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 2008 the UK Climate Change Act became law and history was made. The Act was – and still is – a world leading legislative commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in order to keep the world within ‘safe’ limits of climate change. The RSPB was one of the many charities that got behind the Act because of the huge threat climate change poses to species at home and across the globe. It was passed with cross party consensus, with only a handful of MPs voting against it.
Four years on and, in many ways, the Climate Change Act is already having a positive effect on our lives. UK emissions are down, and the ‘green’ economy is thriving- employing around a million people across the country, and, according to the CBI, responsible for a third of growth across the economy.
Whilst we have been making good progress in reducing emissions, the evidence of climate change has become ever more real. This year, for example, the Arctic sea ice melted to record low levels, April to June was the wettest on record in the UK (and the weather still seems to want to break more rainfall records), and in the US June broke or tied 3,215 high-temperature records. At the same time, the costs of climate change to people and wildlife have become ever more apparent. This is the backdrop to the latest UN global climate change talks which start in Qatar today.
In spite of all this, I found last week’s announcement from Government on the content of the Energy Bill to be disappointing and disturbing in equal measure. This Bill was touted as once in a generation shake up of the energy sector that would ensure we deliver our climate goals whilst keeping electricity affordable. There was indeed some good news in there, such as the allocation of adequate funding for renewable energy subsidies for the next five years, but many of the critical measures we needed for this Bill to be genuinely green were absent. Worse, the announcement put the spotlight on some very raw divisions within the Coalition on climate policy that, if continued, threaten the cross-party consensus on climate change.
We need to keep on reminding our politicians that there is no plan B. Reducing our emissions and limiting climate change to within safe levels is critical if we’re to save nature and pass this world on to the next generation in a decent condition. And, as Sir Nicholas Stern argued - it makes economic sense to act now rather than paying to deal with the consequences of climate change.
You can help by emailing your MP today.
In the end, it was perhaps no surprise that the EU Budget talks have collapsed. The 27 Member States arrived with different priorities and different negotiating positions. It was always going to be hard to crack this in one go. They have decided to reconvene in January 2013.
But this is an opportunity for politicians to go back to the drawing-board.
We were getting increasingly concerned that the best bits of the budget were getting hammered. For example, the part of the Budget that rewards farmers for doing good things for wildlife (the so-called Pilla II) was under huge pressure. Every time we looked at the figures things seemed to be getting worse: anything between 20-33% cuts. And rumours emerging from today's talks suggested that all the environmental measures in the Budget were getting squeezed.
This horse-trading is bad news for all of us. We want our politicians to be arguing for the best value from the one trillion euros of European tax payers money and support things that the public want. I have seen no sign of this to date.
If we want to recover our farmland wildlife (which politicians across Europe including the UK increasingly say that they do) then we need to find ways to continue to support those farmers who are doing the right things for wildlife. The funding through agri-environment schemes means that farmers can provide a lifeline to species like turtle dove, help to recover skylark populations and put the colour back into the countryside.
I have been delighted that, over the past week, so many farmers have provided a strong defence of this funding. The two month break in talks should allow politicians to listen to these farmers and think again about how we should spend a trillion euros and help recover farmland wildlife.
What do you think about the collapse of these talks? Good news or bad news for farmland wildlife?
It would be great to hear your views
Below is an opinion piece from my boss, Dr Mike Clarke, which appears in the Daily Telegraph here.
Have a read and let me know what you think.
Next summer, if you happen to be journeying along a country lane, you may be lucky enough to hear the joyous song of a skylark, high above a field of golden wheat. You may stop to capture the colour of butterflies dancing amid a blaze of wildflowers. Or, you may hold your breath as a nesting bird emerges from the depths of a leafy hedgerow.
These are the sights, sounds and smells of the British countryside. They’re part of our national heritage. They’re timeless.
Or are they?
Those of us who value this landscape and wildlife are increasingly concerned that, far from being timeless, a time bomb is ticking. This week, the EU will be discussing issues that have far-reaching consequences for our continent.
70% percent of the UK’s land area – and most of what we think of as “the countryside”- is farmed land. As well as feeding us, a huge proportion of our wildlife lives, breeds and feeds there. Farmers are not just food producers, we need them to be the vital guardians of our landscape and wildlife.
Farms are also businesses. What they produce, they sell to the market. Times are tough for the market, so they’re tough for some farmers too.
But for the birds, bees and butterflies, times are even tougher. Who is paying for wildlife? The market will always find a way of paying for food, even if, as in the recent case of dairy farmers, it isn’t always a fair price. But who will pay for the birdsong that gladdens your heart and the bees that busily pollinate the fields and hedgerows? The business of being a bee is even harder than the business of farming.
You can’t put a value on them, but they matter, in an almost visceral way. It’s indefinable but it touches your very soul.
It’s pretty unfashionable to say anything positive about the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Its reputation is not entirely unjustified but we’re stuck with it for the foreseeable future.
But the CAP does some good things. It has, in recent years, no longer been coupled solely with food production. It has provided farmers with an incentive to safeguard wildlife, through agri-environment schemes, funded out of the so-called “Pillar 2” of the CAP.
That skylark, singing joyfully over your head, probably isn’t there by chance. Less poetically, it may be there because the local farmer applied for agri-environment funding and provided a small patch of uncultivated land for it.
These are tough times in Europe and, quite rightly, spending is under scrutiny. But it’s Pillar 2 of the CAP that’s under threat. There’s a strong chance that the cuts will fall disproportionately on Pillar 2, rather than on the less discerning Pillar 1 – the Single Farm Payment, which provides far fewer and less effective environmental incentives.
This seems illogical and perverse. The part of the CAP that’s under threat is the part that’s not supported by the market and which provides real value for the taxpayer. They’re scrutinising the wrong bit. No wonder the CAP gets such a bad press.
Pillar 2 isn’t perfect but it is based on sound principles and is home to some of the best examples of value for money found anywhere in Europe. It provides a lifeline for iconic species like the turtle dove, as well as helping farmers to provide important public benefits that the market doesn’t reward, like clean drinking water and landscapes to attract tourism.
This is happening at a time when nature needs more investment, not less. If we lose funding for wildlife friendly farming, we know that the vast majority of farmers will stop doing the things that wildlife needs.
We shouldn’t simply accept the simplistic view of Europe ‘meddling in our affairs’ that often prevails. It’s a generalisation and risks throwing the baby (or, in this case, the birds, bees and butterflies) out with the bathwater.
It also means that the UK fails to engage in the big debates, the outcomes of which could make a fundamental difference to our quality of life and the things that we hold most dear. It took years to combat the worst excesses of the CAP and ensure it had an environmental element , but it would take even longer to put the life back into our countryside if the rug were pulled from under it.
You can help by emailing David Cameron in advance of his meeting this week – our PM may have been ‘given a mandate’ by Parliament to cut the budget but we must urge him to recognise that some bits of the budget need to be spared the knife.
Why not tell the politicians that, while having a full belly is undeniably, unquestionably essential, having a full heart is just as important.
Please click here to find out how you can help our campaign.