovers should appreciate your efforts.