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.
In honour of the Olympics, I have invited our London team to provide an insight into the wildlife and our work in our capital city. So, if you need a break from watching badminton, basketball or beach volleyball (can you ever tire of beach volleyball?), here's a glimpse of what will still be there long after the Games moves on to Rio...
Old father Thames has been a bit neglected of late. His beard’s full of crumbs and dust, and his regal clothes are a bit tatty and torn. Remember poor old David Walliam’s stomach churning swim from its source?
The river was spruced up a bit for the Jubilee celebrations, and didn’t Beckham look like a kid surrounded by presents on Christmas Day as he steered that speedboat under Tower Bridge?
An aerial view of London (Inc Canary Wharf) from the east. Photo credit: Rolf Williams
Slip past the new cable-car crossing down to the shiny silvery gates of the Thames barrier, then the slug-brown waters of the river pretty much ebb and flow from many people’s minds; resurfacing briefly weekdays as the drumbeats of Eastenders imposes those ox-bow bends onto our conscience.
The Thames has so much to offer. In its impenetrable waters there are porpoises, sea-horses, eels and mussels. Its fields of sea-grass absorb more carbon than forests of equal size. It’s still very much a working river, being the UK’s second busiest port. It supports commercial fishing operations, water sports and includes two of Europe’s busiest shipping lanes.
Its banks harbour gas terminals, power stations, salt marshes, mud flats, fish nurseries and unique habitats that make it of global importance for wildlife. Culturally it’s inspired Dickens, Mary Shelley and was described by John Burns, the late 19th and early 20th century trade unionist and politician as ”liquid history".
The Roman’s used it, Viking’s stormed up it, the Windrush docked at Tilbury and it was vital during both World Wars. It remains a gateway to the UK for goods, services, people and of course, lots of wildlife.
The RSPB owns and manages some 50 square kilometres of land along both banks of the Thames and operates more than a dozen nature reserves. 300,000 birds winter in the estuary, while overhead, many thousand more navigate along its meandering route every spring and autumn.
This busy working watery world demands some TLC. It is already a mighty river, but it could win gold worthy of being draped proudly round the neck of our Olympic standard capital city. We’re not talking about pimping the Thames. We’re pursuing a deeper and more permanent transformation for the estuary, its communities and its wildlife
Join us in celebrating and enhancing our Thames heritage. Help us protect it from unsuitable and inappropriate development. Shout “je Thames!” and then email “Non!” to Transport Minister Justine Greening.
In honour of the Olympics, I have invited our London team to provide an insight into the wildlife and our work in our capital city. So, if you need a break from watching fencing, football or field hockey, here's a glimpse of what will still be there long after the Games moves on to Rio...
The American sit-com Friends had 236 episodes, each, bar the first, and last, had a title, which started with the words "The One...” True friends are hugely important to the RSPB. We can achieve far more for London’s wildlife with the support of our friends than we would working alone.
The Tate Modern helps us by allowing us to set-up telescopes on their Southbank forecourt so we can point out the wild peregrine falcons that perch on their hundred-metre tall chimney. Peregrines are true Olympians, the fastest living creatures on the planet, capable of diving on prey at speeds in excess of 200 mph. What’s more amazing is that they’ve slowly inched back from the brink of UK extinction and the Tate peregrines are amongst the UK’s first to colonize our cities.
The Green Park Wildflower mix was part of our house sparrow partnership with The Royal Parks. Photo credit: Jacqueline Weir
Other generous friends include The Royal Parks, The City of London Corporation and the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority. They all work with us in partnerships to improve their open spaces and to share the benefits and relevance of those spaces with Londoners.
There are unexpected friends too. We have strong links with London Underground. They own a lot of land and have worked hard with us to create management plans for their embankments that ensure passenger safety while providing wildlife habitats that look good for passengers and residents without being expensive to maintain.
London Underground Central Line tube train along tracks in N E London where we piloted habitat management ideas. Photo credit: Tim Webb
Then there’s Crossrail. The RSPB is often accused of being anti-development. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are against stupid development, as everyone should be. Crossrail have thought through their impacts and have been prepared to invest in something that will bring future benefits.
Stuff dugout of the tunnel is loaded on to barges, shipped down the Thames and up the River Crouch to Wallasea. Here it’s forming part of Europe’s largest conservation and engineering scheme. The aim is to combat the threats from climate change and coastal flooding by recreating ancient wetland landscapes.
London’s wildlife is even more diverse than its human residents, but unlike us humans, it can’t be administered by any one council or landowner. This is where the London Biodiversity Partnership can play a major role by pooling and sharing collective knowledge and resources.
This matrix of mates is helping London develop without destroying its natural heritage. But, London is pushing its boundaries and the vision of development going hand-in-hand with the needs of nature and people is now being extended over larger areas. The RSPB calls it Futurescaping.
Like us on Facebook, support the RSPB or join the conversation on Twitter and together, we’ll be The ones to step up for nature.
In honour of the Olympics, I have invited our London team to provide an insight into the wildlife and our work in our capital city. So, if you need a break from watching cycling, swimming or steeplechase, here's a glimpse of what will still be there long after the Games moves on to Rio...
Common Agricultural Policyzzzzzzzzzz. No. Don’t fall asleep. This is really important.
The UK has no wilderness. Almost every inch of the UK is managed in one way or another. We live on a relatively small island that packs tons into its 94,500 square miles. Compare us with France’s 260,558 square miles or North America’s 9,540,198 square miles and you can understand how space is tight here. Without policies and rules, we’d struggle to survive.
Not so long ago, we little Englanders could create parking spaces outside our castles by concreting or laying tarmac over our front gardens. What no one had realised was that the increase of all that hard surfacing and the loss of the grass or flower beds had a profound impact.
Nattering over the garden fence, people started remarking to their neighbours that it seemed warmer these days; noting that they’d seen fewer sparrows and daddy-longlegs; or that the drains down the road couldn’t cope with rainfall and the corner shop at the bottom of the hill had flooded as a result so they’d had to walk farther to buy a pint of milk, and ooohh isn’t milk expensive?
View of London looking east towards Essex with very little greenspace visible
According to an RAC Foundation report, Spaced Out – Perspectives on Parking Policy, released last month, about 600,000 homes in the capital have lost 85 per cent or more of their front gardens. Nationally, seven million gardens have been concreted over to provide car parking; an area equivalent to 100 Hyde Parks or 72 Olympic Parks.
All these hard surfaces are unable to soak up rain water. They absorb heat from the sun and radiate it back, increasing urban temperatures. The loss of plants means less nectar, seeds or fruits for wildlife to eat and fewer places for it to live. That’s why the RSPB campaigned to get planning policies changed to halt the loss of front gardens.
It’s a small illustration of the unpaid services we’ve taken for granted that are performed by nature, making our lives more comfortable.
London’s wildlife is changing. The latest surveys found that the Capital is the only region in the UK where blackbirds have joined starlings, swifts and house sparrows on the list of species vanishing from our gardens. The RSPB can blow its collective horns, ring bells and lobby Government, and we do. But it’s individuals who have the power here to make a difference.
Managing outdoor spaces, whether you’ve a roof garden, windowbox, garden or farm, you can contribute. Find space to sow a wild flower meadow to help urban wildlife. Ivy is brilliant for providing winter food and year round shelter for lots of wild things. Properly managed, it can also help insulate buildings from extremes of weather. If you haven’t got any outdoor space, we’d welcome your support for our campaigns, like our push to ensure European money paid to farmers rewards those who support nature (CAP reform). Told you it was important.